This autumn we embarked on a quintessential GTspirit Road Trip from the Croatian city of Dubrovnik to the Austrian capital of Vienna. Our vehicle of choice was an exemplary GT-car; the new Bentley Continental GT V8 S! Over the course of seven days we explored Croatia, Slovenia and Austria and got to know the ins and outs of the new sporty luxury GT.
Our journey started in the incredible Croatian city of Dubrovnik, located directly on the shores of the Adriatic Sea and one of the best preserved medieval walled cities in the world. We spend the night strolling through the narrow streets and alleys of the historical town. Don’t be surprised when you stumble upon a guillotine (see gallery below)! Off-season is actually a great time to explore Dubrovnik as there are fewer cruise ships and in general not so many people around.
Dubrovnik dates back to the 7th century and since the 1970s the old town has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its recent history is dominated by the Balkan war that ravaged large parts of former Yugoslavia in the 90s. Although the old town of Dubrovnik sustained over 600 artillery and mortar rounds it is hard to see any evidence of the war in this part of Croatia. Dubrovnik is built in a similar fashion to Monaco, high up against the rocky shores of the sea and, with that, it gets a unique charm as you navigate your way through narrow streets that connect Dubrovnik with our hotel; Villa Dubrovnik.
Hotel Villa Dubrovnik
Villa Dubrovnik is prominently positioned on the cliffs above the Dubrovnik’s prestigious St. Jacob precinct. It features 56 modern residences, including 49 rooms and 7 suites, a complete Spa with indoor swimming pool, a lounge area on the rocks directly at the sea, an excellent restaurant and bar. Best of all, it provides free speed boat shuttles to the old town multiple times a day – true James Bond style. After our arrival in the hotel we hit the gym and the pool before taking the shuttle into town. After exploring the old town and some of the suburbs (forgot my iPhone charger…) we walked back to the hotel up the hill, which takes about 15 minutes.
The rooms are modern and include everything you need, such as a huge flatscreen TV at the bottom of the bed. The bathroom features a glass window between the bedroom and the bath, not my style but luckily there are curtains for a bit more privacy. The downside was that there was no separate shower and you had to shower in the bathtub. With the spa three doors down the hall this was nothing major though. Breakfast the next morning was served in the restaurant downstairs which offers magnificent views over the Adriatic and Dubrovnik’s old town. The a-la-carte breakfast included the best croissants I had in a very, very long time. That, plus the amazing sunsets, make this a place to remember.
After breakfast it was time to pack our bags and hit the road! We received the keys to a stunning Kingfisher Blue Bentley Continental GT V8 S from the hotel receptionist. We had already seen the car the night before in the dark hotel parking area where it had looked almost dark blue / purple. But in the sunlight it is as bright blue as you can imagine. We slide our Rimowa suitcase in the back and I open the solid driver’s door and get behind the wheel.
Our first destination: Split! The last time I was in Dubrovnik the only way to get to Split was via the D8 coastal road, a beautiful but very slow road. But Croatia has changed a lot in recent years and the ‘Adriatic highway’ now runs all the way until about 60 kilometres north of Dubrovnik. So today our journey will take a lot less time than it did 7 years ago.
As we set off we pass the Old Town of Dubrovnik one more time and soon find ourselves on the D8. The road quickly climbs up into the hills offering incredible views of the outskirts of Dubrovnik and the coastline. Croatia is home to over a thousand islands that litter the entire coastline from the border with Italy in the North to the border with Montenegro in the South. Just outside Dubrovnik is the cruise terminal where the nearly 300-meter long and 16 stories high MS Queen Elizabeth just berthed as we passed.
Across the modern Franjo Tuđman Bridge outside Dubrovnik, the traffic quickly becomes less dense and we have the road more or less to ourselves with the Bentley Continental GT V8 S. The V8 S is the sportiest version of Bentley’s V8 Continental GT and comes with a 4.0 V8 engine that produces 528 hp and no less than 680 Nm of torque. The ‘S’ treatment reduces the 0-100 km/h sprint to 4.5 seconds and lifts the top speed to 309 km/h. Thanks to downsizing and various optimization measures, it is more fuel efficient than any Bentley before.
The engine combined with the 8-Speed ZF automatic gearbox acted as a great combo the entire journey. From the moment we pressed the start/stop button and brought the V8 to life until the moment we switched it off again many hundreds of kilometres later, it delivered without a single twitch. With a kerb weight just shy of 2,300 kilograms, weight is the biggest challenge for the Continental GT. In the V8 S, the sports suspension received additional upgrades and tweaking. You can choose between four different levels from Comfort to Sport. Quite soon into our journey we chose the sportier two settings of the suspension as it fits the character of the V8 S better.
