Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Slovenia – Enjoying a sampling of World Heritage Sites

By Carol Probst
This article appears on page 16 of the June 2020 issue.

In May of 2019, my husband, Lynn, and I met his sister and her spouse in Dubrovnik, Croatia, to begin a 2-week independent road trip. While planning this adventure to Croatia and Slovenia, everyone wanted to focus on UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so we decided to add an overnight at Mostar, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well.

Direct to Dubrovnik

The city walls of Dubrovnik. Croatia.

Our direct flight from Frankfurt, Germany, arrived in Dubrovnik in the late afternoon, and the first glimpse of this ancient, walled city almost took my breath away! Streets of marble, slickened by age and adorned with Renaissance fountains, meandered through a warren of medieval buildings and churches. With access to the walls closed at the hour of our arrival there, we enjoyed a “cocktail hour” at the outdoor Café Buža, nestled against the western city wall on a rocky cliff above the sea, with a fine view of the sunset.

Our dinner of fish at the upscale (but pricey) Posat Restaurant (ul. uz Posat 1;, with its open terrace overlooking the historic city, was enhanced by a full moon. (Entrées averaged HRK200, or $30, each.)

But the highlight of our city visit came the next morning when we walked atop the massive 13th-century limestone walls. To avoid crowds, the four of us were waiting when the wall-walk gate opened at 8 a.m. The admission price — 200 kunas (no senior rates), payable only by local currency or credit card — was well worth the cost, as the walls and watchtowers, in some places reaching 80 feet high and 20 feet wide, offered staggeringly beautiful views of the red-roofed Old City jutting out into the Adriatic Sea.

Our ticket included admission to Lovrijenac Fortress, reconstructed during the 15th and 16th centuries and perched over the sea on a nearby peninsula. A number of steps led up to the fort, which offered some fabulous views but little else of interest (although “Game of Thrones” fans may recognize it as the Red Keep from the television series).

As we returned to the boutique More Hotel, our cab driver described conditions in Dubrovnik during the fall of 1991, when it had come under a 6-month siege during the Croatian War for Independence. He was 15 years old at the time but retained vivid memories of the scarcity of food and water in the city. It was a sobering conversation.

Our spirits lifted, however, during dinner at Eden Restaurant, located just up the street from our hotel, where we were served the best fried squid ever!


Early on our third morning, we picked up our rental car at Dubrovnik’s airport and were off to Ston, a historic village boasting the longest defensive walls in Europe. They were built in the 1300s by the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) to protect its salt flats, some of which are still productive.

The area, also famous for the production of oysters, was definitely off the beaten tourist track. We stayed at the 13-room Hotel Ostrea (, converted from an old family waterfront home in nearby Mali Ston. Our spacious accommodations came with free parking and breakfast plus great harbor views ($123 per night).

A short drive from the hotel took us to the village of Ston with its famous walls, which we could hardly wait to access. These ramparts ascended a hillside before reaching the watchtower, where a panorama of the town and its salt flats spread below us.

That evening, just steps away from our hotel, we discovered Kapetanova kuća, a restaurant housed in what was originally the fort captain’s home. Our dinners that night of local mussels and oysters were absolutely fabulous (about $25 per person).

Blagaj Tekija, a Dervish monastery near Mostar.

Moving on to Mostar

In the morning, we headed north for Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, approximately 100 kilometers away. Because of some unique geographical and political boundaries, this involved three border crossings between Bosnia and Croatia, but they were, thankfully, seamless.

Just 12½ kilometers south of Mostar, we stopped at Blagaj Tekija, a Dervish monastery. While driving through the few towns en route to this attraction, it was quite unsettling to observe evidence of artillery damage on some of the buildings from the conflict in 1993.

The monastery, dating from the 16th century, has undergone a number of renovations, and its original Ottoman architecture now reflects a Mediterranean flavor. But its dramatic setting is what makes the place so special.

Blagaj Tekija sits at the base of a cliff abutting a cave, the source of the Buna springs, one of the most powerful in Europe. From the cave’s mouth, the Buna River spills out in a frothy current.

Visitors can tour the house, still filled with Oriental rugs and cushions. My favorite room? A small Turkish bath with its multicolored starry-holed ceiling of glass.

We continued on to Mostar, where we had overnight reservations ($145)in the heart of the Old Town at the Hotel-Restaurant Kriva Ćuprija (, consisting of a series of structures and terraces rising above the Radobolja River and overlooking the ancient Crooked Bridge.

One of the staff members there gave us insight into life as a Muslim during the conflict, when several family members were killed, sharing that there still exists an uneasy truce between Mostar’s Muslim and Christian populations. Fortunately, as travelers, we never experienced any evidence of such hostility and really loved this city.

