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Roadtrip – Slovenia & Croatia by Campervan

Starting from Lake Bled and travelling by camper via Ljubljana, the Plitvice Lakes, Pag and Rovinj to reach Split

Author: Susanne Dickhardt

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Camping in Slovenia – why not?

Most of us only know this green landscape, with its forests and mountains as somewhere we pass through on the way to Croatia. If you’re heading to the Adriatic Sea – whether you’re coming from Austria or Italy – there’s no doubt that you and your camper will make your way through Slovenia. And for the most part, without even making a stop-off. We‘re the roadsurfer family, two adults and two kids (4 and 6), and we’d like to share our travel experiences with you to show you that this amazing country, nestled amongst the Julian Alps and filled with mountains, forests, lakes and castles, is most definitely worth a camping trip in itself, or if you’re heading to the Adriatic Sea, it provides some incredible stop-offs on the way.

Make sure not to miss out on the country’s highlights, like the Bled region, the enchanting Lake Bohinj, the scenic cityscape of the country’s capital Ljubljana, the famous limestone cave of Postojna or the quaint port town of Piran, located on Slovenia’s little stretch of coastline. It makes sense to discover Slovenia by campervan as you’re flexible, and you can travel from place to place as you please, without having to book any hotels in advance. And, of course, camping is the best way to experience the nature Slovenia has to offer, engaging all your senses! Breathe in the scent of rolling green pastures in the morning dew as you relax by a small creek at Lake Bled, or visit the Bled castle and enjoy a breath-taking view over the little rowing boats floating across the turquoise water. If a road trip through Slovenia alone isn’t quite enough, you can continue your journey through beautiful Croatia and discover even more sensational sights. Camping in both Slovenia and Croatia is a match made in heaven. Travel through Croatia’s back country to discover sites of natural beauty, like the Plitvice Lakes. Or a journey down Croatia’s coastline will lead you to the islands of Brac and Pag and the small Mediterranean town of Rovinj – Istria’s star attraction.


SLOVENIA

Feel alive in the mountains: Triglav, Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

If you travel down the A10 in Austria, heading towards Villach, you’ll get a view of the Karawanks, a mountain range that separates the beautiful state of Carinthia from Slovenia, a country which, for us, had remained entirely undiscovered. The first gem to discover is actually still on the Austrian side of the border: the Seecamping Berghof campsite is located right on the banks of Lake Ossiach. The kids can keep themselves entertained on the pirate-themed playground, whilst the adults can head to the campsite’s homely restaurant to enjoy local trout and whitefish delicacies. On this Slovenian-Croatian roadtrip, Bled was our first stop after the border. Nestled amongst rolling hillsides, just a few kilometres from the motorway, is the beautiful Lake Bled, famous for its stand-alone island with the pilgrimage church and the oldest castle in Slovenia (over 1000 years old!) situated at breath-taking heights. The Bled Castle is perched on a 130-metre crag, sitting like a watchman over the sparkling emerald green lake, where wooden rowing boats and small excursion boats are the only way to reach the tiny island at the centre. Both activities are worth doing and they’re a great way to spend a day. An excellent way to pass the early hours of the evening is by watching the sun go down up at the castle, where there is a superb restaurant. When it comes to keeping the kids occupied, there’s plenty to learn and discover about the Middle Ages. And the best place to park the camper and spend the night? That would be Camping Bled, a campsite set in a stunning location among the trees right on the banks of the lake and offering something for all the family. Some of the choice things to do are trampolining, archery or simply heading to the jetty and jumping straight into the crystal-clear water. Unfortunately, as we arrived before a public holiday, there was no space left for us.

So what about wild camping?

The alternative is almost even better: We used the Park4night app to search the surroundings for a wild spot next to a small stream where we could spend the night. Heads up: make sure that you only go to the spots marked “approved” in the app. We found a beautiful pasture right on the river where we could enjoy the fresh night air as well as the peace and quiet, although we were still able to make out other small campervans dotted here and there on the fields (large mobile homes definitely wouldn’t make it here!). But sadly, the peaceful, heavenly spots are also known by the not-so-peaceful Slovenian police, who come by before 9am to cash in on the campers. If you’re lucky, you’ll get sent away without a fine ?. roadsurfer tip: if you don’t fancy staying the night and you’d rather just visit the lake, you can still enjoy the restaurant and beach located in front of Camping Bled. However, you’ll have to find a parking spot slightly away from the lake and walk around 1 kilometre down to the shore, especially in peak season.

Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

On the following day, we decided to explore the nature around Lake Bled and walk the well-known Vintgar Gorge. The river flows into waterfalls and winds its way through the gorge in spectacular fashion. But that’s the very reason why we weren’t the only ones to visit in August. It often became rather tight along the wooden walkways which run along the rock faces through the gorge. And getting there wasn’t so easy either: you have to park your vehicle in a large carpark at the bottom and then either walk up to the gorge or take a quick ride in the shuttle bus (recommended!). Despite the number of people, taking children to visit the gorge is an excellent choice! There isn’t too much walking and there’s always something to look at. What’s more, most of the sights worth seeing are during the first half of the walk, meaning that you can skip the second part if those little legs get tired.


The new place to be: visiting Slovenia’s capital by camper

After many of our friends had sung the praises of Slovenia’s capital and told us that it was certainly not a place to be missed, we decided to spend two days exploring the student city, beautifully situated between a hill on one side and a river on the other. On our campervan travels through Slovenia, we spent some time practising how to pronounce the two “j”s in the city’s name… First stop in Ljubljana: it had to be a campsite! After all, we still had to shower after our night of wild camping. The “Camping Ljubljana Resort” isn’t super chic, but it serves its purpose and is well-equipped.   In the afternoon, we set out to stroll around the capital, a small city with a population of approx. 290,000. The flair, architecture and way of life in this city reminded us of a southern-style Salzburg. Or maybe even Vienna? In any case, the city has been shaped by the century-long reign of the Habsburgs, who superseded the Slavs long ago, and it is now influenced by the young, student population and modern, alternative scene. What a vibrant city! No matter if you’re travelling in Ljubljana with or without a camper, a trip up to the medieval fortress which sits majestically on a cliff high above the town is not to be missed. You can conquer the climb to the top of the hill in around 30 minutes by making your way through the narrow streets and luscious green forest. But if you’d rather take it easy, you can take the funicular and soar towards the Ljubljanski Grad in a glass lift. We opted for the easy option as this seemed like a real magical ride for the kids. The castle itself, a site on which a Roman fort once used to stand and which was later used as a hospital and prison, has undergone extensive renovation work over the past decades. It’s a pity that this means it is more of an imitation than an authentic castle. A stroll through Ljubljana’s old town is an even nicer way to pass your time. One of the best things to do in Ljubljana is to take a walk across the famous Triple Bridge at Presernov Square. The middle bridge once connected the north-western European lands with the Balkans. The other two bridges are also worthy of note. These were built in the 1930s by Ljubljanas’s most well-known architect Jože Plečnik. If you’re after a great photo, look no further than the Dragon Bridge located further up the river, where you can snap that stunning shot with the Dragon himself. But for us, what makes the city so unique is the mix of small, funky cafés with that kind of alternative vibe and the leisurely pace of city life along the banks of the Ljubljanica. We sipped on our cappuccinos in the sun whilst the children played on the modern art in the pedestrian zone. Walk along Mestni trg and Stari trg for a beautiful stroll through the old town – and not a big chain store to be seen, which means all the more room for chocolate shops. We couldn’t resist! roadsurfer tip: Ljubljana was named the European “Green Capital” in 2016. One reason the city received this accolade was the excellent quality of its drinking water. Small water fountains are dotted all around the city which are used by both locals and tourists, especially throughout the summer months.  After a quick nip around the shops followed by some extremely tasty cevapcici at a restaurant called “Sarajevo 84” in the evening (highly recommended!), we continued our campervan journey through Slovenia.


Postojna and its limestone caves: Postojnska jama

As for the next scheduled stop on our journey, we made the spontaneous decision to skip it. After two days spent in the city, we wanted to get outdoors and into nature and we didn’t feel like visiting another castle or going on another sightseeing tour… However, the limestone cave, at 20 kilometres in length, is one of the largest in the world and was discovered over 200 years ago, and so it’s definitely on our to-do list for our next road trip through Slovenia. Both the impregnable cave castle built into the mouth of a cave, known as Predjama Castle, and the Postojonska caves are well worth a visit, even if they’re not the cheapest activities and, of course, they’re full of tourists… It’s worth pre-booking your tickets online – or so we’ve heard.


