In five visits to Europe since 2008, Maggie and I have been on seven coach tours – four with Trafalgar and, in 2014 and 2015, three with Insight Vacations. (We have also travelled independently in such places as Paris, Burgundy, Salzburg, Vienna, Barcelona and London.)
Of the coach tours, numbers one to six were full of experiences that were delightful, memorable or inspiring. Perhaps, by the law of averages, we were due for a fall, as our 13-night tour of Croatia has left us feeling oddly unfulfilled.
Since we flew out of Dubrovnik on 4 October, we have spent time with friends or family in London, then Singapore and now here in Melbourne. You know how it goes after you’ve visited a foreign country: “How was Croatia?” “What were the highlights?” “It must have been beautiful, tell us about it!” My responses have been mostly awkward, uncomfortable – even a little guilty – all the while feeling a little unsure as to what the problem was.
This is how I would summarise the causes of our comparatively low level of satisfaction.
I believe that a visitor could spend more than a couple of weeks exploring Croatia and leave for home feeling quite satisfied. However, Croatia does not have the variety-in-quantity of must-see attractions to justify the time and expense of a two-week coach tour. (I could readily make the same remarks about our corner of Australia, even though we spend many happy times exploring its various regions.)
A coach tour is loaded with the costs of higher-end accommodation, dining, local guides and other traveller comforts; that’s part of the appeal for the likes of Maggie and me. So, you expect to have at least one, if not, two ‘wow’ experiences each day (some of these would occur in our ‘free’ time).
The highlights of our tour comprised: the upper (old) town of Zagreb, including the Museum of Naive Art; a side trip to the amazing caves of Postojna in Slovenia; the Plitvice lakes and waterfalls; Dubrovnik, of course; a typical island and a typical medieval town of the Adriatic Coast; and meals built on Croatia’s history, culture and local ingredients. The balance of the itinerary was made up of sites and sights of only moderate interest or, in the case of islands and medieval townscapes, little different from what we saw on other days of the trip.
And then there were the ponderous hours allocated to ‘logistics’. For instance, we spent two nights on each of two islands – Brac and then Korcula. To ensure we were able to visit each island, our coach had to be at the various ferry departure points well ahead of time – up to two hours ahead – to avert any risk of being stranded.
On Brac, our itinerary included a delightful visit to an olive oil producer, some mildly satisfying experiences and some that were decidedly mundane. Our accommodation for the two nights was in a resort hotel near the small town of Bol; neither the resort nor the town worked well as a stopping point on a tour. On Korcula, the hotel was more suitable and was located just a short walk from the lovely town of Korcula and its substantial medieval heart. One island was sufficient to meet our expectations on tour and we would have happily traded the two nights on Brac for an extra night at Korcula and a second night at Split.
Equally, a combination of three or four towns and cities with medieval hearts – say, Korcula, Dubrovnik, Split and just one of Rovinj, Kotor and Trogir – and some associated coastal scenery, would have been plenty. But to visit all of these was repetitious and meant that we never seemed to spend enough time in one place to fully appreciate it. Other coastal places we visited – a Roman amphitheatre at Pula and the Montenegrin holiday playground of Budva – were not worthy of inclusion on a coach tour.
Still, there were several highlights, and I will cover these in subsequent posts.