To the Austrian mountains, to the sea in Slovenia and then back. 5 nights, 3 countries with cost for accommodation and journey 135 euro per person. August 2016.
Half of my summer holiday was over as I noticed with a large portion of disgustment. The only solution was to do the best with the rest and travel more. As my boyfriend had just started a new job and had no chance to go on vacation, another trip with a good friend was inevitable. Last year it was quite difficult to find someone to join but now it is completely the other way round. Rumours about easy travelling with everything planned by me have probably spread.
We started our trip in Vinná which is not even a village. There are just five houses and it is located halfway between Budweis and Český Krumlov. My friend Baraka who has also traveled a lot, lives there and wanted to try once again travelling without stress, something spontaneous and with sleeping in a car. Well this did not worke out. I arrived one evening before the planned departure but somehow, while drinking a bottle of wine, we booked a room in Austria and hostel in Portorož in Slovenia.
It is not recommended to travel on the main roads leading to Croatia on Mondays during summer as they are very busy. We decided to set off on Tuesday and take a less usual route. We bought a 10 day Austrian toll sticker at a petrol station in Kaplice. This is the minimum time they sell them. Then we drove to Freistadt which is a small town near the border in Austria and bought there some groceries. It´s a bit cheaper there and better choice and quality. After that we went via Linz direction Salzburg until we arrived at a beautiful lake in Millstatt. Couple of kilometres further was our first stop – Bad Kleinkirchheim.
I hate winter. That´s why I had no idea this is quite a popular winter resort. I was simply looking for a place to stay on our way to Slovenia. Something cheap in the mountains. The other condition was that it should definitely have a balcony with geranium because a house in the Alps without flower boxes overflowing with geranium is unimaginable. Suddenly an offer on air bnb appeared in this little town and cost just 30 euro for two per night. Well, not much geranium in this area which was a bit disappointing. Thermal bath offer was much bigger.
Thermal spa and full stomachs
The spa we had opted for was unfortunately being reconstructed but about 5 mins from our accommodation there was another one called Thermal Römerbad (check out the website, it took me a while to stop looking for something Indian, stupidest website name ever). Anyway it was great even for a family holiday. There are indoor swimming pools, a sauna and a wellness area. Even when the weather is bad or cold, you can swim from the indoor part to an outdoor swimming pool with warm water. Enjoy the view of mountains and cows on steep pastures (skiing slopes actually). The smell of manure completes the experience. The spa is open until 9 p.m., perfect for those who arrive back from a demanding trip in the mountains or from skiing. We spent half a day driving which is almost like going on some trip and therefore counts as well. Anyway it was rainy and not possible to participate in any outdoor activities.
Even in the summer, several cabin ski lifts were operating and going to surrounding peaks. They are around 20 euro a ride and more but if you want to go for a trip around the mountains, it is probably a good choice. There is a plenty to do for active people. In the lower part of the town you can find supermarkets and across the road from them there is a restaurant called Zur Quelle. It offers mainly Italian food, prices and service are nice. We had eaten so we went there just for a drink and paid 14 euro fro 2 Aperol spritz and a plate of antipasti (delicious pickled caramelized onions, olives, an artichoke and some salad) together with a basket full of warm bread.
Austrians and Germans are good at various things. Apart from ruling the world which fortunately did not work out in the end, they are good at baking. It dosn´t matter if you are curretly on a diet, stuff eaten while on holiday doesn´t count. It is obligatory to have a proper „kuchen“ or cake for breakfast. Best ones are with fruit and crumble. You go on some tour anyway so the calories will vanish. A good bakery can be found in every village.
Mountain huts, breathtaking views and Alpine valerians
This area offers in the summer many different touristic routes and activities. Infrastructure is perfect, there is also a tourist centre in the middle of the town offering all kinds of brochures and information for those who prefer printed to online. While hiking you can find a tiny plant called Alpine valerian (valeriana celtica) aka Speik or Speick. It is used as an ingredient in the cosmetic industry and has a very interesting smell. Products containing Speik are local speciality.
We set off for Slovenia the second day while it looked like apocalypse is near and sky was going to fall. Another tunnel peáge and a toll sticker at the border and we hit the road. Still chased by downpour we got off in Ljubljana and tried to see at least something in the historical centre. It is nice, there is a market square with people selling fruit, vegetables and some souvenirs. Streets are picturesque and there is a castle on a hill. There are a lot of cafés and restaurants to choose from but we decided to withdraw and continue our journey as the rain was getting even heavier.
