“You can stay here if you want!” cackled the old woman, as she rearranged the flowers on the grave that she was tending.
We had reached a dead end, quite literally, next to a cemetery in Slovenia.
We had come from Verona and had been on the road for hours. We were looking for our first choice of campsite. “I don’t have the address, but we can’t miss it. Vremski Britof is only a small village. I read about the campsite on a blog and it sounds lovely. It’s right by a river!” Mark enthused.
Campsite Dujčeva Domačija was not listed in our Sat Nav. However, we had the postcode and it was that which had led us us confidently down the narrow road to the cemetery. It was the kind of narrow road that had me thinking “I hope that we won’t need to do a U-turn…”
Mark had asked the lady if there was a campsite nearby. She had looked amused and indicated that the cemetery was all that was here. That was when she had given us a wicked grin and invited us to stay!
We decided that we weren’t quite ready to repose with the deceased, so we executed a U-turn in the car park and beat a retreat. “I saw a sign for a campsite up there but the road was closed.” I optimised. (That is my verb for ‘optimism to the point of stupidity’!)
It had been a long and stressful journey and things were beginning to get fraught. We had been delayed leaving Verona as we couldn’t activate the Italian Data SIM card that we had bought the previous day. Mark had popped back into Verona that morning to sort it out with the shop before we left. Then, everything seemed to take forever. We had tried to fill up with diesel and LPG at a local self-service station, but the pump refused to take credit cards. I only had €15 in cash and Big Blue’s door jammed, preventing Mark from accessing his wallet! We couldn’t fill up our Safefill gas cylinder, since the LPG pump had a minimum sale of €30.
We had taken toll roads from Verona to Trieste, since the route via ‘A’ roads would have doubled our journey time. We had left the Autoroute near Trieste due to heavy traffic – and to avoid entering Slovenia on a motorway, which would have require us to purchase a vignette that was valid for a week to cover just a short distance.
It was now 6pm. Desperate to get to a campsite before they all closed for the evening, Mark made an executive decision to go down the road that was closed. We both prayed that the campsite was located before the road closure.
This forced us to execute another 50-point U-turn on a narrow road with our 40-foot caravan / van combo.
A helpful local chap stopped his car and assured us that the campsite was definitely open. He gave us vague directions for a 20km diversion, which would allow us to bypass the road closure and approach the campsite from the other side of the river. Of course, by the second turn, we had forgotten the directions and were arguing about which way to go. We pulled over and decided that our best option woudl be to look for an alternative campsite for which we could get proper directions. The Sat Nav has thousands of campsites programmed in and it gave us a list of those nearby. However, we discovered that ‘nearby’ was measured as the crow flies.
It tempted us with campsites within 10km of our current position, which were actually 20km away when we actually programmed them in! Many of them were back on the coast and were horrifically expensive; upwards of €40 per night. They also looked awful and commercial.
I Googled a campsite on my phone. I discovered Kamp Vrhpolje. “It’s 20km away in Vipava. It was voted ‘The best campsite in Slovenia’ on TripAdvisor!” I optimised once more.
Since we had its address and it was also listed in the Sat Nav, we opted to go there. We arrived just before 7pm after a spectacular hairpin ascent and descent and a race with a bicycle, who was DETERMINED that we were not going to overtake him on the downhill. With all those hairpins, he succeeded admirably in his mission! En route, I began to scope out possible car parks or places where we might stop overnight if we got desperate. I have to say that we were not brimming with confidence as the Sat Nav led us straight past a miniscule, crowded campsite with a tiny concrete bridge leading on to it.
I walked over the dainty, arched bridge, which looked like it had been designed to house a gnome with a fishing rod rather than facilitate the traverse of a ditch by heavy vehicles. I managed to raise the owner. “We are full!” she said. My heart sank, but even if there had been space, I was not confident that we would have fitted onto the small field, never mind got Kismet over the gnome’s bridge.
