New Year 2019 found us in lovely Piran also known as the Venice of Slovenia. This small and charming town was one of the five destinations in our European winter road trip that took us through Austria, Slovenia & Italy.
The first stop was Innsbruck in Austria which is as pretty as can be and a great skiing destination. After two days in the Austrian town, we headed to the oldest ski resort in Slovenia: Kranjska Gora.
Two days in and my poor knees were ready to take a break from skiing and enjoy some less sporty activities. This is more or less what Bled offered. That and amazing views.
New Years was approaching, so we packed our bags again and drove to Piran for a nice and quiet New Year celebration.
The first day of the year found us on the road again, this time heading to Italy in the Dolomites region. After three days of beautiful scenery, extremely cold weather (-20 degrees) and delicious pizza, we were making our way back.
For inspiring photography, a detailed description of each destination, and the Know before you go section, keep scrolling down…
Discovering Innsbruck, Austria
This small mountain town welcomed us with great food, wonderful views, and pretty low temperatures.
About 8 hours drive from our departure point (Namur, Belgium), the first impression we had of this popular destination was its quietness. We arrived in the evening to a very peaceful B&B where we felt we were the only guests. For dinner, we were lucky to find a nearby hotel that was still serving food after 10pm. We had a hearty soup and one of the best apple strudel in the history of mankind :).
For the first full day of the holiday, we decided to explore the town which in hindsight was a painful experience because of the cold weather. We had to stop every hour to grab a hot chocolate just to keep warm. Although Innsbruck is beautiful and we enjoyed taking pictures and trying to capture its vibe, it was just too cold to truly enjoy it. So in the end, we had a short 2-3 hours walk and went back to the hotel.
The next day we hesitated between skiing in the morning and going to the Aqua Dome, one of the famous spas in the region. Now, what do you choose between a sports activity that you are not particularly good at and relaxing in a pool? ☺
Know before you go
Drive: From Namur, Belgium to Innsbruck, Austria it’s about 800km in +/- 8h.
Road taxes: There is a mandatory motorway tax that you can purchase at any petrol station for 9 euro.
Petrol cost: Less expensive than Germany, but more than Slovenia so depending on where you travel from, try to tank in the latter.
Accommodation: We had a great stay at a B&B near Innsbruck town. The hosts were lovely and the place was clean, quiet & spacious. No wonder they are ranked 9.1 on Booking :).
Food: For vegetarians/vegans, there are some options like soups & sandwiches. There were a few vegetarian places we wanted to try, but most of them were closed on the 26th of December.
Second thoughts: We went visiting Innsbruck on the 1st day and went to the Aqua Dome on the 2nd day. Since the spa was a detour on our way to Slovenia, the smart thing to do would have been: Acqua Dome on day 1 and visiting Innsbruck or skiing on day 2 before driving to Kranjska Gora.
Skiing in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
We had passed through Slovenia two years earlier during our summer road trip, we loved it and told ourselves that we would return. So there we were, in this small ski town at the border with Austria where I would have my 2nd ski experience and get introduced to the Slovenian culture.
About the ski thing. Let me tell you that I don’t really ski. Prior to Kranjska Gora, I had tried skiing once in Japan (yes, Japan!) where I had a teacher for about 2 hours and another hour with my better half. Oh and I’m a control freak which means that sliding without being able to control my movements is not really my idea of fun.
Although it was hard in the beginning, once I got the hang of it, it was pretty cool. And nothing beats the feeling of “good” fatigue after skiing and stopping for a hot chocolate whilst admiring the view.
Besides skiing, in Kranjska Gora, we had a little walk in nature before driving to our next stop, Bled. We were planning to do a real trek, but after the “day” of skiing, we just went for a 2h walk not far from our hotel.
Know before you go
Drive: Innsbruck, Austria to Kranjska Gora, Slovenia it’s about 375 km in +/- 4h.
Petrol cost: Less expensive than in Germany and Italy so worth tanking.
Accommodation: We had an accommodation not far from Kranjska Gora, a little studio that was OK, although a bit noisy at night.
Food: For vegetarians/vegans, there are options like pizza, pasta & soups.
Second thoughts: Not buying a full-day pass and only spend 3 hours on the slopes :).
