It’s a long way to get there and size wise there is not much of it compared to France say or Germany but it sure is worth it.
The plan for early Summer 2017 was to move quickly through France and Germany as far as Fussen, just south of Munich, where we would stop over to visit “mad King Ludwig”s castle of Neuschwanstein. Then quickly through Austria into Slovenia and south to make our first stop in Croatia at the Plitvicka national park. South then to Zadar to join the renowned Croatian coast road down to Dubrovnik and Cavtat. We thought we might return north using the ferry crossings to some of the islands in the Adriatic towards the Istrian peninsular, stopping off there if we had time before entering Slovenia again to revisit the beautiful Soca valley which had impressed us so much last year. We would then hurry back through Austria and Germany to end up spending more leisure time travelling up the Meuse valley in France and returning to UK on the Dunkirk/Dover ferry toward the end of June.
The plan worked out well in the main though we didn’t in the end ‘do’ the islands but used the motorway instead to return to Zadar from Dubrovnik which allowed us more time to visit the Istrian peninsula.
In total we travelled some 3,500 miles in a little over 7 weeks.
Day by Day Account
3rd and 4th May. We drove for 4 ½ hours from Malvern down to Brighton to a pleasant site near the coast and a few miles from the Newhaven ferry. It was pretty cold. Reception said to allow an hour to get to the ferry for 7.30 so we got up and left at 6.25. We arrived at the ferry at 6.40 and were second in line. There were several Morgans and other classic cars embarking, presumably en route to a meet somewhere.
The ferry crossing took 4 hours. We had the usual difficulty finding the correct route out of Dieppe and have now made a note for another time. We did 127 miles of mostly peage motorway (14 euros) in very light traffic and stopped at a lovely site 30 miles past Amiens, Camping du Port de Plaisance lying between 2 arms of the river Somme just outside Peronne. It was flat and informally laid out with lots of shelter from trees and shrubs.
5th May. My birthday. No prezzies (Mike had hoped to buy something on the ferry and failed). One card and no e-mails as there was no signal on the mobile. Cancel birthday, I have decided to have another year at 77. The day started cold. We sped another 210 miles down the nice empty French motorways (35 euros) to a pleasant campsite near Metz, Camping la Croix du Bois Sacker, and enjoyed a lovely sunny evening.
6th May. Another 200 miles down a busier motorway through rolling green hills and past the occasional mountain. We stopped at a reasonable site in Hohenstadt just past Kirkheim called Camping Waldpark. The site has a nice flat area for about 15 touring vans with toilet facilities but if you want a shower you have to go 300 yards further into the site down a steep hill to the residential area. There was a restaurant on site so we celebrated my birthday a day late. I had a tasty steak and chips and Mike had a pork escalope stuffed with ham and cheese which he said lay heavy on his stomach. We followed it with a shared tiramasu (delicious). My diet has already gone to pot as I calculated this as 36 Slimming World syns (though I did remove the garlic and butter pat).
7th and 8th May. It rained all morning and was still fairly chilly. We went back on the busy German motorway for 50 miles. It was busy even though many of the lorries were parked up in lay-byes for the Sunday. We had one nasty moment when another lane was joining us from the right and a lorry cut in front of us. Mike swerved sideways and was loudly tooted at by another van trying to overtake. We eventually turned south and the traffic gradually decreased. We stopped at a lakeside site and had a look round. There was plenty of room but most spaces were a long way from the loos. We checked our ACSI book and found another site just over the Austrian border in Reutte so we went there and sat out the rain for a couple of days. It turned out to be expensive at 24 euros a night which included a high visitor’s tax element.
9th May. It was not far now to get to Bannwaldsee south of Fussen, another lakeside site from which we had planned to visit Neuschwanstein. It was a bit basic and next to a busy road. The weather was pretty cold but the showers were nice and warm. We took a stroll around the edge of the lake.
10th May. One week out and we have glorious sunshine and are warm at last. We took the bus from the camp-site to Neuschwanstein. It really is a fairy-tale castle perched on a ledge high up on a mountain. We took the shuttle bus up the hill to the castle where, as usual we found crowds of Orientals already there taking endless selfies with cameras on sticks with views of the castle as backdrop. We joined a tour – in English – which took only 30 minutes. The castle was started in 1850 but King Ludwig drowned when he was 40 in very shallow water in the lake when out with his psychiatrist (must look up that story), so the castle was never finished. The rooms that are finished are all decorated to illustrate Wagnerian opera themes, Ludwig was a great Wagner fan – there is even an indoor cave. The castle had running water and electricity and cost millions (much to the annoyance of his government ministers) but Ludwig only spent 170 days there in total.
The chandeliers were shaped like crowns and his bedroom had sumptuous drapes and a gothic carved canopy.
The tour wasn’t the most exciting visit we have ever taken. It was interesting enough but the exterior views of the castle really are the main attraction, .
We had pizza for lunch and took the bus back to the campsite to sunbathe.
