A perfect route for an Adriatic coast adventure
Our Croatian road trip started from our doorstep in the UK. That wasn’t the initial plan; however, as soon as the seed of possibility was planted in Gary’s mind, there was no turning back.
Originally, we were going to fly to Croatia, either to Zagreb or Split, hire a car and we’d be on our merry way. Oh no, other plans were afoot, Gary fired up a spreadsheet and planning was underway.
I was sceptical at first, but when the itinerary was coming together, and we included a couple of stops on the route down and the return journey, it was beginning to look like fun. Furthermore, we have the ideal car to tour in, and it meant we could stop off at one of Croatia’s vineyards and bring back some vino.
What takes your fancy?
I appreciate that not everyone has the time to embark on a Croatian road trip from their home. However, have a browse through our itinerary and see how our route through Croatia could work for you.
The view from the Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
We head as far south as Dubrovnik and also take a little hop across the border into Bosnia Herzegovina to visit Mostar.
Would you like some advice?
Not purely Croatia
The Cathedral from Domplatz, Salzburg
We decided on 16 nights for the round trip, 12 of which were spent in Croatia at six different locations. Including Dubrovnik in the south to Rovinj in the north.
Gary and I enjoy road trips, so adding the additional days was not an issue, and we wanted to relish the journey. Although I do appreciate that some folk don’t mind longer stints in the car to arrive sooner.
I’d also like to add that our adventure took place in September.
Road Trip Checklist
The Inspiration for Croatia
- History & Culture – The ancient cities of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik
- The architecture – Venetian, Roman and so much more
- Food & Drink – Seafood, local delicacies and Croatian wine
First stop is Obernai
Le Shuttle, Folkestone, UK
Half Timbered Obernai, France
Obernai is overflowing with colourful window boxes, trailing down picturesque half-timbered homes. Once surrounded by a double wall fortification and would have been encircled by 20 towers. Some of the towers and ramparts can still be enjoyed today.
Obernai was a perfect stopover location and full of plenty of choices for the evening.
Austria here we come
The majority of our journey from Obernai to Salzburg was passing through Germany. We find the Germans to be fairly considerate drivers. The Autobahns are fantastic even if you are not Michael Schumacher and most importantly, they are free.
You will need a vignette to travel on Austrian motorways these can be purchased at German service stations en-route (see below for vignette information).
The Castle in Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg is a beautiful city located on the banks of River Salzach and famous for being the birthplace of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The delightful way that the city is lovingly cared for and protected it truly isn’t surprising.
Croatia is calling, we arrive at Plitvice
Well, technically we arrive at Jezerce a short hop from the UNESCO site of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Our journey today on leaving Salzburg was mainly motorway; nonetheless, it was very attractive scenery. Lots of tunnels, mountain passes and picturesque castles high on the hills.
Our entry into Slovenia was straightforward, (see below for vignette information). The scenery was once again, mountainous and beautiful.
The flowing falls of Rastoke
We chose to avoid the routes and crossings via Zagreb. We headed to the border crossing Metlika (Slovenia) in the direction of the town of Karlovac in Croatia.
At this border control, you had to show passports, and it was reasonably smooth passing through. Bearing in mind it was mid-September there were only around six cars Infront, and it took less than five minutes. We were then straight into rural Croatia.
Before heading to our lodging for the night, we had earmarked Rastoke as a scenic roadside stop. The village is situated at the convergence of waterways and offers a stunning array of waterfalls.
Plitvice Lakes Natural Park
We then continued driving through the lush countryside of Croatia and arrived at Grand Lakes Rooms, the small remote hotel which would be home for the next two nights.
The whole of the following day we devoted our time around the spectacular opal lakes and cascading waterfalls at Plitvice National Park.
Quick Tip on Croatia Toll Roads
Zadar and its magnificent coastline
We chose an unusual route to reach Zadar, as we fancied experiencing a bit of island hopping and avoid driving the direct route. Therefore, we were off through the scenic countryside to Prizna and jump on a ferry to the island of Pag.
Traffic was light, and the roads climb into the mountains, before descending again. The drive, despite being twisty, is easy. The roads are wide and well maintained with enough room for two trucks to pass with ease.
Waiting for the ferry to Pag
On the final descent, the views are stunning as we head towards Karlobag. We then pick up the coastal E65 and head north to Prizna.
The ferry route 335 to Zigljen is served by Jadrolinija and takes 15 minutes to cross. We chose to leave our car for the short crossing and head up on deck to enjoy the views. Disembarkation is a pretty rapid affair, and we're soon heading across the island towards Pag. It's now full sun, and this is what we've been dreaming of.
Stopped by the roadside near Pag
We rest at Pag to enjoy the views, before heading onwards. Also stopping at the little beach of Ljubač. There’re pomegranates, figs & olives growing here, all fully ripe in mid-September.
