...AND CROATIA, AND A CORNER OF ITALY
13 DAYS IN OCTOBER, 2006
A VIEW OF THE
FRANCISKASNSKE CHURCH AT
We visited southern Croatia - from Dubrovnik to
Split back in 2003 (check out the web page here) and
back then we decided that we wanted to
come back to visit the rest of Croatia as well as Slovenia. This trip combined
the two with a side trip to Trieste. We flew into and out of Ljubljana, the
Slovenian capital. Here is the itinerary:
FLY INTO LJUBLJANA AIRPORT AND DRIVE TO SKOFJA LOKA, ONE OF SLOVENIA'S OLDEST TOWNS. AT THE END OF THE DAY, DRIVE TO BLED.
|2 DAYS / 3 NIGHTS IN BLED|
|DRIVE TO TRIESTE - 2 DAYS IN TRIESTE|
|VISIT ISTRIA (PIRAN, POREC, MOTOVUN, ROVINJ) - 2 NIGHTS IN POREC|
|DRIVE TO PLITVICE FOR OVERNIGHT AND MORNING VISIT|
|DRIVE TO ZADAR - 3 NIGHTS IN ZADAR|
|DRIVE TO LJUBLJANA FOR LAST NIGHT AND FULL DAY VISIT|
As for traveling in Slovenia, it's very similar to traveling in Croatia, although there are differences. Like Croatia, the people are very friendly, and English is widely spoken. The biggest difference is that Croatia has developed its tourism at a faster pace and in this respect Slovenia has a lot of catching up to do. In Slovenia you won't find people waiting at the entrance of town with signs advertising their rooms (sobe) for rent like they do in Croatia. On the other hand, despite its small size (only 2 million people) Slovenia is probably the most economically successful of the countries carved out of former Yugoslavia, Another difference is that the Euro has arrived. At this point in time, both the local Toler and the Euro are used, with the Euro scheduled to take over on January 1, 2007. Despite this, prices are still reasonable and somewhat lower than those in Croatia. In Croatia, even though the Euro is several years away, Euros are widely accepted in the tourism industry.
Slovenia is heavily wooded and there is a lot of great scenery to see. Because of overcast weather while we were in Bled, we missed what is supposed to be the most beautiful drive in the country - the drive through the Julian Alps north of Bled. More about that later.
Here is a rundown on where we went and what we did.
S K O F J A L O K A
(Click on any thumbnail to see a full sized picture.)
Skofja Loka is one of the oldest towns in Slovenia, founded in the 12th century. Most visitors visit it for a couple of hours, but we spent most of the day here for a very special reason. On our previous trip (to Croatia) while waiting hours for the ferry from Hvar to Split, we met Maja Sever, a native of this town and she told us that if we visit Slovenia, we must come and visit "her town"! She showed us all around this quaint little town, its bridges, schools, museums and its castle. She also took us to visit her home where her Mother had prepared a wonderful lunch for us. Click on the picture to the right to see Alisa, Maja, and her friend Martin on the "wooden bridge"of Skofja Loka. Skofja Loka is noted for its beautiful lace work, which is done by the women of this area. Check out the lower picture to the right to see the special form/drum/cylinder used to do this work. All in all, we had a wonderful day in this lovely old town. Below are a few links with more information about Skofja Loka.
B L E D
Bled is one of the most
beautiful places in Europe. It was beautiful while we were there
even though the weather wasn't too great. Our only day of rain of
the entire trip was our first day there, so we drove to Postojna
(see below) on that day and returned to Bled in the evening. The
second day was overcast but the sun came out in the afternoon and we
took a delightful 2 hour walk around the lake. The third morning was
almost perfect so we spent an extra hour or two here before we
headed south. To the left is one of the better pictures we took in
Bled. You can visit the castle which overlooks the lake and the
town, as well as the island in the middle of the lake which can be
visited by a variety of waiting boats. This is the only island in
Slovenia. While in Bled, we also visited Bohinj Lake, about a 30
minute drive away. It is also beautiful. However, the day we were there
was quite cold and we weren't dressed for it.