11th May. We woke to another blue sky but it clouded over by midday. We drove 170 miles which was too much as only about 40 were motorway so Mike did all the rest. We drove through some lovely countryside with snow capped mountains and deep valleys with lots of small towns and then through rolling hills and wide plains’ It looked to be perfect cow country but there were not many cows in sight. There were lots of buttercup and dandy lion filled fields which were empty apart from a rash of little wooden huts whose purpose we did not manage to fathom.
We took a planned stop at the Wieskirche near Steingaden, still in eastern Bavaria. Apparently in 1738 a local farmer’s wife saw tears coming from an abandoned figure of the scourged Christ. Lots of pilgrims began visiting and a wooden chapel was built. This was soon overwhelmed by the number of visitors and the large church was begun in 1745 – presumably financed by the donations of the pilgrims. This church now has parking space for huge numbers of buses and cars. It has been recognised by Unesco as a masterpiece of Rococo art.
It is crammed full of statues and carvings. There are numerous large statues of bishops in a variety of hats. There are hundreds of fat white cherubs with their rather prudish underwear picked out in gold. There is a rather diminutive Mary balancing a 9 lb Jesus on one hand. Altogether is was a striking sight and well worth a visit, but very much over the top in my view.
We moved on for the night to Panorama Camp by a lake near Zell am See. An excellent site, well laid out with trees and shrubs and good views.
12th and 13th May. We set off to drive through Austria towards Villach on the way into Slovenia. We had planned a 150 mile motorway journey but shortly after leaving Zell we saw a sign off to the right saying ‘Villach’ so Mike took it. I checked the map. ‘Oh dear’ I said. ‘It looks as though we will have to get the van onto a train’. ‘Rubbish’ said Mike as we passed another Villach sign, this time with a picture of a car on a train. It was a spectacular route ending high up on a mountain at the train station of the Autoschleuse Tauernbahn at Bad Gastein. There, sure enough, we had to drive the van through a gauge to prove we would fit on the train, a narrow archway with only inches to spare, and then on to a rattley looking carrier and down a sort of corridor of arches on the trucks towards the front of the train. We then got out of the van to travel in the more comfortable passenger carriage. We were lucky with the timing since the train left shortly afterwards and drove us for about 20 minutes through a long tunnel through the mountain. Out of the other end we returned to the van and Mike drove off again and we went steeply down lots of horseshoe bends to the valley below. We then had about 30 miles of a very pretty valley with a river beside us to join our planned motorway again at Spittal. It cost us 17 euros but cut about 40 miles of mountain off the driving.
We crossed the Austria/Slovenia border just south of Villach where about 50 lorries were having to queue while we were allowed to sail straight through. We bought our 15 euro vignette to pay for the use of the Slovenian motorways and made our way down to the ACSI site on the shores of Lake Bled. It rained for much of the night but Saturday dawned fine and bright so we had a coffee by the lake and then walked the 7 kilometres round the lake and back to the campsite. The walk is very pleasant with the horse-chestnuts in bloom and lots of beech trees. Bled Castle sits high on a rock overlooking the lake and there is a pretty island with a church in the middle. Lots of youngsters were out in skiffs and tourist boats were taking people around the lake. It is a little touristy but definitely an attractive place. We had a Greek salad in a lakeside café and returned to the van for a warm but cloudy afternoon. Mike thought Kamp Bled was a pretty poor site. Despite being busy, facility blocks were closed and the one that was open ran out of hot water. The rain didn’t help since it flooded several pitches. However, it is convenient being so close to the lake.
Sun 14th and Mon 15th. Sunday was sunny but quite clammy. We drove down an easy bit of motorway to begin with – no lorries on Sundays – but then chose a long winded route which turned out to be only moderately scenic and very tortuous. We were glad to arrive at Slapic Camp near Duga Resa in Croatia. This proved to be a pleasant flat camp by a river with lots of trees and excellent facilities. We sweltered in the shade through the afternoon but enjoyed a lovely evening.
We decided to stay another day and got the bikes out and cycled along by the river into Duga Resa and did a little shopping. I really find a bike saddle very painful to sit on . I think I need one with a hole in the middle. It was a damp afternoon and I did some laundry, skyped daughter Katey and cooked curry for dinner.
Tues 16th. We drove on south to the Plitvicka National Park which is where we intended to really start our tour of Croatia. It should have been 40 miles but I got a bit lost and it ended up as 55. We stopped for a picnic lunch at a very pretty village at Rastop near Slunj. This used to be a water milling settlement and the houses are built over the confluence of a couple of rivers. The houses have all been adapted for tourists and it would be a delightful place to stay if you can cope with the noise of waterfalls and rushing water under the house.
We looked at the Korita campsite to begin with but agreed it looked tatty so we went back a couple of miles to Grabovac which has a pleasant nice site set nicely under trees. It took a bit of effort to level the van completely but it was OK. The day was nice and sunny and not as sticky hot as it has been.
