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Conquering empires and shifting borders have plagued this region for millennia, by turns destroying and enriching the landscape, and leaving behind a wealth of architectural and artistic treasures that trace a timeline back to Rome and beyond. Traditional local cultures are still strong, and citizens of these tiny countries have no doubt about who they are; the monuments left behind are now part of their own proud heritage. And for all its historic grandeur, these are not places lost in time. Medieval walled towns are abundant, but their narrow streets are lined today with boutiques, restaurants, and cafés, and in their outskirts are cities in the modern mode. The timeless natural wonders captivate — from the majesty of Alpine landscapes to the warmth of the Adriatic seaside.
Days 1 & 2: Zagreb, Croatia
Upon arrival you are escorted to your luxury hotel. As a result of its strategic crossroads location, Zagreb boasts a long history of commerce and culture. Meander through the thousand-year-old Upper Town, or Gornji Grad, its historic landmarks set along cobbled streets lit by gas lamps. The 19th-century Donji Grad (Lower Town) is brimming with shops, restaurants, and cafés — an excellent place to mingle with locals. A third town, the modern post-World War II Novi Zagreb (New Zagreb), sports contemporary high-rise office buildings. A greenbelt with parks and fountains, and avenues of trees and flowers, begins in the town center, turns down to the railway station, through the botanical gardens, and up to Tito Square. Gain a unique perspective on the inner workings of Croatia’s government during a visit to the Parliament Palace — an experience arranged exclusively for Travcoa travelers. Next, enjoy the first museum of Naive art in the world. “Naive” is the term used for art of the 20th century, characterized by a childlike simplicity in subject matter and technique.
Days 3 & 4: Ljubljana & Bled, Slovenia
Motor through pristine Alpine scenery to reach Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, dominated by an ornate 17th-century castle. This medieval city is overflowing with cultural and historical monuments, including a building that hosts one of the world’s oldest philharmonic societies, where Gustav Mahler began his career. Bridges seem to be a specialty, from the Dragon Bridge, an art nouveau masterpiece adorned with dragons (the symbol of the city), to the Triple Bridge, an amalgam of an old stone bridge from 1842 and two modern side spans added in 1931, together providing an elegant entrance into the old town. Fascinating facts and insights emerge as we stroll the maze of streets, and stop to savor the Baroque Town Hall and the ornate Robba Fountain. In contrast to its wealth of architectural history, today’s Ljubljana has a high-tech economy and a skilled work force. Next, we make our way to Lake Bled. Here, sheltered by the Julian Alps and positioned in the middle of the tranquil lake, Bled Island is where Slavs of antiquity worshipped Ziva, goddess of love and fertility, and where the Church of the Assumption of Mary was later built into the rock, attracting pilgrims since the Middle Ages. Now we, too, can ring its “wishing bell.” Perched atop a steep cliff high above the lake is the castle of Bled, an 11th-century Romanesque tower enhanced by later additions. The town of Bled was famous as a health spa at the beginning of the 20th century, and attracted the European aristocratic elite. Now new age pilgrims have discovered the appeal of its gentle climate and thermal waters. For a stunning panorama of this splendid countryside, ascend by cable car for a view of Bohinj Lake, locked in a glaciated valley.
Grand Hotel Toplice
Days 5 & 6: Postojna, Slovenia & Rovinj, Croatia
Slovenia’s Karst Plateau has lent its name to a type of dramatic rock formation found around the world. At Postojna, however, the karst formations are uniquely located underground. A private electric train carries us through lighted subterranean passages and into caves decorated with limestone rock formations, stalactites, and stalagmites in fantastic shapes and colors. It’s an eerie but thrilling setting for our own private choral concert. We return to Croatia to explore the scenic Istrian Peninsula, a region often called the “Croatian Tuscany.” It’s a name with some validity, as the peninsula abuts the northeast edge of Italy. The town of Pula treasures its 2nd-century Roman amphitheater that draws visitors from all over the world. Rovinj is Istria’s cultural mecca, where red-roofed houses cluster around a hill crowned by the monumental Baroque Church of St. Euphemia. Far below sits the wide harbor, crowded with pleasure boats and rimmed with bright awnings and colorful café umbrellas. The group of religious monuments in Porec, including the eponymous basilica built by Euphrasius in the 6th-century, constitutes the most complete surviving complex of its type. The basilica, atrium, baptistery, and Episcopal palace, are outstanding examples of religious architecture.
