We were recommended to try the Konavle off-road safari by another of the guests staying at our apartment, who returned one afternoon full of excitement about the day they’d just had doing the same.
Everything we’d spent the previous week doing around Dubrovnik involved the beaches and the sea so, considering the rave reviews the other guests were giving Konavle off-road safari, we decided it’d be good to try something a bit different and see a different side to the region.
There are several businesses operating off-road / 4wd tours around the Dubrovnik area but they are all quite different to the Konavle Off-Road Safari, so be sure you’re booking the right one!
The company is operated by a giant of a man, an ex-Navy officer called Mato who, until recently, owned a bar in Cavtat (a small town near Dubrovnik) but who sold up to launch this new off-road driving experience.
Mato has lived all his life in the Konavle region of Croatia and knows the area like the back of his hand. What we liked about him was that this is not some hard-nosed commercial enterprise just looking to extract as much revenue from hapless tourists as possible (there are plenty of these around Dubrovnik that’s for sure!)
This is just a decent, hard-working guy who clearly loves his home region, knows everything there is to know about it and just seems to love taking visitors around it, showing them the best it has to offer in a fun and unusual way.
We phoned and spoke to Mato (who speaks perfect English) and booked up for our family of five for the following day.
He offered to come and pick us up from our holiday apartments at about 9am and drove us to his home in Cavtat, where he keeps a collection of about eight off-road vehicles of different shapes and sizes.
He had one other family booked for the same time as us and we spent some time being shown the cars, explained what was involved with the day and given the choice of which car we wanted to use.
We picked one of the larger ones, as there was more of us; the other family picked a smaller jeep. We filled in some paperwork then Mato got in his own 4×4, we got in to ours and we followed him off up the road, out of Cavtat and towards the nearby countryside.
I actually thought all along that we would be passengers in the car and that Mato would be driving us all, so was surprised when it turned out we could actually drive ourselves. Pleasantly surprised that is, because that’s what we really wanted to do anyway! If for any reason you’re not confident driving yourself, there is the option for Mato to drive if you want to.
A couple of miles up the road, he turned off on to a gravel track and the off-road driving began.
It was pretty straightforward – certainly nothing extreme – which was good, as I’d never driven properly off-road before, so this gave us a good introduction to it, driving along some increasingly rutted and bumpy tracks out in to the countryside, bumpy enough to be interesting and fun but nothing challenging or potentially unsafe.
After driving for a while through fields and tracks running through vineyards, we arrived at a stopping point where we all got out and Mato explained a bit about the history of the local area and pointing out where we were going next.
We also had the chance to take some photos of ourselves and the cars before all getting back in and following Mato on in to the countryside.
Eventually we arrived at a river and, after another brief stop while Mato explained how to engage the four-wheel-drive, we drove off through the river and up along the river bed.
We felt this all had exactly the right balance of being fun terrain to drive on, quite bumpy and rutted in places, but nothing too difficult or dangerous. It was perfect for beginner off-roaders who’d never done this kind of thing before. If you’re a more serious off-road driver, Mato offers some different routes with more challenging terrain for the more experienced.
The next stop was at some mills situated close to the source of the River Ljuta, the main river running through the Konavle region. Mato showed us around these, again taking great pride in explaining the history of the mills and the river.
Personally, the local history wasn’t so interesting to me – I was just itching to get back behind the wheel and get off-road, but Bev and the other family were certainly interested.
What I did like though was Mato’s enthusiasm for what he does. He has a lot of pride in his family history around the area and that is really evident and makes him enjoyable to listen to.
He showed us to a place on the river, close to its source which is a natural spring, where you can fill your water bottles up and drink straight from the river itself.
I was a bit reluctant, worrying about whether the water was actually safe and genuinely drinkable, but we all gave it a try and we all survived without any problems! Mato said he grew up drinking nothing other than this water straight from the river and it’s clearly done him no harm – and it certainly did taste very pure and fresh.
It was also good to be able to splash it over ourselves and stick our heads in to cool down, as the mid-summer temperature by this time of day was starting to hit the mid 30s and was really hotting up!
From here, we drove on-road a little way to a local restaurant, which is owned by Mato’s family, where we had lunch (which is included in the price).
We had a choice of trout, a local speciality dish of cheese and meat and chicken and chips for the kids – all accompanied by wine produced in the local region.
The lunch was absolutely delicious, we loved it and it would have been a highlight even without the off-road driving.
After lunch we got back in the cars and followed Mato back in to the countryside, this time heading up some dirt tracks that were a bit steeper and bumpier than those in the morning.
This was all the more fun, particularly as we were getting used to driving off-road by now.
We wound our way through woodland and hillsides, loving the opportunity to put the cars through their paces a bit more but still never feeling like any of this was too challenging for beginners.
We ended up at the top of some cliffs on the southern Croatian coast, with views along to Montenegro in one direction and towards Dubrovnik and the Elaphiti Islands in the other.
The views were amazing and it was great to hang around here for a bit, taking more photos and admiring some seriously breathtaking scenery.
We set off again with some more off-roading, leading us to a final stop-off point close to Dubrovnik airport, again with more mindblowing views over the coastline and the countryside behind us.
The final stretch was back on road to Mato’s base back at Cavtat, where we handed back the keys and were given a lift back down the road to our apartments, arriving back at about 2pm, having left at 9am that morning.
It was a brilliant day and, considering this is only the first full year of trading for Konavle Off-Road Safari, we were well impressed by the way Mato seems to have all the elements of the day just right.
He clearly sets out to please his customers and wants to make them happy. His cars are easily driveable by complete beginners like us; the route he takes you on is just the right balance of fun off-road terrain but without being scary or dangerous to families and beginners.
He’s got the timings of the day exactly right, with lunch just at the time you’re starting to get hungry and the tour ending right at the point where you feel like you’ve probably done enough driving for the day.
You feel like you’ve spent the day with a local expert whose primary motivation for what he does is his love for his hometown and countryside and making sure that visitors get to see its best parts in a fun way, as opposed to some hard-nosed tour operator just trying to make a quick buck.
We definitely highly recommend Konavle Off-Road Safari, whether for families, groups, couples – all types of visitor to Croatia and all age groups are bound to enjoy it and Mato deserves for this new venture of his to be a great success!
Details you’ll need…
The website, which doesn’t seem to work properly at the time of writing, but does have the right contact details: http://konavlesafari.hr/
A link to the TripAdvisor page, which at the time of writing seems to have 100% positive reviews is here.
Here’s a link to the Google Maps location of the starting point for the tour in Cavtat (although Mato can pick you up from your accommodation if you can’t make it here yourself): https://goo.gl/maps/6xawmcbWiEN2