View of the vineyards on the Ljutomer-Jeruzalem wine road, Slovenia

Two Week Itinerary: Slovenia, Croatia & Italy

Be inspired by our two-week itinerary to explore Slovenia, a truly stunning country, with stops in Italy and Croatia too.

We have spent a lot of time in Europe on mostly short breaks and we wanted to have a longer holiday there.  With two weeks annual leave booked one September we decided it was the perfect exploration opportunity.  However, we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t ‘obvious’; somewhere which wasn’t one of the more well-travelled countries.  After spending many pleasurable hours looking at maps and guidebooks we finally settled on Slovenia. We fancied seeing as much of the country as possible and therefore settled on a road-trip. 

You may already know that Italy is a fantastic country for road trips and Croatia is becoming more and more popular as a destination. Us being us, when we realised it was possible to see parts of Italy and Croatia as well as Slovenia we knew we had to incorporate stops in those countries into our itinerary.  

Why only see one country when you can see three?!

10 Reasons To Visit Slovenia

  • It has all the stunning nature you could wish for: mountains, rivers, lakes, the sea, caves, national parks, forests, and more. Its beauty is breathtaking
  • Its small size makes it easy to see a lot of the country in a short space of time
  • It’s nowhere near as well-known as some other European countries making it the perfect choice for those who want to get off the beaten track
  • Although it uses the Euro, it’s much cheaper to travel than a lot of other European countries
  • It produces fantastic wine. You can base an entire trip around visiting its wine regions and vineyards
  • It shares borders with Italy, Croatia, Austria, and Hungary making it easy to devise a multi-country itinerary
  • It is a fantastic destination for foodies; the influences of the cuisines of its neighbouring countries make for exciting and delicious dishes
  • If you like active holidays you will be spoilt for choice in Slovenia.  Make the most of what the country has to offer and go white-water rafting, hiking, canyoning, kayaking, swimming, skiing, cycling etc etc
  • Its rich and diverse history is evident everywhere.  Visit Renaissance buildings, medieval castles, and cave formations which are millions of years old, to name but a few
  • Slovenia is rich in mineral water and its healing powers have been helping people for years and years. You can visit spas throughout the country to relax and experience the restorative powers of the water for yourself

Itinerary Summary

Total miles driven: 498 miles

Map with trip itinerary marked out
Itinerary map
  • Days 1-2 – Rovinj, Croatia
  • Day 3 – Travel along the Slovenia coastline to Trieste, Italy
  • Day 4 – Trieste, Italy
  • Day 5 – Cycling and wine tasting in the Vipava Valley en route to Postojna, Slovenia
  • Day 6 – Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle before arriving in Otočec, Slovenia
  • Day 7 – Otočec, Slovenia
  • Day 8 – Travelling to Grkaveščak, Croatia, via Zagreb
  • Day 9 – Grkaveščak, Croatia
  • Day 10 – Travelling via the Ljutomer-Jeruzalem wine road and Ptuj to Lake Bled, Slovenia 
  • Day 11 – Lake Bled, Slovenia
  • Day 12 – Travelling via Lake Bohinj and Škofja Loka to Ljubljana
  • Days 13-14 – Ljublana

For ideas on how to use your annual leave to get even more time off for work for experiences like this read How To Maximise Your Annual Leave.

A Note on Driving

Toll Roads

We decided to avoid all toll roads because we wanted to get deeper into the countries and away from the main roads.  However, it can be much shorter and quicker to travel on the toll roads, which may suit you better.

In Slovenia, all cars travelling on toll roads must display a vignette: a pre-purchased ticket which you display on your windscreen.  They are available as weekly, monthly, and yearly tickets and if you travel on a toll road without one you are liable to a fine.  They can be purchased from petrol stations and some shops, both in Slovenia and its neighbouring countries.  The prepaid nature of toll roads in Slovenia requires you to be organised.  We recommend purchasing a vignette if you want the flexibility of choosing whether to use the toll roads or not as you go along.

In Italy, tolls are paid on the highways themselves at toll booths.  You can either pay by cash/credit card, using a prepaid card called a Viacard, or via the Telepass automatic payment system.  For those who use Italian highways infrequently (i.e. only when driving in Italy on holiday), it is virtually certain that the first two methods of payment will suit you better than the Telepass system.

