Croatia’s dreamy Dalmatian coast is perfection, even in the shoulder season! Check out our one-week itinerary from Split to Dubrovnik, then hop in a car, pull up a map, and visit this dazzling Adriatic gem for yourself.
I first met Croatia when I was solo backpacking. I remember stepping off the Leo train from Budapest to the warmth and colors of Zagreb immediately feeling, just, relaxed. Light. Happy. That’s the beauty of Croatia, I think.
Of course, I know a lot of travelers who would say otherwise. But having now been to this Adriatic gem both during high and shoulder seasons, both by bus and by car, both alone and with a boy, I can safely say I’ll be sticking to my own story, thanks! I love Croatia. I love it so much I’m 99% positive I’ll be back. Perhaps next time I’ll visit by boat 😉
With Brussels’ perpetual gray bumming us out big time, Boyfriend and I knew we needed to escape somewhere warm and colorful or we’d surely slip into a pesky seasonal depression. One in which we’d, no doubt, gain five pounds in beer and frites weight. Each.
Luckily, someone had a birthday coming up…
A big birthday…
Well, a big birthday deserves a big trip, doesn’t it? So I nominated the warm, sunny Dalmatian coast of Croatia as the place I wanted to celebrate it! Friends, it couldn’t have been more perfect if it had tried. Funny thing, though – in Croatia, one doesn’t get the feeling that the country is ever really trying. It just is beautiful, bright, friendly, surprising, scrumptious, lively… and wonderful.
But you don’t have to take my – or anyone else’s – word for it.
Just take my One Week Itinerary for Coastal Croatia and go see for yourself!
Day 1: Split
Boyfriend and I decided the sunny coastal town of Split would be the ideal place to begin our road trip.
Split is a pretty, pretty ancient Roman city, whose Old Town you can easily imagine full of toga-wearing dignitaries as you wander its white streets.
While you’re there, explore Diocletian’s Palace, its imposing gates, its unassuming temples, its odd mélange of Roman and Egyptian décor. Climb the bell tower of St. Domnius Cathedral for a bird’s eye view. Stargaze through the oculus of its monumental vestibule. Or sip a cold Karlovačko in Peristil Square, especially at night when it’s low-lit and alive with music.
Oh, and take your time – there are lovely, ancient, and/or delicious surprises around every corner here!
Day 2: Hvar
The fact that this gorgeous island is known primarily for ritzy wild parties is a crime. Boyfriend and I quickly realized on our day trip from Split that Hvar is so much more than its Glamour Girl rep!
With no real plan, we had a short wander around Hvar Town: We zig-zagged through close stone streets. We stumbled upon a First Communion celebration at the Hvar Cathedral. We snapped photos of the Franciscan Monastery (which was closed on Sunday). We climbed the Spanish Fortress for a spectacular view on Hvar Town.
And then the clock struck noon.
With most of our day still before us, we were eager to explore more of the island. So we skipped over to the bus station, rented a motorbike, grabbed and map and drove.
Through bursting olive groves and wild vineyards. To pristine near-private beaches. Over mountains whose ancient Greek structures were still miraculously intact after over 24 centuries!
We made sure to stop in Stari Grad, a tiny port town on the other side of Hvar island. It was quick… but long enough at least for a quick lap and a visit to Tvrdalj Castle! Afterward we leisurely headed back to Hvar Town via winding mountain roads just as the sun was beginning to set.
Day 3: Omiš
Nestled between towering limestone mountains and the turquoise Adriatic sea, Omiš was an unexpected delight!
This tiny town was once frequented by pirates! (WHAT??) But don’t worry. The only remnants of that exciting time are the two old fortresses (Mirabela and Starigrad) perched on the surrounding cliffs. Now Omiš is quiet and friendly…
And, thanks to the bisecting Cetina River, the perfect setting to get your sport on! Whether your jam is rafting, zip-lining, canyoning or kayaking you’ll have a fantastic day in the canyon. Stop at one of the restaurants literally on the river for lunch in this gorgeous setting! Just be sure to save room for a platter of fresh seafood back in town guaranteed to be the size of your torso…
You don’t wanna miss that!