Wed 17th. We were bussed from the campsite to Plitvicka National Park which is a string of 16 beautiful deep green lakes in thick woodland, all at different levels and with dozens of waterfalls, big and small, joining them together. The longest of these is the Grand Slap at 78 metres. It is well organised to cope with the numbers of visitors. There are buses and a boat to ferry you around and boardwalks around the lakes. You can choose between short and longer walks. We walked about 5 miles round the boardwalks with a short boat ride in the middle. It got quite crowded by lunch time with lots more Orientals blocking the boardwalks taking the usual selfies and with numerous school parties. However, it is outstandingly beautiful and well worth the visit. Go early!
The walk was supposed to take 5 or 6 hours but we did it in 4 and had to wait around for an hour and a half for the bus back to camp. We had a frankly dreadful snack at the café on the site while we waited. We went out in the evening to a restaurant by the camp-site and this wasn’t very good either but I did have a lovely pancake and ice cream for pudding.
Thurs 18thand Friday 19th May. We drove on down to the coast via Route 1 and the A1 motorway. This took us through an area with vast flat plains in between the mountains where nothing in the way of agriculture seemed to be happening. Near Starigrad we found the very nice Plantaza camp, our first camp on the Adriatic coast, terraced and under pine trees whose lovely scent reminded us of our sailing days in Greece. We were now near the Paklenica National Park but having studied the literature we decided the treks there were too long for us. We had hoped to take a boat trip on the Zrmanja Gorge but as it was still off season the boat only sailed two days a week (provided 10 people booked) and the days on offer would have meant waiting around so we had to give it a miss. We stayed one more day and walked along the edge of the sea under the acacia trees for coffee in Starigrad. The Adriatic Sea in Croatia is a wonderful bright blue and very clear because there are very few sandy beaches, most are shingle. People sunbathe and swim from flat rocks or concrete promenades or jetties. We bought ourselves some swim shoes to cope with the pebbled sea bottom should it get warm enough for us to venture in.
Sat 20th. Rain and thunderstorms were forecast but only a little rain and no thunderstorms arrived. We drove on down to Zadar. The old town is on a promontory and had a roman settlement which is being excavated by the archaeologists. There is parking all round the promontory outside the town walls, The town is really buzzing with lots of cafes and restaurants and many young people enjoying the sun. There are a couple of modern artistic installations at the end of the promontory. One is the Sea Organ which moans quite tunefully as the waves hit it. The other is the Salute to the Sun. This is a large disc set into the promenade consisting of light sensitive tiles which absorb the sun in the day and at night radiate a random sequence of coloured lights. This must be quite spectacular but we weren’t there to see it. Besides exploring the narrow café lined streets we also visited the ancient glass museum. We had not realised that people were making glass 3000 years BC. There were dozens of little bottles for scent and medicines and large glass containers for the ashes of the dead – better than the plastic containers we get these days. We were also given a demonstration of glass bottle making by a young man who wielded long poles dipped in molten glass, occasionally a little closer to me than I really liked. In about 10 minutes he created a perfect little blue jug with a handle.
We drove on to Murter and had some difficulty finding our chosen campsite (MOW – I refer to the sat-nav as Mike’s Other Woman – got very confused). We stopped at one we noticed on the edge of a pretty bay, 20 yards from the beautiful clear blue sea. This was the Autokamp Jazina, an odd site, terraced with very poor and unkempt access to all of the pitches, awful facilities full of cobwebs, only one shower but with plenty hot water. Mike actually quite liked it. It was (unsurprisingly) almost deserted and there was easy access to a nice deserted promenade. We walked up the hill in the evening and came across the access to the ACSI site we had been looking for originally and which we had missed because the directions were wrong in the ACSI book! There was a beautiful sunset in the evening.
Sun 21st May. Rain am and a lot of wind. When it stopped we walked round the other side of the hill to Tisno where all was calm. Tisno is a pretty village set on two sides of a harbour. The bridge over to Murter makes a third side. We enjoyed a good lunch of mussels for me and clams for Mike with a very tasty flat bread to mop up the juices. Back at the camp site the wind was still blowing so we had to sit in the sun on the leeward side of the van out of the draught.
Mon 22nd May. We drove on to Sibenik. The town was very busy but we eventually found a good parking place down by the ferry. It was very sunny but there was a cooling breeze. We had coffee on the seafront and then visited the cathedral which has a tulip shaped dome and is relatively plain inside. St Christopher’s femur is interred in a large box. We wondered where the rest of him was. The cathedral is smaller than a lot of French/English ones. It has a very attractive tiny baptistery with four scallop shells making a vault overhead. We then climbed up lots of steps to St. Michael’s fortress through narrow streets of grey houses where the slabs on the pavements are shiny, worn by thousands of feet. We passed a very attractive café set in a herb garden. The fortress has recently been renovated and was reopened in 2016. It is now a splendid concert venue with a great view over the town and harbour which is linked to the sea by a narrow entrance. We decided to forgo the second fortress which would have involved going a long way down and then up again. We were very taken with Sibenik which must make a good centre for a hotel based holiday
We drove on to Primasten, a pretty village built on a conical hill with cafes lining the small harbour. Several very nice yachts were tied to the quay. We shared a good pizza for lunch then carried on to Trogir where we stayed at the Rozac Autocamp which was very congested, expensive even for a pitch not on the beach and not one we would recommend.
