Help us plan an awesome trip through Northern Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia
December 8, 2012 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Next summer, the SO and I would like to take a two week trip to Northern Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. Please help us make this trip as great as possible! Tell us what to do and what to avoid! Barrage us with your details!

First, some background on us: we like food, hiking, nature, food, unique cities/towns, lakes, food, forests, "adventure"-type stuff, photography, and food. We like drinking, but her alcohol sensitivity prevents her from having more than a third of a glass of wine or so at a time. We're adventurous eaters, but she prefers to avoid eating four-legged animals. We're not really into shopping, although I guess exceptions could be made if something was truly unavailable anywhere else in the world. However, we're sure as balls not into clubbing or loud bars. We're also not into sunning on a beach - we'd rather be moving, eating or exploring.

Okay, now that you know us deeply and intimately, here's what we have so far. Please tell us if we're doing anything unwisely, or out of sequence, or if we're missing out on something cool. Remember, this is a two week trip, so what we mostly need to do is to condense our trip into something paced such that we'd actually enjoy it.

We're flying from NYC, and the best deals I see right now for flights are from there to Milan, which seems like a fine enough place to start. From Milan, we'd like to go to Lake Garda, thence to Venice. I know nothing about Northern Italy, except that I believe it's north of Southern Italy, so by all means educate me on what to do around there. Any specific inn/restaurant/etc. recommendations or condemnations?

From Venice, we'd like to go to Slovenia. Bled first, then Ljubljana, or the other way around? And aside from those places, where else? We're also interested in the Tolmin Gorges, the Soča valley, the Škocjan Caves, and Triglav National Park. Obviously, we can't do it all, but what should we pick? We've also heard rumors that there are numerous spa towns in the East - are they worth checking out? Again, any specific inn/restaurant/etc. recommendations or condemnations?

From there, we'd like to go to Croatia. We'd like to go to the Plitvice Lakes, and from there, we'd like to go to Dubrovnik, but what to do in between? What have been your experiences with the islands along the Istrian Coast? Also, which cities and towns are worth dropping in on? I've heard good things about Pula and Split. Any other ideas? And again, any specific inn/restaurant/etc. recommendations or condemnations?

Our plan is to fly back from Dubrovnik. Is there any reason why this would be a suboptimal idea?

Finally, last question. What do people recommend for transportation? Should we rent a car, and if so, are there any particular companies to pick or avoid?

Thanks for reading through all of this, and thanks for any help you can throw our way!
posted by Sticherbeast to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Piran, Slovenia is one of the prettiest, most charming tiny little towns I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. My friends and I went there on the recommendation of on of our professors and it was worth the trip. Delicious seafood and afternoon dips in the Adriatic - heavenly.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 10:45 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

let me put in a vote for Lake Orta and the town of Orta San Giulio for a stop after Milan and before Garda. Orta is much smaller than Garda but it has a few nice hotels/restaurants. Take a boat out to the island in the middle with the nunnery. A bit hard to get to, but worthwhile. NYTimes had a write up about it recently, unfortunately, so the crowds may have increased.
posted by Farce_First at 10:53 AM on December 8, 2012

When we were in Slovenia we did a trip that sounds like it would be right up your alley: a multi-day hiking trip in the Triglav area staying in huts in the park. It was beautiful and quite fun. The huts provide you with a place to stay, breakfast, and dinner - this means you don't need to bring or carry a lot of gear but can still do a multi-day hiking trip. The huts also have running water and snacks you can purchase. We hired a guide, to help us deal with the language barrier in the huts, to have someone familiar with local mountain weather with us, and to help with transportation. Our guide was a Slovenian college student who was fun to hang out with. We were able to take the train to our meeting spot and then he drove us to/from the hiking. Overall I'm really glad we did this, it was great. Get in touch with me if you'd like more details or pictures.
posted by medusa at 11:00 AM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I did this a couple years ago but did not make it to Croatia.

I, too, flew into Milan. I was short on money and time, so rather than stay in Milan and slowly make my way east, I took a train directly from Milan to Venice straight from the airport (well, I got to the airport, took a bus to the train station, then had lunch, then took a train to Venice, but you get my meaning). In hindsight, I wish I'd spent a little time in Milan. It's not as bad as people say.

