Native Bostonian and resident of Cambridge MA, Caitlyn Oates is an educator and traveling mommy extraordinaire. She and her husband make the most of their summers by traveling as much as possible-- now with toddler in tow! Here she shares their latest adventure full of hiking in Slovenia and Croatia with their then 22-month old.
In June of 2017, my husband, brothers-in-law, my twenty-two month old daughter Arabelle, and I went to Slovenia and Croatia for an eleven day vacation with an ambitious itinerary. Flying in and out of Zagreb, we rented a car for the first half of the trip so we could access some harder to reach areas like the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia and Lake Bled in Slovenia-- these were highlights of our trip, which I'll tell you all about below.
First stop was the gorgeous town of Bled, Slovenia; it was straight from a fairy tale! There is a castle on a cliff overlooking the lovely lake, a perfect biking/walking loop around the lake, and a quaint island that sits in the middle accessible only by man-powered, flat bottom pletna boats - since motorized boats are not allowed on the lake. I would say Lake Bled is a perfect destination for anyone traveling with a child, big or small. It is easy to walk around, has lots to do and see, and there are quick side trips that you can do if you use it as a base to see Slovenia. I’ve even proposed a return trip and we rarely go back to places we’ve visited before no matter how much we like them. My brothers-in-law fantasized about owning a small home there and having a jam making business. It is a place where anyone can imagine themselves living!
Take a look at Lake Bled! See... who doesn’t want to go there?
We rented bikes to travel around the lake and Arabelle went on her first bike ride. It was a hit! She loved wearing a helmet and stopping along the lake to see the ducks, swans and rowboats. Even when it unexpectedly poured rain on us, she was cheerful. Because it is so quick a ride, we decided to do two full loops around the lake. On the first, we made frequent stops for photos and gazing at the beauty; the second we decided to bike non-stop.
Tip: Bring your own child’s helmet. We brought one for Arabelle. While places are happy to rent bikes and helmets to adults, and they even had bike seats for little ones, I wasn’t able to find a place to rent a child’s helmet. I also felt more comfortable knowing the full history of the helmet she wore.
We stayed at Pension Berc, a charming B&B, while visiting Lake Bled. As is common in Europe, there are not elevators, but we enjoyed our well sized room with a balcony. The restaurant was also quite good there and we were able to enjoy a dessert one evening.
Just outside of Lake Bled, you can take a quick sojourn into the Julian Alps and take photos of your child that look like they are straight out of your Sound of Music opening scene childhood dreams.
"The hills are alive…"
Since we are focused on hiking adventures, I will skip over to our most intense hiking day. We rented a car and kept it as long as we did because I had seen photos of the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia and was intent on going. The hiking is easy, with well-made wooden platforms that meander along the waterfalls and pools of water.
Left: View of Plitvice Lakes when you first arrive. Right: One of the many pools of water and little waterfalls along the path.
Tips: We kept Arabelle mostly in her hand-me-down Ergo, which I love. The platforms are solid and fairly wide; however strollers would not work, and the rails, where there are rails, are definitely sparse enough that a tiny person could get through and fall into the water. Many snack goldfish were eaten on the hike. Sunscreen was essential along with a good sun hat and sneakers. I’d say hiking boots are not needed.
The walking eventually wore Arabelle out and she napped in the Ergo for about an hour with the cover over her head.
There is a boat you take that goes from the lower to the upper lakes and vice versa. Arabelle absolutely loved her boat ride. It lasted only about fifteen minutes, but it got her out of the Ergo and she was able to watch the ducks and see the small fish in the water on the small beach while we waited about twenty minutes for the boat to arrive. All the hiking we did, which covered the most popular paths was done in about three hours.
Our family at Plitvice Lakes
We stayed just outside of the National Park because all the hotel rooms within the park were sold out. Given a choice, I’d stay inside the park because the earlier you hit the trails, the less crowded it will be. We got there by 8am, but when we left around noon, it was packed and we were sliding past people on the boardwalks going in the opposite direction. This brings me to my main tip for the Plitvice Lakes: get going as early as possible! We used Rick Steve’s recommendations for the Plitvice Lakes and felt we got enough hiking and viewing in-- every angle is stunning! We were still done in four hours with a quick lunch before we left.
After leaving, we went to the city of Split and entered the famed areas of Croatia - the Dalmatian coast, the island of Hvar, and Dubrovnik. A photo below shows my daughter taking her uncle for a toe dip in the warm water in Hvar.
I know many people are hesitant to travel internationally with a small child. However, my husband and I did not want to give up one of our favorite pastimes when we had children and have found that traveling with a child is rewarding and fun! Sure, we have slowed down the trips a fair bit and sometimes, we simply recognize that she needs a good nap and hang out for a few hours in the hotel. But as someone told us, “You have to parent no matter where you are,” so well you might as well parent in Slovenia and Croatia! Happy travels!
Caitlyn recommends Rick Steves' travel books to help you plan your adventures in Croatia and Slovenia. Wike Baby LOVES Rick Steves, too!
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If you'd like Caitlyn's full itinerary, simply contact us.Check out the rest of our Exploring Abroad Series HERE, and share your own adventures on our Facebook page or by tagging @wikebaby on Instagram!