Day 1: Arrival in Zagreb, Croatia
Arrive in Zagreb, Croatia. Transfer to the medieval village of Bale on the beautiful Istrian Peninsula. After check-in, we’ll explore Rovinj and its cobblestoned alleys. After checking in to our hotel, we'll reconvene for a brief orientation, followed by our welcome dinner.
Day 2: Rovinj - Brioni Islands - Rovinj
The Istrian peninsula is a Mediterranean pearl situated in the northwest corner of Croatia. It is a landscape of sparkling blue seas and green rolling hills rich with olive groves, vineyards, and lavender gardens. It’s easy to think you are somewhere in Tuscany, without the crowds. The area offers so much that it was recently declared one of the top regions to travel to by Lonely Planet. Istria used to be a playground of famous empires, from the Romans to the Venetian Republic, from the Hapsburgs to Tito’s Yugoslavia. Nowadays it is a great mixture of the blue coastal Istria and the green hilly Istria, where you find a whole new generation of organic farmers and haute cuisine hidden in the old medieval villages. For a good first impression of the countryside, we'll start with a visit to Bale, a perfectly preserved medieval village built of stone. Bale is famous for its annual “Olive Oil Fest” hosting all Istrian olive oil producers. Here we'll find picturesque facades of the old stone houses, ladies growing rosemary in their windows, and, most importantly, top quality virgin olive oil that we will sample in a local home. Continuing along the outer edges of Istria, we'll reach the coastal village of Fazana, where we'll board a ferry for a short voyage to the famous Brioni Islands. Once a summer residence of Yugoslavian President Marshall Tito, Brioni National Park offers great insight into the history of the famous partisan leader and of Yugoslavia's role in WWII. The Brioni Islands were also once considered a glamorous vacation paradise for movie stars, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra. We'll return to Rovinj in the late afternoon, with time to refresh ourselves in the warm waters of the Adriatic Sea or absorb the atmosphere of the Rovinj's narrow, cobbled lanes, where we can enjoy artisan shops and galleries.
Day 3: Rovinj - Porec - Motovun
Today we'll say goodbye to Rovinj, departing in style as the old Venetian traders once did. We'll depart on a privately chartered boat, allowing us to see Istria's coast with its picturesque houses of the old town, as we head north. Passing small islets and secluded bays, we'll enter Lim fjord, taking us deep into the peninsula. As we cruise deeper, high cliffs begin to rise above us. This is the area of Northern Croatia where one can enjoy extraordinary mussels. Our next stop is the coastal town of Porec, for centuries part of the Venetian Republic. A must-see among the town’s many sights is the amazing pre-Byzantine basilica of Bishop Euphrasus. Here we'll enjoy lunch at a traditional Istrian restaurant, called Konoba. In the afternoon, we'll leave the blue Istria behind us, and work our way inland through a region of green rolling hills and vineyards. Today’s final destination is the medieval town of Motovun, situated on the top of a hill. Every summer, Motovun hosts an international film festival that attracts artists from all over the world. The damp Motovun forests create a favorable environment for truffles, completely hidden underground. Why not end the day with a gourmet Istrian dinner in truffle country?
Day 4: Motovun - Truffles Route - Groznjan - Motovun
Today we will awake on top of a hill overlooking the kingdom of truffles! We'll start the day by enjoying some good Italian coffee, while taking a moment to soak in the leisurely atmosphere of Motovun. Our hotel’s terrace is a splendid place to enjoy our breakfast. We'll then begin our activities with a hike along the route of truffles. We'll stop to learn the art of ‘hunting’ this precious subterranean mushroom, also called the 'black gold.' Its sophisticated aroma can be found worldwide on the plates of the best culinary chefs, but it is a special privilege to taste it directly from where it comes from. We compliment our truffle tasting with a fine red wine from the region. We'll then continue hiking to Groznjan, a small, ancient walled Renaissance town perched on a hill, and dating back to the beginning of the past millennium. Groznjan is known as a city of artists, as almost every door leads to an art studio or gallery. This area is so picturesque, we will all be advised to bring our cameras on this day. We'll finish the day at our boutique hotel in Motovun, where a swimming pool and spa awaits.
