As exciting as it has been watching Eastern European countries emerge from their challenged 20th century past, people who travel there are quick to notice that the level of vacation amenities don’t compare to those of their Western European counterparts.
For the adventurous traveler, however, this is actually an enticement to not only go there, but stay longer.
Eastern Europe shares the same 3,000-year history of the rest of the continent. However, because of reduced exposure to Western cultures and ideologies, many of its communities remain closer to their cultural origins than do those in the Western countries. And because Eastern European economies are still catching up, their tourist infrastructures aren’t as advanced; car travel still offers the best opportunity to see the intimate corners of these exciting vacation destinations.
For you sun-seekers, your first Eastern European driving adventure has to be along the coast of Croatia.
While Auto France doesn't have locations in Croatia, our pick-up locations at Munich Airport, Milan Linate, and Milan Malpensa make for perfect starting points for a long, scenic road trip through this beautiful country and back again.
Some people have compared the Adriatic Highway between Rijeka and Dubrovnik to California’s Route 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Croats think their route is prettier. At 200 kilometers (125 miles), it’s short enough that you can take as much time as you’d like to capture every view and experience along the way.
To start your journey, take a few days to explore the ancient city of Split. The 1700-year-old Diocletian Palace was built by Roman emperor Diocletian (245-311). At 30,000 square meters, this castle complex originally held the emperor Diocletian, his court and military staff. These days, it houses 3000 residents who work in its shops, cafés, and galleries.
Be sure to check out Peristyle Square, the cultural heart of the city and, because of its amazing acoustical properties, home to the Split Summer Music Festival.
Leaving Split, head south on the A1. A winding route takes you past the amazing azure of the Adriatic, the towns of Omis and Baska Voda, and the beautiful Makarska resort region. To the west, you’ll see the island of Brac, the source of the radiant white stone used to build Diocletian’s Palace and the White House in Washington DC. There’s a small road trip hiccup in the form of a 9-kilometer stretch of road that runs through the Neum corridor of Bosnia-Hertogovena. Passports are required to cross the border, but may not be checked.
Continuing south brings you to the Peljesac Penisula, with its wineries and oysters. You'll want to spend some time indulging in those tastes, while also exploring the Great Wall of Croatia in the seaside town of Ston. The wall is the longest defensive wall in Europe and is second only to China's in the world. It protected the salt panning industries of the 14th century when salt was as valuable as gold.
An hour south is Dubrovnik, dubbed by Lord Byron as “the Pearl of the Adriatic”. Built in the 7th century, at one time, Dubrovnik rivaled Venice, Italy for its Renaissance architecture, culture and control over Adriatic waterways. A 1667 earthquake leveled much of the city, which was rebuilt in the Baroque style you’ll see today. Its small population (43,000) keeps it cozy, and the city enjoys amazing culture. Its many art festivals, the symphony orchestra, and stunning architecture are fascinating. And it’s history rivals that of any European city; Dubrovnik has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here at Auto France, we lease low-emission, high-efficiency Peugeots that will carry you through your Croatian adventure safely and in style. You can pick up and drop off at different locations, so starting at one end of the continent and ending at the other is definitely an option. And, at least until Croatia catches up with the hustle and bustle of Western European tourism, it offers an excellent destination for a slower, sleepier but no less fascinating European road trip.
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