Grand Circle Travel
Dubrovnik & Beyond: From the Adriatic to the Alps (2005), 15 days, Croatia and Slovenia
Pre-trip: Zagreb, 3 nights
Lake Bled, Ljubljana | Opatija, Rijeka | Split | Dubrovnik | Montenegro
Post-trip: Dubrovnik, 7 nights
Day 1, Fly overnight (Sat, Aug 13)
Fly from the U.S. overnight (ORD AA,FRA Luft) to Zagreb (ZAG), Croatia.
Day 2, Zagreb, Croatia, Hotel Opera (3) (Sun, Aug 14)
Arrive today from your overnight flight. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your transfer to your hotel. Today you’ll meet your Grand Circle Program Director, who will accompany you throughout your travels.
Meet your fellow travelers over a Welcome Drink in the early evening. Afterwards, get dinner on your own; your Program Director can give you suggestions.
Day 3, Zagreb City Tour. (Mon, Aug 15) (B,D)
Like many medieval cities, Zagreb includes an Upper and Lower Town. Your included city tour starts in the Lower Town (Donji Grad) where you’ll see many of the city’s civic and historic monuments. Once you reach Upper Town, the tour will focus on Zagreb’s medieval landmarks, such as the neo-Gothic Cathedral of the Assumption and St. Mark’s Church. Your walk ends at the Square of Ban Jelacic (Trg Bana Jelacic), the city’s hub.
The square where your tour ends offers many cafes from which you can choose for lunch on your own. Your afternoon is then free to continue independent exploration from this central location.
You might visit the Croatian Museum of Natural Sciences, which has a unique exhibit displaying the most extensive remains of a Neaderthal Man ever found on one site. Or delve into regional history at the Croatian Historical Museum and the Museum of Arts and Crafts.
Sit down with your Grand Circle Program Director and traveling companions for an included Welcome Dinner this evening.
Day 4, Zagreb, Optional Varazdin tour. (Tue, Aug 16) (B)
Take advantage of a free day to plan your own activities. Art lovers may want to peruse some of Zagreb’s excellent museums and galleries—for example, the eclectic collection at the celebrated Museum Mimara. View European paintings from the 14th-19th centuries at the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters, or take in Croatian “naive” art at a museum devoted to work by artists without formal training.
Or join us for an optional excursion to the lovely Baroque city of Varazdin. For centuries, this was the home of several aristocratic families, who built magnificent palaces and churches that continue to grace the city today. Varazdin’s centerpiece is its moated castle, entered via a drawbridge, which is now museum featuring antique furniture from different eras. Begun in the 12th century, the castle was still used as a seat of local government until 1925, and it is set in a park with striking landscaping. The cost of this optional tour is about $70 per person including lunch.
Day 5, Motor Coach to Lake Bled, Slovenia, Park Hotel or Golf Hotel (4) (Wed, Aug 17) (B)
After breakfast, you ride by motor coach to Lake Bled, where you continue from Day 2 of the main trip. You have time to relax and settle in to your room.
In the afternoon, you can join a guided orientation walk around the vicinity of the hotel to get acquainted with this scenic part of Slovenia. The peaks of the Julian Alps rise above the waters of Lake Bled, while a clifftop castle and an island church give the scene a fairytale aura.
Gather in the hotel this evening with your Program Director and traveling companions for a Welcome Drink. Dinner is on your own this evening. The town offers excellent dining options, and your Program Director can give you suggestions.
Day 6, Lake Bled and Bohinj (Thu, Aug 18) (B,D)
After breakfast, join us for an Orientation Briefing. Your Program Director will go over the details of your Escorted Tour, and you’ll have the opportunity to book Optional Tours.
Then enjoy an included tour of Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj. Bled is blessed with natural hot springs regarded as having healing powers, and has been a popular fresh-air retreat since the mid-19th century. Two prominent features in Bled’s vistas date from earlier in its history: Bled Castle, which for 800 years was the seat of the bishops of Brixen (now South Tyrol); and a 17th-century church located on an island in the lake. You’ll probably hear the pealing of this church’s “wishing bell,” which dates from 1534, since legend has it that a wish made by someone who rings it will come true.
