Trip Report-Croatia & Slovenia 2017

Our trip to Croatia and Slovenia was a couple years in the making. We had started planning two years ago to do a bike tour in Croatia and then I would do Ironman 70.3 Pula. That turned into being a little too complex with all the logistics. We finally settled on just renting a car and traveling around on our own staying at basic accommodations. We were also lucky to get some airfare at ~$600 RT, which was pretty good. Below is our itinerary and some of the highlights of our trip. Our flight from Newark to Zagreb was pretty smooth. We had about a 3-hour layover in Amsterdam, which gave us time to grab a coffee and a Stroopwaffel 🙂 before the 2-hour flight into Zagreb.

Zagreb

We arrived in Zagreb around 1:30PM, picked up our rental car and headed to Hotel 9 Boutique Hotel, about 15 minutes away. The hotel was kind of funky with lots of glass doors, mirrors and bright white walls. We settled in for a short nap before taking a walk up into downtown Zagreb. We made a quick stop at the Hop Inn Craft Beer Bar, which was located right behind our hotel, for an IPA and some very salty peanuts. I was not overly impressed with Zagreb. There was one main street that had all the main bars and restaurants, but other than that it was kind of empty. Granted it was early in the evening too. We ate dinner at the
Tavern Lanterna on Opatovina which was very good. We were the only ones there, which gave it a very personal touch.

Ljubljana

After a quick breakfast in Zagreb, we were quickly on our way to Slovenia. We made a random stop along the highway and found a fabulous resort nestled in the hills to have a fabulous lunch buffet. When we reached Ljubljana it was raining quite heavily. It would continue to rain for the next 3 days we were there. We stayed at the City Hotel for both nights in the city. They had nice spacious rooms, great breakfast, and underground parking garage. The central location of the hotel was the perfect base for exploring the city.

We spent a lot of time at Pop’s Place under the umbrella covered picnic tables enjoying burgers(veggie an regular) and craft beers during downpours. Exploring the city was actually kind of nice with the rain once you got used to it. I think it may have kept the crowds down and it really made the night pictures pop. We had a really nice dinner at the very popular Julija Restaurant. They let us sit at one of there unpopulated outdoor tables with umbrellas and even brought us blankets. We started a trend as others started to populate the other outdoor seating as well. We also sampled a few of the gelato places along the waterway that cut through the middle of the city.

Logar Valley (Logarska dolina)

The rain continued for our next waypoint which was the Logar Valley. The ride north from Ljubljana was a rather remote one, but good old Google Maps took me up and over some very steep, narrow dirt roads to our destination. The Logar Valley is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful. However, I cannot verify this due to the very low fog that inhabited the valley during our stay at Hotel Plesnik. We did manage to have a nice overnight stay getting in some running and a fabulous dinner.

Bled

The next destination on our tour of Slovenia, was the popular town of Bled. Famous for the church seated on a tiny island in the middle of the serene lake and surrounded by eye-catching mountains. I was prepared for a more touristy area, but it turned out to not be too bad. We had reserved a small room at Apartment-Rooms Kocijancic which was about a mile outside of town. It was a little bit of a walk into town, but it got you away from the bustle of town and also provided some pretty amazing views too. The owner had recommended Restaurant Murka for dinner which was so good we ended up eating there two nights in-a-row. For dessert, we headed down the street to Zima to try out the Creme Cake that Bled is famous for. Pretty yummy! We enjoyed a nice lunch at Oštarija Peglez’n on the main around the lake as well.

We took a nice hike through Vintgar Gorge immediately arriving in Bled. The rain was still coming down at this point, but it made for some pretty awesome photography of the steep rock walls and greenish-blue water. There is an admission fee to see the gorge, but it is well worth it. The rain had finally subsided on our second day and we rented a rowboat from Hotel Plenta for 15€ to explore the lake and checkout the little island. I preferred to stay in the boat to see the island because the island is overrun with Chinese tourists. You can go into the Church and ring the bell, but there is a fee. Going onto the island kind took away from the beauty of it and seeing it from the boat was a much nicer experience. We also did some walks around the lake and a very steep hike up to Orcjinva early in the morning for some classic shots of the lake. Well worth the effort!

Bovec

Next we drove around Triglav National Park and the Julian Alps to outdoorsy town of Bovec(pronounced “bovits“). Our plan was to drive to the ski town Kranska Gora and then head up and over Vršič Pass and down into Bovec. We made to within a mile of the pass and had to turn around because they had the road closed for construction. Ugh. We then stopped for some lunch in Kranska Gora then proceeded around the northwest side of Triglav NP through Italy via Predil Pass and back into Slovenia again. We stayed at the very modern Hotel Sanje OB Soči just off the main road before heading into town. Our apartment was quite spacious and had all the comforts of home. The breakfast buffet here was awesome too.