Tues 23rd May. The old town of Trogir lies on the island of Ciovo joined now by a bridge to the mainland. It is a very attractive maze of little streets lined with tall grey houses.. Every possible space has a café tucked into it. There is a rather splendid cathedral with good carving round the main door and an impressive (renovated) fortress with St Mark’s tower. It really is a delightful town.
After taking in the sights we drove on toward Split. En route we planned to stop at the botanical gardens hosted by a local school. We found it but unfortunately it did not open for visitors until June. After some further searching we eventually found the Roman remains at Salona, a northern suburb of Split. Julius Caesar had established a big town here. There were remains of buildings and lots of very large stone sarcophagi. It was pretty hot and humid by now for site seeing. We drove on along the outskirts of Split which is a very busy and a pretty ugly town viewed from afar with lots of tower blocks. We were intending to stop at an ACSI campsite at Omis, some 25 kilometres from Split but found it was being renovated with lots of building work going on. There were dozens of tiny holiday homes all nose to tail and no water until 4.00pm so we went on into Omis town for a meal but couldn’t find anywhere to eat. However, back in the van, we drove round a corner and found a more attractive part of the town with lots of restaurants and cafes, but too late. We drove on a further 15 kilometres or so and found a really delightful non ACSI campsite, Sirena, attractively terraced on a steep cliff-side with shade from fir trees and a path down to the sea. Small but beautiful with excellent facilities and a restaurant.
Wed 24th May. We had a lazy day. It was sunny but with a cool breeze in the morning but clouded over after lunch and we had a thunderstorm. We ate out in the evening. Mike enjoyed his goulash but I had to chew pretty hard on my lamb chops. Overnight it got very windy and rained a lot.
Thurs 25th May. We continued on down south along the No. 8 coast road. There are craggy grey mountains close on the left with bushes on the middle slopes and fir trees and banks of yellow broom further down. The road is a wonderful bit of engineering clinging dangerously to the cliff edge and winding up and down. On the right, the seaward side, there are little settlements on the slopes and occasional promontories., all with little harbours. It is a superbly scenic drive for the most part with just the odd over developed holiday village.
We stopped for morning coffee at a little fishing village called Drasnice which is working on developing every available building into a holiday home. We got excellent coffee for 2 euros then wound our way to Ploce for a night. Before we left UK, Mike had checked with our motorhome insurers to see if we were covered for driving in Bosnia. We are not! Now the Croatian coastline is split below Ploce for some 8 kilometres by the so-called Neum corridor. This dates back to 1699 when the city state of Dubrovnik ceded this section of coastline to the Ottomans in lieu of protection from the Venetians. It has remained under various guises since and is now a part of Bosnia. The Peljesac peninsula is a strip of Croatia which lies parallel to the mainland and extends past the Neum corridor from Ston in the south. So, in order to bypass this bit of Bosnia you can catch a ferry from Ploce, north of the Neum corridor, to Trpanj on the peninsular, then drive down the peninsula to Ston and back on mainland Croatia south of the corridor. Clear as mud but look at a map if you want. Lots of people don’t bother and drive (uninsured) through the corridor but we didn’t!
Ploce itself has some of the ugliest tenement buildings we have ever seen, presumably left over from the communist era. We sorted out the way to the ferry, bought our tickets and then went back to spend the night in a lovely and convenient campsite on the side of Bacinska Jezera lake. It is a small site with good facilities and we pitched beneath trees on a flat area right by the lake edge which was thick with bull rushes. The site owner pointed to marks about 6 feet up the trees showing where the flood waters reach in the winter.
Fri 26th May. It was a lovely blue day but a bit windy. We took a picnic lunch with us and cycled round the lake, partly on reasonable quiet roads and partly on rough gravel tracks which played havoc with the bit of me which bounces up and down on the saddle. We relaxed back in the shade at the campsite in the afternoon.
Sat 27th May. We had an early start because the birds and the bikers woke us up. We shopped in a convenient Lidls by the port and then caught the ferry which took an hour to cross for about £32 which we thought was quite reasonable. The peninsular is very attractive with lots of craggy hills and spectacular views down to the many off lying islands and we decided to drive north along its length before heading south to Dubrovnik. We passed through Orebic which was too commercial for our taste and ended up at the very pretty little village of Loviste which lies at the head of a broad bay at the far northwest end. We lunched on divine grilled squid and mussels. We found an excellent campsite, terraced, under olive trees and close to the water called Denka. This was positioned just before you get to the ACSI site and was nicer and more convenient for the restaurants and the same price.
