Get down to the nitty-gritty in travel planning! How do you get from one place to another in Croatia? That’s always the question, isn’t it? Things are getting a lot easier for travellers on a lot of fronts.
First the bad news. Ryanair, which opened a massive base in Zadar several years ago, is cutting down on the frequency of some international routes into Zadar. The routes are not being cancelled, it’s important to note, but the frequency is. According to Ryanair, it’s more due to changes in its fleet than any problem with Zadar which may mean that frequency will be increased next year. We’ll see. Click here for a list of flights to Croatia this summer.
The good news is that it will be ever easier to get to Dubrovnik. Coming from Lebanon? No problem! Charter airline Wings of Lebanon will operate 22 flights between Beirut and Dubrovnik running from June through to September. Adriatic Skyways hasn’t quite figured out which countries it will link to Dubrovnik and Zagreb but is certain that more flights to these two airports are on the way. As their fleet consists of Fokker 50 and Fokker 100 aircraft, short haul flights are the most likely.
Coming from Sweden? It’s all good. Air Croatia is a low-cost carrier that will run flights from Gothenburg to Split, Dubrovnik, Pula and Zagreb and from Stockholm to Zadar and Split. Flights are due to run from June to September but are not yet available for sale.
More good news! Croatia’s national carrier, Croatia Airlines, is teaming up with charter operator Trade Air to connect Rijeka with Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik and Split with Dubrovnik. Flights are on Friday only and start on April 4. Book now because the planes only seat 30. It’s a great way to visit multiple destinations from Istria to Dubrovnik within a short period of time.
Also, there are reports that Zagreb Airport is trying to lure carriers to provide flights from Prague and Belgrade as well as Toronto, but that would be in 2015–if it happens at all.
Croatia Railways has announced plans to allow booking via smartphone! Not this year though. Probably by the middle of next year.
And speaking of booking, Jadrolinija is experimenting with an online booking system for local ferries. Great! As of now, there is online booking only for international lines and the coastal ferry. For local lines, you actually have to go to a Jadrolinija office. Primitive. This year Jadrolinija is allowing online booking for its popular Rijeka-Rab-Novalja catamaran. If all goes well, it should be rolled out next year for the rest of the local ferry lines.
Online booking is now open for all Ancona-Split, Zadar-Split and Dubrovnik-Bari lines as well as all lines from Venice to Istria and Mali Losinj.
Venezia Lines has been operating the Venice to Croatia catamarans for at least a decade and they’ve just published their 2014 timetables. Every year there are fewer Istrian destinations being served! Why, back in the day there were routes from Venice to Umag and Rabac in addition to this year’s routes to Rovinj, Porec, Pula and Mali Losinj. Too bad. Notice that the ferries start running on April 19 and finish October 4. Not all destinations start service at the same time and there are daily ferries only in high season. You can find the timetables, prices and online booking here.
The timetables can be a little confusing to read. Please post your questions in the comments section at the bottom of the Ferries page.
No, I haven’t done everything I’ve wanted to do in Croatia. Take biking for example. Sure I’ve done little day jaunts around Rovinj or Split on a bike, but I’ve never done one of the longer, more demanding circuits that traverse the Croatian countryside. It’s my dream.
And now a company has arrived on the scene to make my dream come true. Cycling Croatia is proposing the kind of pumping and pedaling tours I’ve always wanted to do. Now, I’m more about appreciating the countryside than sweating through my sneakers so their Istria cycling tour would probably be for me. Characterized as “relaxed”, this tour takes in Istria’s rolling hills as well as the islands of Cres and Krk in northern Dalmatia. I especially like the part about “a refreshing swim in the Adriatic”. That’s for me!
Unless. . .hmmm. The Istrian summer might be too warm for me. In that event, I might choose the Zagorje tour which takes in the gorgeous countryside around Zagreb. The cool, green hills would be refreshing in the height of summer. Another attractive possibility is the stunning Gorski Kotar region which includes Risnjak National Park.
Fitter and more energetic bikers might choose the southern Dalmatia route which takes in the rugged islands of Hvar and Korcula that lie between Split and Dubrovnik. The point is that Cycling Croatia proposes tours for all levels and is very specific about the fitness requirements of each tour. I also like the hotels chosen by the organizers. The three and four-star hotels on the tours are wonderful places to unwind after a hard day in the saddle.
Sure, it’s possible to get some maps, rent a bunch of bikes and set out on your own, but I like the idea of a trusted, experienced local who knows the roads and knows the customs handling the details for me and guiding me safely along Croatia’s roadways and bike paths. Given all that’s included, Cycling Croatia’s tours are a bargain.
They are even more of a bargain for early bookers. Book before 30 January and get a 10% reduction. I would get started! Contact www.cyclingcroatia.com
It’s been a long time in the planning but 2014 is the year when the dream becomes a reality. The CEO of European Coastal Airlines, Klaus Dieter Martin, had his work cut out for him when he decided to tackle the Croatian bureaucracy a decade ago for authorization to set up seaplane routes connecting the coast with the islands. His persistence has paid off.
In an interview today, Director of Marketing Jan Albers confirmed that flights will definitely start this year and that tickets will be on sale online from mid-March. “We received our final authorization for the downtown Split location this morning. This is the first scheduled seaplane operation in Europe. Our goal is to help islanders as well as tourists by adding this important service to the Croatian transport system. This service will operate year-round even when the tourists leave.” Islanders have been losing their population for years because of their isolation from the mainland. A seaplane service may well reverse that trend.