If you want to spend any time in Milan, get your name on the list to see the Last Supper now. Luckily, you still have time. I planned my trip too soon before traveling and it was too late. Do not wait till a month or two before you travel to do this, especially if you're going in the summer time.

You know what? A word on that. Don't go in summer if you can possibly avoid it. Unless you're schoolteachers and you only get time off in the summer, go in April or May. I went in April and the weather was perfect and there were few if any crowds anywhere.

OK, back to destination advice. I skipped Lake Garda, but if you guys are looking for hikes and outdoorsy stuff, it might be more up your alley. Lake Garda is only an hour or so outside of Milan, and not far from Venice, either. Hell, it's not really far from Slovenia -- the people I stayed with said the Six Flags esque amusement park there is a popular school trip from their town in the western part of the country.

Now Venice. Stay on the islands. It's more expensive, but definitely worth it. Half the fun of Venice is wandering and getting lost and all the picturesque side streets. If you stay on the mainland in Mestre, you will save money, but your experience of Venice will be taking a train across the lagoon and being funneled down through the tourist areas toward Piazza San Marco.

I stayed in a hostel in the sestiere of Canareggio, which is near the old Jewish Ghetto. It was a great area because it was away from the tourists, but still an easy walk from everywhere. Another plus to staying in Venice proper is that your hotel will probably be dripping with atmosphere. Even the hostel was in an old Palazzo with it's own little bridge over a canal, and balconies looking out over the neighborhood.

Venice is small. You can easily walk everywhere. There might be a few situations where you could walk but it's halfway across town so you chose to take a vaporetto, but by and large you can walk. The guidebooks spend a lot of time explaining how the vaporetto system works and telling you which line to use to get where, but unless you are unable to walk you will not need any of this. Certainly don't buy day passes or plan to spend a ton of time on them.

People who visit Venice and Lake Garda often take day trips to cities like Verona, Piacenza, and Padova. I did Verona. It was pretty fantastic, especially if you like Roman ruins and history stuff in general. It's also a great smaller city with good food and wine and a nice atmosphere.

Leaving Venice, there's a lot to see before you get to Slovenia. I'd take your time heading towards Slovenia and at the very least stop in Trieste. You're also not far from some interesting Roman ruins and an early Christian basilica in Acquileia, which nobody ever visits to the point of it being practically criminal. I also wished I'd had a chance to hang around in the Italian alps a bit -- in Verona I ate in a restaurant run by sisters from Trento, and all the food was in the Alto Adige regional style. It was easily the best meal I ate in Italy that trip.

Please drink as much wine as you can possibly stomach. Veneto and nearby Friulia Venezia Giulia are great wine regions, and in the case of FVG they're little known outside Italy despite being seriously jawdroppingly amazing wines. Slovenia has some good wines, too, which are also hard to find outside that part of the world. Luckily, the area around Venice is full of casual little restaurants that serve only snacks and wines by the glass. So you should be able to drink wine in a way that is easy on your wife.

OK, on to Slovenia. I stayed with friends in Postojna, about an hour from Trieste in western Slovenia. There are some caves (though I think they are less for adventurous spelunking and more touristy, though it may have been that I'm not an adventurous spelunker and didn't enquire about that) as well as a gorgeous old castle built into the side of a mountain. It's also not far from the Lipizzaner stud farm, if either of you is into horses or fell hard for the dancing Lipizzaners as kids.

Slovenia is really fucking small. To this day it amazes me what happened in the Balkans (and probably why we have the expression "balkanization"), because seriously, it's so so tiny. Slovenia is about the size of one of the smallish US states. I spent three days and pretty much saw the entire country aside from the far-eastern parts close to Hungary. There are places on the seaside where you can see Croatia, like, right over there. The way you can see New Jersey from Battery Park in Manhattan. And yet people spent decades fighting wars against each other.

Anyway, back to travel advice. I'd go Trieste - Ljubljana - Bled, with possible stops around Postojna on the way from Trieste to Ljubljana. That said, you may find yourself doubling back towards the coast to make your Croatia itinerary work -- I didn't go to Croatia and spent my whole time in Slovenia being ferried around by locals, based in a particular town where my hosts happened to live. So I don't have the world's best grasp of Slovenian geography.