Day 4: Makarska Riviera
The winding coastal drive south along the Makarska Riviera was the stuff of unicorn heaven dreams. My handsome driver and I made a couple of planned stops to Brela Beach and Makarska’s Sveti Petar lighthouse. But we made many more unplanned stops along the highway. Hey, the coastline was flirting shamelessly. We had to indulge her.
To round out our day we packed a picnic and hiked to several stunning wild beaches in the Osejava Forest Park…
Which may or may not have ended with a swim at a nudist pebble beach, a first for both of us!
Day 5: Ston/Mali Ston
After spending a leisurely morning at our dreamy AirBnB on the beach in Komarna we drove down to Ston, our first foray into the Peljesac Peninsula.
Ston, itself, is so small you can cross the entire town on foot in less than five minutes. However, the highlight of this area is the City Walls. They climb and stretch five kilometers all the way to Mali Ston (Little Ston).
Braving the insanely steep stairs like mountain climbers, we arrived in Mali Ston to a much-appreciated breeze off the bay – a bay we remembered from our research was known far and wide for its delectable shellfish! We tucked into a plate of meaty, buttery, oh-so-silky oysters paired with a crisp, cool glass of Pošip white from the peninsula before braving the walls again to return to Ston for our car.
[Side Note: While we had a great day fortressing and oystering in Ston, if we had to skip something to make our trip seven days instead of eight we could’ve skipped this. Or tacked it onto another day.]
Day 6: Peljesac Peninsula to Orebič
Years ago when I was backpacking through Croatia, I remembered hearing about a few must-try wine regions in the country. A couple years later, my dad and I heard about them again, randomly, from our Croatian guide in Tenerife. And last year while doing (probably too much) research on wine for my first novel, I finally happened to stumble upon the names of those regions.
One of them was the Peljesac Peninsula.
The Peljesac is Croatia’s Dalmatian wine growing region sown for hectares with Plavac Mali grapes. According to wine experts, they produced a full-bodied, tannic red I couldn’t wait to try. So for my birthday that’s exactly what we did, first at Milos Winery then at Grgic Winery.
We only really had the time (and tolerance) to visit two tasting rooms, and we went into each tasting honestly not expecting much. Which was probably why the Croatian wine blew our minds! It was robust, complex, varied and full-bodied… Simply, delicious. If you’re a wine enthusiast like we are, this region is a must-visit.
Day 7: Korčula
A ferry from Orebič brought us to the island of Korčula to spend the day frolicking on one of Croatia’s ONLY sand beaches!
Catching a bus from the Old Town, we stepped off in Lumbarda to spend a few hours snorkeling and splashing at Pela Przina Beach. Luckily this normally crowded-as-hell stretch of sand was only speckled with visitors this time of year. Also lucky was that, due to the unseasonably warm October weather, the beach bar was still open for beers! SCORE!
But as the sun began to disappear so, too, did the heat, so we headed back into the Old Town. We took a few laps through its maze of narrow streets before settling down at a cozy little wine bar. Here we had the chance to sample a cool, buttery glass of Grk, a grape that grows exclusively on Korčula.
Day 8: Dubrovnik
Oh, Dubrovnik: “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” Even at the end of the shoulder season this walled city was just as I remembered it: old, gorgeous and packed. It was funny because up to this point our trip had been, for the most part, pretty quiet. But we knew that wouldn’t be the case here when we passed three massive cruise ships docked in the port on our way in!
Still, I love this city. Dubrovnik dazzles even on its most crowded days, inviting you to admire every inch both on the ground and on its high walls! And it’s best explored slowly, thoroughly, but still just a little bit aimlessly. After all, the best things – hole-in-the-wall bars, coffee shops with roof terraces, fusion restaurants – are discovered by accident, trust me. Just make your way down Placa (the city’s main shopping street), visit the Dubrovnik Cathedral, take photos on the Game of Thrones “SHAME” staircase, then let your feet loose to their whims.
You may just find yourself at a hidden basketball court with the best free view in town…