Sun 28th May. Lovely idle day. We went for a swim in the warm clear blue water and went out to eat in the evening. We had the best meal of the holiday in Restaurant Gradina on the far side of the bay. More of the delicious tender grilled calamari (squid) followed by fresh fish – sea bass type but can’t remember the local name.
Mon 29th May. We did the long drive down the Peljesac peninsular. It is a big wine growing area and we bought a couple of bottles of Dingac which is supposed to be the best red wine in Croatia from a shed on a cliff top. The road winds a lot and is narrow in places so I winced every time something big went the other way. It was very hot but there were great views. We stopped briefly at Ston where fortified walls climb high up the mountain and over to Mali Ston several kilometres away. The fortress was built by the Republic of Croatia in 1400 to defend the salt pans. Sadly it was much too hot to try and climb up the hundreds of steps through the fortifications. The peninsular eventually joins the main coast road which winds eventually past Dubrovnik. Driving very slowly in traffic up one long hill we came across a broken down car. Luckily for the car there was a bus load of young men in front of us who climbed out and pushed it up hill for 100 years to a layby. On the far side of Dubrovnik we went to the campsite at Mlini recommended by our last campsite as there was a boat to Dubrovnik from the harbour here. Unfortunately we had not been told that the campsite was called campsite Kate and it took us some miles and several dangerous u-turns up and down the busy road to find it. We found a lovely shady pitch under a walnut tree, the only drawback being that everyone going to the loo walked past our pitch. Mike was pretty shattered by the long drive and the heat as none of the roads were my kind of driving. so he had to do it all.
Tues 30th May. We walked down the steep path from the campsite to the little harbour below and caught the 9.30 boat to Dubrovnik 30 minutes away. There is a dramatic approach to the walls of the city and you enter through a gate in the walls to the junction of two major wide paved streets lined with handsome tall grey buildings and many shops and cafes. Coffee was double the price of elsewhere as Dubrovnik is a major stopping point for cruise ships. We started by walking all the way round the walls (cost about £16 each – and Mike reckoned the cashier had short changed him) looking down on the red tiled roofs of the buildings and church domes. There were great views over the harbours and the sea to the neighbouring islands. The route along the walls is about 3 miles long and is up and down numerous steps to reach various towers. The war damage seems to have been repaired. The town was fairly crowded though not as bad as Venice. Down in the town we wandered round the narrow back streets full of tiny but expensive jewellery and clothes shops tucked into the old buildings. We took the boat back to Mlini harbour for a very good pizza. We then staggered back up the 150 steps and 150 yards of steep slope to the campsite to have a restful afternoon in the shade.
Wed 31st May. Next day we took the boat in the other direction to the attractive tourist town of Cavtat set in a v- shaped bay. There were several gin palaces and nice yachts tied up at the quay. We had a pleasant shady walk round the edge of the water to the next bay then back to Cavtat for a not very good lunch in one of the many cafes. We ordered grilled squid again but this time it was tough and the Greek salad accompaniment was uninspiring. I complained about the squid and got it changed to mussels (miniscule). We caught the afternoon boat back. The day was sunny but with a lovely cool breeze, so very pleasant. We spent a few hours planning our route back up through Croatia to Slovenia.
Thurs 1st June. We left Mlini and drove north and back onto the Peljesac peninsular. It was still too hot to climb the mighty walls of Ston so we drove on to the ferry at Trbanj and crossed back over to Ploce, returning to our campsite by the lake. Despite the heat there was still a cooling breeze which saved us from melting.
Fri 2nd and Sat 3rd June. We had decided now not to return north via the islands. Most looked pretty barren and though we were sure there would be many attractive places to visit, time was running out if we were to get back to UK by end June. Instead we would use the motorway back to Zadar and have a look at the Istrian peninsular before heading back via Slovenia. The motorway appeared to be very new, nearly empty and passed through some spectacular countryside with dramatic mountains and fertile plains. The only workmen we saw were cutting the grass on the central reservation and at £17 for 150 miles, we thought it was very good value. We left the motorway just east of Zadar to detour to Nin, which our guide book says has an important historic centre boasting medieval churches and surviving town walls. It obtained its wealth from the salt trade and was the residence of Croatian kings and the seat of an archbishop. It was far bigger than Zadar at one stage. However, by virtue of it having a rare sandy beach it now appears to be a holiday centre for families with pleasure park, crazy golf and water slides. Not our scene and the campsite, Camping-Peros, we thought to be pretty poor.
