After decades of Communist rule and civil unrest, the Balkans have gained steadily in popularity in recent years. Coastal cities such as Dubrovnik and Split, Croatia, and Kotor, Montenegro, are crowd-pleasing ports on Adriatic cruises out of Venice. The interior has remained a secret but is beginning to emerge as a destination as well, and with good reason. Virtuoso-preferred on-site partner Leonidas Travel, which operates in the Balkans and Venice, has put together the perfect autumn getaway, and it’s so enticing we’re counting the days until the first leaf changes color.
It begins with the Croatian peninsula of Istria and its world-famous truffles. Just across the narrow part of the Adriatic from Venice, Istria calls to mind the Italy of old. As with the entire Mediterranean rim, the Romans left their mark here, as the Arena of Pula and Temple of Augustus attest. After marveling at them, taste a bit of history with a sample of the olive oil that’s been grown here since Roman times and the Chiavalon family has perfected over generations.
After a relaxing evening in the charming town of Rovinj, you’ll wake up energized enough to head into the Motovun Forest for a day of truffle hunting with the Karlic family and their dogs. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with a meal garnished by those earthy gems and Istrian gastronomy.
Wedged between Croatia and Italy is Slovenia, a small country that punches above its weight in terms of Instagrammable vistas. Slovenia is a land of mountains, forests, and lakes, all conspiring to take your breath away. Your first stop is the capital, Ljubljana, an ancient walled city with a sustainable vision for development that might be Europe’s best-kept secret. Traces from each era of 5,000 years of human history are scattered throughout the city. You’ll start with a guided walking tour of the city one day and a journey deep into Postojna Cave and the legendary Predjama Castle built into the cave mouth the next day.
From Ljubljana, you’ll journey to Lake Bled, one of the most picturesque spots on the planet. You’ve seen it in photographs, or perhaps just in your dreams: an island in the middle of a lake surrounded by alps and shrouded in mist, a church jutting above the waters. Yes, that’s Lake Bled, and you’ll spend two relaxing days here, including a wooden boat tour to the country’s only island and St. Mary’s Church which adorns it. You’ll also get a commanding view of the lake and island from Bled Castle. On your last day before heading home, you’ll visit the town of Nova Gorica, right on the Italian border and studded with vineyards and orchards. In addition to wines, the Vipava valley is also known for its craft breweries, and you’ll get to try local beers at a tasting.
We can’t think of anything nicer after a long, hot summer.