Last autumn, my family and I travelled to Europe, as the kids had a school exchange in Italy (more on that in a future post). After spending a few days in South Africa, we spent 5 days travelling around Slovenia and Croatia before settling down in Italy for a few weeks.
I had already been to this beautiful part of the world at the beginning of the 1980’s. Yep. A lifetime ago. I was a couple of years old and that area was still known as Yugoslavia. Despite being so young, I have some clear memories of that experience because it was literally unforgettable.
This part of Europe is breathtaking even though the scars from the civil war of the 1990’s are still widespread and you can easily see them, especially in the areas near the border with Bosnia.
We only had 5 nights before starting our Italian adventure, so we decided on a quick tour that wouldn’t take us too far south. We will leave that for another time, as will definitely be back.
25/09/2019 Trieste – Izola – Pula
26/09/2019 Pula – Opatija – Jelov Klanac (Plitvice Lakes)
27/09/2019 Jelov Klanac (Plitvice Lakes) – Zagreb
28/09/2019 Zagreb – Ljubljana – Bled
29/09/2019 Bled – Kobarid – Cividale del FriuliBefore going into more detail about our journey, let me give you some practical information that will help you plan your own trip.
For this trip, I booked through Booking.com. To decide on the hotels to book, I read reviews on Tripadvisor and besides reading what other travellers had to say, I looked at the pictures they took, as those don’t lie and I can get a better idea about the place.
I will be sharing a more detailed review of each place later on, so stay tuned.
All the hotels we stayed in had free wi-fi. So, keep that in mind when you decide whether or not you need Internet 24/7. We did not get a local SIM for our mobile, as we had an Italian SIM that also worked in Slovenia and Croatia. It was useful because we had rented a car at Venice airport, and we could use our mobile as a navigator.
For Slovenia, you will need Euros.
However, Croatia still has its own currency called Kuna. So make sure to exchange some money into Kuna because if you pay in Euros, everything will be more expensive. We found the best exchange rate in local banks.
We rented a car in Italy, so I can’t advise on local rentals. However, if you are renting a car in another country, make sure to specify where you intend to drive it as you may need additional documents. Croatia is one such country!
You will also need to buy a “vignette” to drive on Slovenian highways. It is a pre-paid sticker that allows you to drive for a specific number of days without having to pay toll each time. You can find this at any gas station near the border.
In Croatia instead, you pay the toll every time you drive on the highway.
This was probably the most complicated part to sort out for us, as we were just “stopping” over on our way to Italy and we had to wait for the specific dates from the school. We were coming from Johannesburg as well.
We flew Qantas between Sydney and Johannesburg (return). And then we flew Emirates (via Dubai) to Venice and then back from Milan to Johannesburg! Yeah, I know… luckily, we stopped for a night and 2 days in Jo’burg on our way back.
The Qantas flight between Sydney and Johannesburg was awful. We have been flying a lot with Qantas and I am very sad to say that it’s been getting worse and worse every time. After cancelling our flight to Tokyo 3 hours before it was scheduled and serving me a cheese-covered vegan meal on the Santiago de Chile route, this time I was left without a working screen for 14 hours!! And that too on a DAY flight. I was literally going insane. I was bored out of my mind and couldn’t even listen to music, as the full thing wasn’t working. It was one of the WORST flights I have ever taken. On the way back, their air-con system was not working while waiting to take off. Needless to say, we were dying in the heat and it took about 45 minutes before we could take off and the air-con started working. My husband got sick because of this as we had been sweating and then the AC was really cold… On this same flight, I got served an Indian curry with my “bland meal”. Even the hostess who brought it to me was embarrassed to hand it to me!! I mean, BLAND and INDIAN?? Hahahaha Luckily I had my own food…
The Emirates flights were on another level altogether. Much newer aircrafts, more spacious, a fantastic (and fully functional!) entertainment system with movies and music from all over the world, and food even I could eat (yes, they got it right)! Just perfect.
