Slovenia

Slovenia

Those who’ve followed my blog since day one will know my journey began when my photographer found me (in an egg) under a pile of newspapers in Slovenia back in June 2017. I was looking at visiting this year during a road trip along the Balkan coast but it was sadly cancelled. Luckily, my photographer takes a lot of photographs (possibly too many) so I have been doing a bit of a virtual holiday through the country. It is a country with so much to explore I decided to share some of my photographer’s tips to get the most from a trip to Slovenia.

Where is Slovenia?

The crossroads of Europe, Slovenia is bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, Croatia to the southeast, and the Adriatic Sea meets Slovenia’s tiny coastline. It is one of the countries where the alps meet the Mediterranean. Forgotten by the masses of tourists, Slovenia is a small gem not on many people’s radar.

How to get there?

Slovenia is easy to reach from Europe, with flights taking 2 hours from the UK direct to Ljubljana. However, we found it was easier and cheaper to fly into Salzburg Airport in Austria and drive across the border as it is a beautiful drive through the Alps. The roads in Slovenia are easy to drive (ignoring the hairy mountain passes) and it typically takes 2.5 – 3 hours to drive from Austria into Slovenia (plus extra time for photo stops).

If you are feeling more adventurous, this is a popular stop when interrailing. You can get the ferry from Venice. Or take a cross continent drive (100% would recommend, if you have the time).

Where to visit?

Slovenia has something for everyone; mighty mountain ranges, lakes, forests, cities, Tuscan inspired vineyards and its own tiny slice of coastline. As we had came from Austria, Lake Bled seemed the best starting point for a whirlwind tour of the country.

Lake Bled

Home to the only island in Slovenia, Bled is often the first place which comes to mind when visiting the country. Take a canoe to the church in the centre of the lake. Or swim across if you are feeling extra energetic, I did and spent the entire time dodging the many ducks. Climb up to the cliff top castle which boasts amazing views of the lakes below. The alpine lake is a great base to explore the surrounding area. Slovenia boasts some of the best hiking I have done in Europe and hotels are always more than happy to help choose one of the many hikes in the area.

Hikes in Bled are numbered, my two favourites were Ojstrica and Vintgar. Ojstrica is a mountain in the Kamnik–Savinja Alps with a sharp, pyramid-shaped top features climbing routes. It feels off the beaten path but in reality is is mere minutes from the lakeside. Where the final viewpoint is one of the most popular in Slovenia.

Vintgar gorge is another hike through the beautiful Slovenian countryside Carved by the Radovna River, around 4 kms northwest of the town of Bled, Vintar gorge is one iconic gorges in the Triglav natural park in northwest of Slovenia. The trek along the emerald green waters, untamed rapids and across the wooden bridges, makes the walk thrilling and memorable. The walking trail starts right after the entrance, and you are soon welcomed the rushing water and small waterfalls. The scenic views of the canyon and the green waters of the Rodvna river gives you a breathtaking view at every turn as you take a walk on the boardwalks.At the end of the trail is a cafe and an iconic stone bridge for the Bohinj Railway. The bridge was built a hundred years ago and is the largest stone arch railway bridge preserved in its entirety in Slovenia. The Sum waterfall lies close the end of the trail.

A great place to stay is the Hotel Savica which has access to the spa in the hotel opposite, complete with infinity pool overlooking the lake.

Soča Valley

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but another way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of northwestern Slovenia is by train. I was lucky enough to take a train from Bled via lake Bohinj and finally to Postaja. I had heard rumours of a vivid blue lake which provided incredible scenes due to the reflections of the Soča Most (bridge) and bubbles which made incredible patterns. There is an opportunity to take a boat ride around the lake and along the Soča River, even in the rainy weather, it was beautiful. The bubbles coming from the bottom of the lake are caused by methane (in the words of Rex the lake was doing farts).

The rainy day excursion wasn’t over yet because next up was one of Slovenia’s wine regions, Goriška Brda for thunderstorms and lunch. The area should look like tuscany which I can only imagine is simply beautiful. The day I visited I could barely see 20 metres in front of me. Here I witnessed two incredible things.

1. The sincere kindness of Slovenian people. To shelter from a thunderstorm and even gave me lunch. The best part had to be their dog, a huge wolf like Teddy bear.

2. The incredible natural beauty of thunderstorms, I’ve never seen lightning like it.

Kranjska Gora

Leaving the lakes and making way into the mountains, the perfect place to leave busy modern life behind. A visit in June was the perfect time to see all of the wildflowers blooming, along with the rugged beauty of the surrounding landscape. A true alpine village in the middle of the Julian Alps, a great place for scenic hiking. Sadly, our time in this town was filled with rain but I did find one of the best cake shops in Europe.

The best part is I found an egg in the middle of a pile of newspapers, I took it home and a few weeks later out popped Rex! A very successful day in a very beautiful place. The Sava Dolinka Valley isn’t just for skiing or mountaineering. It’s also a great place for swimming (if the weather is warm of course!). The pišnica river winds alongside the town towards Jezero Jasna a stunning green lake. It isn’t huge but a great place to spend an afternoon.

The next town over from Kranjska gora is Rateče a typical sleepy Slovenian village. Which is the base for, in my opinion, the best home in Slovenia. The Tromeja route is 7km and leads through the village, pastures and into the forests of the karavanke mountains. This leads to the Peč peak the location where the Italian and Austrian borders meet with Slovenia. On a clear day you can see for miles, although I didn’t stay at the too for long due to a visit from this rather creepy fellow.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana is by far one of my favourite European cities, the buildings are beautiful and there are so many lovely restaurant to visit. In eastern European style it is a very old city with some incredible things to visit, I particularly like the Dragon bridge and Ljubljana cathedral. The city never gets overly crowded, which I really like, even in popular spots such as the Prešeren square.

Piran

The Slovene Riviera islocated on the Gulf of Trieste, by the Adriatic Sea. It is part of the Istrian peninsula and is 46.6 km long. Understated and ancient this part of Slovenia has a strong Italian influence. Piran is a magnificent medieval Venetian town on a peninsula jutting into the Adriatic. It is centred around the lovely pastel coloured Tartini Square and overlooked by an imposing and beautiful hilltop cathedral. The Cathedral of St. George (Piran Cathedral) sits atop a hill overlooking Piran. The life work of Venetian stonemason Bonfante Torre, finished in 1614. The belltower, a replica of St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice was finished a year later. 2 euros is the cost to climb up the rickety wooden staircase to the top of the bell tower, well worth the excersice to see the views at the top.

The town is a compact maze of charming medieval alleys, some with interesting names. On a clear day you can see Italy to the right and Croatia to the left.

Lipica – Karst Region

Slovenia is very proud of the Lippizaner horses. They live on a huge stud farm which is open for people to visit. The horses have huge paddocks and lots of keepers to make sure they are healthy and safe. The one downside is the shows, they still whop the horses to get them to do tricks. They don’t seem bothered but I didn’t enjoy seeing this at all, I much preferred seeing the horses outside. Especially once I realised the foals are born brown or black then go lighter as they get older.

This was the final stop in Slovenia although it would have been nice to spend more time in each place. Possibly even extending the trip to visit Venice as well. Though the ride back through the alpine passes to Salzburg was a great way to end the trip. Hopefully, one day Rex will be able to join a trip to Slovenia once it is safe enough to travel again.

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