Triglav National Park and the Soca River

From Lake Bled, we decided to explore the other side of Triglav National Park to do some walking.  Unfortunately the weather let us down again but we had some fun exploring!

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To get to our key walking spots and our accommodation, we had to drive over the Vrsic Pass which has 25 switchbacks up to the top and 25 more down the other side.  On the way up, the corners of the road are cobbled apparently to add grip (although the other side doesn’t have it).  The road is quite narrow but there are regular spots that you can pull over to look at some of the sights or let people pass.

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We used a really good guide book that we bought online (Google Play Store) by Rick Steeves which pointed out in great detail all the sites worthy of stopping for.  They included great look out spots, historical war sites, churches and other points of interest.  It is both a stunning and interesting drive.  The view from the top on a clear  day would be breathtaking.  We got a quick glimpse!

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We checked in to our next tourist farm  (Tourist Farm Jelincic) where we had booked half board (breakfast, dinner and accommodation) for 35 Euros per night.  Again it was alpine style accommodation (room with ensuite and balcony) and was good value.  Dinner was at least 2 courses and one night it was 3!  Very good value for money.

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One of the main things we wanted to do was do some walks around the Soca River.  We had allowed 2 days to do this, unfortunately it continued to pour with rain for the majority of the time that we were there.  Instead of walking, we decided to do a driving tour, which was not as good by any means but allowed us to look at the sights.  The river is stunning.  Even in its flooded state, it was a beautiful blue, green colour so I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be in sunlight.  There are loads of wire suspension bridges crossing the river so that you can get a great view and some great pictures.

 

There are also little towns scattered throughout, with museums and other points of interest.  You can even get cheese from a vending machine!  While travelling through this area It is not ideal in bad weather there is plenty to see for a couple of days.

Two Lakes: Bled and Bohinj

A disclaimer… this is a beautiful area.  We were fortunate to visit in the second week of September and unfortunate that the weather had turned cold and rainy!  As a consequence it was not crowded or overly busy and was therefore quite lovely.

Arriving from our great place in Podcetrtek, Natura Amon, we checked into another great place, a farm stay called Farm Holidays Povsin.  It is just a few minutes drive away from Lake Bled (albeit down some pretty narrow roads) and not too difficult to find…. although we did have to ask a neighbour!

Again the accommodation was Alpine Lodge type style and breakfast was included.  Breakfast included meats and cheese and a continental breakfast.  It worked out about 35 Euros a person so was quite reasonable.  We drove into town to get dinner.

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As we were foiled a bit by the weather being cold with on and off rain, we spent our time doing the following:

Boat trip to the island

We took a traditional Pletna boat trip to the island in the middle.  The boat is a traditional flat bottomed boat with a colourful awning over top.  It has a capacity of about 15 people and costs 14 Euro return.  There is no timetable and when the boat is full, the oarsman rows off.  Allow about 1.5 hours as you have time at the church, cafe and souvenir shop before you return.

You can also pay another 6 Euros to go into the church but if you are not going there for spiritual reasons you can see right in as you walk past the big plate glass windows. There are some interesting traditions for getting married at the Church.  The groom must carry his bride up all 99 steps to the top in order for the marriage to be a success.  I can attest to the steepness of the steps and would imagine even the fittest groom to require some significant training to carry his wife to be (including wedding dress puff potentially) to the top without expiring!

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Bled Castle

If you haven’t already seen loads of castles, this might be worth a look.  We didn’t spend long here but the view is nice.  There is a castle printery on site if you would like to get a souvenir.  Great views over the lake.

Look around the town

Bled is pretty small but you can look around the town – there are some interesting jewellers and artisans.  There is a really cool little shop making sunglasses and watches out of the native wood.  It is on the Main Street down from one of the large hotels.

Lake Bohinj

We drove over to Lake Bohinj in the pouring rain so really didn’t get a good view of what was on offer.  It is much larger than Bled and it seems that you can do lots of activities on and around the lake.  We saw rock climbing facilities, SUP and boat rental.  There are probably loads of other things that had packed up while it was raining.  There were some hardy souls hiking the roads while we were there and the tracks that we could see looked stunning.  Definitely worth a look for a day trip.

Vintgar Gorge

This is a must!  Preferably go when it is not raining but it is truly beautiful.  You walk alongside a river on cantilevered platforms.  The aim is to get to the large waterfall at the end of the track but the Gorge is quite stunning (even in not ideal conditions!). The track itself is not for the faint hearted but is worth going.  Wear good shoes!