We did some photo excursions on the bright blue Soca River. The white limestone really makes the blue-colored look like something not-of-this-world. We drove up the 50 turns(each one is marked) to Vršič Pass. This time from the opposite side. It appears that they had re-opened the road again since there were cars coming from that direction. We took a 4 mile hike starting at the pass and heading Northwest along the edge of a mountainside with amazing views over the valley below.

We ate dinner at Gostilina Restaurant at Kamp Polovnik and also at Letni Vrt Pizzeria. Both were pretty good, but the service at Letni Vrt was not very good. We also stopped at the restaurant in Trenta on way back from our hike and had a nice bowl of pasta to replenish our glycogen stores a bit.

Piran

We were now on our way back to Croatia again for a nights stay in the seaside town of Rovinj. We stopped at Kozjak Falls and Piran in Slovenia to break up the drive a bit. Kozjak falls was a little waterfall nestled in a cavern-like rock formation. The water was bright blue-green and the rock was dark grey making for a pretty awesome picture. Piran was a very busy seaside town. We walked along the seawall and through the town a bit. It was a bit of culture shock after being in the mountains for the couple days. It was very crowded, touristy and also very warm too. I was happy to get out of here.

MOTOVUN

Motovun made me feel like I was back in Tuscany again. It was walled village perched on the top of a mountain top. We were right in the heart of Truffle season too, so we had to try them out. Honestly, I don’t see what all the rage is about. We had a nice stay at the Villa Borga B&B. It was very well run with modern amenities inside. My only complaint was that I could not find a bottle opener for the honor-system beer fridge they had downstairs. We dined at a restaurant called Konobo Mondo right near the city gate. The food was ok and it was kind of pricey. I would suggest trying another place before this one. We only had one night here so we didn’t have a chance to try anywhere else.

On our way out of Motovun, heading for Rovinj, we stopped at the small hill towns of Zaversje and Groznjan. Zaversje was a town that is practically deserted with only around a population of 40. The town has come under rule of many different empires over the centuries and contains some architecturally significant buildings. Grozjan was a cute little town featuring a lot of arts and crafts type stores. The tiny cobblestone streets were awesome to just walk through.

Rovinj

On our way down to Rovinj, we stopped Konoba Asterea in Brtonigla, Croatia which Rick Steves made a big fuss about in his book. The owner, Antonio, is the chef and he comes out to every table and makes something special for each person. That is all good and well except if you have to be somewhere that afternoon by a certain time. It took forever! And the owner also has to write up the bill for you too, which is also takes forever because he is going around taking everyone’s’ special order. Needless to say, we were stressing a bit. Do not dine here unless you have nowhere to be for the rest of the day!

We made it to our apartment in Rovinj a little late due to the long lunch. We loved Rovinj. We rented a an apartment from Boris at Villa Rosella 1 which was about a 10-15 minute walk from the waterfront. It was a little tricky figuring out which door was ours and then we had to wait for Boris to show up. A little inconvenient. Once we settled in, we did some laundry and headed down to the seaside village.

We walked around town a bit and then settled in at the Cafe Bar XL just below the Sveta Eufemija Catholic Church. We had a few drinks while taking in the amazing view of the sea from this point. I would highly recommend stopping here to chill for a bit. We then walked around the quaint narrow cobblestone streets of the town before settling in at the Maestral Restaurant for dinner on the water. We had an amazing meal and the seaside atmosphere takes the cake.

Karlobag

We made a lunch stop in the seaside town of Karlobag as we meandered down the coast towards Zadar. We had a nice lunch at Ok Karlobag restaurant which has outdoor seating that overlooks the channel of the Adriatic Sea between the barrier islands and the mainland. I had decided to walk down to the water and check out the temperature. I stepped on some large boulders that blocked the sea and slid feet first right into the ocean. They didn’t look slippery, but they were. My wife and another couple having drinks laughing hysterically as I dragged my wet body out of the water.

After falling in the Adriatic

Zadar

We rented a tiny little aparment/room called Apartment and Rooms Cvita on the tip of the peninsula of Zadar. We were a stones throw from the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun(Pozdrav Suncu). It was pretty small but the perfect location to explore Zadar. We didn’t spend that much time in the room anyway.

The Sea Organ and the Greeting to the sun were pretty cool, especially when there are not as many people there. Just walking along the water and through the town were also highlights. There are some ancient ruins laid out in landscape yard fashion that is worth checking out too. We were toying with the idea of taking a ferry to one of the barrier islands, but that never really panned out.