As evening fell, we could hear the calls to prayer from nearby mosques. For us, it was time to visit the town’s famous bridge, the Stari Most, only a short walk away.

Originally built beginning in 1557, it was destroyed by artillery shells during the war in 1993. Once the war ended, fund-raising efforts began, eventually resulting in an exact replication of the bridge in 2004.

The rebuilt Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

With the Stari Most strategically lit and only a few locals about, it seemed we were transported back in time.

The following morning, we wandered back down to the river for some photos of the bridge in the daylight, then headed back up to the Old Town to peruse the small shops lining the cobblestone streets. Everyone hated to leave, but we had a 2½-hour drive to our overnight accommodations in the Croatian city of Trogir ahead of us.

Trogir and Šibenik

The ancient city of Trogir, located on an island connected to the mainland by a short bridge, has been an urban center for 2,300 years. Renowned for its Baroque and Renaissance buildings built during the Venetian period, it is a labyrinth of narrow streets and Gothic houses.

We were staying in the XII Century Heritage Hotel (, a 15-room hotel housed in a historic 12th-century building located on the city’s famous waterfront promenade ($155 per night). Only a few blocks from our hotel stood Fort Kamerlengo, built by the Venetians between 1420 and 1437 and remarkably well preserved. The top of its western turret provided exceptional views of the surrounding area.

Our next stop, the 13th-century Cathedral of St. Lawrence, was closed, since a service was in progress, but its exterior alone was worth our time. The beautiful and ornate masonry of the portal on its western entrance had been created by the famous local sculptor and architect Radovan.

Not far up the coast was the city of Šibenik, where we had a 2-night stay ($161 per night) at the Heritage Life Palace (, a 17-room hotel incorporated into a 15th-century palace overlooking an Old Town square. We had chosen Šibenik for its proximity to Krka National Park, with its island monastery and lovely series of multistep waterfalls. For us, unfortunately, the hordes of visitors there diminished the natural beauty of the place.

We arrived the next day at Šibenik’s St. Michael’s Fortress, just in time for the 1:00 English tour. The fortress, originally built in 1066, lay in ruins for many years before its restoration in 2014. Now the only original structures remaining inside are two water cisterns and an oven.

Although the fort’s top deck has been converted into an entertainment venue, its walls still offer wonderful overlooks of the city and the Adriatic Sea.

Wandering back down the hill to Saint James Cathedral, we stumbled upon a beautiful medieval garden complex with an on-site booth selling yummy gelato.

The cathedral was a visual feast, built entirely of stone, with an ornately vaulted interior, rose windows, tombs of early bishops and, my favorite, a compelling wooden figure of the Virgin Mary. Even the cathedral’s exterior was impressive, with its massive dome and multiple statues, including a frieze of 71 individual sculpted heads.

That evening we enjoyed a wonderful meal at the nearby Winery Rak (, with round-trip transportation included ($50 per person). This small, family-owned vineyard, with its indigenous grapes and olive orchard, featured farm-to-table dining, and it appeared we were the sole guests! Still, Andro, one of the owners, pulled out all stops.

Following an extensive tour of the grounds, we enjoyed a feast of locally grown produce and meats, all accompanied by five different bottles of their wine. Hours later, Andro drove these four happy and satiated travelers back to their hotel.

Carol and Lynn at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.

Water, water everywhere

Checking out the next day, we were off to Croatia’s iconic Plitvice Lakes National Park. These 16 lakes, separated by travertine ledges over which flow a series of cascades, are one of the most popular attractions in Croatia. I had managed to secure reservations ($185 per night) at one of the park’s few on-site accommodations, Hotel Jezero, located near Entrance 2.

Admission tickets to the park are required, but we had prepaid and downloaded them in advance ( At the appointed hour, we strolled down to the dock, where a boat transported us across Kozjak Lake to the beginning of the boardwalk trail.

There was some bad news: because of so much recent rain, the upper half the park was closed to visitors. But the good news was that the waterfalls in the remaining lower half were in their full glory. The wooden boardwalk was often barely above the water, which swirled in thundering torrents beneath our feet.

Waterfalls and mossy cascades were everywhere, plummeting to the lakes below. Despite the crowds and a light rain, nothing could detract from the beauty of this place!

Our conga line of visitors moved along until arriving at the last, and biggest, attraction: Veliki Slap, the park’s highest waterfall. There, the Plitvička River plummeted 78 meters, generating so much noise that it drowned out speech.

From there, the pathway ascended from the lake, eventually terminating at Entrance 1. A shuttle bus returned us to our hotel, where our on-site dinners were mediocre and not inexpensive.

