Location: Kranjska Gora, Slovenia and Ferlach, Austria
Another fine morning dawned so we decided to don the hiking shoes and explore a new dimension of Kranjska Gora, heading up into the mountains via the chair lift.
Once up the top though, the walks were pretty much all up, and on a 30 degrees day it was hard going.
We walked a couple of kilometres up to a great viewing spot, and enjoyed the downhill a lot more than the up!
We wandered into the pretty town of Kranjska Gora to find somewhere for lunch. Unlike many ski resort towns we have visited during summertime, this is busy and bustling, full of e-bikes for hire, busy cafes and interesting shops.
It’s great to see a town being successful all year round – no doubt the cycleway passing through is a big drawcard, with many tourers stopping for the night in hotels and B&Bs here.
Full of pizza, we returned to Truffy to move on to our next destination, out of Slovenia, and into Austria our eighth country this year (the others being New Zealand, Australia, UK, France, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia).
It was less than an hour’s drive to our next destination, Ferlach – Austria’s southernmost town. We took the Karawanks Tunnel, a nearly 8km tunnel beneath the Karawanks Alpine Range.
We had a very loose plan on the other side, aiming for the region of Carinthia. There are a number of cycleways in the area, coupled with beautiful castles and mountainous scenery. We were keen to check it out.
We found ourselves a parking place in Ferlach, a town famous for its gunsmiths, making guns for hunting which are used worldwide. Behind us are the mountains we were the other side of this morning and beside us a babbling mountain creek.
We got the bikes out for an explore. The town is so pretty, and hardly a person around.
We had an explore locally before heading down to the 510km Drau Cycle Path which runs alongside the River Drava nearby. We did a small taster cycle as it was getting late in the day, but it has definitely encouraged us to come back and see some more tomorrow.
After riding 19km, a beer in the local pub completed our day before we headed back to camp for showers and dinner. A great introduction to Austria.
We had driven past Lake Bled on our way to Bohinj and it looked lovely, but totally booked out in terms of camping opportunities. We could have done a day trip, but were really keen to see it in depth, so instead booked a hotel room for a couple of nights.
We selected the Grand Hotel Toplice, one of the oldest and most spectacular hotels on the lake’s edge, with fabulous view across to Bled Castle and Bled Island. We have our 17 year wedding anniversary coming up next month and I will be in London for my next hospital appointment, meaning we won’t be together. So, what better excuse for a few days of luxury?
Breakfast at the hotel was an event in iteself, with the best spread of food either of us have seen in many years of staying in hotels.
DIY museli with fresh nuts, seeds and fruit, cold meats and juices, cooked eggs, sausages and vegetables, cakes, buns and yoghurts – the choice was endless and meant there was no need for lunch! All this while sat on a balcony with arguably one of the best views in the world.
We set off after breakfast to Bled Island on which stands the Church of the Mother of God, Mr A valiantly rowing us over in a wooden boat.
No motorised boats are allowed on the lake, keeping it serene. The church date back to the introduction of Christianity in this area (the year 745), with many adjustments over the years – mostly in the mid 1400s. Before this, there was a temple on the island dedicated to the Slavic goddess of love, Ziva.
Humans have been settled in this area since the Stone Age, with numerous artefacts found and displayed in the Castle, which we walked up to on our return from the island. There we enjoyed more amazing views, and saw our first little Slovenian red squirrel.
After an hour or so enjoying the hotel’s spa we went back to the room to get ready for dinner…Mr A decided to see whether we could get an upgrade. Well, he was very successful – managing to get us room 501, the best lake view room in the hotel!
Truffy was parked nearby so we picked up a bottle from our champagne stocks and cracked it open to celebrate with a glass of bubbles before going to dinner.
Dinner was at Restaurant Sova, which we had booked because of its fabulous reputation for both modern and delicious Slovenian food as well as having a wide selection of local wines and highly trained sommeliers. We were not disappointed.
Our evening finished off with a free live concert as part of the ‘Taste Bled’ weekend event. A great band called Lumberjack entertained us with covers from Kings of Leon, Lenny Kravitz and Dire Straits among others, before a ‘famous in Slovenia’ band headlined playing their own music (which was great for the locals especially). A perfect end to a perfect celebration!
