Day by Day Itinerary

As you travel through Central Europe, natural beauty and an amazing pageant of history will unfold before you—from the sun-drenched Dalmatian Coast to the Julian Alps in Slovenia—on this journey through some of the region's most magnificent landscapes. Enjoy an included tour of Dubrovnik—Europe’s best-preserved walled city—when you visit Croatia, tour the palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian, relax in the heart of the Croatian Riviera, and experience the resort of Lake Bled. Take part in fascinating Discovery Series discussions and get to know the local people at a memorable Home-Hosted Dinner. Discover these re-emerging, ancient nations when you travel to Central Europe with Grand Circle.

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    Today you'll depart home, flying from your U.S. gateway to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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    Arrive in Dubrovnik, where a Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your transfer to the hotel. Meet your fellow travelers, including those from the Dubrovnik, Croatia pre-trip extension, over a Welcome Drink followed by a Welcome Dinner at your hotel.

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    After breakfast, join us for an orientation briefing where your Program Director will go over the details of your Land Tour.

    Then enjoy an included city tour of Dubrovnik, one of the jewels of Croatia. You'll tour the Stari Grad, the extraordinarily well-preserved Old City, where you will likely want to linger and return. You’ll have free time after the tour to get lunch on your own and soak up the atmosphere of this very special place.

    Still an exquisite walled city today, Dubrovnik’s character reflects its storied past as an independent city-state that rivaled Venice. Also known by its Latin name, Ragusa, this was a fortress city that served as the base for a fleet of ships that carried trade between much of Europe and the Middle East. The city-state’s period of autonomy extended from 1358 to 1808. In recent times, some of Dubrovnik’s historic sites sustained damage in the Balkan conflicts of the early 1990s, but the city has been peaceful for more than ten years and largely restored under UNESCO supervision.

    This afternoon, learn a few valuable Croatian phrases during an informative exclusive Discovery Series language lesson, and enjoy the extra appreciation of the culture that understanding even a few words can bring. You might use it to order a beer (pivo), or to give a hearty “hello” to a Croatian (zdravo, or the less formal bok). And you’ll become wise to the fact that the Croatians’ name for their own country is Hrvatska, which explains why ".hr" is used as the country's Internet domain.

    Croatian cuisine is a flavorful blend of Mediterranean and Slavic influences, with a distinct regional style in Dalmatia, the province where Dubrovnik is located. During an exclusive Discovery Series event this evening, you’ll have a personal introduction to the preparation of some characteristic dishes, as a local family welcomes you into their home to enjoy a tasty dinner with them. Both the food and the hospitality are likely to be highlights of your time in Croatia.

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    Today is yours to spend at leisure. Or, you may join us on a full-day optional tour of Montenegro (Black Mountain), a republic whose roots go back to the eleventh century and which declared its independence in 2006. About the size of Connecticut, Montenegro is set apart from its geopolitical neighbors by never having been conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The country is blessed with remarkable natural beauty, from rugged mountain ranges to long, unbroken stretches of beach on the Adriatic.

    You’ll see Kotor Bay, Europe’s southernmost fjord (and a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site), which is surrounded by extraordinarily beautiful terrain. Then you’ll discover Kotor on a city tour, including a visit to the Maritime Museum. Beginning in the 14th century, Kotor was part of the Venetian Republic, and four centuries of Venetian influence have left a lasting impression on the city’s architecture and spirit. Kotor's narrow, criss-crossed streets and numerous public squares are a delight, and its secluded location, beautiful bay, and mountainous backdrop make a dramatic impression. You’ll enjoy lunch in Kotor as part of your optional tour.

    Dinner is on your own this evening. Choose from a wide selection of fine Dubrovnik restaurants. Your Program Director will have suggestions for you.

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    You have a full day to relax, have lunch on your own, and explore at your own pace. You might take in the lively morning market in the Stari Grad across from the Rector’s Palace. Stroll atop the city walls for terrific views, or spend time in the old city’s many art galleries. Or venture into the newer part of town to shop, or to find an interesting cafe for lunch on your own.

    Dinner is on your own. Or join us for an optional evening cruise along the ancient stone walls that have protected the Old City for five centuries. You'll enjoy a leisurely cruise before disembarking for a picturesque dinner at a local restaurant on the beach. Watch the sun set over Dubrovnik as you dine, and then cruise to the Old Town at dusk.

