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Veneto, Istria, Slovenia, Croatia

Thank you to everyone on this forum who provided great advice for our trip! In the interest of paying it forward, I hope some of the information below will be useful. We like active vacations; this gives you some idea what’s possible in 17 days by train, hired transfer and mostly by rental car. We dropped our daughter off mid-trip in Ljubljana, which is why our route loops. We left on August 30. The highs ranged from high 80’s in Croatia, mid 80’s Venice, low 70’s with rain in Ljubljana, high 60’s and chilly winds in the Julian Alps. We had brilliant sunshine except for 3 days of intermittent downpours mid-trip in Istria and Slovenia.

Day 1: Depart Columbus OH, Newark, Venice
Day 2: Arrive Padua late AM and nap, Scrovengni Chapel, St Anthony Basilica & St George Oratory, Botanical Garden of Padua, walk up dinner in Piazza dei Signori @ La Laterna
Day 3: Padua city market, city walk to Prato delle Valle and piazzas, English tour at University of Padua, train to Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice Bites chichetti tour
Day 4: Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries, Campanile Skip the line, St Mark’s Cathedral Skip the Line timed for when the lights are on, Naval Museum and the Ships Pavilion in the Arsenale area, Like A Venetian topa tour, dinner at Anice Stellato in Cannaregio, vaporetto to St Mark’s
Day 5: Accademia, Fish and veg markets, Scuola Grande di San Rocco and Frari, meet MyDayTrip at 16:00 in Piazzale Roma for drive to Rovinj, arriving 19:00. Border crossing was quick.
Day 6: Enterprise rental car pick up, Grožnjan, Hum, long lunch at Humska Konoba, Chiavalon olive oil tour, stroll Rovinj
Day 7: Istria Kayak canceled due to bad weather, walked seaside at Cape Kamenjak, Pula Arena, Bale, strolled Rovinj
Day 8: north to Slovenia and Skojan cave, arrive Ljubljana and stroll city, castle
Day 9: laundry at apartment, Ljubljana city museum, Plecnik House, Slovenian Evening of music and dance
Day 10: Ljubljana market, scenic drive to Bled through Skofja Loka, Jamnik, Radovljica Bee Museum, Vintgar Gorge, Bled castle
Day 11: Gondola up to Vogel and explore, Mostnica Gorge hike, dinner in Bled
Day 12: Watched ski jump practice at Planica, Vrsic pass, 5 hour hike at pass, late lunch at Tonka’s Hut
Day 13: Alpine lake, Lunch and stroll Kranjska Gora, drive to Novo Mesto, evening at Otocec castle
Day 14: Novo Mesto archeological museum (great Hatllstadt exhibit), arrive Plitvice mid-afternoon, tour upper lakes
Day 15: Plitvice lower lakes, drop off car Split airport, Split tour with Maja Benzon includes Diocletians’ palace and the old city
Day 16: Split Marjan hill, Ethnology and city museums, Riva, repack
Day 17: travel home

Good ideas:
• Vaporetto passes allowed us to hop between different areas of the city efficiently and was fun.
• Skip the Line tickets for St Mark’s Basilica and Campanile.
• Using MyDayTrip to avoid expensive fees for pickup/dropoff of the rental car in different countries. For three of us the price was comparable to a regional flight but so much easier than airport hassles. Conveniently picked us up at Piazzale Roma in Venice and dropped off in Rovinj near our B&B. Offers a chance to have an extended conversation with someone ‘local’.
• Visit Vintgar gorge early or late to avoid crowds. We chose to walk the gorge in both directions since the crowds weren’t bad. Shorter hours in Sept than in summer.
• Getting a rental car with sufficient torque to pleasantly handle the steep road inclines in the Julian Alps (6 speed manual, diesel, Renault Kadjar).
• Walking the Plitvice upper lakes starting at 16:00 (uncrowded!), about 2 1/2 hours for trail E, and spending the night in the park. Starting Entrance One at 7:00 AM opening; by 9:15 the tour groups were getting thick but we were ready to leave. Hotel Jezero will pack a to-go breakfast if requested the day before.

