Zagreb & the Croatian Coast
We visited Croatia in 2017.
Our visit was combined with our trip to Slovenia. The plan was to fly out to Ljubljana in Slovenia and then travel by rail and sea to Dubrovnik.
Our journey would take us first to Zagreb and after a two-night stay in the Croatian capital we would catch another train via Knin to Split on the Adriatic Coast. From Split we would complete our trip by catching the fast ferry down the coast to the port at Dubrovnik.
This was a slight compromise on an earlier plan which had included travel on the extremely picturesque railway through Bosnia via Banja Luka, Sarajevo and Mostar. Sadly the Bosnian Railway is struggling financially and for the moment that route remains closed. However, it is certainly on the list for a future trip.
Journey to Zagreb
On our third day we caught the Zurich-Belgrade Express from Ljubljana to Zagreb. The railway follows the course of the beautiful Sava River valley for the whole 2-hour journey and the scenery is delightful. The train stops for 20 minutes at the frontier town of Dobova for a passport check and a locomotive change.
Hotel in Zagreb
Our hotel in Zagreb was the beautiful Art Deco Esplanade Hotel opened in 1925. It is situated directly opposite the Station. Zagreb is almost mid-way between Paris and Istanbul and it became a popular overnight stop for travellers on the Orient Express. The hotel has been beautifully restored and certainly plays off its connection with Europe’s most famous train. The corridors are crammed with posters from the Wagons Lits company and the menus feature specialties from many of the cities between Paris and Istanbul.
Zagreb was the largest city we visited and, whilst it is not as clean and as ordered as Ljubljana, it is a relaxing place to walk around. Traffic is limited in the extreme centre of the city and the numerous sky-blue trams add to the colourful streetscape.
We spent a couple of days exploring the city and found time to venture into the Museum of Broken Relationships; a quirky place full of objects and stories that people associate with the end of their love affairs and marriages.
Zagreb is also home to what is claimed to be Europe’s most beautiful cemetery. It is certainly huge and very green. We spent an hour in the sunshine walking around the well-kept grounds looking at the graves of dissidents, politicians and musicians.
Train to Split
The train journey down to the coast at Split took about 7 hours. The train passes through several national parks en-route and the views out of the windows are excellent. The mountain scenery continues for most of the journey but the Adriatic finally comes into view and the train pulls up alongside the ferry terminal in Split.
Split has some of the best-preserved Roman remains in Europe. The whole town centre is based around the original Roman settlement. The town also has an attractive promenade and combines its role of Roman museum with that of modern resort and ferry port.
After dinner we climbed Marjan hill and enjoyed beautiful night views of the harbour and the town.
Ferry to Dubrovnik
From May until October the Krillo Star makes the 4.5 hour journey from Split to Dubrovnik. The time is competitive with the bus (which has to make a 10 mile foray into Bosnia) and is a much more relaxing way to make the trip. The boat stops off at 4 islands on the way to set down and pick up passengers. On the final approach into Dubrovnik it passes some of the large cruise liners that dock in the port daily.
UNESCO listed, historical, beautiful and fascinating, Dubrovnik is almost certainly worth a visit. That said, it seems to suffer in the same way as Venice from “too much tourism” and is becoming swamped. The daily visit of 5,000 cruise liner passengers doesn’t help either. The absolute centre of the town is best avoided in the day time. We walked the incredible walls (the best preserved walled city in the world) but also spent a lot of our time outside the walls, climbing Sdrj hill overlooking the city and exploring the coastline around Babin Kuk.
Food & Drink
Both Slovenia and Croatia are fast becoming foodie destinations and, with the Lonely Planet to guide us, we enjoyed some simply excellent meals.
The Croatian delicacy is cevapcici ; tiny skinless sausages that are served with raw onion and warm bread to make an excellent lunch time snack. On the coast fresh seafood is in abundance and is really great value. We enjoyed calamari, octopus and a lot more fish besides.
The cakes, especially the chocolate cream slices, were outstanding and the ice cream was certainly up there with some of the best I have tasted in Italy.
Beer is Pan or Ozujusko in Croatia. Lovely stuff !
As usual we visited a lot of markets. The open and covered markets in Zagreb were excellent but for atmosphere the early-morning fish market in Split was difficult to beat.
The War Museum on the top of Sdrj tells the story (albeit from a Croatian perspective) of the 1991-1995 war of independence. 10,000 people died in the Croatian struggle over the 4 years of fighting. Dubrovnik, despite its UNESCO status, was heavily bombarded by the Federal Yugoslav forces. The photographs and displays in the museum tell the sad story.
Both Slovenia and Croatia are heartily recommended.
The people are friendly and helpful enough but they are not over-bearing. This makes for a nice relaxed atmosphere which we both thought was similar to Portugal.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visits and we will certainly be back soon.