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Croatia & Slovenia

May 2017

Finally on the road again! A twelve days road trip to paint at least a very small part of our almost blank map of Southeastern Europe. Croatia was the main goal and Slovenia made the perfect stopover on our way back home.

Northern Istria

Not as warm as expected, but who cares – holidays! In Northern Istria we found a little gem: A family run farm and B&B in Punta, Krasica. Not just the perfect spot for exploring Northern Istria, but also a hearty welcome to Croatia. Mr. and Mrs. Radešic turned out to be the greatest hosts we could imagine, even with just a handfull of words in common. The two glasses of handmade jam and the bottle of wine they gave us were already finished at the end of our travel, but the two liters of their best olive oil will remind us of this place for a while!
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Grožnjan

Left behind by the Italians after WWII, this hilltop village is now home to about 160 residents, of which one half seem to work as artists and the other one runs galleries and shops. Anyway, at least in the off season a really unhasty place for enjoying some truffle pasta or wild asparagus while overlooking olive groves and vineyards.
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Skarline

That one was really hard to find. Not just in the guide book, but also in reality. If you eventually find your way from the village of Nova Vas, a small trail follows a little creek on its way to Mirna river, leading into a bigger than expected waterfall and a mystic gorge. Unfortunately the trail became a bit muddy and slippery after a while, what made us turn around way too early.
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Motovun

This place can't be overseen, towering on a cone-shapped hill over Mirna valley. As most places in Istria it was still kind of hibernating before the start of the tourist season. Good for us!
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Rovinj

Visiting this place leaves no doubts Istria was part of Italy until less than a century ago. Dozens of small Mediterranean alleys wiggle through this densely built peninsula surrounded by the turquoise Adriatic Sea. What a pity it was the crucial 5 °C too cold to swim. More time for all the restaurants and cafés though: If you have stuffed up with truffle and wild asparagus, better make some space for seafood and ice cream!
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Kap Kamenjak

Now we are talking! We found the weather we expected, at least for most of our time at Istria's southern cape. The almost empty camping site right at the edge of the nature reserve was the best base camp for exploring the wild cape with its dozens of bays and beaches. Perfect for a run, hike, bike tour or just enjoying some hours on the beach.
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Our little man was way less excited about the sea than we were – but that might change soon… At least he got a perfect first impression.
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The Farm

In the middle of the protected nature reserve there is still a farm doing its business. Old ownership rights maybe, or good connections, who knows. In any case a cozy place for meeting all kind of animals. Just don't eat there without asking for the price. Seriously, don't…
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Polje Bay

Not just the farm is doing business at Kap Kamenjak. If you follow the coast trail around the cape you will sooner or later arrive at Polje Bay, where a good dozen of fisher boats anchor before leaving into the night and returning in the early morning. During the day, those fishermen not sleeping maintain their boats or cast the fishing rod from the jetty.
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Plitvice Lakes National Park

A big hop from Istria to Lika-Senj County, where one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe and the largest one in Croatia waited for us. This place most be the number 1 highlight in all Asian tourist guide books for Croatia – according to the amount of bus tours pilgrimaging through the park. But if you find a lot of tourists in one place, there is sometimes even a good reason for!
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It is simply a spectacular landscape you can discover on various routes and trails through the park – the most impressive ones of course along the dozens of lakes and probably hundreds of waterfalls connecting the upper with the lower lakes. Crystal clear water has cut its way through karst mountains while natural dams of travertine were formed by moss, algae, and bacteria.
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Gacka River

An hour drive away from the Plitvice Lakes are the springs of Gacka river. For its first kilometers, Gacka meanders in a natural riverbed through a quiet countryside until Otocac, before it is finally tamed by human kind. Discovering the Gacka springs makes a perfect bike tour – if it wasn't raining from buckets like this day. Anyway, there is always a bright side: While the restaurant we initially wanted to go to by bike would have been closed anyway, we found another one close to Otocac serving the best trout we have had for a while.
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Idyll

After enjoying an unexpected delicous lunch the dark clouds finally lightend – giving us the chance to discover at least a part of our planned tour by bike. While the landscape is more than idyllic, the attentive observer will also discover a less idyllic past and present of this rural area. In some villages almost every house is still perforated with bullet holes from the Croation war less than 25 years ago – and we are not just talking about the abandoned ones, of which you will find a lot. At the same time, many of those not benefitting from tourism have a heavy standing – mainly living from subsistence agriculture in manual labour.
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Vintgar Gorge

Bled was planned as a stopover to split the long drive home into two baby-approved stages. Turned out that spending two nights and having a full day in the area was definitely worth it. Vintgar Gorge is one of the highlights on "the road more travelled" – an easy hike along a deeply incised river valley. Not as spectacular as Plitvice, of course, but still some eye candy.
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Lake Bled

No photo blog of this area could miss Lake Bled and its picturesque island church. So here we go! Not sure if it was worth starting this evil little climb at 5:15 in the morning to get this sort-of-sunrise picture of Lake Bled – but at least a good workout you won't otherwise do.
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© 2017 Benedikt Altschuh