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    Today, you'll ride north to Split in the Croatian province of Dalmatia, stopping en route across the border in Bosnia and Herzegovina to explore the city of Mostar on an included tour. Mostar is internationally known for its Old Town and bridge, now a symbol of reconciliation, cooperation, and the co-existence of diverse cultural, religious, and ethnic communities. You will learn more about the republics of former Yugoslavia in Mostar, which developed under the Turks as a place where the cultures of the East and the West, the mainland and the Adriatic Sea, met and influenced each other.

    First, you'll make a short photo stop in the picturesque village of Pocitelj, a charming reminder of Herzegovina's past. Then you'll continue to Mostar, the economical, political, and cultural center of Herzegovina. The central part of the Old Town, with its forts, towers, and gates, was built by great Turkish builders in the 16th century. Damaged in the last war and restored in 2004 under UNESCO protection, it is a masterpiece of Turkish architecture. You'll also visit one of Mostar's mosques and a house from Turkish times, learning more about past and present life in a city whose turbulent history has made a unique mixture of people and cultures.

    During an included lunch, you'll have an opportunity to taste some local specialties. After some free time to discover local handcrafts on your own, you'll continue on to Split, where dinner is included at your hotel.

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    After breakfast, set off on an included tour of Split, an active port that is home to the ancient Roman Palace of Diocletian.

    This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the greatest Roman ruins in Central Europe. Built in AD 305 by the Emperor Diocletian, this fortress-like palace was protected by walls that were seven feet thick and up to 72 feet tall. As you stand in the peristyle (central court) of this grand structure, its scale becomes impressively clear. The medieval town of Split took shape within the palace walls; Diocletian's Temple of Jupiter was converted into a Christian baptistery and his mausoleum became a cathedral. The entire old section of Split, with the palace as its centerpiece, is a virtual open-air museum with the city's contemporary life bustling through it.

    The rest of the day is yours at leisure, with lunch and dinner on your own.

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    After breakfast, transfer to Opatija, a city whose lush green scenery and pleasant climate have made it a popular European vacation destination for two centuries. You'll enjoy an included lunch this afternoon before arriving in Opatija in the early evening. Tonight, dinner is included at your hotel.

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    Explore Opatija, a colorful city that has been a favorite seaside destination since the days of the Habsburg dynasty, on an included tour this morning. Soak in the luxury of this eternally popular resort city as you admire the beautiful villas on display, and stroll along its famous seaside promenade, the Lungomare, which offers stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.

    Then gain insights into the region during an exclusive Discovery Series discussion on Croatia Today, learning about the contemporary culture and society of this historic nation.

    The rest of the day is yours to make your own discoveries, with lunch is on your own. Tonight, dinner is at local restaurant.

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    You have today free for your own explorations. Admire the views of 4,580-foot Mount Ucka, the high point of the Istrian Peninsula, which blocks the north winds, keeping Opatija’s climate warm. You may want to spend time on the Lungomare, the seaside promenade that runs for 7.5 miles along the waterfront and leads to the attractive resort town of Lovran.

    Or, join an optional tour to see more of the subtropical Istrian Peninsula. We visit Rovinj, a coastal town built on land that was once an island, but was connected to the mainland by a causeway in the 18th century. The town overlooks an island-dotted Adriatic seascape and lush pine forests on the mainland, with large areas protected as parkland for their scenic beauty. Presided over by the Baroque church of St. Euphemia, Rovinj served as a health resort for children in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and attracts active vacationers today for sports ranging from windsurfing to cycling. You’re likely to hear some Italian spoken in Rovinj, which hosts a sizeable Italian community as a result of the area's former rule by Italy.

    Following an included lunch at a family farm, we continue to the larger city of Pula, which has been a strategic port since the times of the ancient Romans. They built a 23,000-person amphitheater here, on a site overlooking the seacoast that is the sixth-largest of its kind to be preserved in the world.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast, depart Opatija and cross the border into Slovenia as you transfer to Bled. On the way, visit Slovenia's beautiful Postojna Caves, created by millions of years of water activity—drop by drop, year after year. Enjoy a short train ride and walk down into the caves as you explore the ancient wonder beneath the surface. After an included lunch at the caves, continue to Bled, arriving in late afternoon for an orientation walk.

    The evening is free to dine on your own in Bled.