We spent about a day and a half in the Lake Bled/ Bohinj areabut you could easily spend longer.  A lot of day trips go out of Bled to other areas so if you don’t have a car you could be based here.

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The relaxation route: Zagreb to Lake Bled

As we have been on the road for nearly 6 months now, we try to take our time to travel from one place to the next.  At the moment that looks like driving for no more than a couple of hours each time and stopping off over night somewhere interesting – usually places that we might not stop.

We took this approach from Zagreb to Bled and while we could have driven the whole distance in one day quite easily we decided to have a spa stop!  Slovenia is known as the Wellness Capital of the area and they have loads of Therme (or heated swimming pool and spa).  Often then have pretty decent massage and beauty therapy options as well.

We chose Terme Olimia which was voted number one wellness centre in Slovenia.  It is a large complex with multiple pools, sauna’s, massages and other services.  Terme Ohidilia is a subset of this complex (we found it a bit confusing) and is quite new.  There are a number of warm outdoor pools, with massage jets, a similar number of indoor versions of the same type of thing, a lazy river connected to a colour room pool with rain and jets.  There is also an extensive number and variety of sauna’s.  Be  prepared to get naked though – these are no swimsuit sauna’s and are mixed gender. The Europeans don’t bat an eye at this but it is good to know before you arrive at one!

A thermal spa is a great day or half day stop especially if it is raining, which it was while we were there.  The other side of Terme Olimia was under construction and is apparently a different complex.  I went and had a quick peek and it wasn’t anywhere near as nice and was filled with young families. I didn’t linger!

After spending the day at the spa, we headed off to our tourist farm stay which was a real find.  Just 10 minutes drive from the spa was Natura Amon.  The rooms are alp lodge style with their own balcony.

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It is set up like a small country resort with  its own restaurant which makes  it’s own wine and most of the products it uses, a golf course, playground and animals to see.  We had the BEST food at the restaurant.  Every thing is home made from gorgeous jams (which I don’t usually like) to their own meats, dips and spreads.  Try the wild garlic spread!

For a day and a night this was a lovely little stop off on the way to the Lake Bled area.  I highly recommend it!

 

From Izola to Pula: The Istrian Peninsula

One of our key travel destinations for this 6 month trip has always been Croatia.  When we lived in London years ago, we never quite got there and it was a very new travel destination after the war.  I have regretted it ever since and vowed to visit.  Unfortunately I think everyone else has too.  Oh well it is mid European summer!

We had some key areas to visit and decided to explore the Istrian peninsula while we had the opportunity. This made sense as we were already in Izola.  We had heard that the border could be pretty busy so we decided to embrace our inner kiwi and get up early to be at the border by 8am, hopefully before everyone else.  Success!  We weren’t quite sure what to expect but it is important that if you are going to do this trip that you realise the following:

  1. On the Slovenian side they need to see your passport, (everyone in the car) and they will look over it, stamp it and return it.
  2. The second stage is to go across the border where the Croatians do the same thing.

The reason there is a bit of a backlog is that when we were there, there was only one station open so it doesn’t take much to get a decent queue going.  At 8am, we were clear but as soon as we were through we could see a queue forming.  Be warned!

We always like to have a bit of a look around when we are travelling from one place to another.  It helps break up the trip, gives the drivers a break and there are always interesting things to look at.

We decided to visit the small town of Motovun which is a small village on a hilltop in central Istria.  You can either park at the bottom of the hill and get a free bus up or take your chances going up in the car and getting a park yourselves.  We did the latter and as we were so early, were successful in finding a close park.

The town itself is well known for truffles.  You can try a variety of truffles in free tastings and also a variety of cheeses, dips and wine. For the foodies, this is a great destination. There are a variety of restaurants where you can order meals and the view is great.  You can even go on a truffle hunting trip with a truffle hunter and his dog!

We had also read about Porec so decided to do a bit of a drive through to look at the beach.  While we were driving through town we saw a number of restaurants advertising suckling pig with the pigs on the spit at the front of the restaurant.  Never one to lose an opportunity to try something new, we stopped and went into one of the restaurants for lunch.  Delicious.

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Heading down towards Pula, we stopped off at the Limski fjord which is stunning from the top of the road.  The best photo opportunity is from the top.  We didn’t realise this and drove down to the bottom and then took our lives in our hands trying to get a photo on the way back, hence no photo.  If you are going that way anyway, it is worth the view, if not google it to see whether it is interesting for you.
We probably wouldn’t drive out of our way to see it but it is nice if you can view it on the way.

