Day 1 - Dubrovnik
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 can easily be covered on foot. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today, and you can arrive at anytime before then – check with reception to confirm the time and place. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the accommodation by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please have these on hand. After the meeting, perhaps head out for a walk around Dubrovnik to help find your feet. Later on, possibly enjoy a meal with the group so you can get to know your fellow travellers.
Day 2 - Dubrovnik
Today is free to explore the beaches and scenery of this idyllic coastal city that overlooks the Adriatic. Maybe take a walk along the city walls of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame, enjoying views of the sparkling Adriatic Sea in this renowned jewel of the Dalmatian Coast. 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. Perhaps check out the 13th-century Franciscan monastery 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, even 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, maybe relax on the pristine Banje beach.
Day 3 - Split
Take a public bus up the coast to Split (approximately 4,5 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. This stunning seaside town is home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the coast. Enjoy a free afternoon 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. Split grew out from the 3rd century Roman Emperor Diocletian's Palace and you can almost see it evolving in a multitude of different ways. Some cultures might have made the palace a museum, but the city of Split has always been a dynamic and vibrant place, and the palace houses many businesses and homes. If your feet get tired, why not grab a drink at a cafe on the Riva Promenade and people watch for a while. You can get lots of local interaction in Split, such as at the fish market on Marmontova Street or the markets just outside the palace walls.
Day 4 - Split / Brac Island
Take a daytrip out to the island of Brac, the third largest of Croatia's islands and host to enchanting harbour villages, set among steep cliffs and a distinctly Mediterranean landscape. Villagers have farmed wine, olive oil, figs and almonds in the difficult interior of this rock-strewn island for centuries, but it's the small, beach-side towns that draw the crowds. Brac's most famous export is the gleaming white stone mined from the island's quarries, cladding buildings as deep in antiquity as Diocletian's Palace in Split, and as far afield as the White House in Washington DC. Visit the town of Supetar - your leader will show you around on an initial orientation walk. Spend a day exploring this island on your own steam, or simply take it easy, lie on the famous Zlatni Rat beach and enjoy the sun with a drink in your hand.
Day 5 - Plitvice Lakes National Park / Zagreb
Today you will visit one of Croatia's most beautiful sites – Plitvice Lakes National Park. 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. Take an afternoon orientation walk on arrival. Your leader 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.
Day 6 - Zagreb
Today is a free day in Zagreb, 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 iconic 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.
Day 7 - Ljubljana
Travel by train across the Slovenian border and arrive in the cosmopolitan capital (pronounced 'Lyub-Li-Yana') (approximately 2.5 hours). On arrival into Ljubljana, check in to your accommodation and then head out to get to know the city on a short orientation walk where the leader will point out some of the highlights. 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 Prešeren Square, dedicated to the Slovenian romantic poet, France Prešeren. 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 just walked right into a scene from a beautiful postcard. Maybe also drop by the open market under the arcade. This evening enjoy Ljubljana by night.
Day 8 - Ljubljana
Today is a free day. You may want to decide to take an optional day trip to Bled. With immense natural beauty, Bled, together with its surroundings, ranks among the most beautiful of alpine resorts. With a stunning lake, a castle, a picturesque island church and plenty of outdoor activities, Bled is a great place to explore. It's renowned for its mild, healing climate and thermal lake water. Maybe head to the cliff-top Bled Castle, dating from the 11th century and overlooking sparkling Lake Bled, then take a Pletna boat ride (a wooden, awning-covered boat rowed by a special oarsman) to the island on Lake Bled – climb up the 99 steps to St Mary's Church. Be sure to seek out the famous Bled cream cake, which isn’t hard; nearly every cafe and cake shop in town claims that theirs is the best. There's also plenty of action for adrenaline junkies: rafting, caving, cycling, canoeing, boating, and swimming, to name a few.
Day 9 - Venice
This morning travel by bus to one of the world's most unique cities, legendary, romantic Venice, the final destination of this trip (approximately 3.5 hours). A grand city of canals, Venice is built over a hundred small islands connected by 400 bridges. This watery wonderland of towers, piazzas, canals, churches and gondolas – practically unchanged for 600 years – is literally sinking under the weight of its iconic sights. Still rich with artistic masterpieces, modern Venice combines history with contemporary life through food, performance, art and architecture. The best way to enjoy your free time and explore is by foot, taking in all the famous sights – the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, Doge's Palace (the ruler of Venice), the Piazza San Marco with its golden Basilica, and of course, the evocative Bridge of Sighs. Wander the cobblestone streets and spacious piazzas, crossing hundreds of tiny bridges. There are shops, markets, galleries and churches around every corner. Don't miss taking a gondola trip through the romantic canals or sampling a slice of region's desert speciality, tiramisu (coffee-soaked sponge cake). In the evening, perhaps join your fellow travellers for a final group dinner at a local restaurant. Venice is famous for its specialities of fresh lobster and squid ink spaghetti dishes, so make sure you give one a try.
Note: Please note that the accommodation we use in Venice is not located in the lagoon, but in the mainland suburb of Mestre, which is a short train ride away from the city centre and the lagoon of Venice.
Day 10-11 - Venice
Enjoy free time in this watery wonderland of bridges, towers, piazzas, canals, churches and gondolas – practically unchanged for 600 years – is literally sinking under the weight of its iconic sights. Take a walk around the maze of streets behind San Marco square and begin to understand the complex canal system of Venice. 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. As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a another group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. After the meeting perhaps enjoy dinner with your fellow travel companions at a local restaurant.
