Austria, Croatia and Slovenia with Fabyo
Our trip started on the 11th of July when we boarded Air Canada's non-stop flight to Frankfurt with an immediate connection to Vienna on Austrian Airlines. Vienna and Salzburg had been on my bucket list for a long time, so I was very excited to be on my way to cross those off.
Both flights were on time and uneventful (just how I prefer them!) and upon arrival in Vienna, we were greeted by our driver who took us to the beautiful Hotel Sacher Wien (pointing our landmarks and giving us interesting bits of information along the way) where we were warmly greeted. At check-in, we were told that we had received an upgrade to their West Side Story Suite and able to get to our room right away, even though our arrival time was around 11:00 am. This exquisite corner suite has views of the Vienna State Opera and the Albertina Museum.
The hotel is truly a sumptuous property and top-notch in every way. Founded in 1876 by Edward Sacher and located in the Innere Stadt first district of Vienna and across the street from the Vienna State Opera, this five-star property is a member of Leading Hotels of the World and famous for its specialty of the hotel, the Sachertorte, a delectable chocolate cake with apricot filling which non-guests of the hotel line up for at the Sacher Café. Guests receive complimentary bite-sized versions of it with turn-down service and it's also offered as part of the breakfast buffet & room service menu.
The hotel's location is perfect for exploring the Innere Stadt, the city's historic centre, and its museums, theatres, churches, restaurants and shops. Vienna is a truly enchanting city and just wandering around its streets and admiring the architecture is a great activity.
As soon as we were checked in and unpacked we left the hotel and walked Kärntner Straße to Domkirche St. Stephan (St. Stephen's Cathedral). Kärntner Street is lined with shops and food, so we stopped along the way for a light lunch of sliced Austrian sausages and pastries, then poked around the stores on the way back. The church dates back to the 12th century and is quite impressive. One of its towers can be accessed by elevator and offers panoramic views of the city from its geographical centre (Stephansplatz where the church is located). After the taking lots of pictures from this great viewpoint, we walked 100m over to Mozartshaus Vienna, the apartment where the composer lived between 1784 and 1787 while composing the opera The Marriage of Figaro. It's Mozart's only surviving Vienesse residence and is now a museum.
That evening we ate dinner at a small al fresco restaurant near the hotel then attended a Mozart concert at the Vienna State Opera where the artists were in 18th century period costumes. What a great way to see the inside of the theatre (another bucket list item) and listen to Mozart's divine music.
On our second day in Vienna, after enjoying one of the most delectable buffet breakfasts we've ever experienced, we got on a Hop-On/Hop-Off bus in the morning and chose a route that went around the Innere Stadt. Great way to get a quick overview of the area and decide where to go next if no plans have been made. I often do that in a city I'm in for the first time.
After doing a full loop we stayed on and got off on our second stop, the former imperial palace of the Habsburgs and current official residence and workplace of the Austrian President, where we went for an audio tour of the Sisi Museum and learned about the life and times of Austria's beloved Empress Elizabeth 'Sisi' of Bavaria. We then walked back to the Sacher through the Volksgarten where we had lunch and got ready for our guided tour of Schönbrunn Palace in the afternoon.
Another amazing example of the power and wealth wielded by the Habsburg Dynasty, the palace was the main former summer residence of the imperial family. We used Viator to book this tour and as usual, our guide was waiting for us at the time and meeting place stated on the voucher and was incredibly knowledgeable.
Both the palace and the gardens were magnificent and I recommend them to anyone visiting Vienna.
That evening we dined at Plachutta Wollzeille restaurant for some traditional Austrian cuisine (incredible schnitzel and boiled beef) and enjoyed our leisurely walks there and back.
On our third day, we woke up early and headed to the train station for our 8:30 am train to Salzburg, another item on my bucket list. The ride was easy and comfortable, and we enjoyed seeing the Austrian countryside.
Upon arrival in Salzburg, we got on a Hop-On/Hop-Off bus which came in handy as it was pouring rain. Great to see so many Sound of Music locations, especially as the weather improved as we went along. We saw Mirabell Gardens (and the famous Do Re Mi steps), Leopoldskron Palace (the lakefront side of the film's Von Trapp residence), The Sound of Music Gazebo (which has since been moved from Leopoldskrom to Heilbrun Palace) and Nonnberg Abbey. One of the channels on the bus tour is dedicated to the film.
