Croatia and Slovenia were just lovely. Our Day Trip to parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina was an appetiser to indulge more of the Balkan States in the near future. And as we moved up North, we capped our adventure with some “La Dolce Vita” by Lake Como and Milan.
This was an Epic trip which all 17 of us enjoyed immensely. Planning our land itinerary for the whole family was arduous but rewarding having experienced God through surreal landscapes and charming towns. We were constantly on the move for 15days but since our plan was personalised and flexible, it catered to our own pace. It was also convenient since we had our own bus with a driver and tour manager to assist us with arrangements. So thankful we got along well with them but then again…. our group including the toddlers, were obedient and cooperative.
Not only did we get to enjoy the sights per stop, we also savoured our cozy spaces. I was very particular about lodging so I preferred booking on our own. Thankfully, most exceeded our expectations.
Still giddy from it all, I was anxious to organise my thoughts down an all-inclusive Itinerary with list of accommodations for reference. I hope this helps you simplify your analysis as you plan your trip to these gorgeous destinations.
Historic cities and unspoilt nature are some of Croatia’s top attractions. Along the coast, centuries-old harbour towns are packed with Venetian-era stone buildings, while countless pebble beaches offer many activities. On the Adriatic, Croatia’s blissful islands are a haven for yachters and those wanting to simply relax and enjoy the Mediterranean sunshine.
Day 1 A Day in Dubrovnik
The magnificent old town of Dubrovnik is Croatia’s most glamorous destination. It is contained within sturdy medieval defensive walls and declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Any first-time sightseeing tour of the city should begin with a walk around the ramparts (the complete circuit measures two km), which incorporate fortresses, towers, and cannons along the way. GOT Fans can recall “Kings Landing” as a number of scenes were shot here. This link was a good source. From high up on the walls, you can enjoy amazing views over the old town rooftops and out across the glistening Adriatic Sea.
Accommodation: We opted to stay at the Apartments Srebreno to ensure availability of rooms for our big group. We rented 4 Two Bedroom Apartments. Just 15min drive away from Dubrovnik, Srebreno is a quiet beachside suburb that has a good selection of restaurants, a new mall with a great supermarket and a marina under construction. We loved how convenient everything was and it was actually refreshing to be away from all the commotion. But for smaller groups, it would be a treat to experience staying at Old Town as well. I can imagine the quiet evenings, sans the tourists. An option is L&L Old Town Apartments.
Day 2 Day Trip to Medjugorje, Mostar and Blagaj
Medjugorje has been an unofficial place of Catholic pilgrimage since the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared on Apparition Hill in 1981. There is a “Queen of Peace” statue marking the site of the 1st apparition and one in front of the St. James Church. Liquid has been said to drip from the “Risen Christ” statue near the church. A concrete cross tops Cross Mountain, to the south.
The exotic city of Mostar was a feast to the senses. It was like walking back into the Ottoman Era surrounded by bazaars and Turkish houses. It’s name came from “Stari Most” which means “Old Bridge” – referring to their beloved medieval arched bridge. It is a symbol of unity between the Muslims and Catholics who had to coexist together and continue to live in harmony.
Blagaj Tekija is a Dervish monastery outside Mostar, that’s nearly 600 years old. Situated at the base of a cliff, next to the source of the river Buna, it’s a unique and picturesque series of buildings that looks even better in person than it does in pictures.
Caution: You will be snaking in and out of Croatian / Bosnian borders. Approximately 8 check points. Some let you pass through while others require you to show passports. Prepare for queues especially during the high season (June -August). This will also be a long day so best to leave early or take it easy, by spending a night in one of the stops.
Day 3 Ston and Korcula
Ston, along the Peljesac Peninsula is known for three things – its very well preserved town walls, its salt, and its oysters!
The island of Korcula, birthplace of Marco Polo, according to claims lies towards the Southern end of the Dalmatian coast. The town itself is an amazing walled medieval town, rising straight up out of the clear blue Adriatic Sea, with a herringbone pattern of narrow streets and alleys – like a miniature Dubrovnik with fewer crowds. The beaches at Lumbarda are a must see, and it is also known for its good wines, in particular, Grk and Posip.
Accommodation: It was raining when we arrived at Port 9 Korcula Apartments . A bit of a hassle to transport our luggages up to our rooms. Rooms and amenities were good. Wifi was a bit spotty, assuming many were online. We woke up early to explore our surroundings. The apartment complex reminded us of Mykonos with its blue and white Cycladic-style villas framed with Olive trees. The beach was a few minutes walk, near the main hotel beside facilities suitable for groups and families.
