Zadar in 24 hours

We didn’t plan for long in Zadar – just 24 hours.  We think it was probably about the right amount of time so this is what we did.

The old town is worth a walk around, there are lovely old churches, ancient city gates and some nice ruins.  It doesn’t take long to see all the sites in the old town so an hour or two is plenty.

You can also take a row boat from the pier to the mainland or the reverse.  The row boats of Zadar are a bit of an instituation and apparently the oarsmen learnt the trade from their fathers, who had learnt from their fathers.  It is 5 KN per trip (which is very short).  We had took a return trip just to support them.  I think he thought we were a bit mad to do a return trip but once over by the lighthouse we needed to get back!  When it is calm it is a pretty easy job, but by the evening we were there it was rough and big boats were coming through the area so he was really earning his money.

There are plenty of restaurants to enjoy a nice meal and some nice areas that have been turned into cocktail lounges.  We spent time at the Garden Lounge which has big mattresses and pillows to lie down on, while you are sipping your drink. They also make pretty yummy raw cakes (try the chocolate mousse cake).  We had dinner at Restaurant Kornat where we enjoyed their monkfish, truffle and gnocchi dish.

After dinner we walked to the end of the peninsula and had struck a few poses on the Monument of the Sun installation, then sat down on the steps of the sea organ and enjoyed its music (sounds a lot like a whale I think!). It’s a pretty cool area at night with lots of families enjoying the area including some market stalls and street food stands.  Definitely worth a visit.

We had a great time in Zadar.  A good place to spend a day.

Pula to Zadar

We usually try to drive only a couple of hours on a transition day but we decided that in order to maximise our time in Croatia that we would drive a bit further.  So Zadar was the target!

We headed off towards Pazin which has a great zip lining park.  It is only about 45 minutes drive from Pula and provides a good break from driving.  Pazinska jama has  4 zip lines, two short ones and two longer ones.  You get harnessed and helmeted up, attached and off you go.  It is a great activity to zip across the treetops towards the castle.  While we were there, there were a number of families with small children having a go.  They were pretty brave as it is quite high.  A worthwhile experience if you are in the area.

From here we headed down to Rijeka and down the coastal road towards Zadar.  We decided to take the coastal road which took us along all the little beach towns on the coast.  The view is incredible and there are a number of places to stop the car to take a break or take photographs.

This route is really worth taking if you have the time but there are a couple of things to be aware of.

  1. There are a number of toll roads on this route and at each of these the traffic is badly congested.  We had an hour and a half delay from the zip lining to Rijeka which meant that our trip took 6 hours rather than 4.
  2. The roads along the coast have a speed limit of anything between 40 and 70, usually around the 50 mark so it can be slow going.
  3. Take a picnic or similar if you are going to do this in one hit.  It is a beautiful drive but pretty long and slow.

Would we do it again… yes we probably will!  This time we will stay over night in one of the beautiful little villages.

Pula and surrounds

Pula is right at the tip of the Istrian Peninsula and is worth a visit.  It boasts Roman era ruins and is in a great position to hire a boat or take a tour.  Most of the key Istrian attractions are able to be visited within a couple of hours too.

We had three full days in Pula and we decided to spend them in the following way

Day 1

Pula itself.  Sometimes it good to jump on a Hop On Hop Off bus and while this is not one of the better ones (there are only 8 stops and no one gets off!), it was worth doing in lieu of a city tour.  We sat on the bus for the whole run which takes about an hour and felt that we got value for money.  The bus only comes once per hour so this might be why people choose not to get off!

The key highlight for me was the amphitheatre.  One of the great things about it is that they still use it for concerts and other performances.  Unfortunately we missed a concert and a performance of gladiators by a couple of days each.  I think it would be amazing to catch a show or performance here.

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The tickets are about 50KN each and you can rent an audio guide for another 40KN.  The audio guide is worthwhile as there are no signs anywhere explaining anything.

The old town is nice to walk around and we found some tunnels which were created to vacate the whole town in the war.  It is 15 KN to go through and they have some displays in the middle.  We thought it was a great idea to explore them as it was a quick way back to the car and much cooler!