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    After breakfast, you are invited to join us in an exclusive Discovery Series discussion about Slovenia Today. You’ll learn about the contemporary culture and society that you'll explore over the next few days.

    You have the afternoon and evening free to discover the Lake Bled area on your own, or to relax at this beautiful resort. Bled is blessed with natural hot springs regarded as having healing powers, and has been a popular fresh-air retreat since the mid-19th century. Near the hotel, forest paths designed by a 19th-century Swiss health advocate, Arnold Rikli, provide fine views, whether you walk them for exercise or ride in a one-horse carriage. Carriages also travel a lakeside promenade lined with chestnut trees, and rides on the lake in a pletna, a local version of a gondola, can take you to the island church (in season).

    Two prominent features in Bled’s vistas date from earlier in its history: Bled Castle, which for 800 years was the seat of the bishops of Brixen (now South Tyrol); and a 17th-century church located on an island in the lake. You’ll probably hear the pealing of this church’s “wishing bell,” which dates from 1534, since legend has it that a wish made by someone who rings it will come true.

    Or, you can join our optional Taste of Medieval Slovenia excursion to the beautiful old town of Skofja Loka, which was settled in the eighth century and became an important ecclesiastical, governmental, and trade center in the Middle Ages. The exquisite town center retains the architecture and the atmosphere of its 1,000-year history and rewards the traveler with a rare glimpse into Slovenia's past.

    Skofja Loka’s superb location at the confluence of the two Sora rivers and its position as a way station on the road between the coast and the inland Carinthian and Bavarian towns combined to create a flourishing craft and guild movement here. That rich legacy continues in this well-preserved town, which still boasts its imposing castle that overlooks the settlement, a Gothic church, and scores of lovingly restored 15th-century houses and structures, all linked by narrow streets. Every perspective here is packed with telling and delightful details. You’ll enjoy a guided tour of Skofja Loka and a visit to a typical Slovenian wooden cottage. You'll enjoy dinner in a local restaurant on this optional tour.

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    This morning, visit Ljubljana for a tour of this city of about 300,000 people. Because much of the city was rebuilt after an 1895 earthquake, Slovenia's capital has a unique architectural style that has integrated surviving historic structures with more modern designs. The work of Joze Plecnik, a 20th-century architect and Ljubljana native, is particularly remarkable for the way it incorporates Roman, medieval, Baroque, and Habsburg elements. A number of buildings that survived the earthquake still stand in the historic part of town, Old Ljubljana. There are also many cafes here, and you may want to try one as you enjoy today's lunch on your own.

    The Ljubljanica River flows through the heart of town, with dozens of shops and restaurants (providing more lunching options) on its promenaded embankments. The city's large market squares sprawl along the river's south bank, between the Plecnik-designed Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge, near the Cathedral of St. Nicholas (built in 1701). A lively student population swirls through all of these enticing public spaces because the city is home to Ljubljana University, Slovenia's major institution of higher learning.

    Upon returning to Bled, you have the remainder of your afternoon free to follow your own interests. This evening, celebrate your journey with your fellow travelers during a Farewell Dinner accompanied by music.

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    Today, explore the area surrounding Lake Bled and enjoy the dramatic vistas for which the area is well known. The third most-forested nation in Europe, Slovenia still contains remnants of primeval forests. We'll travel some of its wooded countryside and find views of majestic mountains, steep slopes of valleys carved by ancient glaciers, and distant glimpses of Lake Bled's placid waters. Occasional farm villages dot the rural landscape.

    In an exclusive Discovery Series event this morning, visit the small village of Kropa, an iron-forging settlement since the 15th century. One of the oldest villages in Slovenia, Kropa's many houses display lovely architectural details, such as forged-iron lantern holders, lush window boxes, and massive stone stairways. The town is nestled in a natural amphitheater among the sloping mountains. The area's abundance of rapidly flowing water (krop means “boiling water”), iron ore, and timber led to its thriving iron industry.

    This evening, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

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    After breakfast, you'll be assisted to the airport for your return flight home. Or, discover Zagreb, Croatia, the country's capital, on our optional post-trip extension.


