Journey onto the Country Roads of Croatia with Insight Vacations

December 03, 2019

A journey through Croatia reveals a land of incomparable natural beauty, fascinating historic attractions and picturesque seaside villages making it one of Insight Vacations’ top five destinations and a powerful magnet for travellers as calendars turn to 2020.

On an exclusive FAM hosted by Insight Vacations, I was accompanied by a group of Maritime Travel Advisors from across Canada on a ‘Country Roads of Croatia’ itinerary. Throughout our journey, I experienced the value and benefit of a guided vacation through a mix of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold offerings, as well as learned about ways Insight Cares is committed to responsible tourism and supporting local communities. I also experienced the seamless evolution of coach travel, which I discovered is an immersive way to get up close and personal with a destination.  

Our trip began in Zagreb, where we were welcomed with our first of many authentic dining experiences offered to guests on Insight’s Dine-Around evenings. The next day, accompanied by an Insight Local Expert, we were educated on the culture, geography, and history of Croatia as we visited the capital sites with ease.

The charming city of Zagreb is overflowing with Austro-Hungarian Architecture, hidden courtyards, museums and hip all-day breakfast houses that spill onto its cobbled streets. The city is small, quaint and divided into the upper and lower town which makes it very visitor friendly. Gornji Grad (“Upper Town”) is the historical part of town where you will find the 13-century Zagreb Cathedral, St. Mark Church, Dolca - the biggest and most charming farmer’s market, and the Museum of Broken Relationships, among others. In Donji Grad (“Lower Town”) instead look for hip café bars, the Botanical Gardens, and the National Theatre.

The leisurely pace continued as we were led onto the wooden pathways inside the UNESCO designated Plitvice Lakes National Park, the largest and most popular of Croatia’s eight national parks. Each year, more than a million tourists visit the park renowned for its 16 crystal clear turquoise lakes connected by dramatic slaps (waterfalls) and lush woodlands. The park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, is also home to diverse species of flora and fauna that provide the perfect backdrop for a hike along the trag (trail). If you are lucky to visit the park after high season, like I was, you can avoid the crowds and feel as if you have this incredibly spectacular place all to yourself.

I noted the ease and comfort in which we travelled through the ‘Country Roads’ of Croatia, which is thanks to the experienced drivers that make mandatory stops every two hours, Insight's Travel Directors who share their passion and knowledge every step of the way, and the customized luxury coaches that come with tilted seating, extra legroom, complimentary WiFi, and large windows offering unobstructed scenic views that make for the height of comfort.

Long distances were broken up with jaunts to places like the picturesque coastal town of Trogir on the Dalmatian Coast. Originally founded as a Greek colony named Tragurion (island of goats), Trojir’s colourful past can be seen through the many architectural styles displayed in its impressively preserved old town. While there I climbed the tower of the St. Lawrence Cathedral and strolled through Trojir’s narrow streets to shop in interesting boutiques while admiring its mix of Medieval, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Afterward, I enjoyed a drink before walking along the marina lined with outdoor cafes offering gorgeous views of the Dalmatian coastline and Kamerlengo Fortress. 

Highlights included a guided visit through the UNESCO-protected Diocletian’s Palace in Split, a setting so beautiful that Game of Thrones filmed its fourth series here. Entering the oval, open-roofed Split Vestibul to listen to traditional klapa (a capella) singers made for one of many memorable Insight Moments. Free time meant I could climb up to Split’s lookout point to take in the breathtaking views of the palace and impressive waterfront lined with cafes and restaurants overlooking the harbour.

Insight Vacations aims to give guests the best experience in a destination and deliver on their brand promise – "All the sights and the insights, up close and personal, in comfort and style."

One of the many ways Insight is delivering on that promise is through their wide selection of unique Insight Experiences highlighting authentic interactions with locals, and cultural activities.

While en route from Split to Dubrovnik, we stopped in Ston and Mali ('little') Ston to partake in Insight’s ‘Sea to Table’ dining experience. The area consists of two towns (Ston and Mali Ston) famed for the salt and prized oysters that have been cultivated here since Roman times. Both towns are fortified, meaning they are surrounded by big stone walls, turrets, and fortresses originally created to defend Dubrovnik. Today, visitors can trek the impressive 5.5 km medieval wall and stone stairs to get from one village to the other.

Upon arrival, we boarded our boat in Mali Ston and sailed to Bota Šare’s floating Oyster Bar to partake in Insight’s Sea-to-Table dining experience. We learned about the art of cultivation before feasting on succulent oysters and mussels that local oyster farmer Daniel plucked straight out of the water and served with copious glasses of Croatian white wine. Farmed in the bay of Mali Ston, they are something of a local headliner and not easily accessible to the independent traveller. 

Once back on land we strolled straight into their charming seafront restaurant to enjoy a leisurely lunch. The experience was a truly memorable one!

And thanks to Insight’s selection of the right hotels in the right places, guests stay in style, too. Every detail was looked after by Karin, Insight’s Travel Director, who ensured a seamless arrival by checking us in at hotels and making sure luggage was promptly delivered to our hotel door. This allowed more free time to, among other things, soak in the hot tub at the luxurious Hotel Palace Dubrovnik while taking in the most spectacular cotton-candy sunset.

In Dubrovnik, we were able to see the sites of this UNESCO world heritage site with a Local Expert and then enjoy free time to stroll along the Old Town’s well preserved medieval walls and admire its terra-cotta roofscape. Then, with a glass of wine in hand, I sat back to admire the glittering Adriatic Sea.

Did you know that the Old Town of Dubrovnik served as the set for King’s Landing? If you did not. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Experiencing a destination at a leisurely pace is one of the benefits of Insight’s premium escorted journeys, all of which now include Relaxed Starts. Guests depart after 9 a.m. and itineraries are designed with a ‘less is more’ philosophy, so there is more ‘doing and interacting’ versus seeing, with plenty of free time for guests to enjoy those unexpected Insight Moments.

Country Roads journeys are also the most popular in Insight’s collection, allowing clients to discover a different side of a destination as they delve deeper into a country’s culture and history by visiting places few tourists ever get to see.

Throughout the nine days, I experienced Insight’s impressive array of immersive experiences, Local Experts, Deliciously Authentic Dining, hand-picked accommodations, and attention to detail that ensured a seamless trip. It’s a standard of travel for all of Insight Vacations’ more than 100 journeys limited to 40 guests – including five brand new trips for 2020. For more information,visit Insight Vacations!

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