CROATIA

The crown jewels of Croatia’s back country: the Plitvice Lakes

Our next destination after crossing the Slovenian border was Plitvicka jezera, out in the back country of Croatia. We normally head straight for the coast, but this time we wanted to see more of this beautiful Balkan country. The Plitvice Lakes are situated in the mountains near the Bosnian border, at around 600 metres. At that height, you may be thinking that the terrain would be more hilly than mountainous, but our journey along the winding country roads during the night convinced us otherwise. That evening, our journey through the mountains, forest and darkness seemed never-ending. We thought that we had perhaps taken a wrong turn… but no. From Ljubljana, you take the A2 towards Zagreb, past Novo Mesto and continuing past Karlovac, then as soon as you come off the motorway, the long, long country roads begin. Thankfully, the kids were so wiped out from all their travel experiences that we could at least avoid hearing episode 3000 of “Bibi & Tina” and we were also spared any complaints of travel sickness. As the sun turned crimson and set above the hills, we had plenty of time to ourselves to chat. So I guess travelling at night can have its perks for us adults… ? Our roadsurfer highlight: it was a real treat to see so many wild animals on our evening adventure to the Plitvice Lakes! We counted three foxes, one roebuck and one hedgehog. As we could only drive slowly, we were really able to observe the animals at the roadside for several moments. This mysterious world, known as Plitvicka jezera, has a unique beauty, with its chain of natural turquoise lakes cascading along a green, forested ravine. Waterfalls transform the landscape into a kind of dreamland, so enchanted that it could be the set of a fantasy film. However, this wonder of nature is unfortunately tarnished by the hordes of tourists who flock to the park and loll around on the wooden walkways. If you have children, arriving at entrance 1 makes a lot of sense as you’ll see the largest waterfalls right at the start, but there are also endless queues of tourist coaches, day trip groups and backpackers. Skip the queues by pre-booking your tickets online: this is simply a must! roadsurfer tip: you can take a tour boat on both the upper and lower lakes for tremendous views of the waterfalls. The queues were also somewhat daunting here and we decided instead to hire a small rowing boat for 100 Kuna. We were able to experience the incredible nature and sparkling green colour of the water from our very own boat, rowing from one small waterfall to the next. A real personal highlight for us during our visit to this national park! It’s a shame that you can’t go swimming – the water is so tempting! We also found a serene place to camp out at the southern end of the national park: Kamp Borje. You have free choice of where to park up, with no set pitches and there’s also a lovely playground for the children, as well as a homely restaurant. The trees, nature and fresh air did us all some good and we enjoyed our time reading, playing games, cooking and simply hanging out. In any case, it’s worth planning two days to see the Plitvice Lakes. Of course, you could also spend longer here as there are numerous hiking trails to discover and adventures to be had. In fact, even if the nights were rather brisk and we were glad to have our thick sleeping bags even in August, we would have stayed longer – but the kids couldn’t wait to get to the sea!

The Split region – Trogir and Brac Island

After two and a half hours in the campervan, we made it to Dalmatia! We can hardly believe that we made it that far with our small children… But the short 3/4-hour stints meant that the journey was a breeze! And now: Split – a hideous industrial town filled with tower blocks and factory chimneys. In the best case scenario, we could say it reminded us of Rijeka, which, admittedly, we only saw from the motorway. We’d been dreaming of the crystal-clear Adriatic Sea, banana splits and white sandy beaches and so we probably had our expectations to blame. Hmm… at first sight, Split definitely didn’t live up to what we had predicted. After doing some research, the region’s only suitable campsite seemed to be Camping Stobrec. And it was oooookkkaaayyy. Even if we were on the edge of the campsite on the tiniest pitch of our lives measuring about 10 sqm. So we’ll just pop the awning over the hedge, shall we? After the idyllic nature of the Plitvice Lakes, we now had to endure the constant noise of the busy motorway, humming through the roof tent throughout the whole night. No, we must have gone to the wrong place. But we were too groggy to pack our things up again. And we ended up staying for two nights. We read that Split’s old town is supposed to be very pretty, but we were so put off by what we had seen so far, that, the following day, we randomly decided to rent a boat and try to explore the region’s beauty from the water. If you don’t have a sailing or pleasure craft driving licence, the campsite runs numerous excursions with large boats or catamarans. We decided to opt for the more private option in this case. One of our missions on this August holiday was definitely to escape the masses! This boat tour gave us the opportunity to discover the real gems that Dalmatia has to offer: heavenly little coves, towns with a Venetian-Mediterranean feel and islands filled with wonderful smells and the sound of crickets chirping. Our stops: the quaint town of Trogir, swimming at the Blue Lagoon and Brac Island with its sleepy little port and peaceful channel with the best food. Enjoying our mussels and tuna, that’s when our holiday really got underway – so the trip south was worth it after all.