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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect


  • 4 locations in 15 days
  • 2 days feature 6-9 hours of travel by motorcoach

Physical Requirements

  • Walk 1.5 miles unassisted and participate in 2 hours of physical activities daily, including stairs
  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them
  • Program Directors reserve the right to modify participation or send travelers home if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Terrain & Transportation

  • Uneven walking surfaces, including ancient ruins, caves, unpaved paths, steep hills, stairs, and cobblestones, which can be slippery in cooler or wet conditions
  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach and passenger train


  • Daytime temperatures range from 39-82° during touring season
  • June-August are the warmest months
  • November-December weather can be unpredictable and change quickly


  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents


Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.


U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips


Main Trip

  • Valamar Lacroma Hotel

    Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Located on the scenic Babin Kuk Peninsula, this hotel features a range of amenities, including a fitness center, spa, tennis courts, and a swimming pool. Each of its 385 air-conditioned rooms include cable TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, minibar, telephone, safe, private bath, and more.

  • Hotel President Solin

    Solin, Croatia

    Located in the center of this charming city, the Hotel President Solin is a wonderful base to relax after a day of exploring. Built in 2009, this hotel features modern amenities, and the city of Split is only a few minutes' drive away. You may choose to take advantage of the hotel’s Jacuzzi, indoor and outdoor pools, spa, or fitness center. Your air-conditioned room features a telephone, complementary Internet access, safe, and minibar.

  • Hotel Continental

    Opatija, Croatia

    Steps from Opatija’s scenic waterfront and Angiolina Park, the 53-room Hotel Continental is an Austro-Hungarian villa dating back to 1898. Amenities include a café, pub, and champagne and fresh juice bar, and each air-conditioned room features a telephone, satellite TV, safe, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Park

    Bled, Slovenia | Rating: First Class

    At the First-Class Park Hotel, you’ll enjoy a modern lakeside hotel surrounded by verdant grounds just steps away from town and nature trails. Hotel amenities include a pizzeria, restaurant, cafe bar with a large terrace, ATM, indoor pool, and more. Your room with balcony features a direct-dial telephone, cable TV, radio, and private bath with shower.


  • Valamar Lacroma Hotel

    Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Located on the scenic Babin Kuk Peninsula, this hotel features a range of amenities, including a fitness center, spa, tennis courts, and a swimming pool. Each of its 385 air-conditioned rooms include cable TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, minibar, telephone, safe, private bath, and more.

  • Westin Zagreb Hotel

    Zagreb, Croatia | Rating: Superior First Class

    Centrally located in downtown Zagreb, the Superior First-Class Westin Zagreb offers a health club, indoor pool, laundry facilities, and ATM/bank. Your air-conditioned room features cable/satellite TV, telephone, minibar, radio/alarm clock, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

Flight Information

Customize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to customizing your trip—and creating your own unique travel experience:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Choose the departure city and airline that works best for you
  • Depart from one city and return to another
  • Upgrade your air itinerary based on your travel preferences
  • “Break away” before or after your trip to explore independently or re-energize
  • Combine two or more trips to make the most of your value—and avoid another long flight
  • Extend your discoveries with pre- or post-trip extensions

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Estimated Flight Times

We understand that international travel has unique challenges including fewer airline choices and limited flight schedules. The chart below provides estimated travel times and the typical number of connections from popular departure cities to help you plan for your trip.

Please note that traveling to Dubrovnik, and from Ljubljana, will require multiple connections, and these flight rigors should be taken into consideration.

Supporting a World Classroom: Croatia

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. When you visit, we bring you into one of two local schools supported by Grand Circle Foundation and introduce you to Croatia's future as part of our World Classroom experience (provided class is in session).

"It was wonderful to see how dedicated both the teachers and the students are to the kids' education. The children are great ambassadors for their country."

Mae McCurdy
Syracuse, New York

Anton Tomaz Linhart Elementary School, Kantrida Elementary School

Partner since: 2006 • Total donated: $87,000

When Sylvia and Robert Cotter, 18-time travelers from Orleans, Massachusetts, visited an elementary school in Croatia, they were delighted to see Foundation funds in action. “We enjoyed our school visit very much,” Sylvia recalls. "We brought the teacher some colored pencils—but more importantly, received a drawing from the students. We loved it!"

Today, Grand Circle Foundation supports Croatia’s Anton Tomaz Linhart Elementary School and Kantrida Elementary School. At Anton Tomaz, we’ve helped purchase kitchen and dining room equipment, an oven, tables, and a photocopier. Funds at Kantrida have supported classroom renovation, costumes for traditional folklore performances, and classroom equipment for special needs students.