Day 5: Motovun - Ljubljana - Alpine Bled
Our wonderful journey continues from the Adriatic into the Alps today, as we leave Croatia behind and enter Slovenia. In the following days, the landscape will change dramatically. Our first stop is in the Slovenian Karst region, not far from the sea. This intriguing limestone area of underground caves and unique rock formations offers one of Slovenia’s most spectacular sights—the Skocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We'll take an amazing 2-hour underground walk here before continuing to Ljubljana. The Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana has recently become one of the hippest cities in Europe. The town center is reminiscent of Prague, but without the crowds. The city is so small we can explore most of the town’s sights on foot, yet so cosmopolitan we can hear a variety of languages while walking along the lovely Ljubljanica River. With lively bars, cafes, and art galleries, the green city of Ljubljana is the perfect getaway from larger and more crowded European capitals. After exploring the city’s numerous sights, we'll continue on to picturesque Alpine Lake Bled, where we'll stay for the night.
Day 6: Bled Lake - Bohinj Lake
Slovenia would not be the same without the picture postcard perfection of Lake Bled. The bell tower of a medieval church rises proudly from a tiny islet in the midst of the lake, guarded by a cliff-top castle. The lake stands at the door of the Julian Alps and on a sunny day you can catch a glimpse of Mount Triglav (9,396'), Slovenia’s highest mountain. Today we embark on a rewarding hike through Blejski Vintgar Gorge, walking above crystal-clear Radovna Stream. Here we'll walk on wooden planks constructed over the whirlpools and carved into sheer rock cliffs. We'll complete the circuit coming out of the canyon with views of surrounding villages and meadows. Afterwards, we'll transfer to Bohinj Lake, Bled's wild brother, further into the mountains. Only a short drive away, this glacier lake lies within Triglav National Park. We'll take a hike on a soft forest trail that leads us around the lake, close enough to spot swimming trout. Afterwards, we'll return to Bled. It’s worth noting that Bled gained world recognition in the 19th century due to the efforts of Swiss doctor Arnold Rikli, who combined healing thermal waters and Bled’s idyllic landscape. How about a nice spa treatment or massage before dinner?
Day 7: Bled - Soca River Valley - Kobarid
Today we'll take a ride around the Julian Alps en route to the valley of the brilliant emerald green Soca River. On the way we'll pass the village of Kranjska Gora, a world cup skiing area, before making our way up to the Vrsic Pass (5,330'). The pass used to be the border line between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Imperium. Here, there are breathtaking views, and with a bit of luck we be able to see dozens of delicate alpine flowers. A scenic drive along this winding road brings us to the spring of the Soca River. Here we'll start today’s hike walking down this magnificent valley, where the famous WWI Isonzo Front took place, as vividly described in Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms. We'll finish the day in Kobarid where we'll have the chance to visit an excellent museum dedicated to WWI. But our day isn't over yet! We'll spend the night in a charming countryside villa where we'll also enjoy a culinary extravaganza prepared for us by Slovenia’s best chef, Ana Ros. A true delight!
Day 8: Kobarid - Montemaggiore Hike - Wine Country
We'll start the day with arguably the best breakfast of the whole trip, and a brief tour of chef Ana's herb garden. Afterwards, we'll say goodbye to Slovenia and enter the Italian province of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Here a good hike will bring us up to the top of the scenic Montemaggiore. It is known for the best views in the region and on a clear day you can see the blue Adriatic, the Julian Alps, and the Dolomites in the distance. A short ride in the afternoon brings us to Collio wine country. This hilly area is rich with vineyards, spreads over Slovenia and Italy, and offers some of the best wine you can get in this part of Europe. We'll visit the local wineries, and sample the 'big reds,' and Friuli's exquisite wine grape, called ribolla.
Day 9: Collio - Vicenza - Venice
On our last day together, we'll travel west to the Italian region of Veneto. Here we'll visit the historical city of Vicenza and its lovely countryside, famous for the UNESCO Renaissance villas built by the great architect Andrea Palladio. In the late afternoon, we'll reach our final destination, Venice, known as the City of Canals and the Queen of the Adriatic. Venice is undoubtedly one of the world's most beautiful cities and one of Europe’s most romantic sights. We'll enjoy an espresso in Piazza San Marco, and soak in the atmosphere before heading to the airport for our return flights home. Our tour ends at the airport in Venice, where you will depart on homeward-bound flights.