WHEN TO VISIT
Any time! The best time depends on what you want to see and do. If you are there to enjoy the seaside and the beaches, then you will want to go in summer (June to September). However, keep in mind that it is high season, so prices will be higher and you can expect some crowds.
If you intend to visit the cities and lakes, autumn and spring are a great time as well.
HOW TO PLAN YOUR ITINERARY
A trip to Slovenia and Croatia is very easy to organise on your own because there is a ton of information available on the web.
Here are the sites that I highly recommend you read when planning:
TripAdvisor – to find hotel and restaurant ratings. There are also great forums with friendly people who give very good advice.
Lonely Planet Thorntree – a good forum.
Google Maps – useful for planning, but above all while there.
I am going to write a specific post/guide on each place with more details, however, what follows is a summary of our journey.
We landed in Venice (coming from Johannesburg) at lunchtime. We picked up our rental car and headed straight to Trieste, where we stayed overnight (more on this in my posts about Italy).
The following morning, we left for Slovenia. The border is really close by. Being in the EU, it means there is no stopping.
Unfortunately, that day the weather was really bad. We had planned on stopping along a few towns on our way to Pula (including the beautiful Piran). However, it was raining too much and we only made it to Izola.
This area has a very close connection to the bordering Italian regions. Many people still speak Italian and you can see the architecture and colours of the houses are very similar to the ones you would find in Venezia-Giulia and Veneto.
We arrived in Pula earlier than we had planned, so we were able to visit a few places, like the famous Roman arena.
The temple of Augustus.
And we enjoyed a nice stroll around this charming town.
The next day we drove all the way to Plitvice Lakes. We drove along the Adriatic coast for a while. Such a beautiful area of the world.
We stopped in Opatija for a break. This town looks like a little Montecarlo.
It is a summer and winter resort, very famous in the area.
We had dinner in a village near the Plitvice Lakes and they had live music and entertainment as well (see video).
The next morning, we visited the lakes. You need to book your ticket in advance on the official site and make sure to get there early to avoid the crowds.
There are different trails you can take to explore the park. The one we took was about 6 hours long, but it’s all easy walking (plus a boat ride). The kids could do it easily as well.
In the park, you will see lots of beautiful waterfalls.
And the colour of the lakes is simply breathtaking.
Absolutely worth visiting!
At about 2 PM, we left Plitvice Lakes and drove to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. It took us about 2 to 2 ½ hours to get there. I loved Zagreb. This was my first time visiting the city and I was totally impressed.
We were staying very close to the main square – Ban Jelačić Square, where there is a nice market with plenty of interesting things on sale, food included.
We then visited the Cathedral. And went up the funicular to see the panorama from the top.
And the beautiful St. Mark’s Church.
After that, we enjoyed some traditional music on the streets.
The following day we drove to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It is a lovely town with nice riverfront.
A castle up a hill.
And an interesting Triple bridge.
Still, if I had to pick only one, I’d pick Zagreb over Ljubljana. It was much prettier in my opinion and it would have deserved at least another day.
After our stop in Ljubljana, we went to Bled.
The lake is beautiful!
We climbed all the way up the castle (on foot!) and the view was breathtaking.
The following day, we stopped in Kobarid (also known as Caporetto in Italian), a little town near the Italian border, famous for having been the place of a terrible battle between Austria and Italy during WWI. There is an interesting war museum.
And an Italian military memorial that houses the remains of 7014 Italian soldiers killed during the war.
After our visit, we crossed the border and settled in Cividale del Friuli for the next 3 weeks.
We loved ALL the food we tried in Slovenia and Croatia!
Burek was on top of the list. My husband’s favourite was the pork one.
I loved the spinach and cheese one.
Ćevapi were really tasty as well!
And so was the famous Kremšnita – aka Bled Cream Cake. Yum!
We also tried the Kobariški Štruklji – sweet wheat flour dumplings filled with walnuts and raisins. Yum!
Needless to say, we LOVED both Slovenia and Croatia. It was an amazing experience and we got to see some breathtaking places.
Highly recommended! If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will be happy to help out!
Don’t forget to pin this post on Slovenia and Croatia.