I really did not expect to like Lake Bled as much as I have done. After Lake Bohinj, seeing big hotels, restaurants and a casino it all felt a little commercial. But in reality it has been far from it. The local people have been so friendly and welcoming, the hotel staff excellent, and everyone clearly loves Slovenia and is full of recommendations of what to see next. It has been more like being welcomed into a small town. This area will always have a place in our hearts.
It’s so hard not keep looking at this ever changing scene, the chiming of church bells around the water (especially now as I write on Sunday morning, calling people to service). With a late checkout today I think we will treat ourselves to this view just a little bit longer before we jump back into our camper and continue our journey in Slovenia.
We found a place to park Truffy and wandered into Slovenia’s capital city – all very easy as it’s so dinky! The vibe was just so good.
We climbed up to its centrepiece, the magnificent castle.
We did the whole Ljubljana Castle tour with audio sets and it was so worth it. From the unique artefacts showcased in the museum (including a 5,000 year old Celtic vase), to the description of its turbulent history as it suffered the onslaught of the mighty Ottoman Empire – at one stage only 100 miles from its doorstep, to the beautiful entertaining spaces that have been created inside the old castle walls and are a hub for modern day culture in Slovenia.
Really the only parts of its history not covered was that during the Second World World War it served as an Italian prison (was that a deliberate omission? I don’t really understand the unwritten rules around what’s not spoken about in a tourist context). Then right up until the 1960s the castle was used as overspill city housing for the poor.
A short ride down on the funicular railway and it was time for lunch. We seem to have slipped unconsciously into that Mediterranean pattern of no breakfast (well we substitute tea for their coffee), then lunch as our main meal and a snack at night. I think Catherine’s missing her creative time in the kitchen!
We had a lovely meal by the river at a fish cafe, then wandered around the lovely streets filled with interesting shops, cyclists and happy smiley folk! What a great vibe…a city we would call at first glance like this very liveable.
In fact it’s the most likeable capital city we have seen so far on our travel based on our criteria – easy to get around by bike, waterways and green spaces everywhere, loads of food and wine choice, easy access to the mountains.
At just over 20,000 square kilometres, the country of Slovenia is a good deal smaller than Australia’s largest cattle station (Anna Creek in South Australia at 23,600km²), so its major tourist attractions are apparently heaving …we will find out tomorrow!
Sitting in New Zealand at Christmas we had read about this National Park that has 17 waterfalls cascading through its limestone country. Now we were here..and loving it. Yes it’s popular with 1 million people visiting last year, but there’s a reason it’s popular – it’s absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.
We had booked a tour from the camp site we stayed at, a 9-5 day visiting the highlights of the park by minibus. There’s no way we would have seen some of these place left to our own devices.
A two hour walk had us deep in the forest on boardwalks, with streams and small cascades flowing all around us.
Then we came to the first major waterfall, which allowed swimming. Catherine was off as I guarded our bags. It did look quite spectacular.
A Franciscan monastery sat resplendent on a tiny island in one of the lakes, Roman catacombs beneath another monastery…this park has the lot.
We had lunch in a little tucked away cafe alongside the ever present waterfalls. Simple but lovely food served with Croatian wine….yup still the same verdict…thumbs down in the vino.
The park entrance fee was about AU$50 and the trip including the monastery tour and lunch the same. What great value! With a million visitors a year it was disappointing to see little evidence of that money being reinvested in the park, but that seems to be the story across Croatia with the tourist dollar. I wonder whose pocket it goes in?
Saturday: It was a dusty start to the morning after a fun Friday night out with Mel and Barney in Loro Piceno, with delicious food followed by dancing to a live band on the cobbled streets.
Mel had booked a haircut for me in a local village, and with none of the staff speaking English I was pleased Google Translate worked well enough for me to get the cut I wanted and not end up with a shaved head!
Our friends from the UK arrived early afternoon, successfully finding the house and enjoying a light lunch as we all caught up on news.
In the evening Mel and Barney had booked us a table at a local restaurant, Casa Azzurra. It is set around a pretty courtyard, with delicious food and wine.
Sunday: The eight of us piled in to two cars and headed up to Mount Sibillini National Park, a hour’s drive away. It was a warm day, around 35 degrees in the valley, but as we climbed we were relieved as the temperature dropped to the late 20s.