With the hotel providing free second-day admission to Plitvice, we decided to attempt another visit but this time do it in reverse. We caught the earliest shuttle to Entrance 1 and descended to the Veliki Slap. We enjoyed an entirely different perspective — with the sun shining, no crowds, rainbows embellishing the falls, and the hills reflected in the still waters of the lake.


The picturesque Logarska Dolina, Slovenia.

Leaving the park, the road wound through deep forests of tall trees, but there was no time to linger, with the longest segment of our trip still ahead: a 5½-hour drive from Plitvice to the town of Piran, located on the coast of Slovenia. This entailed another border crossing; fortunately, there were only three cars ahead of us entering Slovenia.

This tiny country’s natural wonders may rank among my travel favorites. To paraphrase a local fable, it seems God created the Earth out of the contents of a big basket, but when He finished, there remained a small bit at the bottom. From this, He fashioned Slovenia, with all its diversified beauty.

We spent two nights in Piran, exploring on foot this historic seaside city with its extensive walls and towers, built in stages from the 7th to 16th centuries. Other attractions included the Church of St. George, with its lovely frescoed ceiling, harbors with small picturesque lighthouses, and no crowds!

With a few exceptions, Slovenia seems to still be off the international-tourist radar. They have just four World Heritage designations and only five on the tentative list. One current site is Škocjan Caves, but we were conflicted about visiting.

Both Škocjan and Postojna are famous large karst caves, but, by all accounts, Škocjan has more massive caverns while Postojna is considered the prettiest. Having already seen massive (at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky), “pretty” won our vote. Besides, only Postojna allowed photographs and was en route from Piran to our next destination, Ljubljana.

And was that the right choice! The entire cave tour (including a 3- to 7-kilometer train ride) covered 5 kilometers, every inch of which seemed to be festooned with strategically lit and colorful formations of stalactites, stalagmites and columns. The “ballroom” even featured real crystal chandeliers!

All four of us agreed: even with so many visitors, this had to be the world’s most gorgeous cave.

Lake Bled, Slovenia


I had reserved two apartments for us at Villa Popp (, located in the suburbs of Ljubljana, to avoid any issues with city parking and traffic. These immaculate and tastefully furnished apartments ($146 per night) with an attentive owner were perfect — quiet but close enough to a main road for easy access to attractions throughout the country. An added bonus — restaurants and markets were within walking distance.

The city’s historical features, such as the sumptuous St. Nicholas’ Church, have been seamlessly integrated into pedestrian-only streets, and graceful bridges bisect the Ljubljanica River. Public buildings, parks and squares come together to create a light and airy atmosphere. Throw in the city’s ancient castle, and Ljubljana is well worth a visit!

Advertisements for Slovenia often portray a picturesque church perched on an island within a turquoise lake surrounded by snow-tipped mountains. That is Lake Bled, and, yes, it really is an incredible place, and it’s only a 2-hour drive from Ljubljana.

Small (14-passenger) boats are rowed out to the island, where visitors are allowed a finite time to explore. For great overlooks of the lake, head to Bled Castle on a nearby rocky promontory and look for the small outdoor café on the castle grounds.

Sixteen kilometers up the highway is Lake Bohinj, without the turquoise coloring or the boat traffic of Bled. It’s a favorite of locals, and, since there are far fewer tourist activities, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the surrounding mountains cast serene reflections in the waters. At the road’s end, you can access the trailhead to lovely Savica Falls.

For our final day in Slovenia, we drove north 63 kilometers to Logarska Dolina (Logar Valley), a beautiful glacier valley in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. En route, we traversed Slovenia’s gorgeous Jezersko region, where we stopped to have one of the most scenic roadside picnics ever!

Our picnic table sat amidst a profusion of wildflowers, and pasted against an azure sky were glacier-dotted mountains, the highest of which was Mt. Grintovec, at 2,558 meters. Just behind the peaks, puffy white clouds appeared to be struggling to surmount such heights.

The scenic but narrow road to Logarska had no guardrails, and its numerous hairpin curves were so sharp, our GPS got confused.

We crossed the border between Austria and Slovenia several times, but with both countries part of the European Union, the checkpoints stood deserted.

At last we arrived at our destination — just as incredible as I had hoped. The valley, suffused with yellow buttercups, was framed by imposing snowcapped summits.

The road continued to the trailhead of Rinka Slap, Slovenia’s second-highest fall, dropping 90 meters in a narrow and forceful gush over a background of orange-red rocks. There was even an observation tower on site, complete with a small café. What a wonderful way to end our 2-week adventure!