Category: Europe

Astonishing Lake Bled

Lake Bled regularly tops lists of the world’s most beautiful place – and it’s easy to see why.

We knew that the lake – in north-western Slovenia – would be something special, but that didn’t fully prepare us for the reality


Picture this : sitting among alpine meadows and pine forests under the snow-capped Julian Alps, is a mirror-like waterway.

At one end of Lake Bled, a medieval castle is perched high above the water on a 130-metre sheer rock cliff.


In the middle, bells regularly peal from a church on a tiny, lush green island.

Gondola-like traditional Pletna boats dot the lake, carrying people from the villas and towns around the shoreline.


Some of the rowing boats carry pilgrims making a visit to the island church of the Assumption of Mary. On arrival, they face a climb of 98 stone steps to reach the chapel on Slovenia’s only island.

The boat ride took us about 15 minutes and the views from the water were breath-taking.

Long believed to have healing properties, the water of Lake Bled glistens emerald-green when the sun shines.

The air is crisp and there are beds of flowers and carefully-tended parks everywhere you turn.


During our visit, in late Autumn, the trees were losing their leaves, but retained their colour.

If you desire, there is a six kilometre walk around the lake and the surrounding alpine areas are popular for kayaking and mountain biking.

The nearby Triglav National Park can easily be reached by bus from Lake Bled.

As we found throughout Slovenia, local wines and food specialties are served at the restaurants in the town of Bled.

This includes the famous Bled cake, the kremna rezina, which consists of a thick layer of cream and an even thicker layer of vanilla custard sandwiched between slices of thin crispy pastry.


It’s hard to look dignified while eating the cake, but we couldn’t fault the taste.

 We also enjoyed Kranjska klobasa, a juicy pork sausage that is said to come from the nearby town of Kranj.


The sheer beauty of Lake Bled induces a relaxation that is rare during a hectic travel schedule.

Slovenia is widely being described as the undiscovered jewell of Europe.

We suggest that, for its sheer natural beauty alone, Lake Bled is one of the shiniest parts of that jewell.

A blue and white paradise

The ‘first impression’ can be particularly important for a hotel. 

Our reaction on arriving at Hotel Aethrio, on the Greek Island of Santorini, was an unrestrained “Wow”!

White stone fence, blue gate, white-and-grey cobblestones, blue window surrounds, white stone buildings, blue sun roof – and a sparkling blue swimming pool.

Now that’s what you call street appeal!

We couldn’t wait to enter the hotel, perched high on an escarpment amid the scenic beauty of Oia village.

And we weren’t disappointed! The warmth of the welcome we received was matched only by the Santorini sunshine.

Our host led us to a fully equipped, two storey cave apartment in a prime position overlooking the pool and sunset deck. A wonderful few days had started.

Here’s our full review of the Hotel Aethrio:

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem-free?

A: Yes, online booking of Hotel Aethrio couldn’t have been easier. After comparing prices and location, we used the hotel’s website to book.

Q: Does the Hotel Aethrio have street appeal?

A: The hotel is off a narrow laneway, but Martin greeted us at the bus stop and carried our bags to our apartment. All we did was marvel at the beauty of the area and the hotel itself.


Q: Is the hotel close to facilities etc?

The Hotel Aethrio is within easy walking distance of the heart of Oia. As we had a fully equipped apartment, we walked to local bakeries and supermarkets to buy ingredients for our meals, coffee etc. 

The location is less than one block from the bus terminal where coaches run regularly to the island ferry port, airport and the tourist shopping and restaurant hub of Fira. 


Q: How did check-in go?

A: Smoothly. The reception staff were professional and fast – but thorough.

Q: How was the room’s accessibly for seniors?

A: Unfortunately, there are no lifts in a cave apartment. However, if you are able to cope with a moderate number of stairs, the atmosphere makes it all worthwhile. The curved cave roof and cool walls need to be experienced to  be fully understood We loved it all.



Q: Were the rooms big enough?

A: The rooms could not have been better. They were spotlessly clean and large. There was plenty of wardroom space, and the downstairs area had a stove, kettle, plates, cutlery, lounge and TV. 


Q: Was the bed comfortable?

A: It was comfortable and, as the cave apartment was completely insulated from traffic and other noise, we slept soundly

Q: Were there adequate charging points?

