From Hallstatt to Dubrovnik – A Traveller’s Guide
The small, picturesque Austrian town of Hallstatt is rapidly becoming a popular holiday destination for Singaporeans and other tourists alike. Offering breathtaking postcard-worthy views, it is not difficult to see why. Neighbouring Slovenia and Croatia too, see waves of tourists flocking there each year to soak in the lush scenery and magnificent waterfalls on display.
This short piece, based on my recent holiday, is not meant to serve as an itinerary (due to space constraints) but is written as a helpful (hopefully!) guide to those who are planning on ticking these destinations off their travel bucket list.
Getting There and Getting Started
There are a number of flights from Singapore (not all direct) that can take you to various parts of Austria and Croatia. The Austrian cities of Vienna and Salzburg are only a few hours’ drive from Hallstatt and so would seem ideal locations to fly to before heading there. The Croatian capital of Zagreb is also not too far away. Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik are the cities in Croatia with major airports. Deciding where to fly to and back from will, among others, depend on what flights are available on the dates that you’re travelling, the costs of the flights on those days and whether you intend to visit other European countries as well.
An example of a route that you can consider taking would be: Salzburg/Vienna/Zagrebà Hallstatt à Bled, Sloveniaà Plitvice National Park à Split à Dubrovnik or vice versa. Two to two and a half weeks would be a good estimate of the number of days that you would need to visit all these places.
Tip: When driving in Austria and Slovenia, you must display a highway toll sticker (referred to as a vignette) on the windshield of your car. Failure to do so can result in a heavy fine. Stickers can be obtained from petrol stations. A vignette that is valid for 10 days would cost around 10 Euros. You will need to purchase a separate vignette for each of these countries.
Staying within Hallstatt is likely to cost you an arm and a leg. A more wallet-friendly option would be to stay in one of the neighbouring towns that are just a 10-15 minute drive away (i.e Obertraun, Bad Goisern, etc.)
Besides snapping pictures from the famous viewing points in Hallstatt and taking a self-driven motorboat around the lake, you could visit the Hallstatt Salt Mine and take a cable car up to the Dachstein Mountains, where you will be treated to gorgeous views of the Upper Austrian Mountains. If time permits, I would also recommend a visit to Lake Gosau, which is a 30-minute drive from Hallstatt. Taking a cool, quiet walk around the lake while breathing in the fresh alpine air is sure to reinvigorate your spirits and soothe any frazzled nerves.
Two to three days is probably all you will need to cover Hallstatt, but if you are looking to do a bit of hiking in the surrounding area or just want more time to soak in the tranquil nature, then it’s best to allocate a few more days to spend in Hallstatt.
Tip: Tour buses laden with tourists will begin arriving in Hallstatt from 10am onwards so it’s advisable for you to reach there well before that to avoid having to jostle for prime photo-taking spots.
The town of Bled, in Slovenia is an ideal place to spend a few days while en-route to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Bled is best known for its eponymous lake that attracts droves of tourists each year. With the Julian Alps as a backdrop, a diminutive church situated on a small island in the middle of the lake, and boasting a castle perched on a hill overlooking the lake, it is not hard to see why Lake Bled attracts so many tourists. Like Hallstatt, it is recommended that you stay in one of the neighbouring towns near Bled to avoid having to pay through your nose for accommodation.
From Bled, a short day trip can be taken to visit the Triglav National Park, which is the only national park in Slovenia. If short on time, you can choose to just spend a few hours visiting the Vintgar Gorge, which is a short 15-minute drive from Lake Bled. The Vintgar Gorge is about a mile long, with paths, wooden walkways and several observation bridges to give you the best views of the clear emerald blue Radovna River flowing through the natural ravine. It is a relatively flat and easy walk that is suitable for pretty much everyone. Be sure to purchase your tickets online to avoid having to wait in line to enter the gorge.
A trip to Bled is not complete without trying the signature Bled Cream Cake. The cake is one of the most popular Slovenian desserts and is made with a golden buttery crispy crust, vanilla cream, whipped cream, and another crispy layer of buttery dough dusted with a rich layer of sugar icing. You can find it in cafes and restaurants all around Bled.
Tip: The best views of Lake Bled can be found at Osojnica View Point, which is located on a hill overlooking Lake Bled. It might take some exertion to hike up, but it’s definitely worth the effort!
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s most visited national park and is considered one of the most beautiful natural sights in the whole of Europe. The Park is heavily forested and contains 16 terraced and inter-connecting lakes in differing shades of green and blue depending on the lighting conditions. The lakes are joined by stunning waterfalls and cascades that can all be viewed from boardwalk trails that weave through the Park, making for a magical experience.
There are seven routes that you can take through the Park, each taking differing lengths of time and covering different areas of the Park. Taking some time to read up on which route best suits your itinerary would help you figure out how best to spend your time there (there are blogs aplenty on the Internet that detail the pros and cons of the different routes).
While the entire Park can be seen in one day (within approximately six to eight hours), you can also choose to break your visit into two half days and walk through the Park at your leisure. You could perhaps spend one day viewing the Lower Lakes and another day viewing the Upper Lakes.
To beat the crowds that arrive on tour buses around 9am onwards, it is best to arrive at the Park when it opens at 7am. For that reason, it is best to stay in the area. There are many guesthouses near the Park so finding accommodation should not be an issue. Alternatively, you can choose to enter the Park at around 4pm, when most tourists are making their way out of the Park and back onto their buses. Be warned, during the summer months especially, you can expect to see big crowds that can lead to some slow moving human traffic along the boardwalks.
Tip: Starting 2019, the Park has implemented an online e-ticket system. Tickets must be purchased at least two days prior to arrival. Once you book your ticket, you will receive a voucher via e-mail that you can exchange for a ticket at the ticket office at the entrance of the Park. It is STRONGLY recommended that you purchase tickets online in advance of your visit, as even if you arrive at the Park at 7am on the day to buy tickets, you are unlikely to get tickets that will allow you to enter the Park any earlier than in the afternoon.
Split and Dubrovnik
Both Split and Dubrovnik hug the coast of Croatia and boast sweeping beaches and rocky coves. In both cities, you will be treated to gorgeous sunsets, with brilliant hues of crimson and gold beautifully reflecting off the glistening Adriatic Sea as the glowing sun dips below the horizon.
The Old Towns in both cities are enchanting to stroll through and are steeped in history. They are each practically a city-within-a-city, as they are contained within ancient fortifications and ramparts. Signing up for a free walking tour is the best way to learn about the history of these Old Towns.
The houses within the cities are famed for their red roof tiles and make for some wonderful landscape shots. The beaches are perfect for sunbathing and swimming and even cliff jumping, for the adrenaline seekers out there. Day trips can also be made to the many idyllic tiny islands, just a short boat ride away (such as Lokrum and Lopud Island near Dubrovnik).
Tip: When driving from Split to Dubrovnik, be sure to take the coastal route, for fabulous views of the southern Dalmatian coast.
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