Slovenia Highlights

We loved Slovenia! Not a huge country, but a huge range of sights, sounds and tastes. Here’s our favourites from a 17 day tour:

Piran

On Slovenia’s short coastline between Italy and Croatia, the old town of Piran is a maze of narrow cobbled streets, archways, snickleways and nooks with hidden squares and churches, views of the blue, blue adriatic, old statues, fountains, and cafes, bars and restaurants. I loved the way the houses are piled on top of each other, and ancient buildings covered in air conditioning units and tangles of power lines and phone wires. We climbed up to the church on the hill, to look back down on Tartini square and had a fantastic calamari and chips in ‘May 1st’ square.

Rakov Škocjan

This wild karst valley is full of wonders – hidden, misty, forested glades reached through caves, natural bridges, springs, ruined churches and forest pools and more. Although it’s not a big valley (just 6km long), we stayed 3 nights and explored a little each day. The paths of the ‘educative trail’ are mostly even and laid with wood chippings, so it was easy going even for old Marra.

Špajza, Ljubljana

For our 20th wedding anniversary, we enjoyed a couple of days in Ljubljana, joined by Bev’s bridesmaid (and sister) Fran and my best man (and brother-in-law) Dav. A highlight was a fantastic meal of Slovenian specialties and fine wines at Špajza. Great service and a cool place with lots of little dining rooms.

Zgornje Jezersko

Further north, on the Austrian border, we loved the clean air and the awesome views of the mountains. One night we ate at Vila Planinka, where Fran and Dav stayed, and the next night Bev cooked a 3 course meal for all 4 of us in the van.

View of Lake Bled from Ojstrica

It’s probably the most famous sight in Slovenia, we had to go. And it was nice! A bit of a scrabble at the top, not wheelchair friendly.

Žalec Beer Fountain

Heading east, in the direction of Hungary, Bev said, “Let’s stop at Žalec – its got a beer fountain.” OK! We didn’t know what to expect but we liked what we found. Some guys were drinking and dreamt up the idea of a beer fountain, where you can just fill your glass with lovely beer. The idea grew, and lottery funding made it a reality. You buy a glass with a microchip in the base, loaded with 6 credits. Then you just choose what you want and put the glass in the base of the fountain… Beer! There were a range of local, seasonal and specialty beers. We loved them all. And now we have 2 cool beer glasses for the van.

Route Napoléon

We moved south through France, and started to climb into the foothills of the Alps. We kept seeing Route Napoléon signs everywhere. After about 3 days, we looked it up: It’s the path Napoléon took in 1815 on his way back from exile in Elba, to retake control of France before his final defeat at Waterloo. Nowadays it’s perhaps as famous as a favourite route for thrill-seeking bikers. We saw a few, or more often heard them roaring up from behind to overtake. I had sore eyes so Bev drove 3 days in a row through the worst/best of it! Hairpins bends, stunning views, bikers and more. No small challenge when we’re still getting used to a 3.5 tonne, 6m long van, so hats off to Bev.

We set ourselves another challenge on the way – could we do 3 nights in a row wild camping? We had fresh water, emptied the waste and the loo. We had solar power to charge the leisure battery. We had plenty of propane. We even bought an inverter from Costarama (like the French B&Q) so we could run a few small 240V things like the laptop charger.

First night, we stopped at Lac de Petichet. Very quiet, still early in the season. I did a quick music video, to give prospective venues an idea of what they were letting themselves in for 😉

A nice wander at Sisteron, then a more basic/less glamourous stop-over at Dignes, with lots of campers in a row by the river, but at least the pizza was good!

Castellane was a highlight, we stopped for a coffee/beer and florentines in the sun by the square. Our camp for the 3rd night was a few miles past the town on Route Napoléon, off the road down a track. Very quiet, very scenic.

It was all going really well so we carried on and spent a fourth night camping for free by a park above the town of La Rouret.

We turned off Route Napoléon just before Cannes, heading east to Italy. We considered another wild camping stop overlooking Monaco but it was a grey and windy day, wouldn’t have been much of a view. So, we rolled on to Italia via the toll road, to a town called Ventimiglia and a paid-for campsite.

Apps for travel: Park4Night

Park4Night is an excellent user-input based app, which allows you to locate (and share information on) free camping spots all over the world. In addition, paying campsites, car parks, picnic areas and even farms are listed, making this an invaluable tool for travellers who, like us, don’t like to stick to a definite plan of where they want to be the next night.

There are literally thousands of spots and whilst some aren’t ideal for a larger vehicle like our 6m home, advice and reviews are given about this sort of thing, so it’s rare that you end up somewhere you can’t actually stay. Some of our favourites so far have been:

Staying on a snail farm! Guess what we had for dinner that night??!! Just €10 for the night, including electricity.

Relaxing by the Saône river. For free!  Our neighbours for the night were on a boat, called, er, ‘Le Boat’…

A peaceful fishing lake. Again, no cost! Beautiful weather, very pleasant.

On the ‘Route Napoleon’ just after Castellane. Great dog walk, great scenery,  no cost. Parfait.

Admittedly some countries don’t have as many free sites, for example, we struggled in Italy, but we still found farms and vineyards where you can stay for free, but you are expected to buy some wine, honey or other produce… which is no great hardship really!

So far, we’ve only used it in Western Europe – will update after we get to Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Scandinavia.

Ghent, Luxembourg, France

We got to Ghent on a Friday afternoon, and found the campsite close to the city centre. Big site, well organised and very helpful staff at check-in gave us a map and relevant details. The dogs were sleepy and happy to laze around so we thought we’d have a night out and check out some of the music bars. I took the guitar, just in case I got a chance to play a tune for whoever does the gig bookings – slim chance I know, but it was early evening and ‘shy bairns’ and all that. There was a bus into town, but we walked anyway, 30-40 mins through a big sports park. First stop Missy Sippy – really cool blues and americana bar near the centre. Had a few strong Belgian beers and a chat with the owners – really friendly but nothing doing gig wise. Maybe on our way back through Belgium in August. There is a big festival in July in Ghent, and the bar does its own ‘festival in a festival’ – looks great.

Some nice sights around the city. We liked it!

Next stop the Hot Club of Gent, a jazz haunt – liked the ‘no talking during the performances’ sign. Asked the lad behind the bar about rootsy blues gigs but he’s more into the ‘nightlife’ he says. On to Trefpunt. Again a nice bar, very strong beers, some local characters in. It has a venue attached and its own mini festival in July.

Stopped in at another bar on the wander back, for an 8.5% Charles Quint ale. Slept well!

On, down to Luxembourg, through snow and the dashboard showing -2° outside. Cheap diesel in Luxembourg – always worth filling up! Nice scenery, reminded us of the English Lakes. Stayed 2 nights in Enscherange but didn’t wander far. Toasty in the van though, got some jobs done, Bev sorting the bedroom curtains.

Back into France, started to head South, working out best way to get into Italy. Probably not over the mountain passes, given the amount of snow. A couple of nice stops on the way, including Arbois (home of Louis Pasteur) and Lac de Madine. Stayed at a nice site at Cerveyrieu and set up the dog stroller for a hike up to the cascade. Pretty tough going at times, uphill on cobbles and down a track blocked by a fallen tree, but we made it! Great views. I learned about ‘lavoirs’ which are a common sight in rural France – public areas for washing clothes, fed by streams or piped water. Apparently, there are over 17,000 of them, most in disrepair, some restored to their former glory, before launderettes and washing machines.