The toll system in Croatia is very similar to that in Italy.  The highway tolls can be paid by cash/credit card at the toll booths, prepaid cards or via the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system.  It is important to note, however, that the ETC system cannot be used on the Istrian Peninsula (which this itinerary includes).

Border Formalities

Slovenia is in the Schengen Area and there are no border checks at the crossings with Italy, Austria, and Hungary.  There are, however, checks at the Croatian border and you will need a valid passport to cross.  All people in the vehicle will need to show their passports, which you will usually need to do twice.  The countries’ border police generally sit in back to back booths and you will show your passport to the first, before inching forward to show your passport to the second.  Try to avoid making the mistake we did at one check which was to show the passports to the first but then accidentally accelerate away from the second.  You will be stopped and shouting will ensue!  Luckily for us, on seeing our British passports the officer rolled his eyes in the manner of someone who expected such stupidity from Brits and we were waved through.

Border check between Slovenian and Croatia
Border check between Slovenia and Croatia

Read on for details of our trip…

Days 1-2 – Rovinj, Croatia

Our initial plan was to fly straight into the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana.  However, when we were looking at flights the alternative of flying into Pula, Croatia, presented itself.  The temptation to incorporate another country into our itinerary was strong and as we researched we were very quickly enticed by Rovinj.  Named by Tripadvisor on its lists of top European and Worldwide destinations on the rise, Rovinj is a stunning harbour town on the Istrian Peninsula.

View across harbour to Rovinj's Old Town

One of the main reasons to visit Rovinj is for the pleasure of getting lost amongst the cobbled streets of its Old Town.  This extremely well-preserved pedestrianised area is enchanting and you will feel as if you have been transported back hundreds of years.  High on a hill above the Old Town is the bell-tower of St. Euphemia Church, a replica of St. Mark’s in Venice.

Visit during the warmer months and you won’t want to be inside.  Make the most of Rovinj’s beaches, forest parks, or take a boat trip to its surrounding islands.  You can also swim at the Delfin, one of the most spectacular swimming pools we have ever seen!

The stunning harbour view from the Delfin pool, Rovinj
The Delfin swimming pool

As we only had a short time in Rovinj we didn’t need a car and waited until day 3 to pick up our hire car. Whilst there is a bus which operates between Pula Airport and Rovinj, because our flight landed late at night we chose to pay for the transportation provided by our hotel.

Where To Stay

You are spoilt for choice for accommodation in Rovinj.  We chose to stay in the Old Town, in the stunningly beautiful Villa Tuttorotto. This renovated 16th century villa has just seven rooms and makes for the perfect romantic break. The sea views are glorious and the service at this hotel is outstanding. 

Read more about Rovinj in this article: 48 Hours in Rovinj

Day 3 – Travel along the Slovenian coastline to Trieste, Italy

Total miles: 76.5 miles

We picked up our hire car in Rovinj on the morning of day 3. Door-to-door, Trieste in Italy is a two-hour drive from Rovinj.  However, one of the reasons why we chose to include it in this itinerary was because we could reach it by travelling along the Slovenian coastline. The total coastline in Slovenia is short, just 47 kilometres on the Adriatic Sea.  Notwithstanding its small size it has much to offer and the coastal towns are extremely popular in the Summer months.  We stopped at Portorož, Piran, and Izola.

Portorož

Portorož is Slovenia’s glitzy, ritzy, beach resort.  The majority of Slovenia’s beaches are pebbly and Portorož’s sandy beach makes it the country’s most popular beach destination.  There is a wide selection of restaurants, cafés, and shops and the Mediterranean influence adds to the glamour of the place. We stopped for lunch at one of the beach side restaurants before moving on.

View of Portoroz along the Slovenian coastline
The coastline at Portorož
Piran

Piran sits at the tip of a narrow peninsula jutting out into the Adriatic Sea.  Although it has a pebbly beach, the reason to visit Piran is its stunning Old Town.  Wander the streets and admire the Venetian Gothic architecture before enjoying a meal in one of its many seafood restaurants.  Traffic is heavily restricted which makes it a little difficult for a flying visit, although perfect for a longer stop.  When we next go to Slovenia we will definitely make time to spend a night or two in this delightful place.