While in Bled, we stayed at the Pension Mayer which is a great place to stay. It calls itself a "pension", but it's a lovely small hotel by any measure. It's located right amongst the biggest hotels in town and is about a 2 minute walk from the lake shore. We ate at 2 notable restaurants while in Bled. One was the "Okarina", an elegant eclectic restaurant with a very broad menu which includes a full selection of meat, fish, Indian and vegetarian foods . If you are looking for "upscale", this is the place. On the other hand, if you are looking for a basic restaurant, with a wide variety of Slovenian specialties, as well as everything else, and all at "popular prices", then eat at the "Ostarija Peglezn. We ate there twice and our friends who visited Bled right after us ate there 3 times. They had tasty pasta, great soups and seafood and the place is decorated with all kinds of signs and curiosities on the walls. Everything was very enjoyable. It's located right on the shore road almost directly below the Pension Mayer. The address is Cesta Ovobode, 19a.
To the right are a few links about Bled.
P O S T O J N A J A M A
The entire area of southern Slovenia, and the Udine province of Italy is a very geologically interesting area called the "Karst". The geology of the area has resulted in many caves and caverns. Two of the best known and most popular in Slovenia are Postojna Jama ("jama" means cave in Slovenian) and Skocjanske Jama. Both are among the largest in Europe, and we decided to visit Postojna. The Postojna cave is very impressive and the visit is very well organized and includes a train which takes you to the main areas of interest and guides to lead five different groups through the caves in 5 different languages. They have tours every 2 hours the number of which is determined by the season.
T R I E S T E
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How could we possibly pass so
close to a part of Italy and not stop in for a visit? Trieste may be
far from the center, and many Italians don't even know that it's a
part of Italy, but it's definitely Italian. We could tell as soon as
we had our first cup of coffee there. Even in the most rundown cafe in
the smallest town we happened into after we entered
Italy, we had the typically wonderful Italian coffee!! Add to that the fact that
Trieste is the home of Illy coffee, one of the biggest coffee makers
in Europe, and we knew that we had to visit
Trieste for a couple of days. We stayed overnight in
Muggia, a little seaside town just outside of Trieste in a hotel
called "Al Lido". We didn't know it when we got there, but the Al
Lido has one of the best restaurants in the entire area, including
Trieste. As this is the coast, the emphasis is on fish and seafood.
When I built our schedule, I noticed that there would be "some sailing regatta" going on in Trieste while we would be there. But I didn't realize that we are talking about the "Barcolana", the biggest sailing regatta in the entire Mediterranean basin. There were about 2000 sailing vessels and the entire shoreline was filled with a gigantic trade fair dedicated to sailing. As it turned out, the schedule couldn't have worked out better for us. We were there for the preliminary festivities on Friday and Saturday, and left Sunday morning when the actual regatta took place. We were able to view it from Piran on the other side of the bay. Check out the picture on the right to see the long row of sailboats and commercial stands lining the shore.
Here's another nice picture to
the right. It was taken from the coast right
next to the Miramare Castle and shows one of the regatta sailboats
which probably lost its way.
We spent the better part of a full day walking around Trieste. It's not too big and it can be covered easily in a day. We took a bus from Muggia to the central bus/train station and then took bus "24" straight up to the "Castello di San Giusti" which is located on Capitolina, the hill where the oldest part of the city is located. It's a steep hill, and the bus is a very convenient way to go up. The view from the top is beautiful. Then we walked down visiting the various historical sites on the way - the Cathedral, the Synagogue, the Roman Theatre. At the end of the walk, we enjoyed another great cup of Italian coffee at the beautiful Piazza del Unita d'Italia.
To the right are few links about touring Trieste and its environs.
P I R A N
Piran is the only real resort city on Slovenia's short coast. Its only real port is Koper which is not far from Piran. Piran is situated on a promontory and you can't drive freely into town. It's highly recommended to park in one of the public lots found near the entrance to the old town and take the regularly scheduled shuttle to the center of town or walk. Walking takes about 10 minutes, and if you don't have problems walking, don't wait for the shuttle which is small and not too comfortable if full. Piran is a beautiful town with Venetian style buildings, a maritime museum, quite a few restaurants and several hotels. It also has a beautiful view out over the bay of Trieste. To the left are two pictures of Piran, the upper one shows the center of town with its Venetian style buildings and the lower one is just a nice view to the sea.
