Tag Archives: croatia

Why Slovenia should be next on your Bucket List

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Slovenia is popping up all over travelers’ bucket lists, and we couldn’t be more pleased! This small country, nestled between Italy and Croatia, has been overlooked for too long. With stunning, sculpturesque architecture, mirror-like lakes and thick forests, Slovenia is a paradise for both the outdoors enthusiast and the amateur historian!

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In Spring this year our clients Bob and Joyce drove around this lovely land, exploring the exquisite Lake Bled and the underground Škocjan cave. Another client spent their Christmas holidays on the lakeshore. Whatever the season, Slovenia is a natural playground thanks to its Alpine lakes, white rivers and snow-capped peaks. Visitors can take part in white-water rafting, spelunking, cycling, hang-gliding.

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Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a fascinating capital, with lush green spaces, a white-washed, fanciful Old Town, outdoor cafés and the Ljubljanica River that separates the older and the modern districts. You’ll also find mansion-like Ljubljana Castle, ruins of Roman City Walls, and Metelkova City—a self-declared autonomous district for artists and various subcultures. The military barracks has been converted into bars and nightclubs. The “City of Bridges” is so-called thanks to the Dragon Bridge, with its four dragon statues, and the Triple Bridge, is a trifecta of three bridges that connects the old town with the modern. 

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Postojna Cave

Postojna Cave is a 15-mile long karst cave system in southwestern Slovenia. The cave train has been taking visitors for 140 years on its 2.3 mile long journey.

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Lake Bled

The iconic Lake Bled is one of the more famous destinations in Slovenia. On the lakeshore, taste Slovene cheese and Bled cream cake. You can also visit the imposing Bled Castle, perched on a cliff overlooking the lake. 

Piran

Venetian-styled, pastel colored Piran is a coastal town with heavy Italian influences. Even the dialect of Slovene sounds ever so slightly Italian.

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Goriska Brda

Often called a “Fairytale Landscape,” the Goriska Hills are a microregion of vineyards and olive orchards. The ideal setting for a cozy farmstay amid fruit trees.

Portorož

Portorož, the “Port of Roses,” is a seaside resort and spa town, a popular site for health resorts since hte 19th century.

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Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj is located within the Julian Alps, a local mountain beauty. You can walk along its verdant shoreline or catch a cable car to Mt. Vogel.

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How to Go

We recommend to rent a car from Italy, spend a few days in Slovenia, before continuing south through the Istrian Peninsula and the Dalmatian Coast. Call Willamette Intl Travel plan your itinerary, car and hotels!

If you prefer going with an expert guide and group, our friends Tradesco Tours offer an affordable 7-Day / 6-Night Highlights of Slovenia. 

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The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Baltic, Croatia, Cruises, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Namibia, North America, Norway, Poland, portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, tanzania, USA

Check it Out: Dubrovnik

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“Those who seek paradise on Earth must come to Dubrovnik,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. Dubrovnik, also known as “the Pearl of the Adriatic” is one of the most beautiful small cities in Europe. With its intricate maze of medieval-esque streets and cafes, it’s a lovely place to explore, even in the winter. The best time to go weather-wise is Easter or Autumn, in between the chilly rain and summer heat—but the Christmas festivities and month-long July outdoor festival are certainly a fabulous excuse to check out the town. Here are some Must-Sees on our List: 

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  1. For an unforgettable view of sea- and cityscape, walk the famous ancient City Walls. Go early in the morning or late evening to avoid the crowds to watch people weave their way among the maze of Dubrovnik streets. The magnificent fortifications date back to the 10th and 13th centuries, reaching 25m in height at their highest. The main entrance is just outside Pile Gate, and is open from 8am to 5:30pm. Admission is 90 krona and it takes about one hour to make the 2 km (1.24 miles) loop, so be sure to pack water and snacks just in case.

  2. Art lovers and history buffs should head over to the Francisco Monastery (14th century), to admire its stunning Gothic-Romanesque architecture. The library that lies within is one of the biggest in Europe, with over 70,000 books, more than 1,200 of which are manuscripts several centuries old. The monastery also houses the third oldest functioning pharmacy in the world, dating back to 1317.

  3. The 15th-century Rector’s Palace is another worthwhile stop. Its elegant halls feature countless pieces of old furniture, paintings and sculpture, an atrium and a theatrical stage. Nearby, the Archaeological Museum also houses an intriguing collection of hundreds of objects (coins, ceramics, glass), dating back from Prehistoric, ancient Egyptian, Roman and early Christian periods. 

  4. Visitors not afraid of heights can take a cable car out to the top of Mount Srd for about 94 kuna ($15) roundtrip. A clear day will grant you views of up to 35 miles and ample photo opportunities. Go at dusk to watch the sunset over the salmon-colored rooftops. On the top of the mountain is also the intriguing Museum of Croatian War of Independence, located with Fort Imperial and worth a visit. Exhibits include documents, art, photographs, weapons, mines, and explosives. When you’re done you can sample some Mediterranean fare with excellent views at the Restaurant Panorama, located at the upper cable car station.