Our first stop was at Lago di Fiastra (Lake Fiastra), the main reservoir for the region. The turquoise waters look quite striking, surrounded by mountains and beaches. There were quite a few people swimming in the water and picnicking on the shore.
Many of the buildings in this area are still damaged from the two major earthquakes in 2016. On the winding road up the mountains there was extensive evidence of work done to shore up the cliffs and prevent rockfalls and landslides, and many buildings remained abandoned, shored up by steel cables and wooden braces.
We continued a short way up the mountains to Rifugio di Tribbio, a lovely rustic restaurant Mel and Barney had found. What a gem! There’s no way you would stumble across this as a casual visitor without the local knowledge. There we feasted on three generous courses and two litres of wine for the grand cost of about €160 between the eight of us (AU$33/£18 a head). We sat outside on a bench table with great views across the mountains.
After lunch we wound our way up the mountains even further, found a shady parking spot and headed off for a walk. It’s a glorious time of year in the mountains, with wildflowers in every corner.
We did a lovely circuit walk – steep on the way up and blissfully downhill on the return loop, helping us burn a few lunchtime calories and enjoy the clean mountain air.
We drove back down the mountains and into Loro Piceno for an evening cocktail at La Cantina, a bar with a terrace boasting amazing views over the valley and out towards Mel and Barney’s house. We then headed home for an early night in preparation for celebrating Catriona’s big birthday tomorrow, the reason for this gathering of friends.
Wednesday: We have friends of friends who have kindly invited us and some of our friends (with it so far?) to stay with them in eastern Italy in the region of Le Marche (pronounced lay markay). To be honest, until they gave us their address we had no idea where that was, or even pronounce it. Well now we do and what a find it has been.
Le Marche doesn’t roll off the tourist tongue like Tuscany, and the thankfully the coaches aren’t rolling down the streets just yet in this region…. We arrived via the excellent west to east route along SS77. A dual carriageway with tunnel after tunnel bored through the mountains that run in a chain down this part of central Italy.
We were making for a campsite our friends had suggested in the grounds of an old abbey and country park near to their village. We had given ourselves a couple of days to explore the area and get things prepared for the onslaught before everyone else arrived.
We arrived to find a beautifully near deserted camping area, with only a couple of other vans there. We picked our spot and had just set up the chairs…as a motorhome drove right next to us completely blocking our view. I gave him my best evil eye and exaggerated “what the ….” shrug…he moved off when Catherine joined in! She’s a terror…
So with view restored we were soon visited by a young cat who was clearly Italian given his chattiness and general exuberance! He was to become our constant companion over the next two days..,well until someone else pulled up he thought might feed him…
It was time for our customary exploration on two wheels. What a ride we had, as we came round corner after corner with a new vista of perfectly green fields opening up…and the odd snow capped mountain! This was cycling heaven.
We made our way through the park, exploring Roman ruins, admiring the bird life, and smelling the wild flowers.
Thursday: The next day we went further afield through several of the nearby villages. And not a tour bus in sight…
in the late afternoon we headed out again, I had spotted a winery within striking distance of the bikes.
After some initial confusion about what we wanted, as I had asked for a “wine tasting”, which apparently in Italy is more of a wine experience with food (and €15-20 a head), not a tasting with the purpose of trying before you buy. We embarked on our mission to stock up with some more wine before the rest of the troops made it here. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. And what a great selection of wines they had, set in beautiful grounds. Our host Anna even offered to deliver our wine to the campsite! Now thats a service I doubt you’d find at your average Tuscan posh as you like winery.
We think we will like it here!
Friday we did a little more exploring on foot, taking a look at the monastery and abbey, and taking some of the footpaths at a slower pace, listening to the birds, smelling the flowers and generally just enjoying the peace before the storm.
Our friends Melinda and Barney arrived at around 5pm to escort us to their home in Loro Piceno, and tomorrow four more friends arrive from the UK. It’s all going to get a lot busier around here!
Wednesday: We only drove 15 minutes to Spello, just 10km away from Assisi, everything we had read suggesting it was worth a visit.
We took quiet winding roads through agricultural land, grateful we didn’t meet any other traffic along the way.
Spello is far less well known than Assisi, but its history stretches back just as far. Much of the town is built on Roman remains and foundations, and sits within an old amphitheatre. The churches are often built on top of old Roman temples, and encompass little clues here and there to the past.