Day 4 Split
Split, Croatia’s second biggest city after Zagreb, grew up within the ancient Roman walls of Diocletian’s Palace. It was built by Roman Emperor Diocletian, who retired here in AD 305. Square in plan, the palace has four monumental gates, three from the land, and one which originally opened directly onto the water. Within the walls, things to see include the magnificent Peristyle (an arcaded courtyard), where you’ll also find the Cathedral of St. Domnius with its elegant bell-tower. The old town is pedestrian-only and has been proclaimed a UNESCO world heritage site.
Accommodation: Sleep Split. We loved the flexibility of having a kitchen in our studio. It was so convenient, kids could eat in while we stepped out for a quick dinner date. Beds were very comfortable – we slept so well. We also appreciated the selection of free movies and Netflix access. They were thoughtful to include an iPod dock for music and selfie stick made available for great pictures during our stay. Location was excellent. On the GF was a grocery, a block away was the main shopping area with good restaurants, and we were practically by the Old Town.
Day 5 Boat Tour to Hvar and Pakleni Islands
Cruised along the Adriatic Sea on this “Banana Boat” type of Speed Boat. It was so much fun! But be prepared to get sun burnt. We slowed down as we approached a group of dolphins. We were so lucky, they were in a playful mood. Then we proceeded to our first stop, the Island of Brac.
We then had free time to explore and swim in tranquil bays framed by untouched nature. Spot the Peacock I chanced upon, on the way back.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in Hvar. Here’s a link to enjoying a day in Hvar. Food, Wine, Partying, Beaches, History and of course, Lavender Essentials.
Day 6 Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park covers an area of almost 73.000 acres. It consists of 16 lakes, over 90 waterfalls, many caves, caverns, and forested areas. It is accessible on foot via dirt paths, and walkways. The easiest Path C was about a 5km walk. Shuttle buses run every 20 minutes along designated areas of the park. And entry also includes a boat ride.
It was one of the most wonderful places we’ve ever visited. The changing colours of the water, from emerald green to aqua blue, were simply enchanting. It was so clear that we could easily see through, even spot wiggling small fish. Such an exhilirating day that was!
Accommodation: Plitvica Selo. When I found this, I just had to book it. The whole family especially the kids loved the property. It was the perfect setting to end our magical day in Plitvice Lakes National Park. “Selo” being a village consisted of traditional cottages with an animal zoo, adventure park and in-house restaurant serving Slovenian cuisine – one must try their fresh trout. The sun was still up after dinner that we had time to explore the idyllic settings before retiring. Breakfast is Euro15 pp but worth it! Their fresh cheeses, jams and yogurts were delicious!
Day 7 Motovun and Opatija
Motovun is one of the prominent towns in the Istria region of Croatia. Many people compare Istria to Tuscany. It is a small medieval town situated on top of a hill, above river Mirna. The area is very well known among foodies, because the nearby forests are full of hidden treasure: black and white truffles. It is also known for its Olive Oils and the prestigious Motovun Film Festival.
Opatija is a fashionable Adriatic tourist resort. In the past it was a summer and winter destination for the Austro-Hungarian nobility because of its mild Mediterranean climate, and today it is a place of luxury hotels, former villas and private summer residences that have been turned into beautiful hotels, wellness centres, congress halls, and swimming pools. Villa Angiolina, one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings, has hosted many famous people. A walk in the well-tended parks and the seaside promenade – Lungomare or a swim in the town swimming area or in one of the smaller bays offers the rare combination of being able to enjoy the charms of nature and a taste of the high life that reaches back into the spirit of the past.
Accommodation: No doubt the best option. Not overlooking the sea but the building is right by Ulica Marsala Tita, the Main road with shops and restaurants, parallel to Lungomare. Reasonably priced compared to Hotel rooms, our 2 bedroom apartments had great Interiors – high end and new with brilliant views of the city. Luxury Apartments Centre of Opatija. There is a grocery on the GF and the market hall is just right beside it. We enjoyed cooking in our modern kitchen. Note: The area is known for their asparagus 🙂 Our host also recommended Roko but you have to make reservations.
Day 8 Lake Bled
Like a Fairytale. “This Alpine lake with the only island in Slovenia has been a world-renowned paradise for centuries, impressing visitors with its natural beauty, wealth of legend, and special powers to restore well-being. Look out at the lake from a castle on a cliff and visit the island on a traditional “pletna” boat.” https://www.slovenia.info/en/places-to-go/attractions/bled
Accommodation: I originally wanted a lakefront retreat but we couldn’t find one that could accommodate all 17 of us. PR Klaudiji Guest House Bled was a great option and the hosts were just wonderful. Our rooms didn’t come with a TV but how can you even think of staying indoors when one of the most scenic spots in the world is 900m from you. We found this quaint little restaurant Topolino where we enjoyed a hearty meal. The owners were so friendly and warm… and everything was delicious. I read about our hotel’s amazing breakfast but it didn’t register until they surprised us with a smorgasbord of all breakfast you can think of. It was so much, we packed sandwiches for lunch. Thank you for your generosity. Be sure to try Bled’s famous Cream Cake. The most authentic one can be tried at Park Cafe where the recipe originated in 1953.