About half an hour outside Dubrovnik we arrived at the Bosnian border. You might wonder why we went to Bosnia-Herzegovina, but to drive from Dubrovnik to other parts of Croatia you have no other choice than to pass Bosnia. During the Balkan war in the 90s, Bosnia nearly became landlocked but it maintained almost 20 kilometres of coastline around the city of Neum. A trip into Bosnia is like a trip back in time. The town of Neum and the other Bosnian coastal villages are nowhere near as nice as Dubrovnik and other Croatian villages we passed thus far. We passed through Bosnia in a mere ten minutes and found ourselves back in Croatia.
Just after the Bosnian border the road leaves the coast and heads inland where we reach a plain full of fruit plantations. Don’t be shy to stop at one of the many roadside stalls to buy some fresh oranges, they are delicious! From here it takes only minutes until we reach the brand new toll highway that will bring us to Split.
The Croatian highways are truly excellent and because of the tolls they are hardly used by locals. In summertime it can get quite busy with many (German) tourists spending their holiday on the Adriatic coast however. We switch the adaptive cruise control on and enjoy the massage seats for as long as it lasts. Within an hour we reach Split, the second largest city of Croatia after capital Zagreb.
It feels completely different to Dubrovnik which has almost one tenth the number of inhabitants. Despite being over 1,700 years old, one of the oldest cities in Croatia, and a major tourist destination it didn’t impress us much. We parked near the harbour and checked out the old town. The main boulevard along the sea is lined with restaurants but sadly there is not much left of the old city. That said, Split does provide quick ferry access to some of Croatia’s most beautiful islands and absolute summer hotspots like the party island of Hvar.
After lunch we leave Split behind us and head for our overnight stop: Zadar! We return to our already beloved toll highway and witness an incredible sunset on the way. Nearly the entire Croatian shore lies on the Western side of the country so it is not hard to find a spot to witness the sun go over in the sea. It is the California of Europe if you wish.
Zadar is completely different to Split; you won’t find any tall communist-style apartment blocks and it is cleaner. The people are friendly and give appreciative looks to the flashy Bentley where-ever we go. The old city of Zadar was built on an island that is now connected to the mainland creating a protected harbour for fishermen, ferries and yachts alike.
Before we check into our hotel we have dinner at the outstanding restaurant Bruschetta in the old part of Zadar which offers Mediterranean and typical Dalmatian cuisine. After dinner we quickly stop at the ‘Greeting to the Sun’ art by architect Nikola Bašic. The Greeting to the Sun is a landmark that consists of 300 glass panels that together form a circle that measures 22 meters in diameter. The glass panels light up and play a game of different coloured lights. Next to the Greeting to the Sun is the Sea Organ made by the same architect in 2005. The sea organ plays tunes through the waves and the wind that push against the quay. Located on the far tip of the Zadar peninsula both landmarks are worth a visit!
Hotel Falkensteiner Iadera
We spend the night in the Falkensteiner Iadera Hotel about 10 minutes from the center of Zadar. The Iadera is located on the tip of the Punta Skala peninsula with near 360-degree views over the Adriatic Sea. The Falkensteiner Iadera hotel has 210 rooms and suites and most of them have sea views. Despite arriving late at night we did manage to make it down to the great Acquapura Black & White Spa. The Spa measures over 6,000 square meters in size and features everything from an aqua gym to a panoramic earth sauna and three (outdoor) pools to a great hammam.
The next morning we wake up early but totally relaxed for another day on the road. The hotel rooms at the Iadera are styled using typical nautical colours and gave me an immediate holiday feeling. Apart from the glass wall in the bathroom (again) there was very little to complain about! The breakfast buffet was among the largest we have seen for a hotel this size. Sadly the time and weather didn’t permit going for a swim at the hotel’s own beach that runs over 800 meters around the entire property. The Adriatic’s waters in Dalmatia are incredibly clear and inviting so we will definitely save it for next time!
The responses to the car and the colour are overwhelming and the second day of our trip brings no exception. We leave the Falkensteiner Iadera and program the next destination in the satnav: Zagreb! The quickest way to Zagreb from Zadar via the highway takes about 3 hours but we have planned a special detour for day 2 so it will take us much longer.
The first bit takes us back on the A1 highway where soon we will start the ascent on to a mountain ridge. The highest peaks are already snow-covered and the impressive rock formations provide a scenic backdrop on this Wednesday in October. The last few days we easily had 20 degrees during the day but as we climb the temperature drops to a chilly 5 degrees. Nearly at the top we cross a tunnel and as we come out on the other side the surroundings couldn’t be any different, from a barren rocky landscape it changed to gentle tree-covered hills sheltered from the Westerly winds by the mountain ridge we just crossed.