A: We had seven electronic devices, including phones and camera equipment, but our Hotel Aethrio apartment catered for this with ease. As well as plenty of power points, there was one either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks.


Q: Was there free wifi?

A: Yes. There were strong wifi signals in our apartment and in the pool area. Top marks for this.

Q: Were other facilities adequate.

A: Yes. Although we didn’t use it, the living room had a big screen TV  –  and the pool was beautiful.

Q: Was the bathroom to the expected standard?

A: Certainly. There was a large shower recess and a roomy vanity area. As with the rest of the Hotel Aethrio apartment, the bathroom was spotlessly clean and equipped with luxury toiletries.

Q: Did you get breakfast?

A: Breakfast was included in the room rate. There was a well appointed and modern eatery and the food couldn’t be faulted. It was first class.


The breakfast area, bar and, in fact, much of the main part of the hotel was a former sock factory that had been beautifully rebuilt for its current purpose.  There was plenty of space and some of the factory’s former machinery was on show, which gave an interesting touch to the room.


Q: How was the hotel’s service?

A: The Hotel Aethrio staff were friendly, efficient and particularly professional. 

We were given valuable information on local bus routes and the best places to view the famous Santorini sunsets. 

Nothing was too much trouble for the hotel – and staff certainly looked after us.


Q: Was there anything you didn’t like about your stay?

A: No. We decided to stay at Oia, rather than Fira township and review the Hotel Aethrio after readers mentioned its great location, facilities and service. They were right. This is a hotel that is doing everything right.

Duration of visit: three nights

Q: Would we return?

A:  Without hesitation.

Special mention: the hotel’s swimming pool and sun area is superbly presented and looks awesome.

 

 

  
 

Where Robin Hood was caught with his pants down

In a quiet part of Slovenia sits a spectacular castle with a great story.

The 12th Century Predjama Castle is nestled in the mouth of a cave, under a 123 metre overhanging limestone rock face close to the Italian border.

Predjama Castle’s sheltered position has helped preserve the remarkable structure.

But it’s a tale from 1484 – complete with heroism and more than a little humor – that has made the castle famous world-wide.

A rebellious Knight, Erazem Lueger – known as Slovenia’s Robin Hood – holed up in the impregnable castle while regularly robbing caravans passing between Vienna, Austria and The Italian port of Trieste.

The fed-up governor of Trieste finally laid siege to Predjama Castle, in an attempt to starve out Lueger.

However, the robber baron used a hidden path through cave tunnels to go out for food – and taunted the besieging soldiers by throwing them scraps.

Eventually, a servant was bribed into revealing the castle’s only weakness – it had a toilet located outside the main walls on the upper level. 

That servant fed Lueger some dodgy meat and then signaled to the Italian forces that our hero had made a run for the loo.

The soldiers fired one ball from a catapult, hitting the target – and catching their nemesis with his pants down.

Exit Slovenia’s Robin Hood.

The castle survived, however, and is now one of the most spectacular such attractions in Europe.

Predjama castle is in Slovenia, north-west of the town of Postojna. 

Off the highways, it’s on a route that winds through mountains and green hills.

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Ljubjiana: the secret is out.

Some destinations are special. Ljubljana is one of them. 

Straddling the divide between The Balkans and Central Europe, the capital of Slovenia is a fairytale city of rare beauty. 

Only a few years ago, Ljubljana was relatively unknown among travellers. 

But, the secret got out -and this European jewel is fast becoming a tourist hotspot.

Close to Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, the city of Ljubljana is easy to reach and well set up for visitors. 

It’s main attractions are generally located in an attractive Old Town area alongside the pretty Ljubljanica River.

The Slovenian flag fries above Ljubljana Castle
This pedestrian-only city centre boasts strikingly colourful architecture; outdoor cafes and coffee shops; wide public squares; cobblestone streets; museums, a big university; and Baroque fountains, sculptures and monuments.

And above it all sits the imposing Ljubjiana Castle, an 11th Century fortress that can be reached by glass-sided funicular railway or by several walking trails.

From the castle towers, you can see across the red rooftops of the Old Town and over the suburbs of Ljubjiana to the snow-topped Julian Alps in the distance.

Looking down into the medieval castle from the ramparts

Ljubljana  Castle towers are ascended using twisting circular steel ladders.

Everywhere you look in Central Ljubljana there are superbly preserved Art Nouveau buildings, many housing cultural and artistic institutions, such as museums and art galleries.