Izola

Although it has been described as a poor relation of the other coastal towns, we found it a charming alternative to the bigger resorts.  We parked up and enjoyed walking along the harbour to the pebbly beach where locals were enjoying swimming in the sea.  Both of us wished we had longer so we could join them but, alas, it was not to be.  We also wished we had time to stop for dinner in one of the restaurants as Izola is said to be the best place to enjoy a seafood meal on the coast.  However, we wanted to get to Trieste before darkness fell and so we moved on.

View of Izola along the Slovenian coastline
Izola’s harbour

Day 4 – Trieste, Italy

As we said above, one of our aims with this trip was to visit places which are not particularly well-travelled.  On the Italian coast near the Slovenian border, Trieste in Italy fit the bill perfectly.  We will confess, before planning this trip Trieste was not somewhere we had heard of, but we are glad that things are now different.

Trieste has had a colourful history.  At different moments in time it has belonged to, or been occupied by, the Romans, Habsburgs, Mussolini’s Regime, Germans, and the Allied Forces.  It was even an independent state, briefly.  It returned to Italy in 1954 but its history is evident in its stunning architecture and the vibe of the city.

The ruins of a Roman theatre in Trieste
The very well-preserved ruins of a Roman theatre, dating back to the 1st Century AD

Whilst you know you are in Italy, the Central European influence is clear, particularly when it comes to food.  Yes, you can have pizza and pasta, but you would be foolish not to sample the heartier regional specialities.  Try jota, a stew made from slow-simmered beans, potatoes, and sauerkraut followed by strucolo de pomi, the Trieste version of apple strudel.

One of the Trieste’s great delights is its waterfront.  Breathe in the sea air as you stroll along the promenade and admire the view.  It’s a matter for you whether you also stop for cocktails along the way! 

Looking out over the sea at the Port of Trieste
The waterfront in Trieste

Trieste has two hearts, the Piazza Unità d’Italia and the Canal Grande.  The Piazza is open to the sea on one side and is the largest square facing the sea in Europe.  It dates from the time when Trieste was the most important port in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and is a wonderful place to wander.

View towards the sea at the Piazza Unità d'Italia
Piazza Unità d’Italia

The Canal Grande was built in the mid-1700s and allowed ships to arrive in the middle of Trieste.  It was originally crossed by three bridges although only one of those, the Ponte Rosso, now remains.  A statue of James Joyce was erected on this bridge in 2004 to commemorate the centenary of the author’s arrival in the city (he subsequently spent 15 years in Trieste). A pedestrian bridge has also been added. The banks of the canal are lined with churches, historical cafés, and squares and various events are held there, including a Christmas market in the winter.

View of the Gran Canal di Trieste
Canal Grande

In a country that is synonymous with coffee it is saying a lot to describe Trieste as a particularly good Italian coffee destination.  It is said that more coffee is consumed in Trieste than any other Italian city.  As well as being home to Illy, Trieste is also home to a dozen or so micro-roasters.  Cafés are found all over the city but you must seek out Caffè San Marco, one of Trieste’s oldest.  The café is beautiful and has its own bookshop.  It is easy to spend hours here slowly sipping coffee whilst devouring a book (and a piece of cake).  As in other cities, such as Paris, once upon a time Trieste’s cafés were meeting places for intellectuals and Caffè San Marco was one of James Joyce’s haunts.

Inside the historic Antico Caffè San Marco, Trieste
Inside Caffè San Marco
Where To Stay

We stayed at the Hotel Savoia Excelsior Palace, a truly sumptuous hotel on the waterfront.  It originally opened in 1911 but has recently undergone a renovation.  As a result, the hotel’s classically elegant style feels fresh and modern, whilst at the same time evoking a bygone era of grandeur and decadence.  The soft blues, golds, and creams used throughout the hotel are calming; the fact that such light colours are hard to keep pristine emphasises how immaculately clean the hotel is.

For such a stunning hotel there is not a huge amount in the way of additional facilities, although there is a fitness room and onsite restaurant.  The hotel does not have onsite parking but, for a fee, you can use its offsite parking and valet service.  We used this facility because we were feeling a bit lazy by the time we arrived, but there are cheaper car parks about 10-15 minutes’ walk away. 

Day 5 – Cycling and wine tasting in the Vipava Valley en route  to Postojna, Slovenia

Total miles: 60 miles (excluding those on a bike!)

If you were asked to name Europe’s wine-producing countries it is likely that you will immediately think of France, Italy, and Spain.  Germany and Portugal may also come to mind, but are you likely to name Slovenia?