School in session:

September through June, with periodic closures for Christmas, New Year's, Easter, and national holidays

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Drawing paper
  • Pens and Pencils
  • Notebooks
  • Books in English for early readers
  • World maps
  • Souvenirs from home (postcards, etc.)
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $164 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Croatian language lesson. Learn to appreciate the Croatian culture by picking up a few valuable phrases during an informative language lesson.
  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Taste Croatian specialties at the home of a Dubrovnik-area family.
  • Croatia Today discussion. Gain insights into this fascinating region during an in-depth discussion.
  • Slovenia Today discussion. Learn about the country's contemporary culture and society during a special discussion.
  • Visit to Kropa Village. Discover one of the oldest villages in Slovenia, an iron-forging settlement since the 15th century.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Dubrovnik & Rector's Palace
  • Kotor Bay
  • Mostar
  • Split & Diocletian’s Palace

10 reasons to experience Dubrovnik & Beyond: From the Adriatic to the Alps—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. From the ancient city walls of Dubrovnik to Mostar's striking bridge to the sparkling Lake Bled, here are just a few memorable experiences from those who travel to Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina with us.

Scenic landscapes
"We love Opatija and the whole Istrian Peninsula. Slovenia has to be one of the most beautiful and largely undiscovered countries in Europe. Lake Bled is truly spectacular, as are many of the sites in this small country."
A 5-time traveler from Manassas, VA

Home-Hosted Dinner
"The most enjoyable event was the Home-Hosted Dinner. We were introduced to grappa, walnut brandy, and of course, some good Croatian wine. Our hosts made their own wine, cured prosciutto, had hens and sheep, and a garden; they were almost self-sufficient."
A 5-time traveler from Fayetteville, PA

Montenegro optional tour
"Montenegro is very nice and beautiful. We visited Kotor and took the scenic road around Kotor Bay. You will love this trip because of the view of the mountain and water in the bay."
An 8-time traveler from Plymouth, IN

Local history
"We were able to visit living history, not only in Dubrovnik, where the town has endured many centuries, but in several other locations throughout Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia. In each locale, we had a local tour guide who further enriched our visit by adding their own experiences to our history lessons!"
A first-time traveler from Pittsburg, CA

Lake Bled, Slovenia
"Our hotel in Slovenia was on Lake Bled, a place out of a fairy tale! I became fixated on the castle at the top of the hill, and the Church of the Assumption on the island in the lake. Do not miss the original cream cakes at the restaurant directly across from the hotel!"
A 6-time traveler from Huntington Beach, CA

Evening on the Adriatic optional tour
"Beyond the history and beauty of the Old Town, the highlight for me was a PERFECT 'Evening on the Adriatic,' in which we were taken by wooden boat to a seaside restaurant for a delicious fish dinner while listening to the waves slap the shoreline rocks and watch a magnificent sunset amidst the offshore islands."
A 2-time traveler from Seven Lakes, NC

Program Director
"Our tour director, Tatjana, was outstanding in her knowledge of the history and geography of the area, but more than that she and the other guides interacted with the group and made the trip an even more outstanding adventure."
A 15-time traveler from Cherry Hill, NJ

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
"Mostar in Bosnia was very interesting. It was very different from Croatia in that there is still quite a bit of damage from the war in the 1990s and in was interesting to see the Turkish and Muslum influence."
A 7-time traveler from Spartanburg, SC

Opatija, Croatia
"... the views along the coast as you drive up to Opatija are breathtaking. Don't miss the seven mile walk along the Adriatic at this former health spa."
A 12-time traveler from New Berlin, WI

Dubrovnik, Croatia pre-trip extension
"I would highly recommend the pre-trip as you then have a total of a week in beautiful Dubrovnik. The side trips to Cavtat and to Korcula were wonderful ... Be sure to go to old town Dubrovnik in the evening as it is even more beautiful when lighted. Also, don't miss walking the city wall—it is a life list type experience."
A 6-time traveler from Overland Park, KS

Want to travel to Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina? Call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610 for reservations and information.

History, Culture & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and more you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Liberal Arts

See how the Republic of Ragusa, the heart of which we now know as Dubrovnik, became a progressive culture.

Read More »

A Tale of Love and War

Learn the story behind Croatians proudly adorning themselves with the morcic to bring good luck and showcase their loyalty.