Next morning we drove over the little bridge onto the island to the old part of Nin which is quite pretty but not worth spending much time exploring. We then rejoined the coast road which is now quite dramatic. On the right, close to the road are the sheer grey craggy Velebit mountains, clothed in scrub on their lower slopes. The road snakes it’s way along the narrow coastal strip, up and down and in an out. There is often a steep drop to the sea on the left with glimpses of little harbours in every possible inlet, accessed by precipitous tracks. Over the flat bright blue sea the island of Pag runs parallel to the coast. Its creamy rocks gleamed in the sun but it looked stark and inhospitable though it is said to be greener on the other side. After a while the road veers inland a little way through the lower slopes of the mountains.
The motorcyclists were out in force for the weekend and this is the kind of road they love to race along. A warning triangle on a bend warned us to slow down and round the corner a couple of motorcycles were spread-eagled across the road with police in attendance but no sign of the riders. Despite this warning, other motorcyclists continued to speed along the twisting road, doing the odd wheelie as they went.
There are fewer campsites on this bit of road but we eventually rounded a bend and found camp Ujca, turning sharp right, down a steep hill and through a narrow tunnel under the main road. This site is only suitable for tents and very small motorhomes – we were the largest one there – but we managed to squeeze onto a shady shelf. It was noisy, with a constant stream of traffic passing along the main road above but there was a nice little cove in which to swim.
Sun 4th June was another hot day. We drove up the rest of the coast road to Rijeka. The road was still striking in many places but gradually became more built up. We made a mistake by not taking the motorway to avoid Rijeka and instead stuck to the coast road which got busier and busier. We had planned to stop in Lovran which has a long promenade walk but there was nowhere to park so we continued on to the next available campsite in Medveja. This was fairly grotty, crowded with dirty showers and toilets but Mike was pretty hot and tired so we decided to stay. There is a crowded beach over the main road and we went and had a coffee in a café set up on the cliff. Back at the camp one motor-homer managed to burst a tyre on the concrete plinth of a lamp-post he had not seen. We wanted to eat out but pretty well the only choice was the campsite restaurant which had a very limited choice and we had an unexciting gougons of fish in soggy batter with chips.
5th, 6th and 7th June. From Medveja we carried on down the east coast of the Istrian peninsular. Here and there were one or two pretty places on the drive but most of it was built up and unexciting. We had planned to stop at a campsite at Stupice at the south of a little promontory below Pula but were discouraged by notices for Paintball, Aquaparks etc. When we arrived we found it to be a holiday village so we drove back a few miles to Kamp Runke, just above the village of Premantura. This was a superb terraced site where we paid a little extra to pitch under trees close to the beach. We basked on the rocks for a while and had a swim. Thunderstorms were forecast but never arrived. On Tuesday we walked to the village for a coffee. This is a not unattractive but the main road is overwhelmed with holiday traffic and the little shops sell buckets and spades and fairly rubbish souvenirs. There is a choice of restaurants so we returned in the evening for a good meal. One of the restaurants advertised itself as having free Wi-Fi. The other said it didn’t and invited customers to come in and talk to each other instead! On Wednesday we had another day off lazing and swimming and not much else.
Thursday 8th June. Having rested up we drove rapidly north along the motorways, over the Slovenian border and then more motorway back to camp Lijak near Nova Gorica where we had stayed last year. The building of the reception office and restaurant was now finished and we were welcome back by the friendly owners. We watched the paragliders landing in the field next door and planned the next few days which would be mostly a repeat of what we had enjoyed the previous year.
Fri 9th June. From Nova Gorica the road north towards Austria follows the beautiful river Soca valley.The area is quite industrial to begin with but soon changes into a most beautiful drive with the road twisting through the green mountains on either side of the blue/green river. We found a lovely coffee stop at the Maya Team Sports Centre which offers canoeing, canyoning, rafting etc. It is a very attractive place beside the river. We then went on through Tomlin to the Tomlinska Gorge again. From Tomlin you have to drive for about a kilometre down a narrow road with virtually no passing places. We had a bit of a contra temps with a couple in a little car. The wife was driving and kept tucking into the side in the hope we could squeeze past but there was no chance of that. Since there was no way we were going to reverse a long way back up the hill, she needed to go backwards for about 50 yards. Eventually I persuaded her in sign language to reverse but instead of going safely down the middle of the road, she kept trying to back down the edge close to a number of sticking out rocks. Finally she got back to a place where we could squeeze past without damage to either of us. The Gorge is beautiful. It is at the junction of two rivers which bounce and sparkle over the rocky floor. There is a lot of up and down steps but it is worth it. We had a nice lunch in the café by the car park and luckily got back up to Tomlin without meeting anyone else. It was getting pretty hot for walking by now.
We continued on to a campsite at Kobarid where we had stayed but it was pretty full so we moved on to Trnova ob Soci along the narrow Bovic road which appears to be gradually crumbling down the cliff into the river. There are road works taking place to save it. There were lots of cars at the site belonging to rafters and canoeists who were using a slipway into the river but only a handful of campers so we had plenty of space to choose from and settled under some shade in a little wood for a peaceful night. The campsite facilities were not all that good but was a convenient stopover.
