Travel: exploring Slovenia and Croatia with the kids


    Maja Tsolo jets off for a family getaway to her native Slovenia and Croatia

    As soon as the school holidays arrive we’re on a flight to Ljubljana, Slovenia. It’s my first solo flight with all three children, my husband joining us in Croatia in a few weeks’ time. Samuel, six, and Lara, four, are already brimming with excitement, knowing full well that the coming days promise to be packed with swimming, adventure-filled walks and gelato breaks. David, two, is just happy to be on a plane.

    Having moved to the UK nine years ago, we visit my native Slovenia regularly. With the Alps to the north, a small piece of coast along the Adriatic Sea to the south and everything from plains to the rocky karst in between, Slovenia gives you as much variety as you can pack into a country the size of Wales. A continental climate across most of the country usually means hot summers and cold winters, so it is a great getaway location, whether we’re looking for sun or snow.

    Slovenia and Croatia
    Samuel, Lara and David explore the cobbled streets of Grožnjan

    Our first few days are spent in beautiful Soča Valley in the north-west of Slovenia, a place where I grew up and my parents still call home. On most days the hot temperatures call for lounging by the river and thankfully we have plenty to choose from. Idrijca and Nadiža are calmer and warmer, while Soča, Bača and Tolminka require some bravery – or a full neoprene suit – for a full submersion as they don’t tend to warm up beyond 15°C, even in summer. Somehow my children seem immune to icy water and happily splash about.

    Soča Valley is packed with opportunities for adrenaline sports, from white-water rafting to mountain biking and canyoning. When we walk to Kozjak waterfall and watch people launching themselves down the streaming water through a hole as narrow as a sewage shaft, I can only wonder how many more years I can keep my adventurous boys from such activities. Thankfully they still seem to be happy enough hiking through river gorges and over narrow suspension bridges or letting Nono (grandad) take them for a boat ride along the emerald-coloured lake at Most na Soči. The area attracts nature- and adventure-seekers alike and many choose to stay in camps set up along river Soča, like Kamp Koren just outside of Kobarid. Even if you’re not staying there, you can visit any of the camps for an inexpensive lunch (they serve a variety of dishes, from calamari to pasta). Visitors searching for greater comfort should look up Astra Montana or Chalets Nebesa, which are both nestled in the mountain slopes.

    After a week in Soča Valley, we pack our bags and drive two hours south to Croatia. Our destination awaits a mere 20-minute drive from the border in a small village in Zambratija, where my parents own an apartment. A one-bedroom flat is already a tight squeeze for a family of five, so whenever Nono and Nona decide to join us at the seaside, we tend to rent our own apartment in Stella Maris, a complex just 10 minutes down the road. For the coming days we alternate between the beach in Zambratija and Stella Maris. At both places the sea is calm, warm and inviting, and you can find us swimming or lounging, gelato in hand, from morning till evening. When Nona isn’t cooking lunch, we grab a portion of čevapi (grilled minced meat) in one of the beach cafés, or we visit the restaurant at Villa Rosetta for special occasions.

    Slovenia and Croatia
    Roving by day is a bustling Croatian fishing port

    On the first overcast day we visit Grožnjan, a small town just 30 minutes from Zambratija, perched on top of the hill. It’s full of cobbled streets, art shops and galleries, and it is known for its festivals over the summer season. We stop for coffee on the main square, and from the town wall the views stretch all the way to the coast. The centre is closed for traffic and the children are happily skipping around, exploring the alleyways. When the dark clouds roll in, we make a quick exit. By the time we reach the coast, the sky is blue again and the sea is inviting us back for a swim. Another visit, sans children this time, takes us to Rovinj, a picturesque town where we enjoyed our honeymoon more than 10 years ago.

    After days of seaside bliss, it is time to head back to Slovenia. Another day trip sees us visit lake Jasna, near Kranjska Gora, and we round off our visit at a traditional Slovenian gostilna (restaurant), Pri Martinu, and order dishes like ričet (barley stew with smoked ham), ajdovi žganci (buckwheat spoonbread) and sirovi štruklji (cottage cheese dumplings with cranberry jam), such a wonderful reminder of home, and the place we get to enjoy for summers to come.

    After more travel inspiration? How about the South of France