Read More »

Slovenia's Sweet Side

Discover the integral role the bee, and all that goes along with, has played in Slovenian culture for centuries.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

Liberal Arts

The progressive culture of the Republic of Ragusa

by David Valdes Greenwood, for Grand Circle

The somber leader leaned over the table, his pale brow furrowed as he considered the words before him one last time. His advisors and peers waited quietly, knowing the significance of the moment. And then, with a stroke of a pen, it was over. The slaves were declared free.

This dramatic moment might sound familiar, the stuff of Lincoln biographies and American history texts. But in fact, the scene played out more than 4,000 miles away and 400 years before the U.S. Emancipation Proclamation.

The scene described is the legal abolition of slavery in the Republic of Ragusa, a maritime state that rivaled Venice in its heyday. And the ruler was not a president, but a prince surrounded by some of the wealthiest men in the kingdom. Surprisingly for an aristocracy of that type, Ragusa—the heart of which we now know as the city of Dubrovnik—made itself a place where the most progressive ideals came to life. Ragusa was never perfect, but while it lasted, it came close to demonstrating how a society that believed in liberty could make such a thing true.

Silver spoons & hearts of gold

Life in Ragusa was decidedly stratified. There were only three classes: the plebeians, consisting of the poor and the laborers: citizens, the equivalent of the middle class; and nobility, whose status was guaranteed by birth. Being noble came not only with status and wealth, but with power.

According to the laws of Ragusa, only nobility could hold major government offices. The head of state was a Rector (chosen from among the princes) who presided over two councils, but the powerhouse body was the Senate. To avoid corruption, both Rector and Senators were subject to strict term limits: one month for Rectors and one year for Senators. In this way, the long-term values of the group as a whole became more dominant than the values of a single individual in any given session.

Happily, what they valued was (to use American lingo) liberty and justice for all. The flag of the Republic bore the motto Libertas (freedom) and the fortress walls at the entrance to the city were inscribed with this phrase: Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro (“Liberty cannot be sold for all the gold of the world”). This was more than a slogan, for these wealthy elite put in place some of the most progressive policies Europe had ever seen.

A kinder, gentler Europe

The nobles established both an almshouse for the elderly and an orphanage for the young. The orphanage was created not just to care for children whose parents had died, but also for those born out of wedlock. Wearing veils to hide their features, women came at night to the ruota, a rotating wooden platform at the entry to the orphanage. After kissing her infant goodbye, a mother would ring the bell and slip away. The staff of the orphanage would allow for a few moments to pass out of concern for the mother’s privacy, and then turn the ruota so that the baby could be taken in. Concern for the emotional well-being of the mother was so great that a law was passed to severely punish any who dared accost a woman before she could depart.

But the greatest accomplishment in forward-thinking Ragusa was the abolition of slavery. In 1416, with the full support of the Senate, the Rector of Ragusa signed a proclamation that the existing slaves were to be free and that further transport of slaves through the region was prohibited. As Ragusa depended little on slave labor aside from household servants, it was that latter provision that had the most effect: Slave labor had been a major component of the trade between Eastern and Western Europe. Cutting off this supply route took a number of years but it set a precedent, and Venice was one of the states that followed suit before the end of the 1400s.

With such progressive policies in place, Ragusa blossomed, and the 15th century saw the acquisition of the coveted islands of Korcula, Brac, and Hvar. Ragusa’s population swelled to more than 40,000—putting it on par with London—and for the next 200 years, it was the showpiece of the Balkans. Public and private buildings rose at an astonishing rate. Sculpture and painting reached new heights in Ragusa, with 16th century masters bringing new realism and softness to depictions of religious and cultural life.

Shake, rattle, and fall

So how did such a richly cultured economic powerhouse lose its way? First, an earthquake in 1667 destroyed most of the city. Among the 5,000 dead were the Rector and a fair number of Senators, throwing leadership into chaos.

A second blow was to come, this time political: Just as the Ottoman Empire (an ally and protector of Ragusa) was waning, both Habsburg Austria and Napoleonic France were ascending. By not shoring up its alliances, Ragusa risked being left friendless should one side emerge triumphant. And that is just what happened.

The city eventually surrendered to Napoleon, and in 1815 the entire territory was awarded to the Habsburgs at the Congress of Vienna. Just like that, with a stroke of another pen, the Republic of Ragusa was abolished, centuries of power signed away into history.