Others host shops, banks and businesses.

The Cooperative Business Bank, which was designed in 1921 in the Slovene Tricolour.

The fact that Ljubjiana has less than 300,000 permanent residents gives the city a particularly friendly and laid-back atmosphere

Ljubjiana University, with 63,000 students, also helps give the city a vibrancy, as well as boosting the strong local art and music scene.

Ljubljana University

At Ljubljana’s centre is Preseren square, just a short walk from the Old Town across the three-pronged Triple Bridge. 

The square is surrounded by beautiful historic architecture, including the salmon-coloured Franciscan Church of the Annuncian. 

 This among several eye-catching churches in Ljubljana’s heart.

Ljubljana’s Dragon on the bridge that bears its name

Other well known river crossings in central Ljubjiana include the Dragon Bridge and the more-recent structure known locally as the ‘Love Lock Bridge’.

‘Love Locks’ adorning the Ljubljana bridge

Slovenia is a modern country in every sense and its capital city has many trendy bars, including Metelkova Mestre, a former army building that was taken over by squatters and is home to fringe art centres, alternative clubs and music venues.

Senior travellers are probably more interested in the city’s vibrant cafe scene, stunning architecture and range of museums and galleries. 

And the city has a growing reputation as a foodies paradise, with many restaurants serving a range of traditional Slovenian fare, including mushroom soup, pork sausages, beef dishes and chicken paprika with dumplings.  

A Slovenian sausage meal

Ljubljana is also an excellent base from which no part of Slovenia is more than one hour away.

See more of our Ljubjiana photos:




The city library

Overall, Ljubjiana is a wonderful destination for travellers of any age. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Scoot to Athens, where mythology and selfies meet

Athens was a great choice of destination for the first Scoot Airlines service into Europe.

The Greek capital is an absorbing place: a tapestry of old and new, where people stand in ruins more then 2,00 years old and take selfies.

Sitting on a coastal plain and built around seven hills, Athens is a whirl of sight and sound that melds the facilities of a modern, vibrant metropolis with breath-taking ancient scenery.

The past is important to Athenians, as it surrounds them in every direction, but the city’s heart pulses with the trappings of a modern European capital – high end fashion stores; coffee shops – and immaculately-dressed beautiful people.

Scoot also chose a perfect destination for a gateway to the stunning Greek Islands – and the rest of Europe. If you fly into Athens in the Scoot Dreamliner, it’s a simple matter to move onto the Greek Islands by ferry or air – and to fly to other European countries

Parthenon

Athens is also a wonderful destination of its own. 

Outstanding sights include the famous Acropolis hill and ruins of the  Parthenon temple; the Acropolis museum; Syntagma Square and its Parliamentary guards; the vibrant central shopping area; National Gardens; outstanding churches; and ancient Delphi where the famous Oracle once handed out advice.
It’s possible to walk up Acropolis Hill and wander among the ruins of the Parthenon, before visiting the Acropolis Museum to se artefacts uncovered at the ruins. This is a tremendous experience that allows you to step back in time to the majesty that was Ancient Greece.

If you visit Syntagma Square, traditionally costumed evzones (guards) of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier change every hour.

On Sunday at 11am, a whole platoon marches down Vasilissis Sofias to the tomb, accompanied by a band. 

When the guard is changing, they ‘march’ in slow motion, with a synchronised goosestep-like stride. And they wear wooden shoes somewhat like Dutch clogs, decorated with a Pom Pom. 

Here’s a further sample of our photos of Athens:

Temple to Diana, Delphi
Decision at the theatre
Sue in the fashionable Ermou
Athens suburbs from Acropolis Hill
Ancient bank building, Delphi




If you’d like to see Athens for yourself, check our review on the ScootBiz premium service from  and Singapore.

Or see our review of Scoot’s 787 Dreamliner.

Note: our review trip to Athens was courtesy of Scoot Airlines but, as always the reviews are our own thoughts.

Review: Hotel Atrion, Heraklion, Crete

The Hotel Atrion got off to a good start during our review visit to Heraklion, Crete, in September 2017.

After we booked online, the hotel kept up an email conversation to see if it could help further with arrangements.

And, when we asked for assistance arranging an airport pick-up, Hotel Atrion staff were extremely helpful and efficient, communicated promptly – and a driver and car was waiting for us at Heraklion airport.