Sat 10th June. Showers were forecast but never arrived and we stopped at Slap Boka for a short but strenuous climb up to the waterfall. The weather had been too dry for it to be at its best but must be wonderful in early spring when the snow is melting and the water shoots over the cliff edge to fall some 80 metres. We spent the night at Camp Soca where we stayed last year and once again we enjoyed wonderful silver trout fresh out of the river in the restaurant.
Sun 11th June. Last year we failed to find the Soca Trail along the river so this year we did the walk in the reverse direction, taking the road to the village of Soca where we were delighted to find that in the last 12 months a nice little shop and café has opened. (Last year there was nothing for the weary traveller). We had coffee and asked for directions which merely meant walking a little further upstream, crossing the little bridge and following obvious signs. It is a lovely cool walk, a little rough at times, under the trees along the river which dances over white boulders and then through some very deep narrow gorges which include smooth potholes that have been carved by the water. Back at camp we lazed in the shade again and then enjoyed the splendid showers on site.
Mon 12th June. From Soca route 206 climbs up through Trenta to the Vrsic pass at 1611 metres before crossing into Austria north of Kranjska Gora. This was the route we took last year and we still have the fridge magnet, bought at the top of the pass, to prove it. This year Mike chickened out and we retraced our steps from Soca to join the 203 at Bovec. Although easier, this was still a highly scenic route through the Julian Alps before joining a motorway to Villach in Austria. From there we drove straight through Austria on motorways with only light traffic. The motorway vignette cost only 8.90 euros which we felt was very reasonable although we had to pay an extra 12 euros to go through a long tunnel. Into Germany we headed for Lake Chiemsee only to find all the campsites full! Whether it was a German holiday we never knew and our ACSI book did not offer other suggestions but I spotted a little red triangle on the map about 5 miles further on so we headed for that and found a lovely little shady site, Camping “Am Moor” at.Aschau im Chiemgau, . The thunderstorm struck just as we finished settling in – getting the van up on levelling blocks and plugging in the electricity just in time. This was a long day, some 204 miles in all, albeit lots of motorway.
Tues 13th June. We were now planning to visit Strasbourg on the way home and decided to use motorways as much as possible to make good time. The route would take us along the M8 through Stuttgart toward Karlsruhe before turning south again on the M5 and A35 into Strasbourg. We left at 9.30 this morning and found the traffic was very heavy round Munich. There had been an accident on the opposite carriageway and there was a four mile tailback on that side. German motorways are free so are packed with traffic and the ones we used were a nightmare. From the number of lorries around it is obvious that Germany is booming and the present motorways can’t cope. For this reason there are dozens of road works going on to widen them, but meanwhile this is making them worse. I felt so sorry for the lorry drivers who must think themselves lucky if they manage 15 miles and hour. There was some respite from road works just short of our destination at Camping Waldpark Hohenstat where we had also stayed on the way down.
Wed 14th June. Motorway towards Karlsrughe and again a nightmare journey with traffic and road works worse than yesterday. There were lorries nose to tail all the way and around Ettlingham there was a place where three lanes of traffic merge from right and three from the left with cars and lorries from the left wanting to get over to turn right at the next exit and vice versa. Cars and lorries were forcing themselves from lane to lane. Mike eventually managed to get over to the left hand side but then we had another stretch of road works going south where the lanes were narrowed. The fast (!!!) lane – us – was limited to 2.2 metres and we are 2.05 and being crammed between lorries and a concrete barrier wall for 20 miles didn’t do our blood pressure any good. We only did 127 miles but Mike had to drive all the way so he was pretty exhausted.
MOW found her way to a campsite, Camping Indigo, on the edge of Strasbourg in the Montagne Verde area with no difficulty. The site was busy – we got one of the last places – and there was little shade and the temperature was now in the high 30s. Despite being full there was only one facilities block open. There was no hot water and it was expensive. Not our idea of 4* camping. There were frequent trains passing and the occasional aeroplanes so not a peaceful site but it was convenient for trams into Strasbourg.
Thurs 15th June. We caught an early tram into Strasbourg and started with a visit to the striking cathedral. It is very tall in a highly ornamented brown stone with a tall steeple. It is difficult to photograph because the surrounding buildings are close to it. Inside it has wonderful stained glass and carvings and an old organ, picked out in gold. There is an Orloge Astronomique. We were too early for the 12 o’clock time when all sorts of things are supposed to happen so only saw one figure move on the hour. We made the mistake of going for coffee in a café opposite the entrance to the cathedral where you are paying for the view as well as the coffee. 7.80 euros for two coffees. The streets around looked slightly run down and the parliament buildings were the other end of town so we headed for the old town in Petty France. Here the canal, river and ancient brown and white houses have been done up in the usual French fashion with lots of flowers and cafes with bright shades. It was crowded with tourists but very prettily done.
We went back to camp for a very sticky hot afternoon and a thunderstorm broke at 6.00.