Higher in the mountains and larger than Lake Bled, deep blue Lake Bohinj is located in the Julian Alps about 16 miles southwest of Bled. Steep mountain slopes rise directly from parts of the shore of Lake Bohinj, and the 15th-century Gothic Church of St. John graces its east end. The valley that contains the lake also cradles a rural landscape dotted with farm villages.
Exclusive Discovery Series Event
This afternoon, gain a deeper understanding of present-day Slovenia at a Discovery Series talk that puts the country’s current events in their historical context. This discussion will illuminate the country’s progress since it became independent in 1991.
Slovenia has a rich past predating its 20th-century history as a part of the former Yugoslavia. That distinctive heritage, including more than 300 years of being ruled by the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty, laid the foundation for Slovenia’s re-connection to Western Europe today. As you learn that the country now has a developing market economy and is a member of NATO and the European Union, you’ll see today’s Slovenia with fresh insight.
Gather in the hotel this evening with your Program Director and traveling companions for an included Welcome Dinner, with music and local entertainment.
Day 7, Lake Bled, Optional Optional Slovenian Countryside tour (Fri, Aug 19) (B)
After breakfast, you have the day free to explore the Lake Bled area on your own, or to relax at this beautiful resort. Near the hotel, forest paths designed by a 19th-century Swiss health advocate, Arnold Rikli, provide fine views, whether you walk them for exercise or ride in a one-horse carriage. Carriages also travel a lakeshore promenade lined with chestnut trees, and rides on the lake in a pletna, a local version of a gondola, can take you to the island church (in season).
Or you can join an optional excursion to the Slovenian countryside, featuring a visit to the beautiful old town of Skofja Loka, which was settled in the 8th century and became an important ecclesiastical, governmental, and trade center in the Middle Ages. The exquisite town center retains the architecture and the atmosphere of this thousand-year history and rewards the traveler with a rare encounter with the Slovenian past.
Skofja Loka’s superb location at the confluence of the two Sora rivers and its position as a way station on the road between the coast and the inland Carthinian and Bavarian towns combined to create a flourishing craft and guild movement here. That rich legacy continues in this well-preserved town, which still boasts its imposing castle that overlooks the settlement, Gothic church, and scores of lovingly restored 15th-century houses and structures, all linked by narrow streets. Every perspective here is packed with telling and delightful details. You’ll enjoy a guided tour of Skofja Loka, followed by a folklore performance and a visit to a typical Slovenian wooden cottage.
The cost of this tour includes dinner.
Slovenia has a rich past predating its 20th-century history as a part of the former Yugoslavia. That distinctive heritage, including more than 300 years of being ruled by the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty, laid the foundation for Slovenia’s re-connection to Western Europe today. As you learn that the country now has a developing market economy and is a candidate for membership in NATO and the European Union, you’ll see today’s Slovenia with fresh insight.
You are free to choose your own restaurant for dinner this evening.
Day 8, Lake Bled, Ljubljana City Tour (Sat, Aug 20) (B)
After breakfast today, we ride to Ljubljana for a full-day tour of this city of about 300,000. Because much of the city was rebuilt after an 1895 earthquake, Slovenia’s capital has a unique architectural style that has integrated surviving historic structures with more modern designs. The work of Jože Plecnik, a 20th-century architect and Ljubljana native, is particularly remarkable for the way it incorporates Roman, Medieval, Baroque and Habsburg elements. A number of buildings that survived the earthquake still stand in the historic part of town, Old Ljubljana. There are also many cafes here, and you may want to try one as you take today’s lunch on your own.
The Ljubljanica River flows through the heart of town, with dozens of shops and restaurants (providing more lunching options) on its promenaded embankments. The city’s large market squares sprawl along the river’s south bank, between the Plecnik-designed Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge, near the Cathedral of St. Nicholas (built in 1701). A lively student population swirls through all of these enticing public spaces because the city is home to Ljubljana University, Slovenia’s major institution of higher learning.
Dinner is on your own tonight
Day 9, Lake Bled, Postojna Caves, Opatija, Croatia, Grand Hotel 4 Flowers (4) (Sun, Aug 21) (B,L)
After breakfast this morning, check out of your Bled hotel and begin the transfer to Opatija, on the seacoast in Croatia. The route takes us through rural karst terrain in Slovenia, where the underlying limestone creates an exotic landscape of round sinkholes and numerous caverns. In the midst of this, we stop for a tour by train and on foot into the Postojna Caves, getting a good look at impressive stalagmites, stalactites, and underground pools. Lunch is included while we’re en route. We cross the border into Croatia before arriving at the Istrian Peninsula on the Adriatic seacoast, where Opatija is located in the area known as the Kvarner Riviera.