It’s then onward to Zadar.
Roman Forum in front of St Mary’s Church, Zadar
Apartments – cash or card?
A day around Zadar
The waters of Zadar
Spending two nights allowed us to watch the sunset across the Dalmatian coastline and enjoy watching The Greeting to the Sun gradually while listening to the enchanting Sea Organ.
Take a peek at our post on Zadar, there is so much to unearth.
Heading south to Trogir
With Croatia having such a stunning shoreline it was a no brainer for us to hop on the D8 and hug the Dalmatian Coast as we headed south. Winding our way around tiny rocky inlets with colourful wooden boats, bobbing up and down in the crystal blue waters.
The roads are easy to navigate, and the lower speed limits mean that you can enjoy the route as you pootle by. Along the roadside, as we travel, you see the pigs roasting over charcoal- tempting, but it’s a little early.
The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik
We decided on a few stops along the way, one being the town of Šibenik. Here there is the beautiful Cathedral of St James, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Heading onwards we discover more of those captivating shoreside towns and villages the country is known. We pick up a rural vineyard route prior to arriving at our next stop, the captivating bay at Primošten. It was so idyllic here, and we made a mental note for next time we are in Croatia.
The waters off Primošten
Back on D8 and our next location along the Adriatic is the ancient walled city of Trogir. Which was to be our home for the next couple of nights
We check into our apartment and enjoy the rest of the day discovering the cobblestoned lanes.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Full day unearthing the mysteries of Trogir
The marina at Trogir
Trogir at dusk
Dubrovnik, our southernmost point
If we were to travel directly to Dubrovnik, today’s journey would take us through Bosnia. And although we were heading into Bosnia in a couple of days for a day trip, we wanted to avoid the border crossing on our southwards journey.
So, we had the perfect solution, and that meant hopping on another ferry and exploring the Pelješac peninsula.
For our route out of Trogir, we jumped back on the D8 and continued to embrace the coastline south until we reached the ferry terminal at Ploče.
The ferry route 633 to Trpanj is served by Jadrolinija and takes 1 hour to cross. You can book online, or there is a ticket office in Ploče. We had a smooth crossing, and in no time, we were touring through the Pelješac peninsula.
Picking up wine at Putniković
The little harbour of Ston
Our journey took us by the historic town of Ston. You see the city walls as you roll into town, climbing the hillside, hugging the terrain as it goes. As we passed Ston, we came across Mali Ston, so we swing the car in to explore.
It’s then onward to Dubrovnik passing oyster beds laid out in the bay as we depart. From docking at the ferry terminal in Trpanj winding down through Ston and then onto Dubrovnik via the D414 and D8.
We check into our apartment and enjoy the rest of the day discovering Dubrovnik.
Driving to Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina
Armed and pre-prepared with our passports, vehicle registration documents, driving licenses, insurance, GB sticker, Green Card and a full tank of gas. We were ready to go!
We chose to head to the Ivanica border crossing, so, it was back on the D8 and onto the D223, which was around 8 miles (22km) to the border control.
At 9am, there was only a handful of vehicles and a coach in front. We didn’t realise initially that there were two border controls, so the first was easy, just a glance at the passports and we were through.
However, a mile further and there was the 2nd checkpoint. This is where the documents were needed, and they were thoroughly checked.
We were through without any issues, and we even received a stamp for our passport.
Parked up en-route to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
After only a few minutes we were greeted by cows in the middle of the road jangling their cowbells, this really was rural.
I was surprised how different the surroundings felt, considering we had not long left Croatia. The roads were very quiet, little villages deserted and empty derelict houses remain on the hillsides.
The journey from the Ivanica border crossing to Mostar was around 92 miles (148km). We opted for the route along the M20, R427 then hopped onto M17.3, M17 and then the M6.1 into the city of Mostar.
The scenery was Incredible, and the roads were unbelievably quiet.
The Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The city of Mostar is quite large, and traces of darker times are still visible of the city walls. Mostar has now become a bit of tourist hotspot, like the other visitors we were there to visit the UNESCO Old Town and the magnificent bridge ‘Stari Most’.
Take a browse through our post on Mostar for a little more insight.
For a change of scenery, we decided to head back a different route. We encountered some pretty bad driving through Bosnia so travel at your own pace and let the locals just pass on by.
The return journey from Mostar to Ivanica border was around 80 miles (128km). We picked up the M6.1 out of the city, then M17.3, M6 and finally the M20. And the last hop back to Dubrovnik.
After a long day in the saddle, we strolled into Dubrovnik for the evening.
