The dramatic romance of Italy, the coastal castles of Croatia and a sampling of Slovenia – this tour is a great way to see Europe from multiple angles.. Explore beautiful Ljubljana, Slovenia’s green-hued heart. You will enjoy two nights in the capital to soak it up at your own pace.. Stroll through Plitvice Lakes National Park, marvelling at luminous lakes and waterfalls that look like they were sketched by an artist.. Take a hike along Cinque Terre’s rocky coastal pathways, calling into the sleepy pastel villages of Manarola, Riomaggiore and Vernazza.
A bite of the Balkans, a dash of Central Europe and a slice of the Med – get a lovely sampler of Europe’s diverse delights on this 17-day Lonely Planet Experience powered by Intrepid. Wander through Dubrovnik’s World Heritage-listed Old Town and explore Plitvice Lakes National Park. Travel up the Dalmatian Coast and cross into Slovenia, where adventure junkies can get their fix biking, hiking, canyoning or caving. Head on to Italy and live out your grandest gondola and tiramisu fantasies in Venice, stroll the twisting trails between the Cinque Terre’s towns and see the artworks that inspired the Renaissance in Florence.
Dobro Dosli! Welcome to Croatia. The undisputed jewel of the Dalmatian Coast, Dubrovnik is a beautiful white stone town surrounded entirely by city walls. Although it experienced devastation during the war in the early 1990s, the old town – with its tiled roofs and stone buildings – remains as charming as ever, with extensive restoration to return it to its original splendour. With the sparkling water of the Adriatic in the background, Dubrovnik is picturesque, full of character, and its old town can easily be covered on foot. After tonight's group meeting at 6 pm, perhaps head out for a walk around Dubrovnik. Later on, possibly enjoy a meal with the group so you can get to know your fellow travellers.
Today is free to explore the beaches and scenery of this idyllic coastal city. Take a walk along the city walls of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame, enjoying breathtaking views of the sparkling Adriatic Sea. Visit Big Onofrio's Fountain, built by architect Onofrio della Cava in the 15th-century to supply water to the city. Perhaps check out the Franciscan monastery, home to one of the world's oldest continuously-functioning pharmacies, founded in the 13th-century, or the Sponza and Rector's Palaces, the only Renaissance buildings in the city to survive a devastating earthquake and fire in 1667. You might like to check out the city's War Photography Museum, or if you have time, take a boat trip to nearby Lokrum Island, where you will find the French-built Fort Royal Castle, a monastery, and a botanical garden that dates back to when the Austrian archduke Maximilian had his holiday home on the island. Otherwise, Banje beach is an ideal spot to relax and savour the Adriatic views.
Take a public bus up the coast to Split (approximately 5 hours). If Dubrovnik is considered the heart of Dalmatia, Split is certainly its soul. Situated on a small peninsula on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea, it's the second largest city in Croatia. Enjoy a free afternoon in this stunning seaside town, exploring the historic streets, and make sure you see the World Heritage-listed Diocletian's Palace. Alternatively, for a more in-depth introduction to this fascinating city why not join an optional guided tour with a local guide.
Enjoy a free day in Split. At the heart of its atmospheric Old Town is a fascinating city-within-a-city – the remains of a third-century palace built for Roman Emperor Diocletian. Some places might have protected such an impressive complex in a museum, but not enigmatic Split. These ancient walls now house a vibrant mix of shops, cafes, restaurants and houses. Step back in time strolling its sprawling maze of passageways and courtyards and you’ll also find a 16th-century synagogue and a courtyard often filled with music. If your feet get tired, why not sample Croatia’s fine coffee culture with a frothy kava from a cafe on the Riva waterfront promenade, a prime spot for people watching. In the evening, Split boasts an increasingly bustling nightlife scene.
Plitvice Lakes National Park / Zagreb
Today you will visit one of Croatia's most beautiful sites – Plitvice Lakes National Park (approximately 3 hours). The park was given World Heritage status 20 years ago and is 19 hectares of wooded hills that surround 16 stunning turquoise lakes, all connected by a series of waterfalls. The area is populated by deer, bears, wolves, boars and some rare bird species, and the thick, primeval forest vegetation of beech trees, fir spruce and white pine adds another element to the park's beauty. You’ll have free time to explore here or simply follow your leader to see the best spots – all trails in the national park are well marked so it's difficult to get lost, but please follow the national park rules, which your leader will outline to you. A series of wooden walkways pass over the landscape, ensuring that there's as little impact on the park as possible. Look to the canopy for over 120 species of birds, including hawks and owls. After your memorable visit to the lakes, drive to Croatia's capital, Zagreb (approximately 3 hours).