Home to the world’s oldest growing vine, Slovenia has three main wine regions: Podravje in the north-east, Posavje in the south-east, and Primorje in the west.  The Vipava Valley is a sub-region of Primorje and we chose to include it as part of our mini-tour of Slovenia’s Karst region (as an alternative, it can easily be visited on a day trip from Ljubljana).

Whilst we had planned in advance to drive from Trieste to the Vipava Valley, we hadn’t made any advance plans for how we would actually do the wine-tasting.  As we were driving along trying to come up with a plan we couldn’t help but be captivated by the glorious scenic views.  Heading out of Trieste and into the Slovenian countryside made us long to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  That longing made our decision for us, we would hire bikes and explore the Vipava Valley on two wheels.

Driving through the countryside into Slovenia
A sign that we had crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia!

Via the magic of Google we discovered RockVelo, a family bike rental business based in the Vipava Valley.  It was clear from their website that they could provide us with exactly what we wanted (bikes and a route) and we made our way to their base. The sensible thing to have done would have been to contact them in advance but as we were so close we decided just to turn up.  Given that we were out of season we should not have been surprised when we arrived to find everything shut up.  Having got our hearts set on cycling in the Vipava Valley we telephoned them and tried not to be crushingly disappointed when they didn’t answer.  Trying not to blame each other for not foreseeing the need to make arrangements in advance, we were about to drive off when our phone rang.  It was RockVelo!  Although they had officially closed for the season they couldn’t have been more helpful and amenable and were very willing to rent bikes out to us.  Within 15 minutes, we were fully kitted out with bikes, helmets, water, a map, and a cycling route pre-programmed into a navigation system.

RockVelo recommended their ‘Around the Valley VIPAVABIKE’ route to us: a 20.7 mile, figure-of-eight tour around the wine-producing region.  As we had limited time we decided to take their suggestion rather than try to plan our own route and risk getting lost.  One of us was feeling more lazy than the other (no prizes for guessing who!) and so Sarah we decided to hire e-bikes.  The bikes were in fantastic condition and Kevin, who knows a thing or two about cycling and bikes, was impressed with them.  We set off with a loose plan to have lunch in Vipava and see where to stop for wine-tasting along the way.

It’s difficult to write about the Slovenian countryside and not overuse superlatives but the views along the way were breathtakingly stunning!  We enjoyed every minute of cycling through the Vipava Valley.  For the most part, the route was flat and easy to cycle but it was lovely to have the assisted power of the e-bikes.

View of the mountains, Vipava Valley
An example of the stunning scenery we encountered cycling in the Vipava Valley

After we’d finished our cycle tour we returned to Vipava to do wine-tasting at Vinoteka Vipava.  Rather than being connected to a particular vineyard or producer, this is a wine-tasting place where you can sample wines from across Slovenia, as well as from the Vipava Valley itself.  We were able to participate in the wine-tasting without making a prior booking but if you are visiting at a busy time we recommend calling in advance.  We were able to sample 10 different wines (sadly both of us being very disciplined and spitting out the wine).  Whilst we don’t pretend to be wine connoisseurs, we know what we like and there was much that we liked!  We realised that we’d inadvertently done the sensible thing by postponing the wine-tasting until after we’d returned the bikes as we were able to purchase a number of bottles without worrying about how we were going to carry them.  We particularly liked a pinot noir from the Tilia Estate. We were also given two Vinoteka Vipava wine glasses as part of our purchase.

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Vipava Valley on two wheels and wished that we’d planned more time there to get to know the region in more depth.  Next time!  We will definitely hire bikes with RockVelo again. They were so friendly and helpful and didn’t mind us contacting them whilst we were out to ask inane questions like ‘how do you switch the sat nav back on?’.  The bikes were of a very high-standard and extremely well looked after.  The owners are very into cycling and their love for the pursuit is clearly reflected in their handling of their business. It was by pure chance that we found RockVelo and we cannot recommend them highly enough. 

From the Vipava Valley we made our way to Postojna.

Where To Stay

Due to our plans for the following day (see below), we decided to stay at Hotel Jama, a 4-star hotel in the heart of the Postojna Cave Park.  The hotel originally opened in 1971 but underwent a full-scale renovation in 2016. It is a modern yet comfortable hotel in a beautiful location with onsite restaurants and a bar.  Staying here allowed us to purchase discounted tickets for the caves and we pretty much rolled out of bed and into the cave entrance!  It also allowed us to go on one of the earliest (and therefore less busy) cave tours without suffering the pain of an early wake-up call to travel to the caves from elsewhere.