History, Culture & More

Tale of Love and War

by Travis Taylor, for Grand Circle

Every culture has its charms and symbols for warding off evil spirits and keeping on the right side of fate. From the kavacha tube pendant of India to the iron horseshoe of the U.S., superstition weaves itself around these objects and lends an air of mysticism and intrigue to their otherwise humble histories. In Croatia, specifically in the region surrounding the city of Rijeka, it is the morcic (pronounced “more-cheech”) locals proudly adorn themselves with to bring good luck and acknowledge their loyalty to the region.

An unlikely symbol, the morcic is a portly, Moor-inspired bust wearing a large white turban and thick, golden necklace. Since the 17th century, jewelers have fashioned the figurine into necklaces, rings, pendants, and earrings that are indelible symbols of good fortune in Rijeka and Croatia. And, as is the case with most good luck charms, the history of the morcic is muddied by myth, its narrative thread weighted with beads of legend.

Love & loss

The first of several stories about the origins of the morcic involves an Italian countess who, in an act of love, granted her black-skinned maidservant and friend freedom so that she could return to her home and family. When her maidservant left, the countess, overcome with sadness at having lost her friend, commissioned a jeweler to fashion the girl’s likeness in precious metals for her to wear as a way to always remember their friendship.

A trophy of war

Another popular story of the morcic’s origins describes a nobleman of Rijeka who fired an arrow into an approaching Ottoman army camped on the Grobnik Field outside the city. The arrow struck and killed the Ottoman’s pasha (high ranking officer), sending the threatening military forces scattering. As the warriors dispersed, the people of Rijeka prayed to God to save them from any further attacks from the Ottoman Empire. In response to their prayers, stones rained down from heaven, covering the warriors up to their necks, until only their heads and turbans remained. To commemorate the miraculous victory, Rijeka’s men created earrings for their wives with the bust of a turban-wearing Moor.

The Venetian connection

The truth, historians contend, is much less mythical. The creation of the morcic is attributed to Venice, the famed city of water on the opposite side of the Adriatic Sea from Croatia. While relations between the Croats and Venetians was not always amicable, the two cultures shared many similarities, including an obsession with the latest fashion.

Around the 17th century, the Venetians, captivated with the distant Orient, began to appropriate elements from these far away, enigmatic lands. It wasn’t long before Venetian noblemen began to use royal servants—black Moors—dressed in Oriental clothes of the finest silk and beaded with beautiful jewels. These much-sought after servants were known as moretto, and it was a matter of prestige to have one of these foreigners as a servant. Inspired by the lavish colors and finery of their dress, Venetian jewelers fashioned decorative ornaments of the moretto out of precious metals and stones. These figurines, also known as blackamoors, became very popular among royalty and common people alike.

Not to be outdone by the Venetians, the Croats created their own version of the moretto, which is the morcic. The Croatian version highlights the head specifically, but is no less ornate and bejeweled than its Venetian counterpart. The prevalence of the image—for a period, nearly everyone in Rijeka wore some form of the morcic—helped it become something more than a piece of jewelry.

The miniature Moor became a reminder of the region’s history (the defeat of the Turks and the Ottoman Empire), an indication of economic power and social standing, and an icon of positive energy. Keeping it close, it is said, will manifest optimism, guarantee good fortune and provide protection from evil forces. Once worn by the fishermen of the city, the morcic can still be found decorating men's ears, while brooches, bracelets, rings, and pins can be found in the homes of almost every resident of the city. Due to its distinct appearance and exquisite craftsmanship, the morcic is recognized across the globe, and even modern-day designers like Dolce & Gabbana have used the blackamoor in their creations.

Contemporary criticism

Some art historians and activists have raised concern over the continued creation of such jewelry, describing the morcic and moretto as offensive reminders of African subjugation concealed in beautiful ornamentation. However, despite such controversy, the morcic remains a common, much-loved symbol in Croatia and is the mascot for the extravagant International Rijeka Carnival, which is held every year from January to early March.

Although Rijeka is considered the home of the morcic, morcic jewelry can be found throughout Croatia. Master jewelers and artisans imbue their morcic creations with the nobility, beauty, and cheerful spirit of the region, creating a good luck charm and souvenir that embodies a grand tradition for Croatians.

