In a land with no comprehensive train network, Croatia is a nation of drivers. From post-independence motorways built after the 1990s, or the slightly more vintage state roads, you’ll find the Croatians love the tarmac. Not always subtle on the accelerator, the liberal use of the horn is used as much to greet other drivers as to signal a warning.
Croatian drivers also have some of the world’s most unbelievably beautiful scenery to tour through, including the coastal splendour of Jadranska Magistrala – the country’s very own tarmacked odyssey. Thankfully, they’re generally willing to share with foreigners, though you might not know it when they attempt to overtake you on the next blind corner.
Part of European route E65, it travels 643 kilometers from the Slovenian border crossing via Rijeka in the country’s north-west, down along the coast, and extending to the Montenegro border. And while the road might pre-date the Macan GTS, the driver experience and just the sheer fun it offers, means that this Croatian road feels custom-made for all its features.
Amongst the thrilling cliff edges and panoramic views of Adriatic isles, it hurtles around hairpin bends and scales heights of 1,500 meters – perfect for the light and responsive steering of the Macan GTS, and all its potent torque.
Of course, the Macan GTS is sporty enough to make a day trip of the Magistrala, but with all the astonishing stuff to see and do along the way, it’s worth taking your time on the E65. Here are some of the best places to stop off:
This port city, adorned with Austro-Hungarian architectural stylings, marks the start of the Magistrala proper. Explore its wartime past at TunelRi – 350 metres of military tunnel dug by the Italian Royal Army between 1939 and 1942 – and the majestic industrial decay of the abandoned Torpedo Launch Station.
The road from Senj to Karlobag requires attention at every curve, so fuel up on coffee and Burek pastry in this historic walled town. The previous occupants, Croatian pirates called the Uskoks, are responsible for the local castle.
Walk around the headland from the port of Jablanac (starting point for ferries to the island of Rab) and you’ll come to Zavratnica, a narrow inlet with electric blue water and its own German WWII shipwreck to swim and explore.
Drive your Macan GTS into the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia, and you’ve reached the halfway point of the Magistrala. Famous for its sunsets, Zadar holds ancient relics as well as modern delights: check out the Sea Organ, a large instrument featuring 35 tubes and a resonating cavity that’s played by the wind and the waves.
Scramble into the well-preserved St Nicholas Fortress, connected to land by a narrow walkway that juts into the sea. Or head inland to Krka National Park, home to Visovac Monastery – a spectacular monastery built atop a rock in the middle of a lake.
Split has been around for over 17 centuries, and the site of Diocletian’s Palace since the 4th century AD. Get lost in the buzzy, labyrinthine streets or head down to the waterfront Riva promenade for a sunset Rakija (fruit brandy), framed by coastal mountains on one side and the sparkling Adriatic on the other.
An hour or so out from Dubrovnik, E65 runs through Bosnia and Herzegovina at Neum before reverting to Croatian coastline for the approach to the city now made famous by HBO’s swords-and-dragons juggernaut, Game of Thrones. The beautiful old town was shelled relentlessly during Croatia’s Homeland War, but its limestone streets, baroque buildings and mighty city walls are still standing.
South of the Dubrovnik Riviera – past the eerie abandoned hotels of Kupari, once frequented by Yugoslavia’s military elite – the Magistrala turns inland towards Montenegro. Detour to Prevlaka to bid Croatia farewell from a former top-secret army base with astonishing views. The scrub-covered peninsula is as good a place as any to contemplate the road you’ve just travelled, and the vehicle that brought you here.