This past New Year my friends and I were incredibly fortunate to stay at the holiday home of one of our friend’s parents in a small village near the Austrian border, not far from Udine and Bled.
We flew into Venice and from there it was roughly a 2.5 hour drive to the village; we arrived in darkness and so couldn’t see the exterior of the house or the village, but were immediately blown away by how enchanting the interiors were.
We didn’t have any kind of big plans for the long weekend but we did have a hire car and warm clothes, which left us with a lot of possibilities. It always blows me away when in Europe, just how close together everything is. We were there for 5 nights in total and during those days, spent time in 3 different countries. One evening, we even stopped in Italy for dinner before returning to the house for the rest of the night. It sounds like something from a romcom but I promise you, it’s true.
If you’d like to replicate the trip, I can’t of course recommend their holiday home specifically to stay in as it’s a private residence but there are plenty of hotels and guest houses in this part of the world and I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s a literal breath of fresh air (especially for me in contrast to living in London – the air is so ridiculously clean in the mountains, it feels expensive). From there, the world is at your feet and there are so many opportunities – a day in Venice or Ljubljana for example, would not be out of reach.
The trip itself was magical, we drove to and walked around two lakes (Bled and Fusine), explored the village, ate/drank in local restaurants (plus one stop off in Tarvisio, Italy for dinner) and then drank wine/played board games in the evening. Ok yes, we did also go to Nassfeld ski resort and get our hire car stuck in the snow but hey, you win some you lose some.
LOCAL VILLAGE (VORDERBERG)
Until we were actually on the trip, I had absolutely no clue of the name of the village we were staying in. Although lovely, it’s not particularly well known nor does it have anything super special about it, in fact there are quite a few similar places to stay in nearby, so don’t worry if you can’t find somewhere to stay in this village in particular.
Saying that, it’s an incredibly picturesque Austrian village with beautiful churches and stunning scenery surrounding it. For us it was perfect – lovely to walk around in the day but also an easy place to use as a base when visiting further afield towns/lakes.
One of the largest ski resorts in Austria, I would have loved to have skied but as our entire group didn’t ski, it wouldn’t have been fair for only a couple of us to, so we only intended on stopping by here to grab a quick drink; to admire the scenery and take in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, our car didn’t feel quite the same way, as it did not enjoy the ice (even with winter tyres on) and decided it would not be going anywhere unless a larger vehicle came and towed it. Before you say anything, yes we tried everything to get it out ourselves, as did some well meaning passers by, but alas nothing worked.
This did mean we had a bit longer to take in our surroundings but sadly, it got dark fairly quickly and a lot of what we saw ended up just being pitch black (especially as we had to turn the lights off on the car in order to preserve the battery), which we didn’t hugely appreciate. Saying that, I won’t deny that we did actually end up having quite a good time in the car – yes we could have cried but instead we laughed. Is this a sign of insanity? Maybe. Still, we lived to tell the tale and a nice gentleman named Patrick from roadside assistance saved the day.
Well and truly ‘influenced’ by constant Instagram posts, I’d been desperate to visit Slovenia’s Lake Bled for a long time, to the point that I was even considering an entire trip surrounding a stop here.
So you can imagine my joy, when Hamilton told me just how close the house was to Bled (about an hour’s drive) and that it would easily be possible for us to visit. The drive itself felt like a fairytale and we were in town by mid morning. Bled itself was bigger than I expected it to be; I think I imagined just pulling up to a lake without much around it but boy was I wrong. Parking is a bit irritating but we ended up managing to park near a petrol station about a ten minute walk up the hill from the lake.
We spent a really nice couple of hours walking around the lake, and ate our lunch on some steps by the water while admiring the church on the island in the centre – we didn’t take a boat out to it, which it looked like a lot of people were doing (it was absolutely freezing and so a boat ride didn’t seem too appealing). But if you visit you are of course able to make up your own mind on this.
It’s a really lovely way to spend a day but I’ll be completely honest in that I don’t really know what else there is to do in the area; I’m aware there are some castles you can visit and a lot more walks to undertake but I couldn’t give any specific guidance on that.
LAGHI DI FUSINE (TARVISIO)
These had been discovered and recommended to us by our friend’s parents, and were only a 30 minute drive from the house which was incredibly fortunate as we decided to visit on New Year’s Day when we were a touch hungover from the night before’s celebrations.
We pulled up near the lake and went for a good 1.5/2 hour walk; it was so peaceful and relaxing, the perfect remedy for a hangover really. You could definitely spend longer here although it’s very icy in the shade; I took a couple of tumbles myself attempting to walk up some icy steps and regretted it immediately (luckily I’m generally very clumsy and somewhat used to falling down, so my pride wasn’t too shattered).
It was then in Tarvisio itself that we stopped for a pizza (at Alpino) on the way home and no, I will never get over that we had dinner in one country and then simply drove back to the house for the evening in another country.
I would love to return to this area at some point for some R&R – it’s a perfect trip for all occasions really, especially if you’re into hiking/skiing. Apparently in the summer months, a lot of people swim and canoe in the lakes which sounds wonderful – I wasn’t quite brave enough to attempt those things in January but maybe I’ll come back in July/August at another time in the future.
If you are considering taking a trip of this kind, here are a couple of things that might help you on your way:
Please be aware that different countries may have different taxes/tolls for the roads. For example, to drive on the roads in Slovenia, you need to buy a ‘vignette’. These can be purchased from garages/petrol stations for different lengths of time (ie a year, month or week). I believe a week’s vignette for a car is 15 euros. Make sure to double check the restrictions in whichever countries you wish to go to before travelling.
In general, during winter months in Europe you will need to be prepared with winter tyres and snow chains but there may be extra items required such as fire extinguishers. More often than not, a hire car company would provide these for you but make sure to check – our hire car company didn’t charge us extra for winter tyres but some will try to.
Hire Car Restrictions:
To my knowledge, you aren’t allowed to hire a car in Europe unless you’re over the age of 21 and have held a driving licence for 2 years. Also if you’re under the age of 25, you might sometimes be asked to pay a ‘young driver surcharge’. It’s annoying but happens quite a lot.
Oh how helpful hindsight can be… On the afternoon/evening we got stuck in the car we were all super hungry but none of us had thought to bring any snacks. I usually always pack car snacks (partly for the boredom on a long drive) but for whatever reason didn’t think to, which I very quickly regretted.
This might seem self explanatory but do consider when you’re packing that the mountains are going to be cold. Like really cold. If it’s a bit sunnier then it might not be as freezing but it’s definitely worth layering up, especially if you’re on a walk – it might seem alright in the sunshine but as soon as you walk into the shade it’s going to get cold! On that same note, make sure to try and bring sensible shoes. Walking around the lakes, wherever it wasn’t sunny, it was generally very icy and in a lot of places almost impossible to walk (this is coming from someone who fell down twice on the ice).
Slovenia, Italy and Austria all use Euros however not all European countries do. If you were looking to go further afield to say, Croatia or Bulgaria, then you would need a different type of currency. I would always recommend taking at least a small amount of cash for each country you are looking to visit but separate to that Monzo/Revolut cards can be great options as they allow you to use them in any country without an exchange charge, which can come in very handy. The apps also tell you how much you have spent in both currencies, so you can keep an eye on your spending. I don’t go abroad without my Monzo now (not an ad I just genuinely really like using it).
Lidl and Hofer (Aldi) are great options for affordable but quality foods. We tended to eat breakfast at home, then pack a lunch for wherever we walked to in the day and eat out in the evening, which definitely saved us a lot of money.