Wonderful Bled, Slovenia
The highlight! Yes, it is touristic but so damn beautiful. We arrived before sunset and got to experience the amazing colors over this gorgeous lake and the small island in the middle. But it’s not just the lake, or the pretty church on the island, nor the castle and the skiing opportunities. I think it’s the atmosphere that is so alluring. I loved seeing people jogging around the lake or eating at the Christmas market. There was this sense of peacefulness everywhere.
We tried to do the tour of the lake and it started off well with the sunset colors, and the picture taking. But then it got colder and colder so we had to call it a day.
One of the things I enjoyed most, besides the jaw-dropping views, of course, was the hot chocolate breaks :). One nice place we went to and where we also tried the famous Bled cake was a cafe near the Christmas market called Jasmin – Čajinca Tea Room.
Besides lake Bled, there are other places to visit like the small island on the lake and of course the castle. If you go in the winter, don’t miss the Christmas market where you can get local food & drinks, and a very nice atmosphere completed by live concerts.
Know before you go
Drive: From Kranjska Gora to Bled it’s about 39km for +/-30min.
Accommodation: We had a great stay at Apartment Hana, closely situated to the center, super clean and with one of the loveliest hosts. Ranking on Booking says it all: 9.6.
Food: Very good. Slovenian cuisine has a lot of Italian influences so we had great pasta, pizza, risotto etc. We also discovered a vegan place not far from the center which had great burgers.
Second thoughts: For a 2nd visit, I think we will choose spring time so that we can walk & discover more.
New Years in Piran, Slovenia
To celebrate the last day of the year, we choose the small sea town of Piran. Only 30min drive from Bled, Piran is pretty as a postcard, quite tiny, and super charming.
We had a B&B close to the main square and booked dinner at the lovely Art Hotel Tartini where we almost rang in the new year. The truth is that we were tired and cold, so after dinner, we went back to the hotel and watched a movie :).
What can you do in Piran? Besides walking around and taking pictures of the port, the town walls, and the pretty buildings, there is the cuisine. Although we didn’t get to explore more than New Years dinner and quick lunch on the arrival day, I would go back just to eat :).
Know before you go
Drive: From Bled to Piran it’s about 200km in under 2h.
Accommodation: We had an OK accommodation at a B&B situated in the center. The room was clean and the breakfast was very varied.
Parking: You need to park at the town entrance where there is parking available. The town is so small that even if you park “outside”, you are a few meters away from the center.
Food: The food is really good, and since it’s by the coast there are many fish options.
Second thoughts: Go back when it’s warm, for sure. It’s such a charming place, that I would love to walk around and take pictures all day long. Spring should be a good option as I suspect summers are pretty packed.
Driving in the Dolomites, Italy
After ringing in the New Year in lovely Piran, we made our way to Sulden passing by the famous Val Gardena in the Dolomites. The region is absolutely beautiful and the skiing opportunities are endless.
We spent two full days trying some ski resorts and relaxing at our lovely accommodation in Sulden. Since we had our car, it was easy going to different parts of the region like Merano and Bolzano. However, the most beautiful mountain view was from the Sulden ski slope.
Know before you go
Drive: From Piran to Sulden it’s about 450km in under 7h.
Accommodation: We had a lovely accommodation at Bamboo Activ Resort. The room was great, quite spacious, for breakfast there were many options, and the spa was heaven! Ohh and they also lent me some ski pants at no charge :).
Food: The food is really good, but it’s hard to find healthy options. So we ended up eating pasta and pizza again :).
Second thoughts: Go back in summer. The region is so beautiful and from what I’ve read, there are great trekking options.
Other destinations to visit in December & January
If you are looking for inspiration for the end/beginning of the year, there are some interesting options out there both weather & price wise :).
From winter spots in Europe to amazing and warm destinations in South America & hidden gems in Asia.
In Europe, we had a lovely time in the Black Forrest in Germany, where, as you would expect, it’s pretty cold but very charming and peaceful.
South America can be both warm and chilly at the end of the year, it all depends on which part you are visiting. For amazing views, but more on the frosty side, Patagonia is definitely a good choice. From the Perito Moreno glacier to trekking in El Chalten and Bariloche, this part of the world is amazing.
Valparaiso, where we spent New Years, and Valle del Elqui in Chile are both pretty warm in December/January.
Finally, one of the best end of the year travels was in Japan where we spent Christmas in Tokyo & New Years trekking in Kumano Kodo. I am yet to write about the Japan experience, but when I do, it will be epic :).