After Slovenia, we decided to head south to Croatia and Italy to try and cling on to summer before we begin our slow journey back up north. Time is starting to run out for our Europe trip and each country is getting less time than it deserves. We just dipped into Northern Croatia for 6 days and had 4 days exploring north eastern Italy om route to Austria.
Croatia Route: Risnjak National Park, Krk Island (Omišalj, Baška, Vrbnik), Opatija, Učka Nature Park, Pula, Premantura peninsula, Rovinj, Limski kanal
Italy Route: Trieste, Miramare castle, Sistiana, Parco Naturale Regionale delle Prealpi Giulie, Lago di Fusine, Julian Alps
Wildlife: Our first day in Croatia was spent inland exploring Risnjak national park with its rolling hills, endless woodland and rocky outcrops. While stopping for lunch we heard a very exciting noise. A bear calling. My heart started beating so fast, it was such an incredible experience to be sat in the woods, no one else around, just listening to the bear. Thankfully it was a little distance away so we could eat our lunch without the bear trying to steal any!
Exploring: The rest of our time in Croatia was spent on the coast. Largely snorkelling, hiking, swimming and cycling. The water was incredibly clear, not much in terms of seaweed but plenty of fish. We also had a snorkel through a large bloom of comb jellies. Ucka nature park provided great views out across the many islands in Northern Croatia. And cycling from beach to beach in Premanture peninsula was great fun.
Towns: With the exception of Optija (which was touristy with nothing to see and no atmosphere) we really liked the small towns we visited in Croatia. Highlights were: Pula which had an Italian vibe with roman architecture, squares, lots of locals enjoying the cafes & bars, a lovely food market and some classic cars. Rovinji was also very cute with houses right up to the edge of the water, some lovely independent shops and galleries and tiny narrow streets.
Vanlife: Croatia is not an easy place to be in a campervan. Wild camping is illegal, campsites are very expensive and in the Autumn some are already closed for the year. We were very glad we went in Autumn though, the descriptions of campsites, towns and beaches we visited sounded overwhelmingly busy with tourists in the prime summer months.
Wildlife: We thought hearing the bear call in Croatia was cool, but Italy totally topped it with one of the most amazing wildlife experiences I’ve had to date. We didn’t see any bears unfortunately, but yet again heard them calling; one while having lunch and then a few of them while we were sat in the van in the evening. They were calling really loud and close-by, and they didn’t stop all night! I hardly slept I was so excited. I tried looking for them but it was far too dark. From the sound I definitely think there was one in the carpark with us. To be alone, just us, scooby, the mountains and the sound of wild bears was insane! An evening I will never forget! An evening that makes you feel so lucky to be exploring Europe and to be doing it vanlife style in amazing natural spots.
I have no photos of the bears so here is a blurry chamois and snake instead.
Exploring: We had one day on the coast swimming and walking along the cliffs at Sistiana, and managed two days in the mountains. The weather was cloudy on our second day so the endless views were not so good, but the surrounding peaks incredible, autumn trees were beautiful and the cloudy atmosphere was peaceful. We also squeezed in a walk around Lago de Fusine and I braved a swim in the refreshing crystal clear lake.
Town: We visited Trieste, and within half an hour of arriving had found ourselves some coffee ice cream. A good way to cram in two of Italy’s top delicacies in a short space of time. Trieste is supposedly quite an un-Italian city, but we couldn’t tell. It has a huge marina, grand old buildings along the waterfront, big squares, nice churches and lots of people out enjoying the café culture.
Vanlife: Van life in Italy was much easier. Our first night was spent in the hills behind Trieste, our second night right by a marina. ThenItaly provided two of our favourite wild camping spots of the trip. Two nights of just scooby and the mountains, not one other van and hardly another sole.
We will definitely be back to explore Italy via van again.