P O R E C
We decided to stay in Porec for 2 nights as it was centrally located for visiting the places we wanted to visit in Istria. (The main places we visited in Istria were Piran, Porec, Motovun and Rovinj.) Porec is in Croatia and is another pleasant town jutting out into the sea and ideal for walking and strolling about. Piran and Rovinj are more active and I would recommend using one of them as a base instead of Porec. Things were pretty quiet in Porec and many places were already closed for the winter. We found a small hotel/B&B which turned out to be quite nice. We were hosted by Slava and I can recommend his place with no hesitation. Both mornings he did his best to customize our breakfast and made our eggs exactly as we requested them. The hotel includes a restaurant and Slav keeps things active during the low season by hosting commercial get-together groups of local and foreign companies. We had several long and deep conversations with Slav about the local political situation and about tourism in the Istria area. The place is called "Restaurant Gargemelo" and is within Porec just to the north of the center. The address is Dalmatinsko 10.
M O T O V U N and the L I M S K I F J O R D
Motovun is a beautiful mountain top village in the center of Istria. It could easily be mistaken for a Tuscan "hill town". Great place to visit for a couple of hours, great views of the countryside. Motovun is famous for its truffle industry and all the local shops sell truffle trifles, including truffle paste, truffle pasta, truffle oil, truffle medicine, and anything else they can put truffles into. You can also get truffle hunting paraphernalia. Click on the picture on the left for a great view of the countryside around Motovun.
The best restaurant in Motovun is Barbacan, which of course specializes in truffle pasta, but we were there too early and couldn't eat lunch there. That was the best thing that could have happened to us, because our lunch turned into one of the nicest experiences we had the entire trip. From Motovun we drove in the direction of Rovinj, which takes you by the eastern end of the Limski Fjord. The Limski Fjord is exactly that - a fjord extending inland about 20 KM separating between Porec and Rovinj. At the extreme eastern end, there is an "oasis" with a couple of restaurants, a boat dock, and stands selling smoked cheese, honey and other local delicacies. We ate at the "Fjord Restaurant". The food was good, in fact very good, but that wasn't what made this into one of the best lunches we had during the entire trip. The setting was so peaceful, tranquil and beautiful. We just sat there eating slowly and enjoying the ambience. Click on the thumbnail to the left to see what the place looks like.
R O V I N J
Rovinj was also one of the highlights of our visit to Istria. It's a beautiful town, also located on a promontory and you can only get so close with your car, although the parking is a lot closer to the old town than in Piran. There are plenty of parking lots near the old town. Click here for a map of Rovinj and an explanation about where to park. Rovinj was very lively even though it was October and full of residents and tourists. It was a pleasant town to walk around in and we went up the hill to see the view from the cathedral. To the right is a view of Rovinj. It's one of my favorite pictures from this trip.
In Rovinj we were there for the local produce market and we bought some fruit and vegetables for dinner. As for restaurants, we heard from several sources that the best restaurant in Rovinj is "Monte". We weren't there at a mealtime so we didn't eat there, and we can't verify it, but it does have an impressive web site. To the right is a view of the seaside road people stroll on in Rovinj.
O P A T J I A
Opatija was a pleasant surprise. It's a city with a long history of tourism and it's a very impressive looking place with beautiful buildings and many stately looking hotels. We visited it on the way to Plitvice and spent a couple of hours there. To the left and right are 2 pictures of parts of the "Lungomare", the 12 kilometer long beach front of this town.
P L I T V I C E
Plitvice is Croatia's oldest national park and is a truly beautiful place. It's a series of lakes connected by dozens of waterfalls. We were there on an overcast and chilly day, but could still appreciate its beauty. When you buy your ticket, the salespeople will recommend a route according to the time you plan to spend there. We did the "H" route which is listed at 4-6 hours and includes a train ride up to the highest of the upper lakes, then a hike downhill, then a boat ride to the lower lakes, and a hike back to the starting point. Everything was fine but it was really really cold on the boat ride! Enter the park via entrance number 2, which is where the three park hotels are also located. These hotels aren't cheap, but they are convenient for those who prefer not to search for a rustic room or apartment. Of course I took lots of pictures, but due to the weather, my pictures can't compare to the multitude of great pictures which can be found on the web. Here are some links to the right to find out about Plitvice and see lots of pictures.
