I planned out our ideal route before we travelled to the Balkans. We were going to visit Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina during our 3-week campervan trip.
Things didn’t turn out quite as planned.
The company we hired the campervan from were adamant that we were not to take the vehicle into either Montenegro or Bosnia & Herzegovina, because the insurance didn’t cover those two countries. Even when I said I would get the required green card insurance at the border, they refused to let us enter those countries. What could we do? We had to comply and planned day trips from Dubrovnik instead (more on that later).
We soon learned that, fantastic as the campervan is for freedom of movement, it had its limitations. For one thing, even though we had a relatively small model, it was big and bulky and not ideal for driving through winding mountain roads or into old towns with narrow cobblestone streets. When we wanted to visit a town, we had to park way outside the city centre and walk a few kilometres into the historical area, which is fine unless you have a toddler with you – then it soon becomes a hassle. Also, when you’re camped for more than a day at a specific place, packing up everything so you can go see a new town is inconvenient. We saw other campervanners with trailers towing motorbikes (or even smaller cars) along, which would have been much more convenient, but obviously not an option for us on this holiday.
We also found that, although the distances between the places were not that big, it took much longer than expected to get there. Mostly because driving a large vehicle on the wrong side of a winding mountain road is not for the faint-hearted.
So, instead of the route I’d planned, where we were supposed to be in a new place almost every night, we ended up staying a little longer at some places and taking buses to move around. We also didn’t take any ferry crossings and stuck to dry land instead, to keep costs and toddler meltdowns to a minimum.
Day 1: Zagreb
We landed in Zagreb late morning, picked up our camper and, after stopping to buy supplies, travelled straight to our campsite in Zagreb. We stayed there the rest of the day, recovering from the flight and getting acquainted with the campervan.
Day 2 – 4: Lake Bled, Radovljica
We had a really late start from Zagreb, because we went shopping first, and then stopped over at a petrol station in Slovenia for a couple of hours to have lunch and recover from the driving on the wrong side of the road in the pouring rain. This meant that we didn’t have time to see Zagreb or Ljubljana and ended up going directly to Lake Bled, where we promptly fell in love with the area and never wanted to leave again. We took an underwhelming daytrip to nearby Radovljica, but mostly just hung around Lake Bled.
Day 5: Bovec, Julian Alps, Nova Gorica
A road trip day in which we travelled around the Julian Alps through Triglav Park, accidentally crossed the border into Italy, and ended up in Bovec (where we wanted to spend the night) at 14:00. The camping site was closed, only to open again at 16:00, so we headed out again, driving around the mountains. We saw the river Soca and countless picturesque little towns, and wound our way back into the interior of Slovenia again, where we eventually found a campsite just outside Nova Gorica to spend the night at.
Day 6: Predjama Castle, Lipica Stud Farm, Piran
A beautiful, but twisty, gravel road later, we ended up at Predjama Castle early morning, after which we drove to Lipica Stud Farm and spent the day in the company of pretty white horses. Late afternoon, we set out for Trieste just across the Italian border, but didn’t like the only campsite we could find and returned to Slovenia where we drove endlessly looking for a place to spend the night. We ended up at the most disappointing stop of the entire trip, just outside of Piran. This is where we decided no more spur of the moment stay-overs – only 5-star camping for us from now on, and preferably longer than 1-night stays if possible.
Day 7: Motovun, Rovinj, Moscenicka Draga
We took to the road almost before the sun was up to escape our horrendous campsite and drove into Croatia, where our first stop was the hilltop town of Motovun. After that we headed for Rovinj, which was beautiful, but so crowded we couldn’t find a place to park the campervan at all and spent an hour just driving in circles, after which we said screw it and left. We headed unplanned in the general direction of Plitvice and found a nice campsite in the seaside town of Moscenicka Draga, where we spent the night and ate way too much pizza next to a stony beach.
Day 8 – 9: Plitvice Lakes
A long drive saw us arriving about midday at a lovely campsite just outside of Plitvice Lakes national park. We spent the day recuperating, doing washing and generally just enjoying the lovely outdoors. The next day we went to the Park itself, which was amazing.
Day 10 – 11: Split
We rolled into Split just as the heatwave hit Croatia. With temperatures of 39 C next to the seaside, we decided to ditch all our plans and spent the day in our campsite’s swimming pool. Best decision ever! We took a bus to Diocletian’s Palace the next day, where we braved the heat and the cruise ship crowds, and ended the day back in the pool again.
Day 12 – 13: Dubrovnik
It was a pretty long drive from Split to Dubrovnik. We had to go through four border crossings (out of Croatia, into Bosnia & Herzegovina, out of Bosnia & Herzegovina and into Croatia again) before we finally arrived at our campsite in Dubrovnik. It was 38 C, so we headed for the beach and spent the rest of the day trying to cool down. The next day we took a bus into the old town, which was lovely but blisteringly hot and overcrowded. We planned to stay longer in Dubrovnik to do daytrips to Kotor and Mostar, but because of the heat and the impractical nature of 12-hour bus trips with a toddler, we decided to flee and return to the mountains.
Day 14 – Travel Day
A record-breaking travel day in which we drove all the way from Dubrovnik, at the very bottom of Croatia, back into Slovenia and to Lake Bohinj! It was 29 C here in the mountains we were back in our happy place.
Day 15 – 18: Lake Bohinj
The rest of the week the campervan stayed put at our campsite at Lake Bohinj. We explored the nearby town on foot, took a bus, a boat and a cable car to see the lake itself from various vantage points, and, on the last day, hired an automatic electric car for the day which we used to drive to Ljubljana – so much easier than the campervan!
Day 19 – 20: Zagreb
We returned to the same campsite in Zagreb to prepare for our flight back home. We were disappointed that we didn’t actually got to see Zagreb, but it just wasn’t practical. A reason to return!
If you compare the planned route with the actual route, you’ll see that we kept to the bones of it, but lost some of the meat. I think that route was way too optimistic, especially with a toddler in tow. I’m not disappointed – the trip we had was absolutely amazing – but in retrospect it would perhaps have been easier to have just hired a car and explored the regions from three or four central bases. But then we probably couldn’t have been flexible enough to ditch the heat and head for the mountains – the best part of the entire holiday!
Do you enjoy exploring by campervan? What have you found to be the pros and cons of this method of travel, especially when travelling with small children?