Keep in mind that both Italy and Slovenia are in the EU, Eurozone, and Schengen area, while Croatia is not. There weren't any border checks or anything between Italy and Slovenia -- it was like traveling between two US states. Meanwhile, Croatia is (unless this changed in the last year or so or is about to in 2013) not part of any of those agreements. You will have to go through the traditional border process, change money, all that International Travel type stuff. The only travel difficulty between Italy and Slovenia, meanwhile, is that all the Slovenian towns have different names in Italian -- some of which are not intuitive at all. It took a long time staring at the bus schedule to figure out that Postojna = Postumia. You may want to research the Italian name for whatever your destination point within Slovenia will be.

Which brings up the "how to get there" angle. I did the whole Italy leg on trains. It was great! Train travel is very affordable for the short distances you'll be traveling, and it's extremely convenient. Things are very close together. For the most part, even small towns have their own train stations, which deposit you in the middle of everything, walkable distances from tourist sites.

That said, if you hope to do a lot of sporty adventure tourism, this may be less true. There may be things you want to do that are not public transit accessible. Maybe it will be limited enough that you can just take a taxi, but you should seriously look into this.

There were also a few situations where I needed to take a local bus somewhere (for instance the Miramare palace outside Trieste), and it was complicated and not intuitive at all. I feel like I'm kind of a renegade seat-of-pants traveler, so I figured it out, and I had some interesting experiences and smiled and and giggled and mimed out what a confused foreigner I was who didn't know the bus fare. I also have a degree of ability to get by in Italian, which helped for things like jumping on a random bus and needing to figure out where it was going. A lot of buses don't take money -- you're supposed to buy a ticket at a tobacconist -- which isn't helpful when you saw a bus stop outside the castle and thought, "hmmm, I bet this goes back into town..." So getting by without a car, even in well-connected northeastern Italy, can be adventurous.

In Slovenia, I was lucky enough to have access to a car through the people I was staying with. Anytime I asked for a ride to the train station, or mentioned wanting to look up the bus schedule, I was turned down in favor of a ride directly to whatever I wanted to see. So I have no idea how feasible Slovenia is without a car. It's theoretically possible, and like Italy there seemed to be conveniently located train and bus stations right in the middle of town. Though, again, when you want to get out to some lonely palace or horse farm or cave, you might be SOL.

I hope this novel I've just written answered some of your questions. You guys are traveling to one of my favorite places on the planet, and I'm really excited for you! Feel free to get in touch via MeMail with any questions.
posted by Sara C. at 11:33 AM on December 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

It honestly sounds like way too much for two weeks. Are you OK with moving to a new city every night or two?
posted by barnone at 12:03 PM on December 8, 2012

Eh, I think it's doable. I think they will have to be very decisive about what they want to do, and renting a car for at least part of the trip might make life easier. I'm also not sure how Croatia will fit into their two weeks -- I just don't know anything about Croatia.

But I spent two weeks in Northeastern Italy, Slovenia, and then Southern Italy, and it was fine. It didn't even feel rushed.

The distances involved are very short, for the most part. The longest haul is going to be down to Dubrovnik, which is a seven hour drive from Ljubljana (not sure what the train situation is like) and will involve a border crossing.

It might be easier to have a base of operations in each country or for each part of the trip, just to have a familiar place to rest your head at night.
posted by Sara C. at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2012

While you are in northern Italy near Venice, you may want to take a sidetrip to Ravenna, which is best known for being the capital of the Western Roman Empire in the last half century before its conquest, and then the capital of Ostrogothic Italy. In the sixth century, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconquered Italy and made Ravenna his capital. There are a number of stunning 5th and 6th century churches there, particularly the Basilica of San Vitale, which contains some of the best preserved Byzantine mosaics in Italy. You may recognize the famous mosaics of the Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora if you have read anything about the Byzantine Empire.