We entered through a grand gateway flanked by towers, amazed that there was not a soul around. In fact that is one of the main appeals of this town – it is so close to Assisi but there are so few tourists here. The streets and buildings are quiet, taking on a pink hue from the Mount Subasio limestone used in their construction. The constant call of swallows can be heard as they swoop catching flies around the rooftops, and the hum of insects on the ever present flowers.
Seppo is full of flowers, every windowsill, doorstep and corner brimming with blossoms. The few people we did see were often tending to their pots, painting wooden planters, replacing dying plants with new ones.
From the top of the town there are fabulous views back across to Assisi, a monastery behind us enjoying this view daily.
We tried to find somewhere nice to have lunch, but the menus were quite restrictive in terms of dairy-free, and the restaurant we really wanted to go to was closed on Wednesdays.
So we wandered back through the town, calling in for some wine tasting on the way through (three small glasses for €10), and popping our heads into the Chiesa di Saint Andrea, a church built in the 11th century, an example of Francisan architecture.
It was well worth the visit to Seppo. We didn’t buy any wine, the prices set for the American market (two to three times the usual cost!) rather than the Italian value we have become accustomed to. It would be a great location to stay if visiting Assisi and wanting to avoid the crowds, assuming you had a hire car you could park outside the town walls.
We, meanwhile, jumped back on the road and continued our journey towards the east coast.
Every so often when you’re exploring new ground, you come across a place that you know will be etched into your memory for ever. The little port of Camogli ticked that box in spades.
We planned a stop over between Genoa and the Cinque Terre coast at a car park that was described by one reviewer as having “a nice view”. What an understatement! This unassuming bit of tarmac overlooked a chunk of coast that took our breath away.
Our first view of the small fishing town of Camogli on the Italian Riviera, about an hour’s drive east from Genoa on the E80, a road that we had been on and off for a few days.
As an aside, what a spectacular feat of engineering the European route E80 is. We didn’t realise until we did a bit of research that in fact it travels through 10 countries as the ‘Trans European Motorway’ from Portugal to the border with Iran. It then joins the Asian highway which continues all the way to Japan! We looked at this freeway in a new light. Living on a rather big island for so many years it really made us think what is possible in Europe.
So this car park was on the outskirts of a small settlement called San Rocco, with a path that led down to the sea, as well as many others which criss-cross their way over the peninsular to Portofino on the eastern side.
Firstly, we cycled as far as we could on the bikes before encountering steps, then packed away the bikes and donned walking shoes.
Without much of plan, we headed off down along this fabulous coastal path, then as we got to sea level noticed a ferry coming in. We both looked at each other and went “why not” so we jumped and were carried around to the harbour of Camogli in style.
The moment we saw this place from the water we loved it. It had a genteel calm, without tour buses, and with a real authentic air of still being a working town. Some guys were just heading off to fish as we landed. I’m amazed there’s any left to catch!￼￼￼￼
We strolled around and immediately decided this is somewhere we could happily spend as week relaxing in. When I started to write this blog and read about the town, so many people described it as “undiscovered”, well by non-Italians anyway. It sure felt that way.
Reluctantly we headed back up to our car park, via 896 steps…we were ready for dinner by the time we climbed that lot.
Camogli, thankyou for giving us such a great memory to take away. I hope you don’t change too much too quickly.
Location: Cervo, San Bartholomo al Mare & Diane Marina, Italian Riviera, Italy
Sunday: With just an 18km journey between locations, it was one of our shortest journeys yet, but not without its challenges! We followed a busy stream of traffic and our Google directions down a one way road, which appeared to get narrower and narrower with a line of parked cars down one side and a wonky stone wall on the other.
We pulled to one side to assess our options. With traffic constantly coming down the road, reversing was going to be impossible without significant help…and going forwards looked equally daunting without potential damage to Truffy and/or parked cars. Not a fun situation.
One of the cars passing us slowed and wound down his window. We half expected abuse for blocking the road, but no, the Italian driver told us that the road is not as bad as we thought, and that as a motorhome driver himself he was confident we could drive down safely. Mr A bravely took off, me walking in front, letting him know how much space was either way. To increase stress levels, a bus was following us, but amazingly was very patient. When Mark pulled over on a wider piece of road, the bus driver even indicated he understood the caution and gave me a thumbs up. Phew! Another skilful negotiation of a tricky road – absolute kudos to Mr A for excellent driving. We could not imagine such patient drivers in Sydney – they’d be much quicker on the horns!