After the abbey, we walked through the old town to Mozarts Geburtshaus, where Mozart was born in 1756 and the Mozart family lived on the third floor from 1747 to 1773. Really interesting to walk through the halls and rooms of the museum and learn more about one of music's most important composers and one of Austria's most illustrious sons.
The Hop On Hop Off bus tickets included transportation on any of the local transit buses, so we took advantage of that and got ourselves back to the train station for our ride back to Vienna. That evening we had dinner al fresco at another one of Vienna's many little side-street restaurants.
After our third night in Vienna, it was time to pack our bags again and head over to the airport for our flight to Dubrovnik! Vienna’s airport is very automated and even the bag drop-off counter is unmanned. Easy process getting through security followed by a peaceful flight to the Croatian city.
Upon arrival, we picked up our rental car, an Opel wagon, and that took a bit longer than I had anticipated, only because there were so many people getting cars. With Apple Maps showing us the way we drove the scenic highway into Dubrovnik. Wonderful views!
Our hotel was the Excelsior which is a part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Adriatic Luxury Hotels. Fabulous contemporary property. Our room had a fantastic private patio overlooking the Aegean and Dubrovnik Gard, the Old Town. We quickly changed into summer clothes and headed over to explore. The hotel is located about a seven-minute walk to the gates of Old Town, so very close, but also far enough to be a peaceful oasis after the crowds. Perfect location for one visiting Dubrovnik’s Old Town!
I had heard prior to leaving Vancouver that Dubrovnik was far too busy with tourists in high season, especially after its newfound fame being featured in Game of Thrones. It was busy there for sure, but not out of control in any way or enough to ruin our visit. People were respectful and courteous, for the most part, and the city is just so stunning we were looking right through the crowds. I had goosebumps walking its narrow streets moved by its sheer beauty. I was surprised by how smooth the pavement was after centuries of pedestrian traffic, and was happy it was dry as otherwise I probably would have wiped out at some point. We spent our first evening there walking around, poking in shops and having dinner. Now on the Dalmatian Coast, our focus changed from schnitzel and wurst to fresh seafood. And what incredible seafood it was! The freshness was quite obvious and we truly enjoyed our meals there. Once we were back at our hotel enjoying a glass of wine on the patio, I decided to go for a quick dip in the Adriatic to cool off. The hotel has its own private swimming area, so I headed down and back in a matter of five minutes.
The following morning after an amazing breakfast we went back to the Old Town and got tickets for the city walls walk. It was slightly overcast, so just the perfect temperature to do that. The walk on the way is a bit challenging, as parts can be narrow and the protecting walls low for some people’s taste, but definitely worth the effort. Spectacular views of the city and the sea. The walk the full circle around is 2km long it takes about 2 hours to complete, including time for photos. There are places to get water along the way, and even a few cafes on the seaside. Our tickets included admission to Fort Lovrijena (or St. Lawrence Fortress), so we did that after. One thing to keep in mind about Dubrovnik is to make sure there is lots of storage on one’s phone or camera for photos, as there is no shortage of gorgeous sights to photograph. We then had a break for a lovely lunch of seafood, then walked over to Dance Beach, another marvellous spot just outside the Old Town. Dubrovnik’s terrain is quite uneven, with lots of climbs and steps, so we earned all our meals while staying there for sure! Later that afternoon we took the cable car to the top of Srd Hill, the mountain the overlooks the city. The gondola ride takes about seven minutes in each direction and the views from the top are breathtaking! There are places to eat and drink up there, a gift shop and the Homeland War Museum. It’s definitely worth the ride up! There is also the option of buying a one-way ticket up the mountain and hiking down. The paths are fairly wide and zig-zag down the side of the mountain, so they are nothing like the Grouse Grind! That night we went for dinner at Troubadour Hard Jazz Café, heard some great music and ate food coloured with squid ink. Great evening!