I found Ravenna to be a charming little city that doesn't suffer from too much tourism. As famous and spectacular as Venice is, it is very tourist-centric and that is not everyone's cup of tea. Enjoy your trip!
posted by rasselas81 at 1:20 PM on December 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the helpful advice, everyone! You folks obviously know your stuff. I could practically give everything here a Best Answer.

It honestly sounds like way too much for two weeks. Are you OK with moving to a new city every night or two?

We're aware that we can't possibly do everything, which is why we're seeking out advice to condense things. We're also willing to focus more on just a few places, if that makes life more enjoyable. That said, we wouldn't mind changing cities every two days, if that makes life more enjoyable.

We're also flexible about the trip as a whole. For example, we're considering dropping Croatia, so that we could just soak in Northern Italy and Slovenia. Maybe another time, Croatia...

That said, we've also considered swapping Provence for Croatia, and that of course is a whole other ballgame as far as travel goes. Dubrovnik is quite a ways out, whereas a hypothetical drive from Avignon to Ljubljana is only about 9.5 hours tip to tail. Very short distances between very different, beautiful places - four days in one region, four days in another, and four days in another, with a day to fly in and a day to fly out.

You know what? A word on that. Don't go in summer if you can possibly avoid it. Unless you're schoolteachers and you only get time off in the summer, go in April or May. I went in April and the weather was perfect and there were few if any crowds anywhere.

Heh. Well, one of us is a schoolteacher, so we're stuck with the summer.

Keep in mind that both Italy and Slovenia are in the EU, Eurozone, and Schengen area, while Croatia is not. There weren't any border checks or anything between Italy and Slovenia -- it was like traveling between two US states. Meanwhile, Croatia is (unless this changed in the last year or so or is about to in 2013) not part of any of those agreements.

FWIW, Croatia's accession to the EU is July 1st, 2013, although of course the world is an unpredictable place, and I don't know if the seamless travel between member nations begins right on that date. That said, it appears as if there's a Bosnian stretch of the drive to Dubrovnik? As in, Bosnia-Herzegovina owns a bit of the coast? So maybe Croatia's accession to the EU would still mean that we'd have to go through a border crossing regardless.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:31 PM on December 8, 2012

Definitely get your name on the list for The Last Supper now, as Sara C. said.

Regarding Venice, I personally liked staying in Padova, just a short commuter train ride (~20-30m) from Venice. Padova is a lovely little town, too. If you stay there, don't miss the Saint's Square (Piazza del Santo), since Padova (in English, Padua) is the home of Saint Anthony of Padua.

Don't buy Murano glass anywhere except in/around Venice. It's available elsewhere in Italy but at a huge markup compared to the Venice area.

Speaking of the glass, go to the island of Murano to see some excellent glass-blowing.

Also, because you will doubtlessly want to get lost and walk around, as previously mentioned, do not hesitate to buy something you really like when you see it. You will likely never see it again if you're just wandering and will kick yourself later.

Finally, working knowledge of Italian is recommended, but not necessary. I had 2.5 semesters of Italian classes in university and the biggest help was that I knew what train station/rail station was in Italian.

But definitely get your name on the list for The Last Supper now. I was in Milan in 2006 and we thought we could book for later that week only to be laughed at. ;)

Enjoy your trip!
posted by juliebug at 1:38 PM on December 8, 2012

I've been to Friuli and Slovenia and Croatia. I just have a few things to add.

The Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region is, indeed, full of amazing food. Northern Italy, especially the Piemonte and Friuli regions are probably the best food and wine regions in all of Italy and under-touristed compared to other regions.

For Friuli, I'll refer you to this Chowhound thread (I posted in it as well) by one of my favorite people on Chowhound. This is the region where I had the best prosciutto I've ever had in my life - the Prosciutto Osvaldo - just the most savory delicious thing.

There's a great guide for this region Authentic Veneto Friuili by the Touring Club of Italy. Its not your typical guide. Its less about sites than about what makes the region unique. An entire section is devoted to food, all the different products and where to get them.

Vicenza is worth it for the Palladian Villas, if thats your thing. Its on the way to Venice so makes a good stop. I won't comment on Venice itself since you can get a lot of good information from lots of places.