Exclusive Discovery Series Event
Pick up a few words of Hrvatski—the Croatian language—at an included lesson today and enjoy the extra appreciation of the culture that understanding even a few words can bring. You might use it to order a beer (pivo), or to give a hearty “hello” to a Croatian (zdravo, or the less formal bok). And you’ll become wise to the fact that the Croatians’ name for their own country is Hrvatska, which explains why the country’s Internet domain is .hr.
Croatian is a South Slavic language very closely related to Bosnian and Serbian, and those who speak any of these dialects of the former Yugoslavia can understand each other. However, Croatian (like English) is written with Latin characters, while Serbian (like Russian) uses the Cyrillic alphabet. With your knowledge enhanced, you may want to say hvala lijepa (thank you very much) for your lesson!
This evening, dine on your own in Opatija
Day 10, Opatija, Rijeka City Tour (Mon, Aug 22) (B)
Get acquainted with Opatija and the nearby port city of Rijeka on an included tour today. Blessed with a subtropical climate and a stunning location overlooking the islands of Krk and Cres in the Kvarner Gulf, Opatija started to become an elite resort in the mid-19th century with the construction of the Italian-style Villa Angiolina by a wealthy foreign merchant. In the following decades, vacationers ranging from commoners to kings came to enjoy the beaches, which are among the finest in Europe. Generations of visitors have also planted lush gardens that continue to flourish, with a beauty you can appreciate as you tour the town.
Set on sparkling Rijeka Bay to the east of Opatija, the city of Rijeka is a hub for transportation and commerce by land and sea, providing connections to Italy, Hungary, and Austria. It is Croatia’s second-largest city, and is rich in culture and history. First settled in pre-Roman times, this area became part of the ancient Roman province of Illyricum, and was known as Tarsatica until the 8th century AD. Croatians and Habsburg monarchs ruled in subsequent centuries, and more recently the city was Italian territory from 1924-43. In 1945 it became part of Yugoslavia, and since 1991 has been part of independent Croatia. Among the city highlights you’ll see is the Church of Our Lady of Trsat, a Roman Catholic shrine containing art and architectural features from the 15th to 19th centuries.
You have dinner on your own tonight.
Day 11, Opatija, Optional Island of Kosljun Tour (Tue, Aug 23) (B,D)
You have today free for relaxation or your own explorations. Admire the views of 4,580-foot Mount Ucka, the high point of the Istrian Peninsula, which blocks the north winds, keeping Opatija’s climate warm. You may want to spend time on the Lungomare, the seaside promenade that runs for 7˝ miles along the waterfront and leads to the attractive resort town of Lovran.
Join us on our optional tour to Kosljun, one of the smallest of Croatia’s islands, located in Punat Bay near the country’s largest island, Krk.
People have lived on Krk since Neolithic times; the town of Krk on the island’s shore began as the ancient Roman settlement of Curicum. From the 12th to 15th centuries, it was ruled by the indigenous Croatian Frankopan dynasty, whose castle and cathedral still stand. Over the centuries, the island’s people also developed their own folk traditions, including distinctive costumes and songs.
On Kosljun you will visit the island’s Renaissance-era Franciscan monastery, whose archives and library contain more than 20,000 volumes, including many rare and invaluable manuscripts, charts, and parchments. The monastery’s collection also contains a rich collection of sacred art and objects, preserved by the monks through the centuries. The island’s only inhabitants are the monks who live in the monastery. Though only about 16 acres in area, Kosljun is a little paradise whose only other residents are birds. The island is rich in flora, with more than 400 species of plants and flowers, and 148 different types of mushroom.
Enjoy the first of your included Dine-Around dinners at one of Opatija’s fine restaurants this evening.
Day 12, Opatija, Optional Istrian Peninsula Tour (Wed, Aug 24) (B)
You have this morning to savor the delights of this area on your own.