The following day we ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel and got on the road for our drive to Split. There is a toll highway that would get us there quicker, but instead, we opted to take the scenic coastal highway and I’m glad we did that. The drive was like taking the Sea to Sky highway, only the Adriatic version. Glorious views! Our drive also included a drive through the Bosnian coast, 9.2km from border to border. We showed out passports entering Bosnia and Herzegovina and were waved through. Re-entering Croatia on the other side was just as easy. Split is Croatia’s second-largest city and much bigger than Dubrovnik. Our hotel, Villa Split Heritage Hotel, was located inside the walls of the Diocletian Palace, built at the turn of the fourth century. The hotel has only three rooms and the house it’s located in was once owned by Marko Marulić, the father of Croatian literature. Due to the hotel’s location within the palace, we had to park the car about a 10-minute walk from the hotel, but thankfully they have a golf cart service that met us at the station, then drove us to as close to the hotel as possible, a three-minute walk. It was very interesting staying right in the heart of old Split, and while it was a bit confusing navigating its short streets (many former hallways in the palace), by the end of the evening we had a pretty good grasp. We spent our first evening checking out the streets within the palace, shopping a bit then sitting at a bar on the seafront promenade. There was an open-air production of Rigoletto (staged at the peristyle – the former central square within the palace), but unfortunately, it was sold out, although we managed to come near it just in time to hear the tenor singing one of the opera’s signature arias La Donna è Mobile. Bravo!
Our second day in Split was spent checking out more of the palace ruins, shopping at the public markets around the palace, then going to the beach in the afternoon. In the evening we went to dinner at Oštarija u Viđakovi for some traditional Croatian food. Great spot! The food was delicious and the portions were large and well-priced.
The following day we had the longest drive of the trip, from Split to Ljubljana in Slovenia. We opted to take the freeway as much as possible and had a great drive. The speed limit is mostly 130kph and the roads and drivers were great! From Delnice we took a local highway winding down the mountainside the Slovenian border in Petrina. From there we drove up again until reaching the valleys and rolling hills of the Slovenian countryside.
Once in Ljubljana, we checked into our hotel, the Hotel Cubo, which had a great location and view of the Ljubljana Castle from our window. Ljubljana is an incredibly charming city, somehow still not fully discovered by tourism. The architecture rivals Paris and Vienna, the people are friendly and everyone seems to speak English. On our first evening, we enjoyed some Slovenian wines at a wine bar, including sampling orange wine for the first time. We then looked at a restaurant for dinner and found a very well-reviewed one called Strelec and followed the directions on Google Maps without realizing the restaurant was located AT the castle! So after walking all the way up the hill to the castle we certainly earned our dinner. We tried a five-course sampling menu and it was incredible, as was the view of the twilight sky over the city.
The following day was spent touring the castle (we took the funicular this time) which has been developed into a space that blends history with contemporary exhibitions. The Museum of Puppetry was very interesting as was the Mad Hatter inspired couture exhibit. We also went on a 45-minute Ljubljanica River cruise and took some great photos. We also poked around the local markets and had dinner al fresco at a heavenly little restaurant in the pedestrian-only part of the downtown core, where a live music concert was taking place.
On our final day in Slovenia, we drove up to Lake Bled (a true Slovenian postcard), which takes about 40 minutes from Ljubljana, where we walked around the splendidly colourful lake with the picturesque Bled Island at its centre. Also near the lake and town of Bled is Bled Castle, located on the north shore of the lake and has a museum. We considered visiting the castle, but our limited time before going to the airport later that day meant we only had time to visit one castle, and that was Predjama, located near the town of Postonja, a one-hour drive from Bled via the toll freeway.
Predjama Castle, believed to be haunted, is the most interesting castle I have ever visited. Built on a cave mouth and perched upon vertical 123-metre high cliff it was first mentioned by name in 1202. We took a self-guided audio tour which took us through many rooms and history of the castle (and its most famous inhabitant, the knight Erazem of Predjama, also known as Erasmus of Luegg), ending up above the castle inside the cave which was the site of the original fortifications. I highly recommend it!
This was overall a magical trip where everything worked out perfectly. We didn’t even have a delayed flight! I had heard so much about Austria and Croatia, so I had pretty high expectations and was not disappointed. The biggest “discovery” this trip was definitely Slovenia. I had not heard much about it before and chose to go there as it was new to both of us and driving distance from Croatia, and I must say we fell in love with it. Beautiful countryside, fascinating and charming capital, friendly people, good wines & food, plus many parks and castles to visit, all in a fairly compact country makes it a great and easy to explore destination. There’s even a 47km of gorgeous coastline including medieval walled towns, fishing villages and beaches. We will definitely go back!