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Quick trip to Slovenia/Istria Peninsula

Hello! I have a work tip to Portorož, Slovenia in October. I'd like to stay a few days after and explore a little bit of Slovenia and Croatia. I'm thinking about renting a car and driving around for a few days to see some of the best sights in the area. Just from googling I came up with a few ideas, but I'd love to hear from people who have been there. Would you recommend these areas - or exchange for others? Is this do-able in the time allotted? I know I'll just be getting a very quick overview of the region. Given the season, it will be cold so I'm not sure if other destinations would be better.

  • Day 1: Drive from Portorož to Rovinj and then Opatija (stay in Opatija or Ljubljana)
  • Day 2: Explore Ljubljana (stay in Ljubljana)
  • Day 3: Explore Lake Bled and Vršič Pass (stay in Ljubljana)
  • Day 4: Drive to Trieste, Italy and explore Trieste (stay in Trieste)
  • Day 5: Fly out of Trieste

Thank you so much!

Posted by
5245 posts

What are your interests? I've been to all of these places but wouldn't choose to do all of them again necessarily but some I would. But...that's me.

I LOVED Ljubljana! It's just a delightful small city, with a tiny river running through it, quaint bridges across it, and a castle on the hill. It's a great town to come back to at night - very vibrant, lively.

I loved little Rovinj too. But, it doesn't take much time to see. It's more of a good base for exploring Croatian Istria, I'd say - e.g. the hill towns (which I guess you aren't interested in?) Rovinj reminds me a lot of Piran (probably not fair, but...they both have Venetian bell towers). Piran is a charming little town too - so close to Portorož that hopefully you will get to spend time there. Some people prefer Rovinj, but if you get to see at least Piran, maybe it's OK to skip Rovinj entirely. Up to you whether the rest of Croatian Istria you were planning to explore is worth your time on this trip.

Opatija is an old Austrian resort town with big old villas. The town itself was kind of gaudy for me more than charming, but the waterfront is nice. There is a long Lungomare (coastal walk from Rijeka past Opatija) that's pretty fun - more old Austrian villas in the wood along the walk. But I'm not sure I would go out of my way just to see this area and nothing else. Depends what your interests are.

There are some lovely small towns near Ljubljana like Skofja Loka and Kamnik. I love the scenic drive through the mountains from Skofja Loka to Bled (not via the highway). Lake Bled is beautiful but the town of Bled, while convenient, is nothing special. It's possible spend more time near Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj (less touristy, more naturalistic than Bled and larger) and slow down your journey a little if you wanted to cut out other stuff. I stayed over in Bled and drove the Vršič Pass starting there, taking my time, and stopping over in Kobarid (war museum there if it interests you).

Trieste is kind of OK but it sounds like you are flying out of there anyway? It has some historical significance for sure, and it definitely has its champions, but to me it seemed more like another noisy Italian tourist town, bigger and less charming than anything I saw in Slovenia. If you are flying out of Trieste, then it would make sense to explore it...but keep in mind, dropping the car in Trieste might incur a steep one-way drop fee. It's possible to fly out of Trieste airport and skip the town entirely; the Slovenian company Go Opti does affordable shared rides to top destinations like airports, and they could get you to the regional airports from any Slovenian town.

Posted by
835 posts

Be sure to check with the car rental agency about extra charges for picking the car up in Croatia driving through Slovenia and dropping the car off in Italy as there generally are hefty fees in the rental contract—sometimes as high as €1,000 —for dropping off the car in a different country.

Posted by
2896 posts

A agree with Andrew H. I also have been to all those places. With such a short time I would stay In Ljubljana and Bled and forgo Istria. October is the end of the season and many restaurants and/B&B will be closed. Anyone who doesn’t live there goes home for the winter. Opatija lost it’s charm for me when they glitzed up it up with nightclubs and casinos. Trieste has one stately home, Miramar, where Maximilian lived for a short period, but otherwise isn’t worth visiting.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all for your thoughtful and detailed replies! This is all really helpful.

