Touring Beautiful Croatia, Slovenia and MontenegroAuthor: Bob W. (More Trip Reviews by Bob W.)
Date of Trip: July 2011
A local guide provided us with excellent insights into the site's history. We spent the night in the outskirts of Split at the beautiful President Hotel, located adjacent to a small park.
The next day, we drove to Opatija, using the modern national highway that passes through many tunnels (the largest being 3 miles long). The national highway is inland and provides views of mountain ranges, long valleys, tall forests and fields of crops. Eventually, we had to leave the national highway system to head for the coast. Again we were traveling on narrow, twisting roads. We stopped for lunch at the Restaurant Martina, perched on a rock ledge overlooking the Adriatic. We walked nearby to view a marker informing passersby that they are on the 45th parallel, equidistant (5000 kilometers) from the north pole and the equator.
We arrived at the Grand Hotel Four Flowers complex of four buildings overlooking the Adriatic in the seaside resort of Opatija. Our section of the hotel -- Camelia -- provided a view of the Adriatic, the city's seaside promenade (Lungo Mare) and a small boat harbor. The miles-long seaside promenade passes in front of graceful and historic resort hotels, some dating from the late 1800's but remaining top-rated luxury hotels. In their midst is a free museum displaying photos of the hotels and city life during the 19th century. Beyond the gracious old hotels lie blocks of waterfront restaurants, gelato stands, shops and boat trip concessions. A group of us hired a boat and crew for a very pleasant hour-long tour of the coast. A larger commercial district lies a block distant from the water and parallel to the shore.
On Friday night, Opatija was swinging. Seaside restaurants and shops were open and busy. Some hotels featured live music and dancing at their outdoor dining areas. Unfortunately, one restaurant near our hotel continued to play loud disco music until 4 AM or later. Powerful speakers seemed to be aimed directly at our hotel. After hours of this loud assault, we finally managed some exhausted sleep. Saturday, we skipped a planned trip to KRK Island and, instead, enjoyed (now quiet) time on the seaside promenade. This time a breeze was sending small white caps crashing onto the rocks from which swimmers had been launching themselves a day before.
The next day we traveled across the Istrian Peninsula (the largest Croatian peninsula and one shared with neighboring Italy and Slovenia). We first visited the Italian-influenced coastal town of Rovinj. This picturesque town has both a north and south harbor. After viewing both harbors, we took a steep uphill walk to the imposing eighteenth century church of St. Euphemia, patron saint of Rovinj. The pedestrian-only route to the church is a narrow cobblestone street, intersected by cobblestone alleys on either side, most filled with small shops and vendors selling quality artworks, jewelry and souvenirs.
Leaving Rovinj, our group stopped at a countryside farmhouse for a tasty meal of Istrian specialties. Our final stop on the peninsula was Pula, location of the world's sixth largest Roman amphitheater. This well-preserved arena, constructed over a period of 40 years, around 200 AD, could seat over 20,000 spectators. After our return to Opatija, we dined on an excellent buffet in the beautiful dining room of the Milenij Hotel, located on the waterfront.
After four nights in Opatija, we were driven to Bled, Slovenia for the final four days of our trip. Slovenia is a peaceful and stable nation of 2 million people. Passports at the ready, we entered Slovenia and stopped to see the extensive underground caverns at Postojna. One enters and exits these impressively large caves seated in a small, open train. After disembarking, passengers are organized into linguistic groups and are guided up and down one kilometer of fairly steep ramps to see the wonders of the largest area of the caves.
On our drive within Slovenia we were impressed with the nice homes, lawns and gardens and the luxuriant greenery of mountains and valleys. Building designs, flowering window boxes and the general neatness of the homes and communities showed a clear Austrian influence.
When we entered the town of Bled, on Lake Bled in the Julian Alps, we were dazzled by the almost fairy tale images of pristine waters set against mountains up to 9,000 feet high.
The walkway around the entire perimeter of Lake Bled is less than 4 miles long. What makes the view so spectacular is contrast. There is the sharp relief of the 1,000 year-old castle (Byski Grad) perched on the ledge of a 400 foot cliff. An ornate catholic church with tall white steeple, metal-clad spire and patterned slate roof is set against mountains and greenery. There is the tall steeple of the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary on Bled Island and its mirror image reflected in the lake. Oarsmen in canopied boats row tourists (us included) to Bled Island to visit the church and its museum. Massive, distant mountains frame the whole of this beautiful scene. After settling in our hotel (Hotel Park), we enjoyed a walk along the lake and surrounding gardens. Swans swim gracefully along the edge of the lake, happy to accept handouts from passersby.
The following afternoon, we visited Skofa Loka, dating to 1513 and said to be the oldest town in Slovenia. One of the town's well preserved churches dates back to 1532. About 1,000 people reside in the old town and 21,000 others live in outlying, newer sections of town. A local guide acquainted us with the history and features of the old town. We continued on to the so-called “black house” -- a 15th century residence once housing three families and a tavern. The house features a large ceramic heater drawing heat from a kitchen oven. The house gained its “black” name because it lacks a chimney to vent black cooking smoke tar.
The following day, using Lake Bled as our base camp, we drove to Ljublijana, which is Slovenia's capital, a college town, a place of considerable architectural beauty, and a major tourist attraction. Restaurants and outside dining areas line pedestrian-only streets and waterways. Open -air shops and kiosks offer lace table runners, jewelry and a wide variety of craft items. We enjoyed a pizza lunch under a canopy overlooking a canal. Delightful!
On our final full vacation day, we traveled to Kropa Village in the Bled region, historically a center for the manufacture of wrought iron items. There were demonstrations of the iron working art and a tour of the village museum housing a range of wrought iron items, from artistic items to nails. The display included a replica of the meager housing available to workers and their families and provided a glimpse into the hard lives endured by craftsmen and their families.
In the evening, we traveled to a picturesque, nearby town where we enjoyed a farewell dinner, complete with musical entertainment and a chance to say goodbye to new friends. We heartily recommend Croatia and Slovenia as travel destinations. Both nations are beautiful, hospitable and affordable.
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