The owner kindly gave me details of another two campsites in the area. That done, Mark and I delivered the greatest show on earth as we executed yet another U-turn, directly in front of the campers on site, all of whom had settled down for the evening with their glasses of wine. We are not inconspicuous with our four dogs and large caravan, hitched to a blue van laden with surf boards!
We had a face-off with a tractor, who needed to come up the road where we wanted to go. We got out of his way by performing another U-turn before the the Sat Nav decided that it was imperative for us to follow a tiny, narrow road. An oncoming local skidded his car sideways to a halt in front of us to block our progress. He leaped out of his car and ran towards us, waving his arms. “DON”T GO UP THERE!” he shouted urgently. We told him our destination and realised that The Sat Nav must have been simply turning us back around. So we performed another U-turn and made our third pass of the campsite, much to the joy of the happy campers, who raised a glass to our progress! “Idiots” I think I heard them say. Or maybe it was ‘Cheers’!
Choosing our third-time-lucky campsite by the ‘pin in the map’ method, we wound up a precipitous set of hairpins to Kamp Tura. The last couple of bends were so steep that we had to execute them in first gear. Big Blue’s clutch was beginning to emit the sort of aroma that you might expect to spread across the skies of Birmingham if someone had torched Fort Dunlop in its heyday, before it was turned into a Travelodge.
By now, it was 8.30pm and the desperate search for a campsite had occupied several hours. Tired tears of desperation were beginning to prick at my eyes as I wandered into reception, my heart sinking as I saw row upon row of vehicles packed in the site, side by side.
I was greeted with a broad, friendly smile as Bojana, the owner, said that she would find us a place even if we had to spend the first night in her car park. “I never turn anyone away.” she reassured us. “Someone will leave tomorrow, so you will be able to move on to a pitch.”
We managed to park on some waste land at the end of the site and even managed to connect to an electrical bollard. From our little plateau, we were treated to a spectacular view over the Vipava valley and its famous vineyards. The Vipava valley is a hidden gem. I found out later that it had made this year’s list of Top 10 places to visit in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Europe’.
Kamp Tura rested in a spectacular location under the almost sheer rock walls of the Gradiska Tura, at the southern edge of the Nanos plateau. I immediately took the poor doggies for a leg stretch. With the unexpected additions to our journey, they had been cooped up in the van for eight hours. I noticed that there were plenty of walks straight from the campsite – and that they were all very steeply uphill!
As I returned, worried that Mark may need help to push the caravan on to our ‘pitch’, I noticed that someone was running towards me and waving madly. I realised that it was the lovely Spanish lady, who had camped with her family next to us in Verona. We had exchanged details and uttered our regretful goodbyes only that morning!
I signed in with Bojana, who was very interested in our lifestyle. She looked at my passport when I told her that we had retired. “I’m only one year younger than you!” she exclaimed. However, the campsite was her own business. “I LOVE my job.” she told me.
“We used to work for a big corporation.” I told her. “We had to get up for work at 4am to drive into London…” She agreed that our working lives differed markedly from her lot in the pure and picturesque mountains of Slovenia!
Bojana was infectiously enthusiastic about Vipava and had co-authored and advised on a guidebook to the local area. “You can visit Postonja caves, Lipica and Ljubljana from here!” she enthused. There were also many very special local attractions, such as wine tours, rock climbing and scenic walking routes, all of which she offered to show or arrange for us.
I bought a couple of cold beers. I felt that we had earned them. They tasted like nectar!
As Mark and I sipped on them in the gentle night, we agreed that while it is against our philosophy of freedom and the ability to change our plan on a whim, there could be occasions in future where it might be prudent to make a campsite reservation. Particularly in high season, on those sites which are close to a multitude of popular tourist attractions!
We decided that with Kamp Tura we had struck gold and would stay a while to explore. Since that meant that we would have the same address for a while, I checked out something important on the internet. That was when I discovered that I couldn’t get sandals delivered to Slovenia for less than €110.
Yet the same pair was advertised on the Merrell UK site for €68!