villages surrounding Plitvice are full of rooms, and apartments, and
we found a very nice 4 star accommodation by riding around for
just a few
minutes. It was in the village of Rastovaca (about 5 minutes from
the entrance to Plitvice) and cost 42 Euros for the one
night we stayed there. It was brand new, had a kitchenette, and
a cable TV which didn't work. The name on the receipt says "Marko Spehar". It's about the first house on the left after turning into
Z A D A R
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I can't say enough good things about Zadar. We've been to Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split. We've heard all about Trogir, and Krk and Sibenik. But nobody has much to say about Zadar. I picked it as a base for 3 days because of its central location and because the things I read about it appealed to me. It's a medium sized town, with 71,000 people, it's supposed to have a lively night life and most places are supposed to be open off season. All these things are true and we enjoyed our stay very very much. We found good restaurants, a lively and charming old town with lots of good stores for shopping, and it's close to several national parks and many interesting islands. To the right is a picture of the pedestrian bridge which connects the old city with its new part . The old city is also connected by land, but in such a way that it is more convenient to use the bridge. Click here for a map (and aerial photo) which shows the unusual layout of the old city.
We stayed at the "Villa Ivana",
located in the Puntamika neighborhood which is a peninsula directly
facing the old city across about 3-4 KM of water. Our hostess, Fortunata
(that's her name in Italian because we never did learn her real
name) was very gracious and helpful. The villa itself is brand new
and we had a beautiful studio room on the 3rd floor directly
overlooking the beach. It had a kitchenette and a balcony with a
beautiful view of the old city. We enjoyed several dinners which
Alisa prepared. Check me out dining on the balcony in the picture above
and to the right. We enjoyed our stay there very much.
Breakfast, prepared by Fortunata was great. She went out of her
way to make sure we had whatever we wanted.
One of the most extraordinary
things we've encountered anywhere was in Zadar. On the western shore of the
old city is something called "the sea organ". It's a construction
made of concrete steps just above the water, about 70 meters long
with a space beneath it just above the water line. There are holes in the
concrete connecting the space below and the open air above. The
motion of the waves below the organ forces air up through the
and this causes musical sounds. People can sit here for hours
listening to the "music". It's particularly special at sundown. Zadar
has beautiful colorful sunsets, and you can sit listening to the the sea organ
and watching the sun go down for as long as you want. It's a truly
beautiful experience! To the right are some links about the organ as
well as Zadar.
P A G I S L A N D
Pag Island is an island just west of Zadar. It's connected by a bridge to the mainland, but has a totally different landscape than the nearby mainland. This landscape is caused by the "Bora" winds which come down from the mountains and result in a dry arid desert-like climate on Pag. The countryside on Pag looks just like the American southwest. Check out the picture to the left. It reminded us of Lake Powell in Arizona. On the island are several small towns. The two main towns are Pag Town, a mid-evil old city and the other is Novalja, center for nightlife in the area.
Pag island is famous for 2
things - Pag cheese and the lace work of the women. The cheese is
sheep cheese not very different from Italian Pecorino, and the lace
work can be found all over sold directly from the women who make it. To the left
is a display of lace items for sale in front of the house of the lace maker.
O T O C E C C A S T L E
On the way from Zadar to Ljubljana, we stopped at a place called the Otocec Castle, which is right near the city of Novo Mesto about 90 KM southeast of Ljubljana. This castle is an elegant hotel, with a spa and a well known restaurant. The setting is a beautiful park along the Krka River, and the inside of the castle is very impressive. The restaurant waiters are all dressed up in period costumes, and the meal was very good. It was very clear that this place is popular among the local people as well as the tourists. There were several Slovenian families there having Saturday afternoon lunch. I've read that in the evening the place is especially romantic. To the right is a picture of the inside of the restaurant, showing the fireplace and one of the waiters on the right,
L J U B L J A N A
Ljubljana is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe, but it has a long history and a landmark which is a 1000 year old castle. Its architecture is very Austrian looking and it has a collection of interesting bridges crossing the Ljubljanica River which flows through its center. This river is also known as the "river of seven names". It provides lots of beautiful views and we enjoyed strolling the streets and walking the river banks. The picture at the top of the page shows a beautiful view of the church at Preserin Square, the social center of the city. We were there for Saturday night and Sunday all day as we had a late flight home. We had an absolutely perfect day on Sunday, although we also found out that ALL the stores in Ljubljana are closed on Sunday. This was a big disappointment for Alisa as we could see that there were many beautiful stores with reasonable prices, but all with very closed doors.