Take a morning orientation walk with your leader who will point out local amenities and attractions you might want to visit along the way, so ask any questions you might have about the city during the walk. The rest of the day is free, so check out both the upper town and the lower town to understand the city's culture. The tallest building in town is the gothic Zagreb Cathedral, with twin spires that dominate the city's skyline. Ban Jelacic Square is the city's central point, which is surrounded by multiple structures that reflect different periods of Zagreb's past. There is so much to see and do here, the hard thing is deciding what to choose. There are a number of excellent museums to visit including the quirky Museum of Broken Relationships.
Travel by train across the Slovenian border and arrive in the cosmopolitan capital (pronounced 'Lyub-Li-Yana') (approximately 3 hours). On arrival into Ljubljana, check-in to your accommodation and then head out on a short orientation walk with your leader. The rest of the day is free for you to delve deeper into this beautiful city. Located in the centre of Slovenia, Ljubljana is a city full of style and sophistication, history, monuments, churches, museums and great restaurants. In your free time, you can wander around the old city centre, renowned for its unique architectural appearance. The Old Town consists of three main squares and Baroque houses, and you can visit the Ljubljana Castle, the Town Hall, Cathedral of St Nicholas, and the Dragon Bridge. Stop at the central Preseren Square, dedicated to the Slovenian romantic poet, France Preseren. With views of the Triple Bridge and Ljubljana Castle on one side, and a magnificent Franciscan church on the other, you’ll feel like you’ve walked right into a scene from a beautiful postcard. Maybe also drop by the open market under the arcade.
Today is a free day to further explore Ljubljana. You have the option of heading on a day trip to Bled. Gifted with immense natural beauty, Bled ranks among the most beautiful of alpine resorts. Its fairy tale-like scenery which includes a castle, a stunning lake and a picturesque island topped with a church, is a dream to explore. Maybe head to the 11th-century cliff-top Bled Castle. Take a Pletna boat ride (a wooden, awning-covered boat rowed by a special oarsman) across sparkling Lake Bled to its island, then climb the 99 steps to St Mary's Church. Be sure to seek out the famous Bled cream cake. It isn’t hard to find; nearly every cafe and cake shop in town claims their cream cake is the best. There's also plenty of action for adrenaline junkies: rafting, caving, cycling, canoeing, boating and swimming are all on offer.
This morning, travel by bus to one of the world's most unique and romantic destinations – Venice (approximately 3.5 hours). Renowned for its canals, Venice is comprised of hundreds of small islands connected by nearly 400. Its famous sights – such as the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, Doge's Palace (the ruler of Venice), the Piazza San Marco and the evocative Bridge of Sighs – are easily explored by foot. Wander the cobblestone streets and spacious piazzas, crossing hundreds of tiny bridges and you’ll find shops, markets, galleries and churches around every corner. Don't miss the chance to take a gondola ride through the romantic canals and sample a slice of tiramisu (coffee-soaked sponge cake), the region’s specialty.
Enjoy free time in this watery wonderland of bridges, towers, piazzas, canals, churches and gondolas – practically unchanged for 600 years. Rich with artistic masterpieces, modern Venice combines history with contemporary life through food, performance, art and architecture. Take a walk around the maze of streets behind San Marco square and begin to understand the complex canal system of Venice.
Today you will have another free day to delve deeper into this beautiful city. The Grand Canal is a great place to start, as you can stroll over the Rialto Bridge and browse the endless amounts of boutique shops that sell Venetian masks and handmade Murano glassware. Venice is famous for its specialities of fresh lobster and squid ink spaghetti dishes – make sure to give one a try.
Board a morning train through the scenic north of Italy to the once important naval base of La Spezia (approximately 6-7 hours). La Spezia is known mainly as the gateway to the gorgeous Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The name comes from the five tiny villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – positioned on a series of coves between sheer cliffs. On arrival in La Spezia there won't be too much time to explore (that’s what tomorrow is for), but after checking into your hotel perhaps get your bearings with a short walk around the pedestrian zone on Via del Prione or head out for dinner with the group.