So we arrived at our next destination with no damage done, a campground beside the beach 15 minutes walk from the village of Cervo. We immediately set off to explore.
Cervo has around 1200 residents, many of them artists, sculptors, wood carvers, painters and jewellers. The village largely built up around an initial Roman villa more than 2000 years ago. Like France, Italy has a ‘most beautiful villages‘ classification and Cervo has well deservedly achieved that recognition.
The streets are very steep, and at the moment I am not breathing too well…but made it with a little wheezing. Mark is suffering with tendonitis in his calf, so also struggled up the streets – not doing brilliantly between us! It was well worth all the effort though, with gorgeous views, interesting little alleyways and of course the friendly village cat there to meet us at the top!
Fortified walls evident at the top of the village
One of the key highlights in the village is the Romanesque Oratorio di Santa Caterina church. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the historical and artistic significance of this magnificent building, having pride of place looking out to sea and covered with incredible frescoes (mural paintings painted on plaster).
Such a picturesque area, with plenty of exploring to be done. We can only imagine how busy it gets here in the summer holidays, despite the fact that Cervo does not appear in the Lonely Planet and has a pebbly beach.
All this exploring worked up an appetite and we went along to Pizza Pazza, the restaurant right next door for dinner in the evening. Yet another fabulous meal, and again at a fraction of the price we would pay in the UK or Australia, including a bottle of wine.
Monday: Glimmers of blue skies greeted us so we leaped on the task of washing first thing. Once everything was either hung out or dried we decided to go exploring in the other direction, biking our way to the next little settlement, San Bartholomo al Mare.
There are no bike lanes here, but the drivers continue to be quite respectful of cyclists, keeping their distance and no agression at all. This is all in absolute contrast to what we have been led to expect by the various blogs we’ve read – maybe our expectations have been lowered by our experiences on the road in Australia and New Zealand?
We took a random uphill road just to explore, and were soon making use of the motors on our electric bikes to take us up past gated villas with incredible views, meadows and Ligurian olive groves. It was all very picturesque.
We then cycled up to the next settlement, riding up a cycle friendly pedestrianised area and finding a little pizza place for lunch – yes, they even did me a pizza without cheese! We both ordered the small portion, which ended up being absolutely huge. Despite the fact I only ate half, we had no need to eat for the rest of the day!
Location: Brighton, Hastings and Newhaven Ferry Port, East Sussex, UK
Saturday-Sunday: Before heading to Continental Europe, we spent our final weekend in Brighton with Catherine’s sister Helen and her family. London-on-Sea, as it is jokingly known locally, served up its usual eclectic way with everything from fine dining to a wonderful greasy spoon cafe for brunch.
Then it was time to head along the coast to Hastings and Catherine’s mum, Jenny.
Monday: Catherine and Jenny visited her nearly 97 year old grandma, good genes on that side of the family at least!
A few more lovely home cooked meals from Jenny, and a chance to get some last minute tasks ticked off before we head over the English Channel on Thursday.
Tuesday: Jenny took us over to Hastings Country Park for a short walk and some fresh air, another place of great memories for Catherine.
Later in the day, Catherine took me on her and her sister’s favourite after school activity, a ride down to the beach and along the coast. It was a cold day, but the sun shone and Hastings showed us her good side.
It’s an interesting mix here of demographics, with everyone from a scattering of celebrities, and working class housing estates. If feels an authentic town, with the largest beach based fishing fleet in Europe still bringing in the delicious fish and cockles that we just had to sample.
So many memories from Catherine, shared with me, and it does draw you even closer together understanding someone’s childhood, as I had shown her mine in Kettering.
Wednesday: Now it’s our last day in the UK, with a ferry across to France early tomorrow. I few nerves on my part as I keep running through all the things we need to have sorted. Catherine as ever the calm one, thank goodness.
We are parked up at Newhaven Ferry Port for the night. Little Truffy is dwarfed next to his bigger HGV cousins all waiting for the 9am ride across the Channel to Dieppe. What adventures await us in France?