History, Culture & More

Slovenia's Sweet Side

The bee—and of course, its honey—has long been an integral and beloved part of Slovenian life

by Danielle Ossher

Nestled against the Julian Alps, Slovenia abounds with pristine natural beauty—over 60 percent of the country is blanketed in thick, verdant forests. Still, vivid blue lakes set the stage for magnificent, mountain-framed views, and the rolling landscapes are ripe with lush vegetation.

Amidst these storybook scenes lives a vast array of native wildlife: Brown bears, wolves, and lynx roam the forests, and the endangered freshwater crayfish is just one of many species that inhabit the waters. A plethora of birds soar overhead, especially during migratory season, and, a bit closer to the ground, a beloved national icon buzzes along—the Carniolan bee.

The bee, and all that goes along with it, has been a pivotal part of Slovenian culture for centuries. Beekeepers from this region pioneered the practice in the 18th and 19th centuries and are still held in high esteem today. Many local residents have taken up the practice as pastime, while artisanal producers continue the country’s proud tradition of creating top-notch products.

Slovenian honey, which is officially registered with the European Commission, is both well-regulated and staunchly protected to maintain its elite reputation around the world. The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food has established geographical areas and regulations for both the production and preparation of any honey that bears the "Slovenian honey" (Slovenski med) label.

The final product, available in varieties including forest, acacia, linden, fir, and flower, is a luxurious honey that boasts a rich, thick texture and sublime flavor. And while honey is the undeniable mainstay of Slovenian beekeeping, there are a score of other bee-related products worthy of attention, including honey wine and liqueur, and beeswax candles.

Local legends

The Carniolan bee is a cherished native—so much so that Slovenia enacted a special resolution to protect and preserve it from foreign species, making it the only bee in the European Union to gain such status. This petite honey bee is quite the charmer: It’s highly favored among beekeepers for its gentle demeanor, sharp orientation, and higher-than-average honey production. They are also extremely skilled at adapting to changes in weather, an ideal trait given their indigenous environment.

Carniolan bees are easily distinguished from the similarly sized Italian honey bee, also a beekeeping favorite to which it is often compared, by its warm brown and deep gray striped coat. These honey powerhouses, which generally live years longer than many other types, group into families of 20,000 to 60,000 around their queen. Slovenia strives to keep at least 150,000 bee families (nearly 9 billion bees) through its conservation efforts, which also focus on preserving the pristine environment in which the Carniolan thrives.

Perfecting the craft

The practice—or as many locals consider it, the art—of beekeeping (apiculture) is a point of pride in Slovenia, with strong roots dating back centuries. The most notable Slovenian beekeeper, Anton Janša, was actually trained as a painter in Vienna in the 1700s, but soon decided to instead pursue his interest in beekeeping. Janša grew up around bees, as his father kept more than a hundred hives, and in 1770 he became Europe’s first teacher of apiculture, royally appointed by Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa to the post in Vienna.

A pioneer of modern beekeeping, Janša reimagined the size and shape of the traditional beehive, which was usually constructed out of hollow logs or baskets, into uniform boxes meant for stacking. This new approach paved the way for how beekeepers house their hives today—row upon row of wooden boxes, serving as the individual hives, that slide into the sides of bee-houses. Traditional wooden bee-houses with overhanging roofs still dot the Slovenian landscapes, especially in the bee-centric areas of Bled and Ljubljana and their surrounding villages.

Nowadays, an increasing number of beekeepers are opting for portable houses, outfitting buses, trucks and wagons with these wooden boxes so they can relocate their hives to the most pollen-rich areas based on the daily farm report. This attentiveness, paired with their unequivocal patience—local beekeepers only harvest the honey once the bees build wax caps over the honeycomb cells, signaling it's mature—is what makes for such a rich, indulgent final product.

Singular works

As such an ingrained part of the culture, it’s no surprise that beekeeping spawned an art movement all its own—beehive panel folk art. Local artists see the front panels of the wooden hives as their canvases, adorning them with colorful scenes depicting religious themes, popular folk tales or historical moments, or simply coating them in eye-catching solid hues. Each front panel is treated as its own work—together they transform the bee-house into a striking open-air gallery.

The oldest remaining example of this creative outlet singular to Slovenia is from 1758, and Janša himself was known to paint his hives using his classical training. However, it’s uncommon that the beekeepers themselves paint the hives—often local artists will tour the region, painting beehives along the way. Beehive panel artists favor vibrant hues, often in primary colors, a tradition that speaks to the old notion that bright colors helped the bees find their way home.

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