Day 9 Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle. Head to Llubjana
The underground world of Postojna Cave – 24,000km long. We rode an electric train to descend 100 meters, then we walked through beautiful passages and chambers with spectacular drop stones, pillars, limestone forms – the best one was called the “Brilliant” as it literally stood out like a diamond.
This was definitely on top of my list while reading up for this trip. The castle is one of the top 10 to see in the world. Carved into a cave, it was inhabited by Erazem of Predjama – a Robin Hood like character in medieval times. He was glorified as a passionate, handsome and noble knight, while on the other he was described as a bandit and robber baron who met his death in the toilet – our most vulnerable moment :).
Accommodation: City Hotel Llubjana . Had one of my best sleeps there. Beds were very comfortable. Liked our family room as it was spacious and at the same time cozy. Breakfast selection was excellent. I was excited to eat every morning to try something new. For a 3star hotel, it was a good choice, with great staff and convenient location, just 300 metres from the central Prešeren Square.
Day 10 Day at Leisure in Llubjana
Llubjana is friendly and peaceful. A city filled with festivals, free for pedestrians and cyclists to roam about safely with cafes set up terrace seating along the river to enjoy whatever lively scene props up. It almost feels like a daily street party.
The kids also had a grand time in WOOP Trampoline Park
Day 11 Head to Viggiu (Near Lake Como)
Travel time from Llubjana to Viggiu was 6.5hours plus stopovers and border control. We left at 8am and arrived around 5pm. Ensure you hire a smaller van to access the narrow roads around the Italian countryside. We realised this critical issue when our bus had difficulty getting to our Villa.
Accommodation: Villa Alceo. It was everything in the description and much more. This was such a highlight for us, as if we lived like the Elite by Lake Como. Kids liked their space in the attic. It was so bohemian chic! We celebrated Post Mothers Day by grilling steaks and “liempo” for dinner there. Our host Chef Bruno gladly prepared our side dishes while learning Mama Nini’s “Pork Sinigang” recipe. Hey! We had our cravings! Notwithstanding, the Breakfast he served was also exquisite!
Chef Bruno suggested we try La Ghironda in Viggiu. It definitely did not disappoint. One of our best meals during this trip. We should have eaten there again.
Day 12 Day at Leisure by Lake Como
Spent the Day by Como and cruised around the lake, admiring Villas and lovely towns from a distance. In retrospect, we could have just taken the fast craft to Bellagio instead of the basic tour. Take note of the schedules though so you can manage your time well. Wish we spent more days exploring the towns around the lake but there will be another time. Check out this https://www.fodors.com/news/photos/15-towns-to-visit-on-lake-como to plan beforehand.
Day 13 Foxtown Outlets. Head to Milan
FoxTown Outlet, located in the town of Mendrisio, in Switzerland is right on the border with Italy, next to the stunning Lake Como. FoxTown is the second largest shopping center in the area, after the Serravalle, and it consists of 2 three-storey buildings linked to each other, with a total of 160 stores. Apart from the abundance of choice of stores, including high end fashion brands, as well as sports wear and shoes, another feature that attracts visitors to this shopping mall is that the winter and summer sales start here 2 weeks before they do in Italy. Found some good buys at 70% off there. Merchandise is priced in CHF but you can pay in Euros or via Credit Card.
Restaurant: Chalet Suisse. Have some Fondue, Raclette and other Swiss favourites there.
Accommodation: Spice Hotel Milano. The hotel was of good value but I could have gotten a better location if we booked earlier. I was attracted to the hotel’s industrial chic interiors and good reviews. Our family room was spartan but spacious. Breakfast was abundant but ok. Location was actually convenient to move around the city since it was a few steps away from Stazione Centrale. Duomo was a 10min train ride away. Just a few blocks away was the main shopping street of Corso Buenos Aires. There are many good restaurants in the area as well. Just be vigilant around Milan… always!
Day 14 Day at Leisure in Milan
I liked this One Day Milan Itinerary.
Day 15 Half Day in Milan. Head to Manila
We had the option to shop along Corso Buenos Aires or check out the stores in Stazione Centrale. It actually has a good selection. Then we had our last hurrah of Italian Cuisine before flying out.