Holiday fun on Pag island and a day trip to Rab

We had become fed up of hearing the hum of the motorway, but driving any further south wasn’t really feasible for us, so we decided to head back up north along the coast to the island of Pag. It first became clear to us that Pag is a party island as we walked around the northern town of Novalja desperately trying to find a restaurant, but all we came across were cocktail bars, shisha lounges and burger grills! Thankfully, we hit the jackpot with the Camping Strasko campsite and managed to find plenty of fellow families with kids! This campsite is the largest on Pag and, well, it is simply gigantic, with 2,500 pitches. The site stretches out across a beautiful green wooded parkland and we had a huge pitch with enough space for our hammock, unicorn, SUP and co.! We decided that we were staying there for the entire week, come what may! We marvelled at fireworks on the beach, enjoyed ice cream in the sun, indulged in afternoon naps in the hammock and sipped on morning coffee in our campervan. Admittedly – our chaos was far from the cool #vanlife shots you see on Instagram, but with our inflatable pizza, Barbie car, fairy lights (we had to!) and watermelon, we were having a blast and enjoying some well-earned downtime! roadsurfer tip: if you drive up to the northern tip of the island, you’ll find some small, more basic campsites with beautiful pitches right by the sea. So if you prefer some peace and quiet, you’re best heading up there. You won’t be able to find these sites on Google Maps,   but they really do exist! In all honesty, after the Olive Gardens of Lun in the north and the striking stone desert, the island doesn’t have much to offer. However, the view of the mountain range on the mainland, only a stone’s throw away, makes for an awe-inspiring piece of scenery that can be enjoyed from anywhere on the island. Rab, on the other hand, has a little more to offer, with its beautiful port town, also called Rab, and green woodlands. Once again, we decided to take a boat to discover the island’s delightful coves – there’s no better way to explore Croatia’s beautiful islands. After some rest, relaxation and time in the sun, we had replenished our energy levels and we were in the mood to hop back in our campervan and continue on our road trip through Slovenia and Croatia. Next stop:

Istria.  

Rovinj – Istria’s star attraction When you hear about Rovinj, you often hear about the exceptional beauty and stunning location of the small, Istrian town on the Adriatic Sea. After the rather bland-looking town of Novalja on Pag, we had pretty high expectations… And we weren’t disappointed! On our way to the campsite, we were able to catch a glimpse of the town which looked just like a small island, but is actually attached to the mainland with a huge town square and pedestrian area. If you like, you can actually park your camper on the carpark just in front of the town, but we chose to drive to our campsite, “Camping Val Saline”, and then cycle the 10 minutes into the centre. Camping Val Saline is a brand new campsite which is situated right on the coast and has a wonderful restaurant where you can enjoy your food with a view of the sea. Take your pick from their tasty delights, from wood-fired pizza to tuna tartar. There’s also a seawater pool and swimming pool, as well as an inflatable play area on the sea, and SUP is an excellent way to explore the cove and enjoy a good swim. It’s got everything going on here! But on a camping holiday near Rovinj, you really shouldn’t miss out on the region’s star attraction. roadsurfer tip: if you don’t fancy going by bike, you can also take a taxi from the campsite reception for just a few Kuna and the ride will only take around 5 minutes. The small port town is great for exploring on foot, with its tightly-knit, almost ramshackle houses and bright, narrow cobblestone streets. We would highly recommended taking a stroll to the square with the Church of St. Euphemia and its distinctively high tower. Perhaps you’ll find a guitar player on the church steps to add a musical backdrop to the sublime scenery and sea view. The town’s Venetian influences make it seem particularly picturesque, and if you take a closer look, you’ll find the Lion of St. Mark hidden on gateways and doors. roadsurfer tip: if you’re in search of good fish, head to “Scuba”, a restaurant at the port. It’s worth reserving a table here! Camping in Rovinj really was the cherry on the cake to our campervan road trip through Croatia and Slovenia. Feeling very well-rested, we set off on the 6-hour journey back to Munich. As for our verdict: the nature, mountains and lakes you can discover whilst camping in Slovenia are just as fulfilling as the sun, sea and sand you can experience on a camping holiday in Croatia.   And combining the two, you’re onto a winner!

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