Posted by
395 posts

Meh:
• Rovinj. We didn’t get the appeal; too commercial. Admittedly our second day in Istria it rained buckets and was cool and cloudy. Perhaps would have eliminated Istria and distributed those two days to either Venice, Bled area or another day in Split on an island excursion. Or maybe if we’d spent more days in Istria we would have gotten into the groove.

Inconveniences:
• In Venice, if you have Venezia Unica vouchers purchased online, you cannot redeem them in the train station or booths at the vaporetti stops; you must redeem them at the automated machines next to the vaporetti stops
• Around 2200 the vaporetto schedules change; beware getting rerouted on a line that is closing down.
• After the Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries tour, you are free to wander the rest of the palace and jail on your own, so allocate plenty of time for that (~60 minutes?)
• 45 minute schedule impact while crawling across the border from Croatia to Slovenia on a Saturday morning in early September
• Mostnica gorge trailhead is hard to find! Traveling north on 633 from Bohinj lake into Stara Fuzina, turn left at the small shrine to Mary; the bridge means you overshot it. The narrow road winds through houses but takes you to parking.
• Plitvice, Entrance One: if you have an online ticket voucher, you must redeem it for a real ticket in the office near the parking lot, not the entrance
• At Plitvice your ticket is specific to Entrance One or Two
• Sometimes slow internet. In about 1/3 of our hotels, internet speeds were not sufficient to upload our admittedly large photo images for the day to the cloud. Occasionally had to use our own data to access web sites.
• We usually fly in and out of major cities. Flying out of Split was a non-trivial extra expense, plus we had to leave the hotel at 5:30 AM to catch our connecting ¬flight to intercontinental Munich

Unanimously recommended tours:
• Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries tour.

• Venice Bites chichetti tour. Food tours are a great way to get comfortable quickly with a new city. Would never have found the many tasty stops on our own.
• Venice topa tour with ‘Like A Venetian’, providing a local’s perspective. Consider instead of a gondola.
• Istria Kayak at Cape Kamenjak would have been fun, if not canceled by unusually bad weather for early September
• Slovenian evening of music and dance in Ljubljana
• 3 hour historic tour with Maja Benzon in Split, with emphasis on Roman and medieval periods. Provided such a deep appreciation for the city.

Notable meals:
• Creative Venice chichetti, Accademia area: Cantine del Vino già Schiavi
• Best gelato: Gelateria Ca' D'oro, Cannaregio, Venice
• Ljubljana: Špajza, ‘The 'Pantry', homey décor, sophisticated but comfortable. Julija was already completely booked for dinner so had to pass : (
• Julian Alps near Vrsic pass: Tonka’s Hut (Tonkina koča na Vršiču)
• Split: Kod sfinge vaneuropske zviri, informal, family-owned, refreshingly different menu, extremely personable owner, staff really had it together.

Accomodations we would use again:
• Ljubliana: Apartment Prince Filip. Roomy, great bathroom, clothes washer and drying rack, central location riverside.
• Bled: Penzion Mayer. Pleasantly retro, good location and eggs-to-order breakfast, wonderfully clean and helpful staff for a great price. Currently doesn’t offer dinner.
• Novo Mesto area: Otocec castle hotel. A splurge, but a four star that provides genuinely attentive service. Extensive and attractively presented breakfast buffet. Beautiful setting on a river island.
• Split: Luxury Rooms Lucija and Luka. Gets a 9.9 on Booking.com for a reason. Perfect location on a piazza, great city intro from the host, arranged airport transfers (at our door to depart), welcome snacks and wine, attractive room/bath. Just right.

Posted by
395 posts

Favorites
1) Venice Secret Itineraries tour
2) Venice Bites food tour
3) Like a Venetian topa tour
4) Skocjan Caves. Surrealy large cavern brings to mind Lord Of The Rings or some other dramatic underground space.

5) Ljubljana city vibe
6) Ljubljana Plecnik House. A window into another time and place.
7) Bled and Bohinj area
8) Vintgar Gorge. Best 2 hour hike/walk ever. Wonderful views every 100 yards.
9) Julian Alps, Vrsic pass. Cut glass peaks up close.
10) Plitvice
11) Split

Glad we packed:
• Mosquito repellent, particularly for Venice. Picaridin-based lotion was more comfortable than Deet and seemed as effective. I'm a mosquito magnet. They were only an issue starting at dusk, when I wasn't in motion.
• Water proof rain jacket
• Grippy shoes for trails
• Don’t count on cell phone reception in the mountains, have downloaded maps
• Handling the temperature ranges on this trip, our carry ons were unusually stuffed. We brought a small, lightweight duffle to manage the luggage spillover during the trip.