Word of advice
A day discovering Dubrovnik
Overlooking the historic streets of Dubrovnik
Heading north to Split
Today we are off to Split and, on our journey, north we are going to use the border crossing at Neum to take the short hop through Bosnia.
Yes, you guessed it we are back on the D8 coastal route. From Dubrovnik to the Bosnian Neum border crossing it is around 40 miles (65km).
A view over Split
The immigration queue was reasonably short and only took a few minutes, our passports were checked; however, they didn’t check for a green card or insurance.
This is the only section of Bosnia that has a coastline so, they have hotels, restaurants and bars to encourage tourism.
Entering back into Croatia was fairly easy, just passport control. We then continue along the D8 and soak up the brilliant blue skies and the stunning views along the Adriatic Sea.
Strolling along the Riva at Split
We check into our hotel and enjoy the rest of the day and evening discovering the ancient city of Split.
There is so much to see through the tiny pedestrian lanes in Split, every corner you turn another historic tale could be told.
Have a browse through our post on Split, to uncover more about this remarkable city.
Beautiful Rovinj in the Istrian Peninsular
Our journey today was going to be quite long; it was to be around 270 miles (435km). We headed out of Split and jumped on the E65 north. The weather gods weren’t on our side, and it was torrential rain most of the journey.
We kept to the motorways north picking up the E71; however, if the rain had eased, we would have continued along the E65.
Boats in the marina at Rovinj
Luckily by midafternoon, the rain was clearing, so, after checking into our accommodation Contrada del Nonno Apartments, we strolled into Rovinj’s charming Old Town to discover more.
Have a peruse through our post on Rovinj, to appreciate just how pretty it is.
Day trip to Pula and Porec
Our first stop was Pula, just 25 miles (40km) south of Rovinj.
Pula on the Istrian coast is full of stunning architecture, not only does it have an amphitheatre, and an ancient forum but, it also has a 1st-century temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Augustus.
The Temple and Forum at Pula
Pula was also once the stomping ground of the Irish novelist James Joyce. Share table with his bronze statue outside a café, where nearby he taught English to Austro-Hungarian officers, at a time when Croatia was part of the empire
Have a peek at our post on Pula to discover more.
Then we hop back in the car, and we are off to Poreč, which is 22 miles (36km) north of Rovinj.
Poreč is another beautiful coastal town to stroll around and once again, so much Venetian influence. If you have the time, you can actually catch a catamaran across the Adriatic Sea to Venice
Inside the chapel of the Euphrasian Basilica at Poreč
However, if you are visiting Poreč, then you must head to the UNESCO Euphrasian Basilica.
Within the walls, you can visit the Basilica, atrium, octagonal baptistery and archbishop’s palace. Also, make sure you climb to the top of the Bell Tower; the views across the terracotta rooftops of Poreč are lovely.
Or a little more insight into Poreč have a look at our post.
We then head back to Rovinj for our last evening in Croatia.
We leave Croatia, next stop Austria
The route back to Salzburg is a bit of schlep as it mostly motorways for 292 miles (470km). Although the surrounding scenery is very captivating.
As we are crossing back through Slovenia and Austria, new vignettes are required for the car. We purchase these at the service stations en-route, (see below for vignette information).
Pegasus in the Mirabell Palace Gardens, Salzburg, Austria
The border crossings through Croatia and then out of Slovenia were reasonably smooth. They just wanted to see our passports and only took about 10 minutes each.
We chose to revisit Salzburg on our return leg, as there is so much to see in this beautiful city. With the extra few hours, it allowed us to discover more.
Our final location is Baden-Baden in Germany
We’re leaving Austria now and cruising into Germany and tonight we are staying in the spa town of Baden-Baden.
To allow ourselves time to discover Baden-Baden, it’s motorways for most of the journey. As we are entering Germany, it’s time to hit the autobahns. The total route was around 295 miles (475km).
We arrived around mid-afternoon, checked in and headed into town.
The Friedrichsbad bathing palace, Baden-Baden
Take a leisurely stroll along the riverbank and park, and you will pass by the elegant Kurhaus spa resort and casino complex, the Belle Epoch theatre and 19th-century Trinkhalle (pump house).
Baden-Baden is home to twelve historical springs; a grotto has been built around one. Be warned it may be a drinking fountain; however, the water reaches temperatures of up to 63°.
The route we took back to Calais from Baden- Baden was 411 miles (661km). Once again, we hopped on the toll motorways through France, they are so easy.
Our Croatian road trip adventure is sadly over; however, I think we may return.
A helpful guide
If you've yet to discover the delights of Croatia you're in for a treat. While planning our road trip, I used the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our north to south Croatian road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.
Our itinerary in summary
Useful detailed information on tolls and vignettes can be found below our itinerary summary.
* This post may contain links to affiliated sites where we earn a small commission at no additional charge to you.
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