Day 6 – Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle before arriving in Otočec, Slovenia

Total miles: 86.2 miles

You may be aware that Slovenia has a Karst region, but what does that mean?  Karst is an area of land made up of limestone and because limestone is a soft rock which dissolves in water it makes for spectacular rock formations.  Slovenia’s Karst region is in the west of the country, stretching from the Gulf of Trieste to the Vipava Valley.

At this point you might be thinking, this is all very interesting but what does it have to do with my holiday to Slovenia?  Well…

Slovenia’s Karst region is home to some awesome cave systems, and we use ‘awesome’ in the truest sense of the word. The two largest are Škocjan Caves and Postojna Caves.  Škocjan Caves were first explored at the end of the 19thcentury and the system has one of the largest underground chambers in the world.  The cave system was carved by the Reka River and one of the highlights of a visit is crossing the Cerkevnik Bridge, suspended 50m above the riverbed.  We decided, however, to visit the Postojna Caves.

Postojna Caves

Hollowed out by the Pivka River two million years ago, the total system covers approximately 24 km. On a guided tour, lasting for an hour and a half, you can see around 5km of the cave.  One of the many highlights of the tour is entering the caves via an underground train.  Even as an adult it is impossible the resist the frisson of excitement caused by the train going deeper underground and the feel of the air getting colder.  

The tour starts in the Great Mountain cavern, which could easily be used by the Phantom from the Phantom of the Opera as his underground lair.  Marvel in wonder at the spectacle created by stalactites and stalagmites of varying shapes and sizes before going further into the caves via the Russian Bridge – a bridge built by prisoners of war during the First World War. The tour guides are knowledgeable and tell you lots of interesting information about the discovery and exploration of the caves, as well as the part they played during war time.

Inside Postojna Caves
Inside the spectacular Postojna Caves

Before you the end of the tour you will have the opportunity to meet the ‘human fish’, otherwise known as Proteus anguinus.  This species is the only vertebrate in Europe which is found exclusively underground.  It is called the human fish because of its pinkish-coloured skin, caused by the fact that it does not have any protective pigmentation.  It has never developed eyes and can live up to 100 years, although the average life span is around 69 years.

The last part of the cave you will enter before re-boarding the train is the Concert Hall.  It is the largest chamber in the system and is used for concerts, being able to seat up to 10,000 people.

Predjama Castle

Located 9km from Postojna Caves is Predjama Castle, an incredible fortification built into the side of a cliff.  Parts of the castle date back to the very beginning of the 13thcentury but the majority of the castle now standing dates to the 16thcentury.  Take one look at the castle and it is difficult not to be astonished by its sheer impregnable nature.

Predjama Castle, Slovenia
Predjama Castle

The ticket price includes an audio tour which is interesting and informative and takes you all over the castle.  If you follow the full tour you need to be prepared for scaling one or two narrow staircases.  Undoubtedly, one of the highlights is the chance to go deep into the cavern and learn about its defensive history.  If you visit between June and September it is possible to visit the cave system underneath the castle, although you need to book tickets at least three days in advance.

It is possible to purchase a joint ticket for the caves and the castle and a shuttle bus runs between the two in July and August.  This bus is free for those who have bought a joint ticket.  There is parking available at the castle if you make your own way there.

From Predjama we made our way to Otočec in the south-east of Slovenia.

Day 7 – Otočec, Slovenia

Whilst researching places to stay in Slovenia we came across the Hotel Grad Otočec.  This boutique hotel is actually a castle situated on an islet in the middle of the Krka River.  The castle looks like something from a fairy-tale and the oldest parts date back to the middle of the 13th century. This 5-star hotel is a member of the Relais & Chateaux group and is a true luxurious and romantic experience.  Once we had seen pictures of the hotel we didn’t need much persuading to stay there and that is how we came to choose Otočec as our next destination.