We stopped at the little coast town of Sibenik after our visit to Krka National Park. We had an awesome, plant-based lunch at the SHE Bistro on one of the back streets. I had an amazing veggie burger on a roll that was out-of-this-world. Denise ordered one after I did and when it came out it was on two slices of regular bread. I thought she was going to cry. They ran out of the amazing rolls. Bummer. We walked around the streets a bit, was serenaded by an ad-hoc acapella group in the courtyard and St. James Cathedral before stopping for is gelato and heading back to Zadar.

(Oct 3rd) We headed to Krka National Park to view the waterfalls. It is a bit of a tourist trap to say the least. We opted to hike up to the falls instead of waiting for the ferry. It was an old railroad bed to get you there. Once you get up to the falls it is tourist-city. It was arm-to-arm with busloads of Chinese tourists. I could not get a good shot if I tried. We quickly flew through the network of boardwalks, dodging and passing people and got the hell out of there.

(Oct 4th) We took an excursion to Valika Peklenica National Park(Starigrad) to do little hiking. This was a rock climbers mecca. Large limestone cliffs shot straight up on both sides of us as we hiked up the trail. Climbers were dangling from every crevice along the way. Although there was a lot of climbers it was a much better experience than Krka. We stopped at the little Taverna Konoba just down the road at the fork from Valika Peklenica. It was a cute little outdoor restaurant and we were the only ones there.

As for dining in Zadar, I would highly recommend 4Katuna. We ate there twice because it was so good. You can sit outside in the alley which is nice for people watching or inside for a more private dining experience. Really good food and service.

Plitvice- Grabovac

We started heading north to Grabovac to spend the next couple days in Plitvice National Park. We stayed 4Seasons Guest House both nights which was very nice. They had a shared kitchen facility which allowed us to make our own breakfast. I hopped on Facebook the night we arrived and saw that one of our friends, Kathy, that we met on our Haute Route trip was in Plitvice that day. I messaged here that night and we planned to meet up at the park entrance the next morning. Denise had already fallen asleep, so she had no idea about this until she woke up. The park opened at 8, so we planned to meet at 7:30-7:45 for a coffee. Well needless to say we didn’t get down chatting until well after 8, but it was so good catching up with her.

Out first experience with Plitivice National Park was not a positive one. There were so many busloads of Chinese tourists piling into the park by the time we got in. It was almost impossible to move on the narrow wood boardwalks that intertwine between the falls. We found ourselves running through there and not enjoying it at all. Then Denise came up with the best idea. We would leave the park, go have a nice lunch and then come back in the afternoon. We stopped at Restaurant Degenija for lunch which was really good. Headed back to the room for a little nap before heading back to Plitvice for another try.

Oh-My-God! This was the best thing we could have done. We had practically the whole park to ourselves! All the busloads had left and we could take our time enjoying these amazing waterfalls. This place is AMAZING!! Earlier I was having trouble taking long exposure shots because of all the people walking on the boardwalks were vibrating my tripod and blurring my shots. Now it was super still. We did end up getting a little lost at that end and came out of the park in the dark, but it so worth it. I would highly recommend this park, but go in the evening if you was some peace and quiet.

We ended up heading back to Restaurant Degenija again for dinner. We have this tendency to stick with what we know is good, so we did and it didn’t let us down. Usually you see several different things on the menu and this allows you to try them all without stuffing yourself in one sitting.

Rastoke and back to Zagreb

On our way back to Zagreb we stopped at the town of Rastoke to walk around a bit and take some pictures. It had started to rain again so it was pretty sloppy out. The Korana river runs literally right through the village of Rastoke which provides cool little waterfalls all through the town. The problem everyone in town is trying to monopolize on the viewing of them. You have to end up buying a ticket or eating a meal somwhere to get close to them. It is kind of a shame, but I guess they have to find some way to make a living. Otherwise people will be just trampling over their properties.

We stayed our last night at the Royal Airport Hotel in Zagreb. The hotel was very nice and had an excellent dinner. They had a small pool and sauna area that you could reserve for an hour or so at a time. It was kind of nice to have it all to yourself. I am not sure what happened the next morning, but it seemed like we went to the wrong airport. The airport was supposed to be right behind our hotel, but we ended up in the wrong place. We eventually figured it out and got there on time.

We thoroughly enjoyed Croatia and Slovenia. This was a little different trip for us. It was not quite as active as some of our trips, but it was a good sampler tour of what this area has to offer. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to explore this area. We stayed away from the more popular and touristy areas like Split and Dubrovnik. The latter is said to be overrun with tourists due to the Game of Thrones fame. I think the less traveled roads are better. Definitely rent a car here to get around. Language was not a big issue here either. Until next trip!

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