Italy, Slovenia and Croatia; sampling what the Adriatic Coast has to offer. [caption id="attachment_14826" align="aligncenter" width="870"] Prosecco Road[/caption] Our official pre-tour wine immersion started in Asolo, Italy – in a stunning medieval walled village located in the hills of the Veneto region, where tastings of Prosecco and tiramisu in restored Palladio Villas were on the agenda for the first few days. Visiting local producers who have continued the family tradition for many generations; learning the differences between DOC, DOCG, terroir and appellations, as we tasted our way along the famed Prosecco Road and surrounding wine regions of Breganze and Nieve. A side trip to Bassano de Grappa was also on the cards, to enjoy the age old tradition of distilling pomace into Grappa, a by-product of the winemaking process, before we enjoyed an afternoon of wine tasting with a Countess – just one of the unique experiences we have in store for our guests on this journey. Each evening, we retreated to the luxurious Villa Cipriani, sharing our stay with royalty. Our journey took us to Lake Bled, Slovenia, the ultimate fairytale landscape. With the picturesque church located on the only island Slovenia can lay claim to (in the middle of the lake) and overlooked by the 11th Century castle and the charming villas and hotels that dot the lakeshore. For such a young country, Slovenia has a few tourism jewels of its own to be proud of, with Bled, Postojna Caves and the charming capital of Ljubljana, along with the emerging wine agritourism; where your neighbour or even your barn may indeed be Italian – this made working the fields before Slovenia joined the EU a challenging and time consuming work day! Crossing over the border, the Croatia of today is fast gaining a reputation of food, wine and lifestyle, and as it so deserves! With beautifully restored Venetian villas and mega yachts being the perfect bases for exploring everything these historical islands and towns have to offer, which surprised one of our guests, Tracy, from the Sunshine Coast.
“To be honest, I came to Croatia a little blind. I knew people who had sailed along its beautiful coast, but little else. I have been surprised at the diversity of the countryside – all stunning and interesting in its own way. The gems of wine estates and villas that have ‘popped’ out of nowhere have been eye opening! Come to Croatia for its sailing and sunshine by all means, but don’t miss its lakes, hidden history or beautiful architecture!”We started our Small Group Journeys Croatian land expedition by staying in a stunning villa in the coastal town of Opatija on the Istrian Peninsula, well known for everything from Roman Arenas to local wine varietals that are unique to the islands that drip off to the south. Numerous food artisans perfect the art of olive oil, prosciutto and chocolate making, allowing you to absorb yourself in the local culture of mouth-watering paddock to plate-style long lunches, followed by the obligatory siesta! A particular gastronomic hidden gem was the Boskinac Hotel and Winery on the island of Pag – a major highlight for many! As one of our first-time solo passengers found out, our itineraries are very specialised and planned for not only the area, but also around the guests that join us on a Small Group Journey. “When I booked this holiday I knew very little about the Veneto region in Italy, or about Croatia – now I would recommend to anyone to put it on your bucket list as it has been the most wonderful experience!” says Helen from Brisbane. “I also hadn’t thought too much about being a solo traveller, only that I didn’t want to travel alone; so the Small Group Journeys itinerary by Jacinta seemed a good option. From day one I have felt supported and welcomed and have had so much fun and so many laughs. The group is a mix of couples and single travellers and everyone gets along so well – not just by chance I’m sure, as I realise there has been a huge amount of planning not just of the itineraries but also around the dynamics of the group. “We are all like-minded travellers, keen to join in and make new friends while at the same time respecting each other’s privacy and personal space. Every day has been filled with excitement about the next experience that awaits, but more importantly it has been filled with laughter. I can’t wait to begin planning my next trip with Small Group Journeys!” While Croatia is part of the EU, they still have the Croatian Kuna as their official currency, allowing the Australian Dollar to stretch that much further, as some of our ladies found out during one afternoon of leisure in Opatija! Our travels also took us inland to Plitvice Lakes, a natural beauty of 16 lakes flowing down into the river below via a series of waterfalls that could be a landscape straight from an artist’s brush. The rustic charm of the accommodation that surrounds the National Park just adds to the experience and it is well worth taking the extra few days to include on your Croatia travels. [caption id="attachment_14827" align="aligncenter" width="870"] Cruising Croatia[/caption] Back onto the Dalmatian Coast, we stayed in and visited many old Venetian walled towns, with their beautifully restored Renaissance Palaces and amazing local seafood offerings, including lobster, scampi and octopus. Before boarding our mega-yacht cruiser for the next seven nights visiting local islands, blue grotto caves, war tunnels with history as recent as 1991, yet dating back to as far as the Napoleon era. The best way to make the most of the islands along the way is to get off the tourist path pursuing hidden gems, as we found in Hvar when dining with the locals at the award winning Lungo Mare restaurant. While a little further ‘off the strip’, if seafood is on your must eat list in this pristine part of the world, ensure this restaurant is too! There is no need to rush in this part of the world, as even the locals sit in the waterfront cafes watching the world pass by, ending our Adriatic sojourn in style, with one of our guests summing up our journey in a few words. “Our first ever ‘small group’ travel, this has been an experience of, ‘Wows, oohs and aahhs’. From the very first hotel, ‘A double or triple wow’, to fine dining degustations consisting of, ‘Oohs, wows and yum!’, to the views and experiences of our expert travel guides understanding their guest’s humour and requirements,” says Denise from Sydney. “This has been a fabulous and memorable journey and far too difficult to just pick one amazing moment – it’s all been fabulous and beyond my expectations! Thanks Jacinta and Brad.” [caption id="attachment_14828" align="aligncenter" width="870"] Plitvice Lakes[/caption] Jacinta is the owner/manager of Helloworld Travel Buderim and Caboolture King Street. She is also the creator of Small Group Journeys by Jacinta and has been assisting travellers to “Unlock the World – One Continent at a time” for over 25 years, either with her help or with her. Follow her journeys and destination tips as our Profile Travel Editor and via @smallgroupjourneys on social media.