  5. Dubrovnik would be nothing without its port! You can trace the city’s seafaring history at the Maritime Museum. Located in St. John’s Fortress, exhibits include sailors uniforms, navigational instruments, maps and model ships.

  6. If you’re looking for souvenirs, browse Dubrovacka Kuca in the medieval St. Dominik’s Tower—they have an impressive selection of local rakija, wines, olive oil, honey and truffle products.  For fresh seasonal foods, try the morning open-air market on Grunduliceva Poljana in the old town. Visitors into designer clothes and shoes should drop by Maria Concept Store for the latest in forward fashion.

  7. The more adventurous might consider taking a ferry to Mljet National Park and wandering its many hiking trails and 12th-century Benedictine monastery. You can also take a boat out to the beautiful wildlife reserve of Lokrum (departs every half-hour from the Old City Harbour). Ferry companies operate year round to these destinations, and further to Korcula and Split in warm months. 

  8. On the eastern end of the Stradun Street stands the famous stone column fashioned in the form of a knight. According to legend, Orlando and his fleet defended Dubrovnik from a 15-month-long Saracen siege, and in honor of his memory they erected the column in Orlando’s visage.

  9. If you fancy an excursion, drive out to Plitvice Lakes National Park, and admire the beautiful cascades, and unrivaled pools of bright green and blue. Although there are a few buses, the best way to get there is by car, and may require an overnight, as it’s more than 400 kilometers from Dubrovnik.

Visit Dubrovnik and nearby Split and Istria Peninsula on an Adriatic cruise or roadtrip from Zagreb. Call Willamette Intl Travel to discuss options for traveling throughout Croatia. 

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Christmas in Europe

Christmas is a magical time in Europe, when cities bloom in soft lights and decorations abound along windows and roads. And it’s never too early to think about spending holidays with your loved ones  abroad. These three capitals know how to do Christmas right.

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Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace, flickr CC Otto Schlappack

VIENNA

The weeks from late November to the end of the year transform Austria into a special wonderland. Charming Christmas Markets pop up in historic town centers, the smells of Glühwein (mulled wine) float through the air, and young and old taste their way through roasted chestnuts to yummy Christmas sweets. Be enchanted by the Kunstkammer, Vienna’s realm of overwhelming gold, bronze and ivory pieces—and don’t forget to stop by the Christmas Market just in front. Need inspiration for gifts? In Vienna’s city center, the elegant store Österreichische Werkstätten offers a wide selection of handmade products such as jewelry, glass design, furniture and accessories. The Museums Quartier in Vienna becomes synonymous with a different kind of Christmas atmosphere. Just think ice pavilions, artistic light installations, DJ sounds, ice curling rink, and fun Punch variations!

Two hours south of Vienna, the city of Graz also turns into one giant Christmas spectacular. Glowing decorations, a massive ice crib, and a gigantic Advent calendar projection are just the beginning. Did you know the carol Silent Night originated in the small village of Oberndorf near Salzburg. Visit the humble and most charming chapel where the story began.

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Zagreb’s Ilica Street, flickr CC rom@nski photo

ZAGREB

Christmas in Zagreb, Croatia, is a time of festivities and food. Stands crop up everywhere in the city, selling goodies and delicacies certain to delight. Wrap your fingers around a steaming cup of mulled wine, grab seasonal candies and take home some special wooden toys and ornaments as souvenirs. Often bands will set up to play a few traditional tunes under the frosty lights. In recent years, Croatia has seen a reemergence of open-air ice skating, and in December rinks are installed near the main train station and King Tomislav’s Square. It’s truly a magical time in Zagreb!

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Christmas Market in Bratislava, Flickr CC fortysix_vie

BRATISLAVA

The Slovakian capital of Bratislava’s many historic buildings are testaments to the country’s intriguing history. Travelers can tour the Old Town, with landmarks such as Roland Fountain and the Old Town Hall, and stop by an outdoor market to sample traditional dishes, such as grilled sheep cheese, dumplings and the Bratislavsky rozok, or sweet roll.

Chat with us about spending your holidays abroad. Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Cruise the Adriatic Sea with Star Clippers

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How about a cruise down the romantic Dalmatian coast this Fall? Few experiences rival embarking a tallship in full sails in the canals of Venice and sailing down the Croatian coast.

Star Clippers is a luxury ship experience with a casual vibe. In September and October, their 170-passenger flagship Star Clipper sails to colorful and irresistible locales in Croatia and the Greek Isles.

The size and nature of the ship allows it to visit ports inaccessible to larger cruise ships. Explore the tiny port of Hvar Island, a favorite getaway for Byzantines and Venetians. Marvel at the architectural jewel that is Dubrovnik. Coast along Montenegro to the unspoiled medieval city of Kotor, and farther south into the colorful harbor of Mykonos.

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Equipped with 4 masts and 16 sails, the Clipper sails no more than 17 knots through the alluring Adriatic Sea. Onboard facilities include an elegant dining room, library, piano lounge and tropical bar.