Here’s the full review:

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem-free?

A: Yes, online booking of Hotel Atrion couldn’t have been easier. After comparing prices and location, we used the hotel’s website to book.

Q: Does the Hotel Atrion have street appeal?

A: The hotel is in a narrow and busy street, but looks modern, clean and appealing from the street. 


Q: Is the hotel close to facilities etc?

The Hotel Atrion is within easy walking distance of the vibrant heart of Herkalion, close to a number of good restaurants and less than one block from the city’s waterfront and old Venetian fortress. It is a perfect location if you don’t have transport, close to a main bus terminal and a short bus trip from the ferry port and international airport.

Q: How did check-in go?

A: Smoothly. The reception staff were professional and fast. We had been flying for much of the day and previous night – and were exhausted. However, we were quickly shown to our room without hassles – just what we wanted.


Q: How was the room’s accessibly for seniors?

A: Not bad. We could get most of the way by lift, but then there were a few steps – but not enough to be a problem with our bags. Hotels in Greece have a reputation for small lifts. This one was narrow, but adequate.

Q: Was the room big enough?

A: The room could not have been better. It was spotlessly clean and large, with ample room either side of the bed. There was plenty of wardroom space and a writing desk, which was put to good use.

Q: Was the bed comfortable?

A: It was particularly comfortable and as the room was free from traffic and other street noise, we slept soundly.


Q: Did the room have adequate charging points?

A: We had seven electronic devices, including phones and camera equipment, but our Hotel Atrion room catered for this with ease. As well as plenty of power points, there was one either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks. The Hotel Atrion certainly deserves full marks for this aspect.

Q: Were other facilities adequate.

A: Yes. Although we didn’t use them, the room had a big screen Tv and a minibar.

Q: Was the bathroom to the expected standard?

A: Certainly. There was a large shower recess with modern curved glass screening and a roomy vanity area. As with the rest of the Hotel Atrion room, the bathroom was spotlessly clean and equipped with luxury toiletries.


Q: Did you get breakfast?

A: Breakfast was included in the room rate. There was a well appointed and modern eatery – and the food – which included lots of Greek and Cretan cuisine – couldn’t be faulted. It was first class.

Q: How was the hotel’s service?

A: The Hotel Atrion staff were friendly, efficient and particularly professional. We didn’t have any complaints, but on two occasions we sought assistance with calling a taxi. This was arranged promptly and the taxi arrived within minutes. Nothing was too much trouble for the hotel – and staff certainly looked after us.

Q: Was there anything you didn’t like about your stay?

A: No. We decided to review the Hotel Atrion after readers told us about its great service. They were right. This is a hotel that is doing everything right.

We could not fault the Hotel Atrion and thoroughly enjoyed our stay

Duration of visit: three nights

Scenery blows us away

The Greek Islands certainly know how to make an impression.

After spending three days based in a beautiful cave apartment at Santorini – and another day island-hopping by ferry, it’s hard to think of anywhere more stunning.

Italy’s Amalfi Coast had always held that title in our minds, but the Greek Islands are certainly a contender. 
The contrast between harsh, wind-swept volcanic hillsides and white-and-blue painted clifftop villages could not be more marked.

Add the sparkling clean blue waters of the Aegean Sea and the intensity of the famous sunsets and it is an intoxicating mix indeed.

In Santorini, the final rays of the day – sweeping over the Caldera – bath everything in pink and promote a feeling of wellness and awe. 

So what if Santorini is tourist central. Crowds don’t detract from the amazing views of this slice of heaven. 

Watch for the upcoming review of our Santorini hotel, the Aetherio apartments at Oia.
Travelling through the islands on a Blue Star ferry, we were also blown away by the beauty of both Paros and Naxos.

Here’s a selection of our Greek Islands photographs:

Late afternoon sun over Naxos
Old port, Fira, Santorini
Santorini sunset glow at Oia
Church bells, Oia, Santorini
Paros
The famous Santorini sunset
Fira, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

If you’d like to see this stunning scenery for yourself, check our review on the ScootBiz premium service to Athens from Australia and Singapore.

Or see our review of Scoot’s 787 Dreamliner.

From Athens, it’s an easy matter to visit the Greek Islands by air or ferry.

Note: our review trip to Athens was courtesy of Scoot Airlines but, as always the reviews are our own thoughts.