 

 

Day 2: Rovinj

We decided to make a day of it and drove to Rovinj (pronounced Roveen) for the day.  What a lovely little town.  It is poised on the west coast of the peninsula and is filled with interesting cobbled streets and nice beaches.

There are artists who have got little shops tucked away in lanes, hand made goods like soaps and lavender products, cheeses, wines… you name it’s probably here.  I bought a piece of art from an artist who does line drawings in wine.  It was a great conversation piece!

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There is also a fresh food and souvenir market.  It is really a pretty little town.

You can easily enjoy a day here – we did!  Don’t miss a lovely seafood lunch overlooking the water.

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Day 3: Rent a boat

We didn’t have anyone with us who had their skippers licence (a must have in Croatia) so instead of doing a tour we rented a water taxi for a half day.  The driver took us down the coast and we explored all the little inlets along the coast, went swimming in a bay and then went to the blue cave which was stunning.  We took a straight line back at a bit of speed so it was great fun!  Take a packed lunch and some drinks and enjoy.

We even saw a dolphin on the way out of the harbour!

 

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 in 48 hours

Maribor is the second largest Slovenian city.  It has a population of about 100,000 so is still a small city.  It has an interesting old town and a great surrounding region to explore.  We spent 3 nights here, which meant that we had two full days to explore.  You could definitely do it in less, depending on what you are interested in but you could also spend more time  here.  So what did we do…

Old town

The old town is good for a look around.  Be aware it is almost empty during the day.  It is busiest early in the morning and the bars and cafes come alive at night.  A little tourist train leaves from the tourist centre and drives around the main sites if you can’t be bothered walking.  It is about 3 Euros.  Unfotunately there is no commentary so you are guessing a bit at what you are seeing.

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Hiking

You can drive to Pohorje, where you can go up on the cable car to the top, hike around a bit and have lunch at the hotel and come down the cable car again. You could hike down… it was a heat wave – we didn’t!  There is also a thermal swimming pool at the top which would be great in the winter.  It is 10 Euro’s entry.  At the bottom of the cable car there is another hotel which has a day pass for swimming.  It is 18 Euros for the day (no half day passes).  As it is outdoors it is probably a better option for the summer.

Wine

Maribor and the surrounding areas are wine country.  You can visit the oldest vine in the world (450 years old) and there is an interesting museum located at the site.

We had planned to do a winery tour.  If this is something that is of interest to you, you really do need a car and some guidance from the Wine Museum who will help you plot out the visit.  They helped us choose 4 wineries to visit and called ahead to make appointments for us.  In New Zealand this would be something that is likely to be hosted by an employee and you would taste a set flight, it would be all over in half an hour and you would move on to the next winery. Not so in Slovenia!  We only got to two of the four wineries as a wine tasting in Slovenia is a very personal experience.   We visited Kuster and Doppler and this took us all day!

First up, we went to Doppler which is a very contemporary winery.  We met the winemaker and she was fantastic at explaining the 10 ( yes 10!!!) wines she wanted us to try.  The servings are huge and there wasn’t anywhere to spit or tip so it all had to be enjoyed! She also showed us around the processing area and explained how her wine was made.  She is a third generation winemaker and the land and vines were set up by her grandfather.  Physically,  this is a particularly interesting winery because it is very contemporary in design.  This is evidenced by everything from the marketing to the buildings.  I found the marketing and artistic aspects very clever and inspired.

After Doppler, we drove down the road to Kuster.  This winemaker is a 5th generation winemaker.   As soon as we arrived, he invited us into his car and drove us around his “farm” showing us the different grapes and vines.  He drove us through to Austria (his winery is close to the border) to the “heart of winemaking” which is a heart shaped road and a very beautiful area.  We enjoyed a glass of wine at the top of this ridge and then he took us back to his house for tastings and a beautiful meat and cheese platter.  The whole experience took about 5 hours!  The family was very keen to share their wines with us and despite feeling like we were holding them up for the day they weren’t keen for us to leave until we had tried all the wines ( we suggested 5, he had 8 or 10 on his list). Apparently they had taken the day off to host us!  The wines were lovely and it was a truly memorable experience.  If you are a wine buff, I highly recommend this experience but take a sober driver; there are lots of wines and the servings are huge!

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