WHY: Driving from Split to Dubrovnik on the coastal Adriatic Highway in fall is an epic, windows-rolled-down road trip. The serpentine route hugs Croatia’s sun-splashed southern Dalmatian Coast and briefly passes through Bosnia and Herzegovina. Cruising south from Split—home of the ancient Palace of Diocletian World Heritage site—you’ll see jaw-dropping views of the brilliant blue Adriatic on the right and the jagged limestone Dinaric Alps rising to the left. You could make the drive (one-way) in about four hours. Instead, take at least four days. Stop to eat or sleep in seaside towns like Omiš, the launching pad for Adventure Omiš’s canyoning, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and rock climbing tours in the stunning Cetina River gorge. Catch a ferry to one or more of the offshore Adriatic islands, such as Mljet, Hvar, and Šolta. Near Dubrovnik, visit vineyards on the Pelješac peninsula and in the Konavle Valley for wine cellar tours, tastings, and grape harvest celebrations.
WHERE: The Dalmatian Coast is the southernmost coastal region of Croatia, stretching over 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the island of Pag in the north to the Montenegro border in the south. Split, the largest city in the Dalmatia region, is located about midway along the coast, and Dubrovnik is located near the southern terminus. There are international airports in Split and Dubrovnik, however, Croatia’s main international gateway is Zagreb International Airport.
HOW: If arriving in Zagreb, take a 45-minute connecting flight to Split. Rent a car at the Split airport and follow the coastal route, D8 (also known as the Jadranska Magistrala or Adriatic Highway), south to Dubrovnik. To visit the islands, take Jadrolinija car ferries or passenger ferries. On the return trip from Dubrovnik to Split, retrace your route north as far as Ploče to connect to the multilane A1 motorway (a toll road). This speedier inland route is Croatia’s main north-south highway.
STAY: Enjoy a Dalmatian Coast beach day without the summer beach crowds in Orebić, a laid-back resort town on the Pelješac peninsula. The 183-room Aminess Grand Azur Hotel is a 10-minute walk from Orebić via the coastal promenade. The hotel has its own pebble beach, two outdoor pools, and kayaks, bikes, and other sports gear available to rent. From the sea-view rooms you can see the thickly forested island of Korčula.
EAT: In Omiš, take a scenic detour (about two and a half miles, or four kilometers, inland) by boat or by car to Restaurant Kaštil Slanica. Built on the site of Slanica, a medieval marketplace named for its major product slano, or salt, the restaurant overlooks the emerald green Cetina River. The menu includes traditional Dalmatian favorites, such as soparnik (a savory pie made with thin dough crust and a Swiss chard, onion, and garlic filling) and crni rižot (“black risotto”). The risotto-and-seafood dish gets its distinctive black color from the ink of the sea creature (usually cuttlefish or squid) used in the recipe.
DON’T MISS: Defensive walls and fortresses encircle the Old City of Dubrovnik World Heritage site. Walk the mile-and-a-quarter (two-kilometer) circuit around the top of the walls for up-close views of Dubrovnik’s signature terra-cotta roofs and imposing ancient fortresses.
INSIDE TIP: Rental cars in Croatia typically have manual transmissions. If you’d prefer an automatic, request one specifically when reserving a car. Your rental car company will provide proof of insurance (called the green card system), allowing you to drive through the Bosnia and Herzegovina portion of the road trip. Typically, luxury car rentals can’t be driven outside of Croatia. Ask about any restrictions before renting the car.
FUN FACT: The most recent season of the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones includes several scenes shot on location in Split. In episode one, Split doubles as Meereen, the site of a long walk between Varys and Tyrion. In episode two, a chamber in Split is where the dragons Rhaegal and Viserion are chained until Tyrion frees them. In episode three, in the throne room filmed in Split’s old town, Varys confronts Vala to get her assistance in stopping the Sons of the Harpy.