Or join an optional tour to see more of the subtropical Istrian Peninsula. We visit Rovinj, a coastal town built on what was once an island, but was connected to the mainland by a causeway in the 18th century. The town overlooks an island-dotted Adriatic seascape and luxuriant pine forests on the mainland, with large areas protected as parkland for their scenic beauty. Presided over by the Baroque church of St. Euphemia, Rovinj served as a health resort for children in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and attracts active vacationers today for sports ranging from windsurfing to cycling. You’re likely to hear some Italian spoken in Rovinj. A sizeable Italian community still lives here as a result of the Italian rule of this area in the past.
We continue to the larger city of Pula, which has been a strategic port since the times of the ancient Romans. They built a 23,000-person amphitheater here, on a site overlooking the seacoast, that is the sixth-largest of its kind to be preserved in the world. Other remnants of Pula’s Roman past mingle with medieval churches, the bustle of modern activity, and the glint of Adriatic sunshine in a blend of history and scenery that is quite a feast for the senses. The cost of this tour includes lunch in a local village.
Dinner is on your own again this evening.
Day 13, Opatija, Transfer to Split, Hotel Split (1) (Thu, Aug 25) (B,L,D)
Today you ride south to Split in the Croatian province of Dalmatia. In good weather we take the scenic road along the Adriatic seacoast, although we make have to take a more inland route if the weather is not favorable. You’ll have a stop en route for an included lunch, and arrive in Split late in the afternoon. Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel tonight.
Please note: In inclement weather, the coastal road between Opatija and Split is closed and passengers will travel through the countryside.
Day 14, Split City Tour, Transfer to Dubrovnik, Hotel Palace or Hotel President (11) (Fri, Aug 26) (B,D)
Join us this morning for a tour of Split, an active port that is home to the ancient Roman Palace of Diocletian. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the greatest Roman ruin in Central Europe. Built like a fortress with walls 590 feet by 705 feet, the palace was occupied by the Emperor Diocletian from 300–313 AD. As you stand in the peristyle (central court) of this grand structure, its scale is sure to impress you. The medieval town of Split took shape within the palace walls; Diocletian’s Temple of Jupiter was converted into a Christian baptistery and his mausoleum became a cathedral. The entire old section of Split, with the palace as its centerpiece, is a virtual open-air museum with the city’s contemporary life bustling through it.
You’ll have some late-morning free time after the tour for independent discovery in Split. The city boasts an archeological museum that is historic in its own right, having been founded in 1820. Perhaps you’ll want to ramble outdoors, since this is one of Europe’s sunniest spots. The sandy beach of Bacvice is not far from the center of town, and the Marjan Forest Park is a green retreat offering hilltop views over the city.
After lunch on your own, transfer to Dubrovnik on an all-weather road along the gorgeous Dalmatian seacoast, arriving in late afternoon.
Dinner is in your hotel this evening in Dubrovnik.
Day 15, Dubrovnik City Tour, Home-Hosted Dinner (Sat, Aug 27) (B,D)
After breakfast, enjoy an included city tour of Dubrovnik. This will introduce you to the Stari Grad, the extraordinarily well-preserved old city, where you will likely want to linger and return. You’ll have free time after the tour to get lunch on your own and soak up the atmosphere of this very special place for as long as you like.
Regarded today as one of the world’s most exquisite walled cities, Dubrovnik’s character reflects its storied past as an independent city-state that rivaled Venice. Also known by its Latin name, Ragusa, this was a fortress city that served as the base for a fleet of ships that carried trade between much of Europe and the Middle East. The city-state’s period of autonomy extended from 1358 to 1808. In recent times, some of Dubrovnik’s historic sites sustained damage in the Balkan conflicts of the early 1990s, but the city has been peaceful for over ten years and largely restored under UNESCO supervision.
Exclusive Discovery Series Event
The food of Croatia is a flavorful blend of Mediterranean and Slavic influences, with a distinct regional style in Dalmatia, the province where Dubrovnik is located. This evening, you’ll have a personal introduction to the preparation of some characteristic dishes, as a local family welcomes you into their home to prepare and eat a tasty dinner. Both the food and the hospitality are likely to be highlights of your time in Croatia.