It is not far to our exit from the A1 to D1. The D1 is the old national road that connects Zagreb with Split. Since the A1 highway was built, it is nearly obsolete and used mainly by local traffic. In the scarcely populated area we pass with hardly any traffic at all. It doesn’t take long until we pass a (former) Croatian Air Force Base with a two tanks at the entrance that provide quite a sharp contrast with the Bentley we are in.
At the town of Korenica one lane is closed due to road works and we queue some time for a traffic light. After the village we suddenly spot a police car rushing towards us – and although I was quite sure I wasn’t driving (much) too fast, you never know what is going to happen. Closely watching the rear view mirror as the Croatian police Skoda with four policemen inside comes closer to us, I can’t believe my eyes as I see the policeman in the passenger seat raise his smartphone and snap a picture of the Bentley as they are right on our bumper. Moments after, his colleague behind the wheel puts his foot through the floor of the little Skoda and overtakes us across a turning lane for oncoming traffic and races off as if he was Kimi Raikkonen himself (maybe he was!).
Soon the scenery changes again and we get the feeling we are in Austria with many hotels, pensions and German ‘Zimmer Frei’ signs along the side of the road. Due to a small human navigational flaw we end up on the Bosnian border (again). This, however, is not what we were looking for so we turn around and head back to our mid-way stop: Plitvice National Park. On the way back we pass some villages that clearly were along the front lines in the last Balkan war. Many houses remain deserted, destroyed or visibly damaged by artillery and machine guns.
A little shocked, we continue to Plitvice National Park, the oldest national park in South-East Europe and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia. And there is a good reason we like to stop here, for Plitvice is home to 16 lakes that are linked together by countless waterfalls. From the parking lot along the D1 it is a short walk down to the largest lake where a small ferry brings you across to the bottom of the waterfalls. Sadly part of the paths were closed due to flooding (Yes, a waterfall can flood…) so we only had one route to take to some of the widest waterfalls in the park.
Over 200 metres wide, several waterfalls pour down over natural dams that are still growing year by year. Fall is a great time of the year to visit the waterfalls because of the enormous amount of water traveling down. A gentle wooden walkway leads all the way to the top and at some points you really get the feeling you are walking through the falls. It is hard to describe just how beautiful the Plitvice national park is. If you have a chance check it out yourself!
With another UNESCO World Heritage site ticked on our list we continue on to Zagreb. From Plitvice to Zagreb the first part of the road features some very nice stretches of roads with many long sweeping corners. Here the Bentley V8 S feels right at home. The closer we get to Zagreb the less open road lies in front of us and we engage the adaptive cruise control to lead us to our destination: Hotel Regent Esplanade Zagreb!
Hotel Regent Esplanade Zagreb
The Regent Esplanade Hotel is everything you expect a classic luxury hotel to be. From the valet parking to the doorman and the bellboy, directly upon arrival you get this classic luxury hotel feeling everybody knows from one or other Hollywood movie. It features all things that define a Grand city hotel like the 1925 Bar, Oleander Terrace and one of the country’s best, if not the best, restaurants: Zinfandel.
The Regent Esplanade also has a Spa, although nowhere near as large as in the previous two hotels, which provides a dose of relaxation prior to dinner. Back in 2007 I already stayed in the Esplanade and it is still as good as I remembered. The rooms again provide everything you wish for in a grand luxurious city hotel, marble bathrooms (with four normal walls and a door!), thick carpets and high ceilings with all the comfort you can wish for including WiFi and flatscreen TVs.
Although the hotel provides ample entertainment for our one night in Zagreb, we do head into town to check out the local scene to provide you with some first-hand experience. From the hotel you can walk to the Jelačić plac square in the center of town in around ten minutes. Around here you can see various sites like the Zagreb Cathedral, the Dolac market and the Archbishop’s Palace. Zagreb is where the Mediterranean meets the Balkan with its mix of traditional cafes and modern boutique shops.
For restaurants and nightlife you can either go north up Tkalčićeva street lined with restaurants and bars for a mile or so, or head to the South-West from the main square to Cvjetni square and our personal favourite: Bogovićeva street! Terraces of trendy bars and restaurants occupy most of the street and even though it is October and the temperatures have dropped close to freezing, most terraces are full of locals enjoying their Saturday night at small fireplaces or under heaters. We end our night with the disco tunes in the Pepermint club just off the main square. Zagreb is ideal for an unconventional weekend break, there is plenty to see and to do and as we can tell first hand it is a city that is evolving well with the years!
This marks the end of our first part of the Bentley Tour report from Dubrovnik to Zagreb! Check back soon for Part 2 of our journey from Zagreb to Vienna and make sure to check out our Instagram and Facebook for some behind the scenes reports!