My wife loved Trieste because of the James Joyce connections. I loved Miramar castle because its where Emperor Maximilian left to go rule Mexico.

We drove everywhere in a rental car. Its not a big deal to cross into Croatia. There is a border and border guards but I recall it was relatively painless. On a separate trip, I've been to Zagreb in the interior and loved it. It felt like an old-world city that was completely untouched by tourism. Don't bother with museums there, such as the Mimara. The museums are all full of fakes.

We drove down the coast all the way to Dubrovnik and, to be honest, I would not recommend it. Croatia is a hugely popular tourist spot with Europeans and the coast was mostly crammed with holiday home constructions. Split itself is overbuilt and although Dicoletian's Palace in the center is great I'm not sure that may be enough.

The best part of Croatia is the islands but they are tough to get to with oddly timed ferry schedules. Hvar is beautiful as is Korcula. We also found beautiful coves all to ourselves in the small island of Kolocep, just off of Dubrovnik. We were in Dubrovnik in late August and there were so many tourists there it felt like the small walled city would burst. Beautiful town though.

By the way (On Preview!) You do technically go through Bosnia as you drive down the coast but there were no actual border stops. Just a sign saying you are in Bosnia all of a sudden - a lack of tourist spots on the coast - and after a few more minutes of driving - back in Croatia.
posted by vacapinta at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2012

Response by poster: Also, it occurs to me that we could go to Croatia without going all the way down to Dubrovnik. A sidetrip to Pula and/or Krk wouldn't be that big of a deal timewise, and I hear they're both great.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:42 PM on December 8, 2012

That said, we've also considered swapping Provence for Croatia, and that of course is a whole other ballgame as far as travel goes. Dubrovnik is quite a ways out, whereas a hypothetical drive from Avignon to Ljubljana is only about 9.5 hours tip to tail. Very short distances between very different, beautiful places - four days in one region, four days in another, and four days in another, with a day to fly in and a day to fly out.

There are so many wonderful things between Avignon and Ljubljana that rushing between the two seems like a shame. My wife and I spent a week in the Langhe and had such an amazing time we try to go back there every year.
posted by vacapinta at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2012

I went to Venice last year. We stayed in the Dorsoduro neighbourhood. It was great because it was not so heavily saturated with tourists - and we rented an apartment with a nice little roof deck for drinking prosecco. It was not peak season when we were there and San Marco still drove me a bit crazy with all the tourists.

My favourite eats in Venice were Pizza Al Volo in Campo Santa Margherita (huge slices of pizza, and the square is great for people watching in the early evening), Grom Gelato in Campo San Barnaba - this square features in one of the Indiana Jones films and while the gelato is twice as expensive as everywhere else, they are big serves and delicious, and finally Enoteca Ai Artisti which is near both the campos above. Suggest you ring and book as they get busy - I liked the tables outdoors. We ate delicious seafood and pasta, washed down with lovely local wine.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:19 PM on December 8, 2012

Last summer we flew into Venice and did a whirlwind of a trip that took us through 5 countries in 12 days:

Hallstatt, Austria
Munich for dinner and then an overnight train to...
The Hague, where we visited friends and flew home

We stayed in Pensione Guerrato in Venice on the recommendation of Rick Steves. In fact, he was my go to guy for planning the entire trip. The hotel was tucked away in a side alley, just steps from a fish and produce market on one of the main canals. I ate so many cherries from the Italian countryside that American grocery store cherries are shit to me now. Pensione Guerrato was an oasis, and I highly recommend it. Our favorite restaurant was big with the locals: Trattoria Nono Risorto, which we happened upon completely by accident and returned again the next night. The carpaccio and the bronzini were amazing. We generally have a traveling attitude that matches your description, and we hated the crush of St. Marks and places like it, favoring getting-lost-on-purpose walks around the Canareggio and other quieter niches.

Renting a car to drive between countries is not impossible but it's terribly expensive and you have to know if your car comes with some special permit required to enter Schengen countries. Can't remember what it's called because we ended up not renting after all, but Rick Steves' site will have it. Basically, if your rental car comes with it, and you're at a border or you're pulled over and asked for it, you just produce it and go on your way. If you don't have it, I believe the fine can be quite steep. So if your rental doesn't come with it, you have to buy one yourself.