The prosciutto (Italian-style ham) of this region is unrivalled anywhere in the world. Other regional specialties include pork leg smoked and dried, served with dry cheese and salted green or black olives; and homemade cheese, bread, and wine. You will also try meat prepared in a traditional indoor fireplace called a komin, where meat is also smoked. Desserts are often sweetly concocted from figs, dates, almonds, and honey. While the specific choice of dishes served will be up to your host family, you’re sure to enjoy feasting on the region’s distinctive fare.
Day 16, Dubrovnik, Optional Montenegro tour (Sun, Aug 28) (B)
You have a full day to relax and explore at your own pace.
Or join us on an optional tour to the Republic of Montenegro, which since early 2003 has been part of the nation named simply “Serbia and Montenegro” (formerly the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia).
Though Montenegro is a small republic, just slightly larger than Connecticut, its history of having never been conquered by the Ottoman Turks sets it apart from its neighbors. Montenegro also has remarkable natural beauty, from rugged mountains to long beaches on the Adriatic, as we’ll see while touring coastal Budva. The old walled city here, though damaged by 1979 earthquakes, has been faithfully restored and gives a vivid impression of the medieval era. We’ll also see more of Montenegro’s extraordinary landscape at the Bay of Kotor (BokaKotorska), the longest fjord in southern Europe. The cost of this excursion includes lunch (while in Budva.)
Dinner is on your own this evening. There is a nice selection of fine Dubrovnik restaurants. Your Program Director will have suggestions for you.
Day 17, Dubrovnik (Mon, Aug 29) (B,D)
Spend today as you please. Take in the lively morning market in the Stari Grad across from the Rector’s Palace. Stroll atop the city walls for terrific views, or spend time in the old city’s many art galleries. You may want venture into the newer part of town to shop or to find an interesting cafe for lunch on your own.
Reflect on your travels with your companions at this evening’s included Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 18, (1) Dubrovnik (Tue, Aug 30) (B)
Spend today as you please. You may want to take in the lively morning market in the Stari Grad across from the Rector’s Palace.
Day 19, (2) Dubrovnik (Wed, Aug 31) (B)
You have another day at leisure. Stroll atop the city walls for terrific views, or spend time in the old city’s many art galleries.
Day 20, (3) Dubrovnik, Konavle, Cavtat (Thu, Sep 1) (B)
Today you can join an included half-day sightseeing tour, to the Konavle Valley and the town of Cavtat. Situated at Croatia’s southern tip, the Konavle Valley is a lovely area between the seacoast and the mountains that form Croatia’s borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Cavtat, a town of summer mansions and peaceful coves, is located on a picturesque bay along the seacoast. This was the birthplace of one of Croatia’s most notable artists, the painter Vlaho Bukovac, and a local gallery named after him displays his works. Also notable in Cavtat is the Racic Mausoleum, an eye-catching work by Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrovic.
Day 21, (4) Dubrovnik, Optional tour to Peljesac Peninsula (Fri, Sep 2) (B)
Spend the day as you please.
You can also take advantage of our optional tour to the lovely Peljesac Peninsula. This is a region admired for its fine wines and beautiful vineyards, so you’ll enjoy a wine tasting in one of the local houses upon arrival here. Then you’ll visit the Old Town of Ston with its well-known salt works. It’s the oldest salt factory in this part of Europe and still supplies the entire area with salt. Next, you’ll see the bay-side mussel fields where these delicious mollusks—cousin to the clam and oyster—are raised and harvested. You’ll have the opportunity to eat some of the delicate morsels, too. Mussels from the bay are highly prized for their taste and are found in most of the area’s restaurants. And at one of them, you’ll enjoy lunch.
The cost of this optional tour is about $50 per person and includes lunch.
Day 22, (5) Dubrovnik (Sat, Sep 3) (B)
The city’s delights are inexhaustible and yours to enjoy at your own pace. Seek out its less-known museums and historic sights.
Day 23, (6) Dubrovnik (Sun, Sep 4) (B)
Spend today as you please or take a boat to the islands of Lokrum or Mljet. You can also attend one of the many cultural events and performances that enliven the city.
Day 24, (7) Dubrovnik (Mon, Sep 5) (B)
Today you can relax in the Adriatic sun; or develop expertise at shopping for Balkan handicrafts.
Day 25, (8) Dubrovnik, Depart for U.S. (Tue, Sep 6) (B)
After breakfast, you'll be transferred to the airport for your flight home.