Tick three more countries off your list, kids

Can you fit Slovenia, Hungary, and Croatia into a short holiday? Yes, says Andy McSmith

My kids like to keep a tally of the number of countries they have visited. The idea is to notch up one for every year you have been alive, an ambition made more attainable by counting Britain as three, but still beyond their reach.

However, things started to look up as soon as we arrived in Ljubljana airport, and asked the man in the car hire office which countries were within driving distance. "Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia are OK," he said. "Bosnia – not so good."

Add Slovenia, where we picked up the car, and that's five – not bad, for one short holiday. Only, did we actually want to spend all 12 days driving from place to place when we have an attractive, but fixed, mobile home booked for 12 nights? We grown-ups didn't – so we scrubbed Italy and Austria. But Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary all in the space of a few days – that puts a bit of rarity value into any child's list of countries they have seen.

For Croatia, we just piled into the car, pointed it south and set off, thinking we would to find a beach somewhere on the east side of the Istrian peninsula, stopping off for lunch at the last café in Slovenia, where the sound of spoken English attracted curious looks from other customers.

Across the border, we took a wrong turning. I can't say why, but I am prepared to blame a white van driver who was speeding towards us on the wrong side of the road; but the result was that we found ourselves in Porec, on the west side of Istria. It was a great place for lying about in the sun followed by a cheap banquet at a pizza joint in the evening.

Hungary was different. We could have driven, but it would have meant hours of driving along featureless motorways, so we decided to risk a train journey through the mountains. The carriage turned out to be one of those old-fashioned ones with coaches divided into six-seat compartments joined by a corridor alongside. Since we happen to be a party of six, that was just perfect for us, until we reached a little town in Hungary where there was no track, because it was being upgraded.

We were bundled out of the train and on to a bus – at the cost of a good- quality coat accidentally left behind in the carriage, and never seen again. On the other hand, we had an interesting tour of small Hungarian villages before being made to leave the bus and board another train. This procedure was followed, in reverse, on the return journey.

One small inconvenience about this country hopping is exchanging currency. Cash is not a problem in Slovenia, which is the most prosperous of all the ex-communist states, and the first to join the euro. Hungary, by contrast, has one of the EU's weakest economies. Croatia hopes to join in 2011. There was one cashpoint at the Budapest station, and it was not working. If we had not found an exchange bureau that was open late, we would have had a big problem.

Oh, but Budapest! It was a crime to be there for only one full day. It is a city replete with history, and at least we made it a very full day. The oddest part of it was taking a bus out to the park where they have preserved choice examples of Stalinist architecture, including Stalin's massive bronze boots – the rest of Stalin having been ripped down and smashed during the 1956 revolution. The best of it, perhaps, was stumbling upon the labyrinth under Buda Castle, a series of natural caves below the city with curiosities such as a horse carved out of the stone and a fountain that spouts red wine.

But neither Hungary nor Croatia can match the natural beauty of Slovenia. We were based in a self-catering mobile home at the Keycamp site in Ljubljana where, if you are of a lazy disposition, you could spend a pleasant enough holiday without a car. You could take the bus to the supermarket and back to stock up, spend your day idling by the pool, work up an appetite by playing netball or table tennis, and use the bus again to go into town for the evening.

But without transport, you would deny yourself some dazzling sights, like the Postojna caves, which reputedly have drawn 31 million visitors since they were first opened as a tourist attraction in 1820. They are so vast that visitors are taken by train along the first three kilometres, into cathedral halls decorated by thousands of stalagmites and stalactites. Then there is Lake Bled, up in the mountains, one of the greatest beauty spots in Europe, where you can swim in water so clear that you see fish patrolling the bed.

There is an island in the lake which you reach by gondola, if you are lazy, or by hiring a rowing boat if you are half energetic, as we were. The seriously fit can swim to it.

On the island is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption, where we were surprised to come upon a large, very smartly dressed wedding party, all speaking in scouse accents. Later, we shared an easyJet flight home with another wedding party. Twenty years ago, Bled was where Yugoslavia's communist elite took its summer break. Now, apparently, it the fashionable place for Catholics from the north of England to get hitched.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Keycamp (0844 406 0319; keycamp.co.uk) offers a seven-night break for a family of two adults and up to four children, staying in a Villaclassic mobile home with decking at Keycamp's Ljubljana Resort, for a total of £423 accommodation only. This includes a 10 per cent early booking discount, which is available until 25 February. Transport can be arranged through Keycamp for a supplement.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Day In a Page

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works