The only shopping we could do was at the Sunday morning flea market which runs along the banks of the river. It was great fun sipping coffee at one of the numerous cafes watching the action at the flea market. To the right is a picture which shows how crowded things are on Sunday mornings. On the right of the picture is the famous Macek cafe and on the left you can see the crowd and a small part of the flea market vendors.
The center of
things is the Preserin Square which is connected to the old city by
the "triple bridge". This is literally 3 bridges - 2 for pedestrians
and one for vehicles which cross the river. It's the absolute center
of social activity in the old part of Ljubljana. From this point you can cover all
the interesting spots in town in half a day, including riding up
to the castle on the tourist train which leaves from Preserin square
every 30 minutes or so. To the right is a picture taken from Preserin Square
looking into the old city (the castle can be seen above) directly across the
central of the 3 bridges - the vehicular bridge. To the sides of
this bridge you can see people walking on the 2 pedestrian bridges.
Below to the right is a shot of one of the
dragons on the famous "dragon bridge", located about 100 meters from Preserin Square.
As for restaurants, there's quite a number of nice restaurants, most of which no more than a 5 minute walk from Preserin Square. Here is a good site with descriptions and some reviews of many of the restaurants in Ljubljana. There's "Chez Eric", probably the most elegant restaurant in town occupying the same spot formerly occupied by a restaurant called "Rotovz". I mention this because I found many references on the web to Rotovz, but as I said, it's been replaced. We didn't eat at Chez Eric because it's not open for Sunday lunch. Not far from Chez Eric is the "Gostilna Sokol", which is where to go if you are looking for old world Slovenian atmosphere. I'm not sure if it's more a bar with a restaurant, or a restaurant with a bar, but it's all dark wood paneling and a place with lots of history. Here is a link to a good description and review of this restaurant. It has a full menu, mostly of Slovenian specialties, and is supposed to be very good. We didn't eat here either. We ate at a restaurant recommended by a waitress in a coffee shop, Without hesitation, she said that the best restaurant in town was the "Gostilna As". It turned out to be one of the best restaurants of the entire trip. It's very close to Preserin Square and has a large outdoor area for dining. It has a big selection of fish and pasta dishes. Since this was our last meal of the trip, we strolled inside and found a very elegant place with only a few customers (it was around 3 Pm on a Sunday afternoon). It turns out that the restaurant has 2 personalities. Outside it seems to be a simple restaurant and the pasta dishes are the main attraction. Inside, our very attentive waiter (he never left our side) told us to forget about the menu and that he would put together a nice meal for us. We started out with a grilled seafood appetizer and a portion of delicious fresh pasta with scampi. The main dish was a turbo grilled to perfection which was big enough for both of us. The side dishes were excellent also. As I had to drive to the airport shortly after the meal, I didn't want to order a bottle of wine. We were surprised again, when we discovered that the restaurant served top class wine by the glass. We had the best Slovenian red wine of the trip - a 2003 cabernet reserve from a small winery called Simcic. We looked for it at the airport, but to our dismay, there is a new law in Slovenia, which prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to anybody between 9 PM and 6 AM. This ban inexplicably includes people who are at the airport waiting for a flight out of the country. We saw the wine on the shelf in the duty free store at the airport (actually it was behind a roll down curtain), but couldn't buy it because of this law. The silly thing is that about 20 feet away from the store was a coffee stand serving coffee, soft drinks, and - you guessed it - beer and cheap wine. Here's a link about the wine industry in Slovenia.
Here are a few more links you may find useful
if you are planning a trip to Slovenia or Croatia
|BLOG ABOUT LJUBLJANA||NATIONAL PARKS OF CROATIA|
|SLOVENIA TRAVEL-GUIDE||VISIT CROATIA|
|INTERACTIVE SLOVENIA SITE||DISCOVER ISTRIA|
|SLOVENIA BY THE SEA||ISTRIA FOR YOU|
|INTERACTIVE LJUBLJANA CITY MAP||ZADAR COUNTY ISLANDS|
|NYTIMES ON SLOVENIA||ABOUT CROATIA|
And here is a link to an album of more pictures from this trip.
This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa". It describes one of the many trips we have made together. We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can. Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.
Enjoy your next trip!! ~Steve & Alisa~
Last update: 11.Aug.09