Trains between Venice and Ljubljana run only once per 24 hours as of when we were there, and the only one running then both departed and arrived in LJU in the middle of the night. I found a van/bus servicethat took us during the day for a reasonable price. It was confusing--because of multiple simultaneous departures with no signage and no English spoken--and terrifying--because of the most awful driving I've ever had the misfortune to witness from just behind the driver's seat. But an adventure nonetheless. And it's only 3 hours. Or 2.5 if your driver goes 80, even over the winding mountain passes.

The place we stayed in LJU was charming, right off the main market square. B&B Petra Varl is a bit of a misnomer. There is no lobby or front desk; Petra Varl occupies n apartments of an n+n-unit apartment building. Our room was a studio with a kitchenette inside a closet--very Ikea. They provided us with enough bread and fruit and pastries to serve as breakfast while there. There's a bar/wine store right on the market square where we asked for Slovenian wine to eat with our takeout pizza one night. They took an empty 1 liter plastic bottle and filled it with a local red from a tank and charged us like 2 euros. We took that and our pizza and watched The Perfect Storm dubbed into Slovenian back in our room after several days of exhausting travel. It was perfect. Another night we ate at outdoor tables lining the river running through town, and the Balkan brass gypsy band Mahala Rai Banda performed in the street--all 18 of them--while we ate local charcuterie and seafood and more pizza. Utterly magical. And yes, Slovenians do some amazing thin crust pizza, better than what we ate in Venice.

From there we took a train north to Hallstat. We skipped Bled's lake town scene since Hallstat is a UNESCO world heritage site on a glacial lake in the Alps.

I could've stayed in that part of the world for weeks and not been bored. Have fun!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:23 PM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Especially if you will be in Trieste (aka Trst), take a day to walk around Piran. It's an easy day trip from Koper (Slovenia), or you could stay in Portoroz (Slovenia) which is right next to Piran but is quite resorty.

Bled us great. The castle is small which means you can do the whole thing in a couple of hours. Being rowed out to the middle if the lake is kinda fun. I've stayed in Hotel Jelovica, which is not especially fancy, but not terribly expensive, either, and has a good breakfast. You can do a day trip to Lake Bojin. It's not real warm in Bled, even in the summer.

I've not spent much time in Ljubljana, but what I've seen makes it look great. It's more of a city experience.

The big touristy caves are fun to walk through.

Idrija! You can walk through a mercury mine (no longer in use) and there's beautiful lace.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:27 PM on December 8, 2012

Oh yeah---Slovenian pizza is awesome. The beer's good too, and cheaper than bottled water. And especially in Piran/Koper/Portoroz, you can get good seafood.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:29 PM on December 8, 2012

Finally, working knowledge of Italian is recommended, but not necessary. I had 2.5 semesters of Italian classes in university and the biggest help was that I knew what train station/rail station was in Italian.

I had about a month of "survival Italian" classes in high school prior to my first trip to Italy, have speent a cumulative couple or three weeks in Italy over the years, and I think I might have had a phrasebook or iPhone language app the last time I was in Italy (this was the Italy/Slovenia trip), and I've never had too much problem with the language barrier. It helps if at least one of you has done some formal study of a Romance language, and it also helps to be able to read signs, think about context clues, etc. But all in all it's pretty easy to smile and nod and shrug and mime your way around northern Italy.

The real language barrier I'd worry about is in Slovenia and Croatia, unless one of you speaks a Slavic language. Though it is written in Latin characters, which at least makes sounding things out easy enough (well, except for the words that lack vowels!). That said, I found that there are more English speakers in Slovenia, and people are more willing to switch over to English rather than insisting they dont' speak it. As opposed to in Italy, where I find that a lot of people outside the tourist industry are strictly monolingual.
posted by Sara C. at 4:31 PM on December 8, 2012

My wife loved Trieste because of the James Joyce connections. I loved Miramar castle because its where Emperor Maximilian left to go rule Mexico.

