For two weeks, three friends and myself drove a Citroën DS3 through a bunch of countries in Eastern Europe. Most notably Croatia, where we spent most of our days. None of us had been there before, so we were taken by surprise, while we saw all our prejudices go down the drain. The country itself is beautiful, but from a driver’s perspective, if you find the right roads, it’s pretty close to heaven. Here’s why.
Lots of good can happen in two weeks, in particular when on a road trip with your best friends, driving through countries of which you don’t speak the language. Moreover, the Eastern part of Europe is rather infamous, although their reputation grows more positive with every year that passes. Before departure, we discussed what we could potentially stumble upon. Horribly maintained roads, sketchy civilians, a combination of the previous two (thanks to watching hours of dashcam footage), corruption, I could go on, but this article is not meant to bash Croatia. On the contrary, if you want to take another look at the title, this article will discuss all that was awesome. More specifically, the cultural do’s that I recommend, as well as the best roads we drove on, accompanied by photos. However, since we are a motoring blog, we will sent our attention to the latter.
Where to go?
Croatia has lots of awesome little cities and villages that are great to visit, or pass through. We only took the time to visit the ones we thought were worth a shot, since it was our first time there. It’s best to get a broad view of what Croatia is about and not immediately dive into the unknown by doing all types of crazy ****. Sure, it might enhance the experience, but knowing with what kinds of stereotypes we entered the place, it is not completely odd that we chose to do it this way.
So where did we go, then? I’ll tell you! After passing through Slovenia, which, to us, was the quickest way there, we ended up in Rijeka. Even though it is the third-largest city in Croatia, most folks tend to skip this beautiful place. My best guess is because they either want to go straight on down, or are scared off by the looks of its outskirts. Believe me, I speak out of experience and it is not pretty. We almost drove on ourselves, but the apartment was already booked and we still had this feeling it would turn out fine. It did and, albeit small enough to see in a day, was a great decision. So, if(!) you have never been to Croatia and come from a Western direction, by car, I urge you to stay at least a night and day to discover it. You’ll get a quick and clear taste of what Croatia’s cities are about and will soon long for more, much more!
After having seen Rijeka, we set off to our next destination. Unfortunately, during this period, the weather was not particularly fond of us. I will tell more about this in the article that discusses “The Lows”. Luckily, not everything was a dread that day. The drive was incredible. Thank Odin it was my shift again. This was the first incredible drive of the trip.
Rijeka to Zadar – E65
This route takes you all the way down the coast to Senj, which accounts for about 65km of driving along the Adriatic Ocean. At Senj, you can choose to keep going down, or take the 23 across the mountains, which is what we did. Surprisingly enough, the mountain road was not the best part of the day, it was the E65, for several reasons.
The weather was one of them, but explaining why might cause some confusion. In my 19 years of having sat in cars, passenger or driver, I have never felt so uneasy on a piece of tarmac. Why? A storm. As can be seen on the pictures of our Citroën DS3, we had a roof box. Without it, we would not have been able to fit all of our stuff in the car. Actually, with the roof box in use it was hard enough. Anyway, with this box on top of our car, with the wind being at least over 120 km/h, we were pushed and dragged all over the highway. More specifically myself, since I was behind the wheel. I almost couldn’t believe what happened when I had to pull the steering wheel at a 45-degree angle just to keep on driving straight. Even more unbelievable was the fact that I liked it. The intensity created a rush of adrenaline I rarely ever felt on the road. To prove my statement, just take a look at the background on the photo. The white stuff, you ask? That’s seawater, flying through the air as if they’re curtains made from salt water. Taking this picture was hugely inefficient and dangerous too. It was almost impossible to keep a stance. Fun fact: I nearly lost my bag (with laptop among other valuables) when we were setting up the GoPro. Half a second later and it would have flown off the edge.
The other reason neatly ties into the previous one, but could have done perfectly on its own. The view was marvelous that day. Croatia is a treat to look at in regular lighting, with the sun out, but on this day, with all the wind, rain and grey skies the effect was a little more special. I highly suggest you take this road, whatever the weather forecast. Due to this absurd beauty, we pulled over multiple times, just to stare at the scenery in complete awe. From the main land, you have a clear view of the Adriatic Ocean, all of the tiny islands that lay slightly off the coast, topped off by the dramatic sky. Mediterranean magnificence.
Novalja to Plitvice Lakes – Route 25
It was my turn to drive again, so I drove back onto the land, right into the Velebit mountains. When we were on the small islands on which Pag and Novalja are situated, it looked dark and angry, but impressive above all. While driving through them, they were just idyllical. It was like getting to know a soft-hearted, but scary-looking punk rocker. Tough, yet sweet.
When it comes to the view from the mountains where we were standing, looking at the islands where we had been that very morning, I stood there, unable to grasp what I saw. Never have I seen such blue waters, filled with the heaps of rock they call islands. I have photos, but they don’t do the scene justice. However, as much as I am an adorer of picturesque nature, the drive itself was even greater.
Right off the boat, the Velebit mountains had not one bit of mercy to spare. As I drove onto the land, I could already see where we were headed: straight up. Tight, twisty roads that led us through a bunch of villages, along the same enticing road we drove on some days before, this time a bit farther down. Also, in contrast to the drive described above, the sun was out today. This switched up the ambiance big time. We thought we were invincible.
The car itself handled terrific going up the mountain, against my expectations. The 92 HP strong 1.6 engine that lays in the front of the car managed to drag us to the top. Although there was the occasional turbo-dip, where we did not have enough RPM to wind up the spool, nine out of ten times we had no reason to complain. A quick downshift would suffice. In fact, when we managed to engage the turbo, we shot up the hill like there was no tomorrow. That’s the beauty of a good turbo. Right when it feels like the engine is about to give in, you hit 2000 rpm and BOOM. However, it was not just the engine. The handling was wicked. Even though our weight distribution was off, I felt like we somehow fixed it by adding our luggage. I tried to push the car into corners, but we didn’t experience any major understeer, which is a good thing going downhill on an 8% percent road. That day I felt I was best in touch with the DS3.
Despite us wanting to drive straight off the mountain the day we were stuck in traffic for the longest, at times we were able to have some fun. More about our misery in the next article about the trip, but here’s a clip of me enjoying myself. You gotta make the most of your situation!
These were the highs, next time, the lows!
Have a good one,