Who: Bill Wing, 65, and his wife, Janet, 60, of McLean, and Bill’s childhood friend, Bob Wheeler, 65, and Bob’s wife, Karen, 60, of Franklin, La.
Where: Croatia, with side trip to Slovenia’s Lake Bled and Ljubljana
Why: To see coastal islands, lakes and other scenically beautiful areas in a less-traveled destination.
When: 14 to 16 days in mid-September
Budget: $7,000 per couple
“Our interest in Croatia goes back to the mid- to late 1990s while living in Europe, when we heard and read stories and saw pictures of the beautiful Dalmatian coast and its crystal clear waters. We thought a side trip to Ljubljana and likely Lake Bled would also suit our interests.”
Bill and Janet Wing of McLean have been fascinated with Croatia since they lived in Stuttgart, Germany, in the 1990s. Competing travel priorities kept them from visiting then, but time hasn’t dimmed the couple’s attraction to the region’s coastline, islands and lakes. Now, the Wings finally want to take the trip they’ve long dreamed of and bring Bill’s longtime friend, Bob Wheeler, and his wife, Karen, of Franklin, La., along for the ride.
The simplest way to see much of the couples’ wish list is to sign up for a cruise-tour, but that requires conforming to a set itinerary and traveling with a group. For example, Affordabletours.comis offering a discounted Alps and Adriatic Cruise trip that includes three nights in Slovenia’s Bled and Ljubljana, and a seven-night cruise sailing round-trip from Koper, Slovenia, and stopping in four Croatian coastal cities and the Albanian port of Durres. Starting at $2,374 per person double plus $192 port charges, the trip also includes most meals, transfers and six tours and shore excursions.
If the travelers want more independence, here’s the plan:
Fly from Washington Dulles to Ljubljana, with return from Dubrovnik, Croatia; for September travel, expect to pay about $1,475 per ticket.
Transport within Slovenia and Croatia is the trickiest part of this trip. Do they rent a car or rely on public transportation for the trip’s first leg? If Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park, with its lovely lakes and waterfalls, is a must-see, then renting a car is a better idea, as public transportation options to Plitvice are limited. An intermediate manual transmission car rented in Ljubljana and dropped off in Rijeka will cost about $85 a day plus gas, which costs about $5 a gallon.
If Plitvice is cut from the itinerary, then public transportation works: Take the airport shuttle from the Ljubljana airport to the city (about $45 for four, www.mnj.si), the bus between Ljubljana and Bled (about $80 for four round trip, www.ap-ljubljana.si/eng) and the train from Ljubljana to Rijeka (about $80 for four, www.slo-zeleznice.si/en), where you can catch a ferry south.
The coastal ferry (www.jadrolinija.hr), which operates June 3-Sept. 29, travels overnight from Rijeka along the Dalmatian coast to the city of Split; fare will be about $185 per couple for a two-person berth. From Split, you can catch any of several local ferries or a high-speed catamaran (www.krilo.hr/en) to various islands, including Hvar, Vis and Korcula; expect to pay about $10 per person for a round-trip ticket. Finally, the ferry from Split to Dubrovnik will cost about $166 per couple.
Depending on whether Plitvice is part of the trip, plan on spending between one and three nights in each destination. In Ljubljana, Hotel Park Ljubljana (www.hotelpark.si) is a moderately priced, centrally located three-star hotel; price is about $170 per night per couple including breakfast.
In Bled, Garni Hotel Berc (www.berc-sp.si), a short walk from the town center, has double rooms for $114 a night. The area also offers farm stays. Turisticna Kmetija Pri Biscu, for example, has views and farm-to-table meals; rate is $87 a night for two, which can be booked through the Slovenia Tourist Board (www.slovenia.info).
Instead of staying in Rijeka, spend a night in the nearby tourist town of Opatija (if not driving, take the No. 32 bus). The waterfront Hotel Villa Ariston (www.villa-ariston.hr) has rooms starting at $122 a night.
Plitvice Lakes National Park (www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr) has four hotels; rates, with breakfast, start at $96 per night per couple.
In Split, Hotel Luxe (www.hotelluxesplit.com) is a modern boutique hotel; rate for two with breakfast is $180 a night.
On the islands, apartments and bed-and-breakfasts are a good value. On Hvar, the ferry lands in the town of Stari Grad, but take the bus to the town of Hvar. Accommodations include House Gordana (www.house-gordana-hvar.com/en), with rates starting at $60 per couple per night. In Korcula, the ferry docks in the town of Vela Luka, where a two-bedroom apartment is about $75 a night; contact the Mediterano Tourist Agency (www.mediterano.hr) for info.
In high-priced Dubrovnik, Villa Flores (www.dubrovnikflores.com) has studios starting at about $159 a night.
Ljubljana (www.visitljubljana.si) is a compact capital city with an old section on the east side of the Ljubljanica River, and the newer city to the west. The city boasts nine major museums and architectural gems such as Triple Bridge and Ljubljana Castle. Bled (www.bled.si/en), with its mountain-ringed lake, is known for its natural beauty.
Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park (www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr), 15 lakes separated by natural travertine dams and a series of waterfalls, is also famous for its scenery.
The entire coast of Croatia (croatia.hr), from Opatija to Dubrovnik, is a magnet for water enthusiasts and history buffs. Opatija (www.opatija.net), for example, is a seaside tourist town that also has a large botanical park and numerous historic buildings. Split (www.split.info) offers an interesting contrast of old and new: Diocletian’s Palace, built by a Roman emperor in A.D. 305, sits in the middle of the city’s center.
Islands off the coast have distinct personalities. Hvar (www.tzhvar.hr/en), for example, is a hip destination with busy nightlife, while Korcula (www.visitdubrovnik.hr) and Vis (www.tz-vis.hr) are quieter venues.
Dubrovnik (www.visitdubrovnik.hr) has enough ancient architecture to keep a student of history entertained for days.
The tour option will go over budget by about $700 per couple; air is $1,300 each and the cruise-tour $5,132. An independent travel trip using public land transportation will cost about $1,475 each for air, about $1,900 per couple for lodging for 14 nights and about $475 for transportation, leaving about $1,675 per couple for food and sightseeing.
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