But can islanders afford it? “Yes,” said Mr. Albers. “There will be special offers for islanders that start at only 99Kn or $19″. Not bad!
If islanders like the seaplane service, tourists are sure to love it. Imagine getting from Split to Hvar in only 10 minutes! The quickest catamaran service takes an hour and only leaves from Split harbor. The seaplane service will have two locations: Split harbor and Split airport (with a shuttle to the dock). Although I think a visit to the coast should include Split, at least tourists now have the option of heading directly to Hvar from Split airport. And, the price is surprisingly reasonable at only €39, hardly more expensive than a taxi from Split airport to town and then a catamaran to Hvar.
Although Split or Dubrovnik to Hvar town is likely to be popular, other islands will also be served and, most importantly, there will be flights between islands as well. Island-hopping in Croatia has always been problematic, especially off-season, when catamaran services wind down. The following destinations are on the current route plan: Split, Hvar town, Jelsa (Hvar Island), Korcula, Vis, Lastovo and Dubrovnik.
Also on the planning board are flights from Italy to the Croatian coast. Italian tour operators have expressed interest in chartered flights with European Coastal Airlines which should also begin this summer. Individual reservations are not yet available.
Another popular charter flight will be from Split to Dubrovnik. With flight times of less than an hour, it will finally be possible to experience Dubrovnik on a day trip from Split. The price of this charter flight will be less than €4000 return in an aircraft holding 19 passengers.
Although the flight schedule has not been fully developed, the planes are ready and waiting. European Coastal Airlines has two large planes in its fleet: a DeHavilland Twin Otter 6-300 and the Grumman G-21 Goose. Both are high in comfort and can operate in land or water. There’s also a third plane with room for the pilot and one passenger.
The online booking system will be in place in mid-March. Meanwhile, it’s possible to book your flights by contacting the company through their website. I would get on that right away as the service is likely to be extremely popular.
I first set eyes on Dubrovnik on April 16, 1996. Although the last shell dropped on the pearly city in 1992, it could have been last week as far as the residents were concerned. The tourist business, which was the economic lifeblood of the town, had been moribund since the beginning of the Homeland War in 1991. Before the war, Dubrovnik was welcoming some 4 million tourists a year. In 1995 numbers were down to about 120,000. “We’ll be happy if we can get 10% of our pre-war arrivals”, the tourist director explained to me in his office. “That’s quite an economic hit”, I remarked, mentioning that my book might bring more Anglophone tourists. “We don’t care where tourists are from or how much money they spend. We just want to see their faces. Bring some life into town”.
In Croatia to update Lonely Planet’s Eastern Europe guidebook, I found that tourist officials everywhere were desperately eager to meet me and present their domain. Dubrovnik was in a particularly bad place both psychologically and economically. It was and is geographically isolated on the very tip of Croatia with its former tormenters from Bosnia and Montenegro penned behind disturbingly close borders. There was no shipbuilding business to rebuild as in Pula or Split and the days of Dubrovnik as a center of Adriatic trade were long gone.
People were morose and anxious. “We’re worried we can’t keep the young people”, murmured my guide, Antonjeta over lunch at Dundo Maroje. They talked obsessively about the war and the sudden collapse of normal life. It was “like a mousetrap”, said one woman, remembering the day when officials pulled up the drawbridges. Many spoke wistfully of the cable car up to Srd Hill that had been destroyed in the war and left in ruins.
The women were still exquisitely dressed, determined to keep up appearances. On the one hand, the careful grooming belied their economic situation but on the other hand, it brought them closer to me. That could be my aunt or my sister or even me who suddenly sees their elegant middle-class life explode because of distant political squabbles.
The preoccupation with surfaces extended to the physical landscape of Dubrovnik. The facades were mostly repaired by then at least along Stradun, the main artery. UNESCO and other international organizations had rushed money into town to repair the most seriously damaged structures. Along the side streets though, many buildings were empty and shuttered waiting for the completion of repairs.
Replacing Dubrovnik’s distinctive honey-colored roof tiles proved particularly problematic. A source for the clay tiles had yet to be found and there was an urgent need to protect buildings from the rain. In desperation, the restorers turned first to Slovenia, then to Agen in France before finally retooling a factory in northern Croatia.
In the photo above, the contrast between the old and new tiles is evident. Notice also the burn marks that remain on the walls and the scaffolding around the Cathedral.
What a difference a decade makes! Not only was Dubrovnik well and truly repaired by 2007 but its property market was at its height with prices rivaling those of central London. Even in 2010 the price of a two-bedroom apartment was €490,000.
Foreigners rushed in to buy vacation homes and residents happily sold out. By 2012 only about 1500 residents remained in the Old Town, a drop of about %75 since the early ’90s. The fear that Dubrovnik cannot keep its younger generation has been replaced by the fear that the city cannot keep any locally-born residents. Preserving Dubrovnik’s traditions and culture has become challenging as tourists flood the city each season.
Some 657,000 tourists arrived in 2012, a number which is expected to increase by 10% in 2013 when final figures are in. But those numbers don’t include the nearly one million cruise passengers that arrive annually, an influx that strains tempers as well as Dubrovnik’s infrastructure. Some say that cruise tourism is a fragile economic base as cruise passengers spend a fraction of what overnight visitors spend. Also, an Old Town packed to immobility by strolling cruise passengers may make Dubrovnik less attractive to other visitors.