After more than two months cooped up in the European Schengen zone, we felt the need to escape. We jumped in a car and 3 1/2 hours later we drove into Rovinj.
Rovinj overlooks the Adriatic from the west coast of the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. With the end of the troubles in the region, Croatia is fast becoming a tourism hotspot. Rovinj is where German and Austrian holiday-makers come to dip their toes in the warm seas. Rovinj was for a time under the control of Venice, and that influence still shows. In fact, the main church tower was a trial run for the steeple in Venice’s St Mark’s Square. Our Airbnb was right in the middle of the no-cars old town. The old town is a maze of cobblestone paths that were lovely to wander through.
We spent most of our time in Rovinj, though, by the beach. On our first day we expected to spend a few hours relaxing by the water, then find a place for lunch and go exploring in the afternoon. What actually happened was we lay in deck chairs on the rocky shore until 2pm, had grilled meats in a cafe by the beach, then returned to the water.
The next day we gave up any pretence of actually seeing more of the region and went back to the beach. This time we armed (legged? footed?) ourselves with reef shoes. Our delicate feet, long accustomed to sandy Australian beachs, couldn’t deal with the pebbles that stood between us and the luke warm Adriatic.
We did do one non-beach thing, although still water based. One evening we (and apparently every other boat in Rovinj) headed out into the open waters to watch the dolphins play.
Next stop the hills. Istria is known as the Tuscany of Croatia, right down to the hilltop fortress towns. We based ourselves in one of these, Motovun. Over the course of the next few days we visited several of the towns. They ranged from the large-and-lived-in Buzet to the tiny-and-touristy Hum (“the world’s smallest town”).
One of these, Grožnjan, has transformed itself into an arts mecca. When we were there it was at the start of their annual jazz festival. At every second window we could hear the sounds of trumpet or piano.
Oprtalj, in contrast, was dead. At one edge of town was a newly renovated hotel, with a few people sitting in a cafe. Apart from that we were left alone to wander the streets. Although some of the buildings had been recently restored and others looked at least lived-in, each street had at least one building in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Beautiful, but decaying.
Postojna and Predjama
Next up was a long drive, and between Motovun and our destination in the north of Slovenia are the Postojna caves and Predjama castle. The caves, the second deepest in Slovenia, are a fairy tale land of white stalactites and stalagmites. This is not a cave for spelunkers with special lights on their caving helmets. It has a mini train from the entrance down into the depths of the cave, and concrete walkways and bridges; it is a cave for families of four. Our family loved it!
Not far from the caves is a 13th century castle built into a cliff face (although as often is the case it was rebuilt a few hundred years later). It was home to Slovenia’s own Robin Hood, Erazem Lueger, in the 15th century, which made for an interesting history lesson as we walked around.
Continuing on saw us leave Croatia and arrive in Lake Bled in Slovenia. I did my back picking up a pencil in Motovun, so we took things pretty easy in Bled. Our Airbnb was in the middle of a forest, and the kids spent a few hours building a mini town using sticks and rocks. Svet and the kids rowed me around the eponymous lake. We ate entirely too much Lake Bled cake.
One morning we headed out to Vintgar Gorge. It has a long wooden boardwalk that we spent a couple of hours exploring. It is a beautiful part of the world and well worth dealing with the hordes of other tourists.
All up Bled was a great place to relax.
Last stop was Slovenia’s charming capital. Ljubljanski grad, the castle dominating the old town from the peak above, afforded beautiful views. The old town is almost entirely car-free, which makes exploring on foot easy. Embarrassingly, our first food stop in the jewel of Slovenia was for French crepes from a Mexican restaurant. In our defence, it was a cute place right on the river and the crepes (and everything else) were delicious.
Near the edge of the old town is Tivoli garden. At the far end of the garden is a zoo. We love zoos and so I thought it would make a pleasant morning to stroll down the garden paths and check out the animals. As it turned out, Tivoli is both huge and on a massive hill. And the zoo is past the point where paths give way to what an Aussie might call “bush bashing”. In the end, the zoo was totally worth it. And half way through our journey, at the top of the hill, was an awesome locals-and-lost-tourists-only cafe.
Back “home” one last time
With that, our last holiday-within-a-holiday from Venice was done. We arrived back and over the next few days we wrapped up a few things on our Venice to-do list and packed up three months of crap spread around the apartment, ready for our move to Paris.