Yeah, Trieste is full of weird, mysterious, and whimsically ominous stuff. Worth spending an afternoon in, if nothing else. They also put whipped cream in their espresso, which, yes, please.
posted by Sara C. at 4:34 PM on December 8, 2012

Slovenian pizza


When driving around Slovenia, if you see a building with a sign that says "pica", it's a pizzeria. Not a place to satisfy a craving for clay, or a place to buy tiny things. In Slovenian, the "c" makes a "ts" sound.
posted by Sara C. at 4:39 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you had the time and inclination, you could take a 7-day sailing trip from Split to Dubrovnik. Not affiliated, but I've done their Greek sailing trips before and had a great time (and I'm friends with the sailing crew). I haven't been on the Croatia trip yet but I'm going in June next year.
posted by cabingirl at 5:25 PM on December 8, 2012

I live in Slovenia so I try to answer questions like yours whenever they come up. See my previous answers here: 1 2 3 4 5 6

I'm envisioning you as athletic, outdoors-y type of people, so I'm going to say you really need to go to Soča Valley (Tolmin is a short drive away, so you can combine this). Soča is the best whitewater rafting/kayaking/hydrospeed experience around (plenty of agencies offer trips with an instructor/guide), and the scenery is beautiful (the first Narnia movie was shot there). There are many possible hiking and mountain biking routes around, in case you don't like water.

Piran is IMHO boring and is like any other coastal town on the Adriatic - small, cute and full of tourists. In Bled you can go hiking or rowing on the lake or even tobogganing. (If you're in Bled, you have to try the traditional cream cake, "kremna rezina" - Hotel Park has the best one, don't go anywhere else!) Spa towns in the east - meh, it's mostly lounging around the pool together with a ton of old people and kids.

While you're at Lake Garda, you can visit Gardaland - the biggest amusement park in the region.

In Croatia, I'd skip Pula and Krk and rather go to Plitvice, Krka waterfalls, or Kornati.

Dubrovnik is crowded and expensive and a little overrated IMHO. (Don't buy or eat/drink anything on the main street or around it, you'll pay triple the price.) Plus it's a really long way away. If you insist on visiting it, I recommend stopping at Trogir (a charming little place) for a stroll.

As others have said, it will be a challenge to squeeze everything into only 2 weeks. And every place you go to will (sadly) be full of tourists - even on hiking trips (Slovenians are well known for their love of mountains). Considering you won't have plenty of time, I'd say it would be best to rent a car instead of trying to figure out trains and buses. (Research if you need special insurance to go to Croatia with a car rented in EU. Maybe it would be better to take a train/bus from Slovenia to Croatia and rent a new car there.)

Re: passports - Croatia is still outside the Schengen area, so it's a full-on "International Travel" experience at the border. On the other hand, you won't even notice when you cross the Italian-Slovenian border.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific questions!
posted by gakiko at 4:38 AM on December 9, 2012

Lots of info in this thread, but I STRONGLY recommend the Postojna cave. For info It is a guided tour cave, but it is the most amazing thing I've seen while on your planet.
posted by mbarryf at 6:52 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rent a car, there are amazing places to get lost over there. Lots of things to find that you cannot see from the train.
posted by ibakecake at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2012

like any other coastal town on the Adriatic

For what it's worth, Americans don't have any of our own coastal towns on the Adriatic!
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 AM on December 9, 2012

SaraC: Heh, true. :) I meant more in the sense that if you want an "Adriatic coastal town" experience, you can choose a place closer to your planned route instead of going to Piran. (OTOH, considering how small Slovenia is, "closer" is a relative term.)
posted by gakiko at 1:00 AM on December 11, 2012

Oh, and regarding food... Try "štruklji" in Soča valley (there are sweet & savory versions of štruklji; I'm partial to the sweet ones), "prekmurska gibanica" anywhere else in Slovenia, and for a local flavor of fast food, a horseburger. (Burek and cevapcici are imported from Bosnia, but are considered almost-local by now.)

And potica, how could I forget potica!

A good restaurant for local food is "Pri Ančki" near Ljubljana.

(Disclaimer: the traditional diet is based heavily on 4-legged creatures. And sauerkraut. And potatoes.)
posted by gakiko at 1:13 AM on December 11, 2012

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