• Fast-drying fabrics made all the difference in getting by with just a carry on. I brought 3 pants, 4 capris and 2 shorts; the shorts were the least used due to both the look and the temps. Had 3 nicer tees and 5 hiking tees. Brought three light mid-sleeve to long-sleeved nicer shirts for evening to feel a little more dressed up. A light rain-resistant jacket and one long-sleeved light shirt to layer over tees and that was sufficient for the coolest active days. Packing cubes are my friends!

Impressions

Wow, Venice. No wonder it is beloved. Beautiful vistas are everywhere you look, and such fascinating history and art. The novelty of a city built on water continually entertains. Definitely spend the night so that the crowds thin and don’t wear on you. And get away from St Mark’s square to see other parts of the city. These are keys to enjoying the place. Could have stayed much longer. I read a history of Venice and it increased my enjoyment even more by understanding the significance of some of the places, sights and customs. We ran into the Venetian empire era again in Rovinj and especially Split, so also provided me with perspective there.

Ljubljana has a great consistency of architectural style that is lovely to view. We enjoyed walking the city, relaxing and soaking it in. Worthwhile small museums that help you understand the history of Slovenia.

Lake Bled and Bohinj areas. Really, really loved the amazing water-side hikes at Vintgar and Mostnica gorges. Great views from peak-level Vogel. We had two days in this area; a third would have been good to enjoy additional outdoor fun.

Julian Alps. Easy to take in a slice of alpine culture and scenery here. Beauty at every turn. Forested hills, craggy peaks, aqua blue streams and lakes. Germanic/Slovenian architecture and food.

Surprisingly nice Split. Again, loved the layers of history and architecture. The story of Diocletian’s palace and its subsequent adaptation as a city of many centuries is fascinating. Lots of great restaurants. In our view, more enjoyable than Rovinj.

Posted by
18869 posts

Thank you for all the specifics. Those details will be very helpful to future travelers.

Posted by
2798 posts

Thank you for sharing your helpful trip report. It transported me back to our Venice/Adriatic tour last year. Your information will be very useful.

Posted by
760 posts

I agree with lots of what you said. But do be aware of how weather can affect your impression of a place. I was in Rovinj this past July and loved it. But it was warm and sunny every day. I'm pretty sure I would not have loved it in the rain.

Posted by
395 posts

Just updated with a couple of additional details about Plitvice.

re: Rovinj, it's possible the weather was a factor in our impressions. So many of the activities are outdoors. We had to cut short Cape Kamenjak and the kayak trip, which was the centerpiece of one of our days there, due to both very high winds and lightning. It was pouring rain, cool and windy in Pula, so we were ready to leave after seeing just the arena. We've been happy in gentle to moderate rain in places like England; walking around in lightning storms was too disconcerting. In talking with people, early September is usually really nice; we just caught some unusually bad weather.

Thank you for your comments, everyone!

Posted by
2584 posts

Very nice trip report. Thanks for posting. There is much good information here. It sounds like you like to pack a lot into each day. I do that, too.

I'm glad you found Venice enjoyable. I did, too. I agree that the Doge's Palace Secret Itineraries tour is special, along with walking the "back streets" of Venice. I did enjoy St Mark's Square quite a bit, too, though. A friend and I had a great time listening to the dueling orchestras on the square for about 3 hours while drinking a 10€ 8-oz Coke and eating some ridiculously overpriced toasted sandwich really, really slowly.

I was in Slovenia Aug 24 - Sept 17. It's a gorgeous country. I hope to make it to Croatia in the next year or two.

Posted by
1064 posts

I enjoyed your report - seeing how you arranged your days and what did and didn’t work for you. Thanks for taking the time!

Posted by
49 posts

Thank you so much for all the itinerary details, lessons learned, and packing list. I'm currently planning 19 days Slovenia and Croatia plus 4 days Venice, 3 days Florence for May 2020. I'm sure I will revisit your report and pour over the details as our trip comes together. You have lots of very useful and practical information here. I'm glad you enjoyed your trip!