Looking over the river at Otočec Castle
Hotel Grad Otočec

The closest town to Otočec is Novo Mesto but our plan was to spend two nights here relaxing and luxuriating rather than exploring.  It was pure bliss to wander the grounds of the hotel and around the islet, sitting and watching the river and reading.  The Hotel Sport is nearby and guests at the Hotel Grad Otočec have the use of that hotel’s facilities.  You have to cross a busy road to get to the hotel but it only takes a couple of minutes to walk to.  We made the most of the clay tennis courts at the hotel and got in some practice before returning to relaxing.

The clay tennis courts at Hotel Sport
The clay tennis courts at Hotel Sport

If you are looking for somewhere beautiful and unusual to stay, and with a fantastic restaurant, you can’t go wrong with the Hotel Grad Otočec.  It is unlike us to choose a destination to visit based on a hotel as we usually make holiday plans based on location first.  However, with this particular hotel we still felt as if we were having a unique Slovenian experience rather than a generic hotel one.  After all, how many opportunities are there to stay in a medieval castle on its own islet in the middle of a river?!

Day 8 – Travelling to Grkaveščak, Croatia, via Zagreb

Total miles: 113 miles

A lot of people who visit Slovenia tend to stay in the west of the country and base themselves in Ljubljana or Lake Bled. However, following on from our stay in Otočec our plan was to continue travelling to eastern Slovenia and visit some of the less popular places for tourists. We knew we wanted to spend some time in Ptuj, Slovenia’s oldest recorded city and also visit an eastern wine region.  Our original intention was to stay in Ptuj but once we started researching the east we were captivated by pictures of rolling green countryside, mountains, and vineyards.  Our plan soon changed from basing ourselves in the city to staying somewhere with breath-taking views.  Thanks to AirbnB we discovered Grkaveščak in northern Croatia, on the Slovenian border (for more of which, see Day 9 below).

Zagreb Cathedral
Zagreb Cathdral

The route between Otočec and Grkaveščak allowed us to take a detour and stop for lunch in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital.  We have read lots of good things about Zagreb and it has long been on our list of places to visit.  Sadly, our itinerary did not give us more than an hour or two in this magnificent city.  Additionally, having enjoyed nothing but glorious sunshine up until this point, the weather took a turn for the worse and it was pouring with rain by the time we arrived.  We ended up doing nothing more than having a very quick walk through the city, marvelling at the cathedral, and wolfing down some lunch before continuing on to Grkaveščak.  However, we saw enough to know that we definitely want to return to Zagreb to explore it properly.  If you are considering following this itinerary and have a little more time available take our advice and build in an opportunity to spend at least one full day in Zagreb, if not more.

Day 9 – Grkaveščak, Croatia

You may be asking yourself why a plan to visit eastern Slovenia results in a stay in northern Croatia.  We knew we wanted to visit Ptuj but, knowing we would be ending our trip in Ljubljana, we wanted to make the most of the countryside and stay outside of a city. We also wanted to stay somewhere other than a hotel and therefore researched Airbnb accommodation.  As a picture is worth a thousand words, the photo below provides the explanation for how we ended up in northern Croatia.

View across green hills to Grkaveščak Airbnb as the sun sets
The sight that met us as we arrived in Grkaveščak

Grkaveščak is in the Medimurska region of Croatia, around 50 miles north of Zagreb and 30 miles east of Ptuj.  We were enticed by the fact that it is well off the beaten track, as well as how beautiful it looked in photographs.  It used to be part of Hungary and is known for its wine. The largest town is Cakovec and we ate a fantastic lunch at Mundoaka Street Food.  We’d describe the menu as ‘gourmet street food’, with a good mix of healthy and not so healthy options.  The food is reasonably priced and the buttermilk chicken burger is one of the best burgers, if not the best burger, we’ve ever had!  There is a lovely park to wander around in Cakovec with a castle in the middle.  This was closed for renovation when we were there, however, so we couldn’t pay a visit.

Back in Grkaveščak you can visit Terme Sveti Martin, a mineral pool spa complex and health resort.  The outdoor pools had closed for the season when we visited but the indoor pool complex was a good place to visit of an evening to relax.  We also made the most of the clay tennis courts and got a hit in. There is a golf course, spa and sauna complex, and a hotel on site if you want to stay for a full-on pampering session.

We weren’t in Grkaveščak long enough to explore all of the eating options but we are glad we discovered Terbotz.  In a beautiful building with fantastic views, the traditional dishes are made from locally sourced ingredients and the service and atmosphere were excellent.