16th and 17th June. Having ‘done’ Strasbourg we planned to return home via the Meuse valley. Mike still has ambitions for buying another boat, this time a motor cruiser on the rivers and canals of France so I had found a company that hired boats for short trips on the Meuse which I thought would be a good way of testing the feasibility/desirability of this plan. Today we found an easy route out of Strasbourg and along part motorway and part A road to a campsite called Camping Les Boucles de la Moselle in a loop of the river Moselle near Liverdun. This was a nice site, flat with some shade and a super new shower block for only 15 euros a night. We did the laundry and then strolled along the river when it had cooled a bit.
After a late start in the morning which was actually cool to begin with we climbed a long way up to the town of Liverdun. It looked interesting from a distance but was less so when we arrived being rather tatty and ugly. The very helpful lady in the tourist office told us it was an ancient settlement, fought over frequently since the 12 century. When we asked about a cafe or somewhere to eat she directed us all the way back down to the station near the camp site to find a fast food place – tasty but definitely fattening. Back at the camp the temperature had gone up again and we dozed through the afternoon.
Sun 18th June. We had a late start after waking late, cooking bacon and egg (which we do rarely but Mike likes a ‘full english’ occasionally as a treat) and filling up with water. We had a quick look at Toul which has a cathedral built between the 13th and 15th centuries. It is a rather squat looking edifice, large and heavily ornamented outside with very intricate carving. It has two towers with fancy crenulations but it looks as though someone forgot the spires. There is a very large cloister at the side but the whole place looks in need of a lot of money spending on it. The pigeons were making rather a mess in several places. There was one large handsome building next door which possibly housed the Bishop at one stage but now looked unoccupied except for a small tourist office. An attempt has been made to prettify the immediate grounds with fountains and rose beds but it is all closely surrounded by some ugly blocks of flats.
We had a nice drive north up the Meuse Valley through rolling countryside with lots of fields of sweet corn and various other grain crops. This was pleasantly gentle on the eye after all the mountains we had been driving through. We had lunch by a canal and then found a delightful quiet farm campsite, Camping Esperance at Villers-sur-Meuse. This was a camping a la Ferme site, right on the banks of the Meuse with a little beach, spacious informal layout, adequate facilities, just our cup of tea and all for 14 euros. Excellent.
Mon 19th June. We were now suffering the heat wave which England was also suffering but with temperatures in the high 30s and sticky with it! Monday was another very hot day and we continued up the pretty Meuse valley to Dun-sur-Meuse where I had found, on the internet, the charter company to try our river cruise. What a let down! When we finally found the office it was shut and their boats were all very small and tatty without even sun shades and no exterior steering position. We gave up the idea and went on to a campsite at Matlon et Clemency – Residence du Banel – where we had stayed last year. Again we found some shade in which to park and each pitch has its own little loo and shower in a wooden hut. Because of the heat it was more like a sauna than a shower. There is a nice restaurant on site where we ate that evening. It was an OK meal but quite expensive and the service was slow as they were very busy.
Tues 20th June. We were definitely heading home now. Our next chosen site was at Lac de Vielle Forges near Revin on the way to Dunkirk from where we had decided to cross back to UK. The site turned out to be large and closed until 3pm. We had lunch under the trees by the river in which lots of people were swimming but decided to press on to Vogenee near Phillipville where we stayed at Camping le Chesle. We found a pitch under a broad oak tree looking out onto a large open area and Mike spent a long time fighting the DFDS ferry web site, booking a ferry home for Thursday. Having got so far, my HSBC card was blocked so he had to start again using the Nationwide card. This went through OK but something had changed en-route and when he printed the booking he found the site had reverted the booking to the default departure port of Calais instead of Dunkirk. We have always avoided Calais because of the immigrant problems and it added about 30 miles to the journey but we had to stick with it,
Wed 21st to Friday 23rd June. We drove 160 miles to the St Louis campsite south of Calais. A couple of missed turnings and a deviation just before the site added a few extra miles and we arrived in the end feeling very hot and sticky. It was too hot to cook so we ate out again at the camp restaurant which was quite good and not expensive. On Thursday it was an easy drive via the motorway to Calais, avoiding the road works. The port of Calais, though huge is really well organised – and there was no sign of any immigrants. The ferry was on time and the crossing smooth. From Dover we had to brave the M25 but then stopped at a site near Henley to break the journey arriving home in Malvern at lunch time on the Friday.
We had been away for some 7 weeks and driven just over 3500 miles.
The visit to Neuschwanstein had added miles but we were glad we had been.
Croatia was absolutely beautiful and well worth the trip and Slovenia will always be a favourite of ours.
It was unfortunate that the route we took to Strasbourg was so awful and to be honest we wouldn’t bother with Strasbourg itself again.
The Meuse valley was pretty but it was too hot to do much walking. It was a pity we could not make the river trip – maybe next time – Mike lives in hope!
I hope this narrative will be of interest and perhaps of use to others intending to go this way
Pauline and Mike Nixon