WIT Agents Nancy and Linda have sailed with Star Clippers, around the Caribbean and Tahiti respectively, and rave about the line. They’d love to tell you more! Drop them a line for some firsthand feedback. Or call our agency at 503-224-0180 for more information.

For pics from Nancy’s Caribbean cruise on the Star Clipper, check out our gallery: https://wittravel.wordpress.com/gallery/star-clipper-portholes/

 “The Star Clipper experience is all about relaxation and rejuvenation, not sticking to a script. This will sound weird but I’m especially excited about my last night onboard! Why? I can enjoy dinner, socializing with my new friends, and savoring the wonderful week I’ve had and NOT race to meet the deadline to have my luggage outside my cabin! Nor do I have weave between masses of bags littering the hallways. Cruising on Star Clipper really means that the vacation fun doesn’t shrink on the last night; it rolls through breakfast.” ~~ Nancy

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Filed under Croatia, Cruises, Europe, Greece, Italy, Star Clipper

Croatia, the Jewel of the Adriatic

Since emerging from the breakup of Yugoslavia, Croatia has grown into one of the top destinations for vacationers. The timely richness and breathtaking landscapes of this Adriatic country is capturing the attention of travelers from all over the world. Over the course of its history, Croatia’s many conquests have developed into a distinct and charming blend of Mediterranean and Slavic cultures. The best time to go is summer, when streets festivals are abound with music, dancing, and street performers. Here are some of the top places to see in Croatia:

Zagreb – The capital of Croatia boasts charming medieval flavor, Baroque architecture, and clean, wide streets. The Upper Town has developed into a vibrant scene of restaurants and bars, and there are plenty of museums and parks for tourists to enjoy. Major sights include the St. George statue, the Dolac Market, Ban Jelačić Square, and café-strewn Tkalčićeva Street.

photo by Roger Nelson

Dubrovnik – The seaside old town of Dubrovnik is renowned for its enchanting bay, thick fortress walls, and cobblestone streets. Known also by its old name Ragusa, it is said to have been established by Greek sailors, and is a marvelous maze of old stone streets and earth-colored ceramic rooftops. The traveler can delight in countless sights, including medieval towers, fountains, pharmacies, churches, an arboretum and a Franciscan Monastery.

photo by Alex Proimos

Diocletian’s Palace – Arguably the star attraction of Split is Diocletian’s palace, a gorgeous Roman castle built in the 4th century C.E. as the Emperor’s retirement home. Currently undergoing renovations by the World Monuments Fund and registered with UNESCO, the palace measures at about 30,000 square meters and it is lauded as the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace.

Plitvice Lakes National Park – This pristine park is home to the largest lakes in the country. Altogether it covers over 73,350 acres, all of which are protected by UNESCO and Croatia’s government. Its prime attraction is the 16 interconnected surface lakes that gather in the heart of the park from a network of small rivers and subterranean karst rivers. The lakes’ colors, ranging from azure, green, gray and blue, frequently alter with sunlight, and the ebb and flow of minerals and organisms. Swimming is (understandably) not permitted.

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Istria – The largest peninsula in the Adriatic, Istria is home to a variety of beautiful and well-preserved attractions. From its Roman and Byzantine ruins, green hills, sloping valleys, basilicas, frescoes and beaches, the peninsula offers something for every type of traveler. Tourists can hop on a ferry to the Brijuni islands, famed for their dinosaur footprints and international zoo, or meander through the charming streets of the Venetian town of Rovinj.

Hvar – The idyllic island of Hvar is a popular site for tourists. The old town is rich with delicate Venetian architecture, two massive fortresses, and ambling hillside streets. The so-called Spanish fortress provides beautiful vistas and houses a collection of amphorae and other historical objects. Once the Adriatic center of culture and trade, Hvar is now a sleepy tourist destination and maintains a number of bountiful galleries, museums and exhibitions.

photo by Jeremy Vandel

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Willamette International Travel agents are highly qualified and experienced in booking tours and itineraries in Croatia. Ask your agent about group, private or individual travel, ranging from simple city tours to day trips to extended schedules. We work with expert tour companies who are local to the area. Check out some of their amazing itineraries on offer this year, such as:

Belgrade to Zagreb – 11 Day/10 Nights; Belgrade (2), Dubrovnik (2), Split (1), Plitvice Lakes (1), Bled (2), Zagreb (2). Escorted motor-coach tour, includes accommodation, daily breakfast, 6 dinners, transport, guided tours, transfers, and professional tour director.

Dubrovnik to Venice – 11 Days/10 Nights; Dubrovnik (3); Split (1); Plitvice Lakes (2); Bled (2); Venice (2). Escorted motor-coach tour, includes accommodation, daily breakfast, 6 dinners, guided tours, transfer and transport.

Scenic Croatia – 8 D/7 N; Zagreb (1), Plitvice Lakes (1), Brac (2), Dubrovnik (3). Hosted private car tour, includes accommodation, sightseeing, transport, and daily breakfast.

Interested in traveling to Croatia with a tour, on a cruise or individually? Willamette International Travel offers a variety of services in and around the Adriatic isles. Call us at 1.503.224.0180 or email at info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Croatia, Europe