Christianity was established here as early as the 4th century, and this UNESCO World Heritage Site was enhanced over the centuries with artwork, mosaics, and stained glass by the region’s great artists and artisans, producing a visual chronicle of the city’s history.
We spend the next two nights at the Hotel Monte Mulini, Rovinj’s first true luxury hotel, and Croatia’s only 5-star property. Panoramic views out to the Adriatic Sea are viewed through a dramatic two-story wall of glass. For the ultimate relaxation experience, try the floating bath in the plush spa — a 15 1/2 inch-deep tub filled with water containing such a high concentration of salt that you remain suspended. Don’t miss the hotel’s Corsican Wine Vault.
Hotel Monte Mulini
Day 7: Plitvice National Park
Plitvice National Park features imposing mountains, lush vegetation that provides a background mosaic of colors, and sparkling clear springs flow into swift rivers. For millennia, water flowing over limestone and chalk has deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams, which in turn have given birth to a series of caves, and 16 beautiful lakes connected by 32 spectacular cascades. These geological processes continue today, slowly changing the topography of the park. An expert naturalist leads us on a ramble to the best lookouts and hidden wonders.
Day 8: Trogir & Split
Trogir projects a very Mediterranean personality, with stunning nearby beaches and a seaside promenade that weaves its way around the town, ending at a port full of sailboats. It is also a jewel of a medieval town enclosed in 15th-century walls, on a tiny island that takes about 20 minutes to circumambulate. The Venetian Cathedral of St. Lovro towers over narrow lanes and small charming village squares. Its Adriatic seaside lined with palm trees, Split has long had an appeal for visitors. Seventeen hundred years ago its agreeable climate and seaside location attracted the Roman emperor Diocletian, who retired here to an imposing palace, the remains of which can be found throughout the town, and which we explore. Diocletian’s mausoleum is now the Cathedral of St. Dominus, protector of the city. Split is a veritable open-air museum of gardens, markets, and archaeological treasures, its twisting cobblestone lanes revealing churches and chapels both Romanesque and gothic, and older places of worship such as the Temple of Jupiter.
Days 9 – 11: Dubrovnik & Depart for Home
We follow the coastline south, and stop to investigate the village of Ston on the Peljesac Peninsula, home to old stone houses, and one of the longest fortification walls in Europe, at three and a half miles. But Ston’s real claim to fame — and the reason we are here — is its wonderful food. We taste the local wine and oysters, and stay for lunch. Then we travel on to Dubrovnik, the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” to attend an evening candlelit concert by the renowned Sorkocevic quartet at St. Savior Church.
The city of Dubrovnik is a living museum, its thick walls enclosing a wealth of striking architecture all built from the same stone, with no motor vehicles allowed inside to destroy the mood.
The Stradun, possibly the only byway that could legitimately be called a street, is a promenade lined with handsome, late- Renaissance houses. Two 14th-century monasteries guard the corners of the city — the Franciscan in the west and Dominican in the east. At the former, admire the double columns topped with elaborate carvings, and take a peek at the pharmacy, operating in the monastery since 1317. The Dominican Friary features a fine gothic cloister with graceful triple arches, a working medieval well set in tranquil gardens, and a fine museum of religious art. At the imposing Baroque Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, the main altar features a painting of “The Assumption” by Titian, and its treasury is famed for a collection of some 200 reliquaries. For a panoramic view, stride along Dubrovnik’s ancient walls to gaze at the city’s architecture, its surroundings, and the azure Adriatic sea.
On Day 11 you will be transferred to the airport for your flight home or on to your next destination.
Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik
ZAGREB - Esplanade Zagreb
BLED - Grand Hotel Toplice
ROVINJ - Hotel Monte Mulini
PLITVICE - Degenija Hotel
SPLIT - Atrium Hotel
DUBROVNIK - Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik
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