Where To Stay

As mentioned above, the reason we chose to visit Grkaveščak was because of the place we found on Airbnb. Nina and Zlatko’s holiday home is stunning.  From the outdoor pool, to the indoor sauna.  From the stunning views, to the warm welcome.  This place has everything you could want to relax and enjoy your time in this part of the world.  The house is located on a vineyard and the hosts produce their own wine.  We were very touched by the bottle we were given as a welcome gift, as well as the homemade liquor.  We are very much looking forward to visiting again and spending a longer time there.

View across the vineyards at sunset from our Airbnb
What a view!

Day 10 – Travelling via the Ljutomer-Jeruzalem wine road and Ptuj to Lake Bled, Slovenia

Total miles: 146 miles

This was one of those days when we knew we would only have flying stops in places, but nevertheless didn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to see those places.

First on the list was Ljutomer-Jeruzalem wine road.  This is an 18km stretch going through the vineyards beginning in Ormož, continuing north to Ljutomer, and ending in the hilltop village of Jeruzalem (or the reverse, if you start in Jeruzalem like we did).  It is possible to cycle the route, as well as drive. There is a tourist centre in Jeruzalem where you can pick up information about the route and places to stop along the way.  Whilst we didn’t have time to stop and sample any of the local wines, we were able to drink in the views instead.  On a different trip we will spend longer in Eastern Slovenia and make the most of this wine region.

View of the vineyards on the Ljutomer-Jeruzalem wine road, Slovenia
Along the Ljutomer-Jeruzalem wine road

We arrived at Ptuj in time for lunch.  Ptuj (pronounced p-too-ee) is one of the oldest towns in Slovenia.  It began life as a Roman military outpost and grew into the largest Roman township by the end of the 1stcentury AD in what we now know as Slovenia.  It is one of the most historically important towns in Slovenia and you can marvel at the mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture as you walk through its streets.

A view looking down one of Ptuj's streets
Looking down one of Ptuj’s streets

Feeling a little disappointed that we could only pay a flying visit, we departed Ptuj and headed to Lake Bled.  This was our longest drive and, if you have limited time, you may prefer to use the toll roads.  However, driving through the heart of Slovenia was a real pleasure and a wonderful road trip.

Day 11 – Lake Bled

Lake Bled is one of Slovenia’s most visited and photographed locations, with good reason.  Located in the Julian Alps in the north-west of the country, Lake Bled can be visited on a daytrip from Ljubljana or as a break in its own right.  Surrounded by mountains and forests, overlooked by a clifftop medieval castle, and with a church on an island in the middle of the water, Lake Bled is straight from a fairy-tale.

Trip to Lake Bled Highlights - view over the water to the island and castle

There a number of things you can do at the lake.  It is surrounded by excellent hiking trails and it is difficult to resist the urge to get out on the water.  You can hire your own boat or sit back and enjoy the picturesque scenery from a pletna, a flat-bottomed wooden boat which has been used on the lake since the 16thcentury.  If you visit during the summer months the water is warm enough for bathing, and some will be happy to swim in the lake no matter what the temperature (Kevin being the immediate example which springs to mind!).

Whether you’re rewarding yourself for being active, or enjoying a more sedentary trip, you will not want to miss out on Lake Bled’s famous kremna rezina.  Made up of layers of puff pastry, vanilla cream, and custard, this delicious cream cake is not to be missed!

View across to the famous island in the middle of Lake Bled
Where To Stay

We spent two nights at Lake Bled, staying at the Grand Hotel Toplice.  This lakeside hotel is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group and Sava Hotels & Resorts.  Whilst it is billed as a luxury hotel it is not in the same class as the Hotel Savoia Excelsior Palace in Trieste.  It could do with a similar renovation to what that hotel has undergone as it feels a bit tired and dated in places.  However, we recommend staying here because its location is extremely difficult to beat.

Read more about Lake Bled in this article: How To Make the Most of a Trip to Lake Bled

Day 12 – Travelling via Lake Bohinj and Škofja Loka to Ljubljana

Total miles: 16 miles (excluding road diversions)

The plan for today was to travel through the mountains to Ljubljana, via Lake Bohinj and Škofja Loka.  However, the plan didn’t turn out to be as well-executed as we had hoped due to the number of roadworks on the way, delaying us significantly.