My plan was to fly in/out of Trieste and do a round trip car rental from there. I could also fly in/out of Ljubljana or Venice. Trieste is the most convenient to Portorož. Ljubljana would save time if I plan to just stay in Slovenia. And Venice has the best flight options. So I'm open to another airport, if that would make more sense.

I've hardly traveled Europe (except quick trips to Italy and Iceland - both of which I loved!), so I'm just excited to see everything I can. I'm drawn to idyllic coastal towns, charming cities, and beautiful historical sights. I'll be alone, so I don't think I'll do any serious hiking or anything too remote.

I'll be in Portorož for a week, so I think I'll have time to explore Piran and that area. Since I'm going to be so close to Croatia, I wanted to at least get a little Croatian flavor. So I thought I could drive through and explore a little on my way from Portorož to Ljubljana. But it sounds like it may not be worth it given the time of year?

I've seen mixed reviews of Trieste, Italy. From the pictures it looks pretty, so I thought it could be a bonus spot to explore since the airport is there. But maybe that time would be better spent seeing sights in Slovenia instead?

(For reference, I absolutely loved Positano, Venice, Rome, and Verona - if that helps! Otherwise all my travel has been Australia, New Zealand, and tropical islands.)

Posted by
5245 posts

I'd say Trieste is well worth a visit for anyone passing through, but with limited time it would not be high on my list of priorities to visit. Just my personal opinion. Maybe you have different tastes and interests - that's fine.

I guess as far as visiting Croatian Istria so you can get a bit of "Croatian flavor," keep in mind that Istria was once part of Italy and Yugoslavia, and that includes Slovenian Istria where you will already be staying. Both parts of Istria are still officially bilingual Italian. I wouldn't say that Slovenian Istria is a lot different than the Croatian part. If you wanted to get some "Croatian flavor" I'd go to Zagreb or down the Dalmatian coast e.g. Split, Dubrovnik, etc. which of course you don't really have time to do. Opatija (again, my opinion) is not worth visiting much as a destination just for a quick tour.

Rovinj really is one of those "idyllic coastal towns," though. So is Piran.

I guess I'd take a second look a Trieste and the logistics of flying in/out vs. Ljubljana (not a big airport either). Flying into Venice probably offers better flight connections - you can again look at something like GoOpti to get you from there to Portorož (do you really need a car while you are staying in Portorož?) and/or back from Ljubljana. But if you find great flight connections to/from Trieste, then of course it makes sense to fly in/out of there and even rent the car. But you could pick up a car in Portorož after the business trip ends and drop it in Ljubljana for example. (On one trip, I did the opposite.)

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you for the added perspective - that is really helpful. And great idea to rent a car in Portorož and return in Ljubljana, that actually looks like a better option.

I really appreciate it! I'll incorporate your advice in my updated travel plans.

Posted by
3382 posts

So... if you have some time late afternoon/evening while in Portorož, consider hanging out with the unique guide Saša who lives there. He was reasonably priced when I visited Slovenia and really wants to give visitors a good local experience. Here's what I wrote about him in my long trip report about 25 days in Slovenia in 2019:

For me, spending a day with Saša was kind of like spending a day as a
kid with my free-spirited uncle that my parents hoped I wouldn’t grow
up to be like. He picked me up in Piran in his restored Citroën Dyane.
Yes, “I hope that you don’t mind that I’m not wearing shoes” was
uttered early in the encounter. Saša’s goal is to give guests an
authentic, non-touristy experience. After a few stops in Slovenia, we
headed to Croatia; he used all sorts of back roads to beat the back up
at the border. After crossing the border, we stopped for a wine
tasting. As we drove further, he noticed some of his friends were
home, so we stopped by, had a drink, and visited with them for a while
in their restored stone home. We then had an amazing late lunch,
sharing a grilled meat plate that came with wonderful sides. I had a
ton of fun with Saša.

If you are interested, DM me, and I can send contact info.