Day 12 - La Spezia
This morning spend the day travelling by train to the once important naval base of La Spezia, now the gateway to the gorgeous Cinque Terre, or ‘Five lands’ in English. The name comes from the five tiny villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – whose position, wedged into a series of coves between sheer cliffs, makes it one of the highlights of the whole of Italy. The journey usually takes between five and seven hours either via Milan or via Florence (depending on the best available connection), and is a very scenic trip through the north of Italy. On arrival in La Spezia there won't be too much time to explore yet, but after checking into your hotel perhaps get your bearings of the area with a short walk around the pedestrian zone on Via del Prione to the gardens along the harbour, or head out for dinner with the group.
Day 13 - La Spezia / Cinque Terre
Today it is highly recommended to venture out on the footpaths of Cinque Terre (Five Lands), a region of Italy famed for its coastline and pastel villages. The footpaths that run between the villages were once the only way to travel in the region, and take you through olive groves, vineyards and on to idyllic vistas. You can choose to walk just a few sections, which will still unveil a great amount of majestic scenery. Some sections of path can be difficult, as there are challenging uphill stretches, narrow paths, steep cliffs and foot bridges. Please remember to bring comfortable footwear such as trainers or light hiking shoes. It's also possible to take the train between any of the villages or back to the group's base in La Spezia whenever you want. After working up an appetite, take advantage of the foods of the Liguria region with a pesto class. Focaccia is also a speciality in this area and makes a great start to lunch. Upon return to La Spezia in the evening, there's no better way to recover from your day of walking with more indulgence in delicious Mediterranean food.
Notes: Due to recent landslides in the area it is currently not possible to walk the Via dell'Amore and the coastal section between Manarola and Corniglia. There are alternative inland routes, however these are of a higher physical rating and involve steep ups and downs. It is possible to take the train or a bus for these sections. Due to safety reasons some sections of any path can be closed at short notice.
Day 14 - Florence
Depart Cinque Terre today and catch a train to Florence (approximately 3.5 hours). On arrival, check into the hotel and go for a brief walk around the immediate area to get your bearings. Florence is one of the most culturally rich and beautiful cities in Italy, known to many as the beating heart of Tuscany. The Medicis, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Brunelleschi, Machiavelli, Donatello and Michelangelo all lived in Florence at the height of their creative reign. Food is a major part of the city's identity, so perhaps explore some of the culinary delicacies on offer from across Tuscany. Regional specialities are noted for their simplicity and fine flavour, and the use of high-quality olive oil, cannellini beans and fresh herbs. Meat lovers should try the bistecca alla fiorentina, a huge T-bone steak that's usually shared between two people, or ribollita, a thick delicious vegetable soup with bread, beans and greens. Panforte is the signature sweet treat.
Day 15 - Florence
Head out into the centre of Florence. It's impossible to see everything in this Renaissance wonderland, however, so take your time and enjoy it. Be captivated by the culture-rich atmosphere of Florence, from family-run vineyards on the outskirts of the city to the Duomo’s magnificent marble facade. Maybe start with a visit the Galleria dell'Accademia where you can see Michelangelo's famous statue of David. Stop by the Uffizi, one of the world's oldest art galleries, or walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is set on a hill on the south bank of the Arno River, to take in beautiful views of the city – a lovely way to while away the day. There are plenty of sights to see during your time in Florence.
Note: Florentine State Museums can all be booked in advance. You can online at www.weekendafirenze.com. We suggest that you book in advance (your leader can be of assistance), especially for the Uffizi as this museum experiences enormous queues (up to 5 hours) all year round. The individual museums have slightly different opening times and closing days between them but the website (www.firenzemusei.it) has everything you need to know about all of them. Make your reservations for these museums for any time on Day 6 of this itinerary.
Day 16 - Rome
In the morning, take the train to Rome (approximately 2 hours), and remember that while here, the best attitude is ‘when in Rome’! Join your leader on an orientation walk around the city, where you see some of the iconic sights such as the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine, the Forum (centre of ancient Rome), the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Via Dei Condotti and Piazza Venezia. Recharge with a slice of pizza and a strong espresso at the Piazza Navona or throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish to return to the 'Eternal City'. No visit would be complete without a trip to Vatican City and St Peter's Basilica. Entry to the Basilica is free and there's a small charge to climb the dome for a panorama over the city. Art-lovers should visit the Sistine Chapel to admire the timeless work of Michelangelo, while history buffs will enjoy a jaunt through the ancient halls of the Pantheon. Rome is packed full of restaurants and trattorias that cater to every taste and budget. Local specialities tend to be quite heavy, and include pastas such as carbonara (egg, cheese and bacon) and amatriciana (tomato, bacon and chilli). Eating in trattorias will give you a chance to sample some Italian wines, with house choices usually very good and affordable. Head out in the evening with the group for a final farewell gastronomic fling.
Day 17 - Rome
Your adventure comes to an end on the final morning. There are no activities planned for today and you're free to depart the accommodation at any time. As there is so much to see in Rome we recommend you to stay a little longer. We are happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). Please speak to your agent at the time of booking.
Notes: Check the Vatican website (vatican.va) for updated information on when you can visit. Tickets for the Vatican Museum can be booked online at: biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do. Alternatively, the Galleria Borghese can be booked online at: galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/einfo.htm. The Vatican Museum is closed on some days, including most Sundays. On the last Sunday of the month, it's open and free (but expect large crowds).
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money