We were looking forward to seeing Lake Bohinj as we had read that it is possibly even more beautiful than Lake Bled, but without the tourist trappings of the latter.  Ordinarily, it is a 30-minute drive between the two lakes but it took us much longer due to various diversions.  Unfortunately, whilst this left us with very little time at the lake it was long enough for us to be stunned by its beauty.  When we return to Slovenia we will definitely factor in proper time to spend at Lake Bohinj.

Sunlit view across Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj

Škofja Loka is one of Slovenia’s oldest settlements and has been protected as a historical monument since 1987.  It is only 26km from the capital and we’d read that the Old Town is one of the most beautiful settlements in the country.  We therefore tried to create an opportunity to see it on the drive to the capital.  Unfortunately, the road delays had other ideas and we parked up only to have to move on again almost immediately.  Whilst we saw the castle wall and a glimpse of how scenic a place it is, we can’t really say that we’ve visited it.  However, as with Lake Bohinj it is definitely somewhere we will make proper time for when we return to Slovenia.

The journey avoiding toll roads between Lake Bohinj and Ljubljana, via Skofja Loka, is undoubtedly a stunning roadtrip with lots of twists and turns in the mountain road. However, on reflection, as we had limited time before we needed to be in Ljubljana we would have been better off doing this journey on the toll roads.  This is something to think about if you are thinking of following this itinerary.

Days 13-14 – Ljubljana

Our trip ended with two nights in Slovenia’s capital.  Ljubljana has the accolade of being one of Europe’s greenest cities: it won the European Commission’s coveted Green Capital of Europe title in 2016.  Its small size makes it the perfect city to explore by foot, which is ideal because its Old Town is pedestrianized.

The majority of the city was designed by Jože Pučnik.  Born in Ljubljana in 1872, he spent a decade renovating the castle in Prague before starting on his home city in 1921.  He is the man who is primarily responsible for the beauty of the capital. And it really is a beautiful capital city.

View of the river crossed by the Three Bridges and the salmon pink facade of the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation
The river with a view of the famous three bridges, designed by Jože Pučnik

Intersected by the Ljubljanica River, Ljubljana is a delightful city to wander and lose yourself in.  And of course, as befitting of the great cities, it has wonderful cafés, restaurants, and bars, whether you are looking for daytime nourishment or night-time entertainment. Intersected by the Ljubljanica River, Ljubljana is a delightful city to wander and lose yourself in.  Whether you are interested in castles, museums, architecture, green spaces, shopping, food tours, or people-watching, Ljubljana has all this to offer and more besides.

View across river towards Ljubljana Castle
The castle overlooking the river
Where To Stay

We stayed in an Airbnb in the heart of the old city and cannot recommend it highly enough.  The DZ Aristocrat apartment is seconds away from the Ljubljanica River, in one of the oldest buildings in Ljubljana.  It is in a fantastic location for exploring the Old Town with many bars and restaurants nearby.  The apartment itself is light, airy, spacious, and immaculately clean.  Able to accommodate five people, it combines period features with all the mod cons you could want on a city break, including a gramophone and records.  We were particularly grateful for the thoughtful local information and recommendations that the host provided.

Read more about Ljubljana in this article: Why You Must Have a City Break in Ljubljana

And so we came to the end of our two-week trip.  Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated we boarded our flight from Ljubljana back home. 

Slovenia is a wonderful country.  It is easy to travel but, because it remains under the radar (for now at least), it is still an unusual country to visit.  Its proximity to other countries makes a multi-country itinerary easy to plan.  However, the holiday didn’t satisfy our wanderlust so much as make us desperate to book our next trip.  Surely the sign of a fantastic holiday!

Pin It!

Driving in Europe | Europe Road Trip Ideas | Slovenia Travel | Italy Travel | Croatia Travel | Where to go in Europe | How to Combine European Countries | Multi-Country Itinerary | Rovinj | Ljubljana | Trieste | Lake Bled | Vipava Valley | Wine Tasting | Ultimate Road Trip | Ultimate European Trip | Travel Europe
Driving in Europe | Europe Road Trip Ideas | Slovenia Travel | Italy Travel | Croatia Travel | Where to go in Europe | How to Combine European Countries | Multi-Country Itinerary | Rovinj | Ljubljana | Trieste | Lake Bled | Vipava Valley | Wine Tasting | Ultimate Road Trip | Ultimate European Trip | Travel Europe

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.