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Izola and Piran

Izola is a cute little fishing town, close to the larger coastal town of Piran.  If you want somewhere less touristy than Piran to stay,  then Izola might be the place for you.  We  booked in Izola via Air BnB as there was no available accomodation in Piran.  Izola is only 25 minutes drive away from Piran so it is easy to do a day trip.

So what’s great about Izola?  Well for one the seafood is amazing!  It is really nice to sit along the harbour and order a seafood lunch or dinner.  The view of the boats is nice and in the evening the sunsets are amazing.  It also has a cute little old town which you could spend an hour exploring and there are ice cream stores regularly dotted along the water front.

There is also a special cake called  Izolanka that was invented in the area. It is orange flavoured with chocolate and cream and is delicious.  Be aware that the slices are huge!

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It is important to note that all beaches along this coast are rocky.  If you are from Europe, this is probably a given but if like me you are from the Southern Hemisphere then this is pretty unusual.  After attempting to utilise my countrymen’s strength (kiwi feet) with no success, I succumbed to purchasing a pretty naff pair of rock shoes but I LOVE them! No they are not good looking and they will not be coming home with me but they mean I can get to the water without twisting an ankle or slipping and breaking my neck! Worth the 9 Euros!

The water is clear and you can even see the fish swimming around you.  Beautiful.

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We spent one of our days over in Piran.  If you are going to drive, you need to know that the town is a pedestrian town meaning that you have to park in a parking garage and then get on a free bus which takes you into the centre.

Once there, we headed to the tourist information centre where the staff were helpful.  (This is worth a mention as they haven’t always been!)  We decided to do a walking tour around the city.  The guide was excellent and the tour which lasted an hour was only 9 euro.  It was well worth the cost to hear about the different parts of the town.

Piran is much bigger than Izola so it was easy to spend the day wandering around.  Some highlights of Piran are the food (again seafood), the beautiful squares, the old medieval wall that you can walk along and some of the churches.  We really enjoyed Piran and were glad that we visited.  Take your togs as it gets pretty hot and it is a long way to walk back to the car to get them if you feel like you need a swim.

 

Novo Mesto to Izola

The trip from Novo Mesto to Izola is only a couple of hours by car and there are a number of things that you can check out on the way.  We stopped off at Otocec Castle for a quick look.  It is quite pretty and has been converted to a hotel and restaurant.  It would be a lovely venue for a special event.

From here we travelled down the highway to Predjama Castle and the caves below.  We completely underestimated the time required to see the castle, the caves below and the other caves (Postojna ) which are about 9km away.  You really could do with a whole day for the 3 sites if you are into caves.  You can buy a multi ticket which gives access to all 3 sites and if interested a couple of others.

The castle is really stunning even if you don’t go inside as it is set into the rock face.  You are able to buy tickets to go inside and there are audio guides in a  large number of languages.

The caves while not linked to the castle are directly underneath.  If you are happy inside caves, not afraid of heights and are okay in the dark with a headlamp, it is a great trip.

The cave tour was really interesting and worth a visit.  We didn’t make it to the Postonja caves but they are apparently really worth a visit.

 

Maribor to Novo Mesto

Travelling across Slovenia is easy as the roads are good, the speed limit is reasonable and the distances are short.  It is only a couple of hours drive from Maribor to Novo Mesto so it is worth looking at the sights on the way.

We made our stop off in the lovely town of Celje.  One of it’s claims to fame is a castle on top of a hill just outside the town.  It is one of the nicer castles that hasn’t been over restored.  As we were exploring the rooms, we came upon the castle printers which has a very passionate guy demonstrating how the printing was done in the old days.  For 8 Euro, you can get him to print a castle imprint with your name, the date and the castle seal on your choice of handmade paper.  Maybe a nice souvenir!

The castle also had medieval re-enactment group who are happy to explain life during the times.

Those helmets are heavy!

From Celje, we headed to Novo Mesto where we checked into our hostel.  The guide books talk about falling in love with Novo Mesto, however we struggled!  The Tourist centre was closed when we arrived on Saturday and was still closed on Sunday.  By the time we got to speak to anyone on the Monday, we had spent time in the local thermal pool, walked around the old town and the advice we got from the tourist centre (very abrupt) was that we had seen everything.

Novo Mesto didn’t win us over!