Portorož and Piran
Our goal was to reach the short Slovenian coast. We were incredibly lucky. Not because it finally stopped raining but because we managed to find accommodation here. It seems that it is pretty necessary to book long enough in advance. There was no vacant air bnb, booking.com had just expensive hotels, no middle class. Finally we found the one an only last double room at a local hostel. It was a bargain at 97 euro for 2 people for 3 nights even on fourth floor with no working elevator. Clean and relaxed. Actually like the whole country. Portorož and Piran are conjoined. Piran is romantically historical and you can´t park there, Portorož is more for life and living. You catch wi-fi in the streets of both of them, no need to buy data and most people also understand English. Holiday destination suitable even for beginners.
Unlike most seaside cities there is a lot to do here and I don´t mean just drinking coffee on the esplanade and spending your money in souvenirs shops. You can climb a bell tower for one euro, that has wooden stars which would probably not meet any EU regulations. They are scary but upstairs you are rewarded by an amazing view of the old town and marina. It is also just several kilometers to Portorož salt pans. You can buy there some salt (what a surprise) and watch the salt being „produced“. Apart from special types of salt you can also buy there a 5 kg bag of sea salt for less than 4 euro. Definitely worth it.
There are not exactly beaches in this area but stairs leading into the sea straight from the street. This means you can simply take of your clothes while sitting at a table in a restaurant and jump in the water. The sea is crystal clear and clean. You don´t get to see as many cats here as in other seaside areas and they are usually pretty fat. It is a sort of cat index showing living standards in this country.
Where to eat
We were generally pleased with food everywhere we went. Also the prices were very similar and reasonable at most restaurants. Usually there is seafood and fish on the menu, vegetarians will be happy to see offer of grilled cheeese and vegetables. Our original plan was not to spend too much money, but the temptation was too big. Staff at restaurants is nice and salad is not just chopped vegetables like in Croatia. Talking about widely recommended restaurants in Piran, there is Pavel 1 and 2. Both branches are nice, locals say it is not what it used to be and more for tourists nowadays. We were more impressed by a fish restaurant Piranski Ribič with really nice staff proud of every good review or feedback they get. We actually became friends with one of the waiters. Aljoša took us even to his garden on a hill to watch the Perseid meteor shower and gave each of us a litre of his homemade olive oil. Don´t think he tried to bribe us. I indeed loved their salad with seafood before getting complimentary shots, not mentioning the view of other peoples´plates. And then the white wine. It is tasty and light. Most restaurants offer Malvazij. With prices around 1 euro per decilitre it is easy to become an alcoholic. Free tap water with wine and coffee is served everywhere.
A couple of low cost tips
If you don´t insist on eating in style and just want to eat fast and good, there are two tips from us. You will find the first one on the Portorož mall just next to the DM chemist´s. It is a bakery selling among other stuff also pizza. A huge thick slice with loads of cheese per 2 euro. You will probably be full after eating just this one slice.
The ones craving for healthy food will rather appreciate a place called Zlato sidro in Lucija which has a salad bar. You get a huge salad bowl and are free to fill it with as much vegetables as you wish. 3 euro a bowl. They also serve nice grilled vegetables with cheese.
And what about those real penny pinchers? They will probably visit one of the Lidl or Mercator supermarkets. Apart from cheap groceries you can buy there one delicious local product. Blueberry liquor with a layer of blueberries at the bottom of the bottle. Yummy!
And then there was this brochure which appeared out of nowhere on my desk in the hostel. It showed different hiking routes and so we decided to try one. We loved it. It was a sort of shortcut from our hostel to Piran via Fiesa. If you walk on the main road on the hill Belokriška cesta, you will find a small path hidden behind the Mercator supermarket. There is a sign though. It is steep and leads between gardens and bushes down the hill to a sweet water lake (not good for swimming) and a beach. This place is popular among Slovenians and there is also a hotel and a campsite. From the beach there is another path with nice views leading along the cliffs to Piran city walls.
Visiting Lipizzaner horses in Lipica
Each travel is influenced by who you travel with. I would probably never go to Lipica myself. However, when Baraka spotted the name on the map and realized it was just some 40 kilometres from Portorož, her heartbeat became faster. Baraka owns a horse and used to ride it in parkour competitions (I was lucky to be put on several occasions on this animal to enjoy the privilege..erm not sure if it was a privilege..of riding it) and visiting this legendary Lipica Stud Farm was a priority for her at that very moment. Well, it is none of cheap fun, you pay 15 euro entrance fee and then you can look in the stables, watch the horses on the pastures, visit quite a vain museum etc. You can join one of the guided tours but it is not obligatory. Free wi-fi is available.
There is also a unique opportunity for horse freaks to enjoy a 90 minute ride on a very real Lipizzaner horse. It is quite a thing and you have to be skilled, nothing for beginners. Those who love horses will tell you that each and every single cent from the 61 euro fee is worth it.
You can book this on their website and they say it should be at least four days in advance and you should bring your own helmet and stuff. Baraka just decided to see if she can squeeze in and called two hours in advance. There was vacancy. And she was also lucky to get a very kind and experienced trainer. Andrej was outgoing, lent her the neccesary equipment and gave her time to get to know the horse. If you imagine they just put you on a horse and you don´t have to do anything else, you are mistaken. You must prepare everything – brush the horse, clean it, put saddle on it and first then you can climb it and ride. It is definitely only for people who have ridden before. All this makes it even a bigger experience.
If you don´t what to pay, you can simply drive between the enclosures and watch the herds. Especially mares with foals are very curious. We were surprised by the absence of coaches with groups of tourists as well as stands selling refreshments, the only thing you can get inside is overpriced water. In case you get hungry, hotel Maestro next to the car park is actually good and prices average, starting at 7 euro for main meal.
One cup of coffee in Triest
Half of the day already behind us and Italy just a stone throw away. So we decided to change our plans and instead for the recommended castle Socerb to head for Triest to have a proper Italian coffee. You would not believe how big difference a few kilometres can make. At one moment we were among charming oak tree forests and pastures and driving through tidy villages and picturesque towns and then suddenly we found ourselves in a dirty Italian town with a generous portion of even dirtier industry. Our feeling that everybody is happy and well being, left with the arrival of the first African juiceman. I even caught myself watching my handbag more carefully. No extremes just like home in Prague. Anyway, coffee and gelato were good.
We decided not to experiment and parked our car at the enbankment´s paid car park. There were not many other options anyway. Our visit was just short, yet we still managed to find one unusual place. Mix between chemist´s and a hardware shop where time stood still. You will find it on Piazza San Giovanni and recognize by sea sponges in the shop window. I will not tell you more, you have to see it yourself. There is also some premium version od Spar shop next to it where you get wide choice of Italian deli.
We got to see Socerb in the end. We turned from the highway when we saw the sign on our way back home. You can drive straight up to the castle. Well, I wouldn´t exactly call it a castle as it is very small but OK. There is a restaurant inside, which was closed by that time. Not such a big deal this Socerb you would say. But its beauty doesn´t lay in the building. It is all about thee view. You can see from Piran to Triest, everything. It was also very quiet here and we think this could be a good place to stay with your car or tent over night. Short walk from the road is a small locked cave hidden in the forest with even more space for camping.
Bled and Bohinj
Triglav National Park is a chapter for itself and you can easily find information about it. Not having much time left, we just wanted to see the famous Bled and the lake with a castle and a church on the island in its middle, but were warned by locals this would be far too touristic. So they recommended us to go further to Bohinj. Amazingly clear water full of fish and cold refreshing water. Everything clean, no mess. There are several spots around the lake where you can sunbathe and go swimming from. For those who want to be more active there are hiking routes to waterfall and other places, great offer of rafting, kayaking etc. As you will be going via Bled anyway, you should probably also stop there and get some pics of the lake and the island. Another highlight of this region are very popular caves, largest in Europe and probably full of tourist groups as well. We didn´t go there as tickets were too expensive.
Breathtaking Alpine roads and Hart 7
All our methods failed while trying to find some decent accommodation around Triglav. We were not in the mood of risking a trying to find some room on the spot, even campsites were fully booked out. As we were anyway heading back home we decided to look somewhere further. Voilá! We found an organic farm with accommodation and reasonable prices near Klagenfurt. We got used to the idea of a shared bedroom and set off.
The road was taking us from Bled via E652/91 around Ferlach direction Klagenfurt. If your car´s brakes are in a perfect condition and you don´t suffer from vertigo, then you will love it. You might notice tiny bridges near the road. They are a part of a trail for adventurous hikers. I have seen a couple of Alpine and Norwegian valleys and serpentines but this truly is something.
In a small village of Hart a warm welcome and a surprise was awaiting us. Eva, owner of the farmhouse, announced us that the hostel was unfortunately full and therefore we would get for the same price a double room in the main building! So we also ordered breakfast consisting purely of home products – freshly baked bread, cereals, milk, cheese, jam, vegetables… Simple and good. There were also a lot of interesting people staying so it was a very pleasant stopover.
We enjoyed this trip very much, we saw beautiful places, met nice people and had a lot of new experiences. Then we counted all the costs and were surprised to see that it was 135 euro per person including accommodation, fuel, toll stickers and fees for tunnels. Food would have probably not cost much either but you don´t enjoy your holiday properly without tasting local food, drinking wine and having coffee now and then.