You may not have been to Slovenia but you’ve more than likely seen a photograph of the improbably beautiful and straight-out-a-storybook Lake Bled. I’m embarrased to admit Slovenia is a country that wasn’t really on my travel radar before this trip but after spending 5 days being utterly captivated by its grandiose capital city, folksy alpine towns and cobweb-strewn castles, I am already vowing to return soon for a sequel of this real life fairy tale. Here’s 12 reasons to visit Slovenia, a beguiling country that will soon have you under its spell…
1) START YOUR SLOVENIA TRIP IN THE FAIRY-TALE CAPITAL CITY
Ljubljana is the country’s enchanting capital city but it’s small, so I wouldn’t leave more than two days (we did it in one) to explore it. I’d recommend staying in the old town close to the Ljubljanica River, which separates the pretty pedestrianised historic area from the less attractive commercial hub. We booked the gorgeous but pretty affordable boutique hotel Vander Urbani Resort. Expect swanky, modern rooms right, the most amazing breakfast (including a few Slovenian delicacies) and best of all, a lush infinity pool overlooking the colourful streets below. Perfect for our first of many Insta photo shoots of the holiday… got to be done… ha ha….
With a population smaller than Coventry, you wouldn’t think there was much to do or see in Ljubljana but this city woos visitors with its delightful maze of cobbled streets, lantern-strewn bridges and tower-topped buildings. The distinctive style can be mostly credited to its famous architect, Plecnik, who is to Ljubljana what Guadi is to Barcelona. Almost every bridge, fountain and arcaded market is designed by him. To see the best of his work, join the free city walking tour, which gives a brief overview of the country’s complex history as former Yugoslavia.
On this whistle-stop tour, you don’t actually get to venture in any of the churches so you’ll need to spend a few hours exploring them alone if you want to go inside. The key landmark, also not included on the walking tour but worth a visit, is Ljubljana Castle. We didn’t pay to go inside but you can marvel at the castle from within its walls for free and I’d recommend walking up (a gentle 10 minute stroll uphill) rather than queuing and paying for the cable car.
2) SLOVENIA IS MADE FOR ROAD TRIPS
Once you get out of Ljubljana, the roads are quiet, well-paved and clearly marked. We had booked mostly Air BnBs in advance as during peak season we were warned it gets really busy (mostly Slovenian, Austrain and Geerman tourists thankfully – it’s not been quite discovered by Brits as yet).
This was our Slovenia trip itinerary:
1 night in Ljubljana – a 20 minute drive from the airport and ample parking just outside the old town (which is completely pedestrianised)
2 nights visiting Lake Bled – I could have easily spent 3 but we were only on a 5 day trip
1 night staying in the picturesque alpine resort of Kranjska Gora (skip this if you’re short on time, it’s best in the winter)
1 day exploring either the wine region or the caves and castle at Postojna (don’t skip this! More on that next…)
3) PRETEND TO BE A DISNEY PRINCESS
Make time to visit the renaissance Prostojna castle, which sits like a mirage on the side of a majestic 123 meter cliff. It’s more than 800 years and we discovered that it famously offered refuge to the charismatic former owner, Erazem of Predjama. Legend has is it that this robber-baron remained undefeated until he was unceremoniously killed by a canon ball whilst on the toilet. Not the most heroic of deaths but the stories of his 100 day siege (throwing fresh cherries at his enemies to taunt them!) has made him the stuff of local legend.
4) MARVEL AT LAKE BLED
Like most visitors to Slovenia, we made a bee-line for Lake Bled, fabled to be the world’s most picturesque lake. It could easily compete for that crown in my opinion. Not only is the denim-blue water clean enough to swim in, it’s framed by a towering cliff on which another cinematic-looking castle is perched. From here you have epic views of the lake – most famous for it’s pretty church topping a small island right in the very middle. I recommend hiring a boat for around 10 euros an hour from the Lido and having a leisurely paddle cross for a glass of local sparkling wine not the island. Bliss. On your return, stop for by Vila Prešeren to sample Lake Bled’s very own dessert – the traditional creme kretina or sometimes known as a kremšnita. I’m told it has become a pan-Slovenian tradition to have one when visiting Bled.
To marvel at the lake from the best vantage point, book dinner just before sunset at the Bled Castle restaurant. If you can tear your eyes away from the beautifully-presented plates of food, you’ll be able to feast on a view that will easily justify the steep prices on the menu.
We also adored Penzion Berc for dinner. It’s a super romantic of setting with live music and a menu including the most mouth-watering slow-cooked octopus matched with Slovenia’s best wine. For a cheaper dining experience, head down to Lake Bled waterfront during the day where wooden trestle tables encourage communal dining from stalls selling slow-cooked local veal, bratwurst and local beer.
To get the iconic on the heading of this blog, enquire about where to find Ojstrica. It’s a steep-ish 15-20 minutes walk uphill and the perfect spot to get envy-inducing shots like this (if you have the patience to wait for other tourists to move out the way)…
5) GET VERTIGO OVER LAKE BOHINJ
Whilst Lake Bled attracts the highest number of visitors, nearby Lake Bohinj is less well-known but arguably as beautiful. It’s a great spot for trying out stand up paddle boarding as the trip across to the small island is much closer than Bled. We quenched our thirst on orange-flavoured Radlers on the wooden jetty before trampolining into the water, much to the amusement of picnicking families watching on.
It’s a bit pricey but I’d recommend paying to ascend the Vogel cable car for a vertigo-inducing view above the lake and the dizzying mountain range. From Bohinj you can also hike to the picturesqe Savica Waterfall, the third most visited attraction in Slovenia, hidden amidst the steep walls of the Komarča.
6) EAT SLOVENIAN DELICACIES
I went to Slovenia with one thing on my food agenda – to try the famous horse meat carpaccio. I’d heard the best place to try it was at the famous Špajza restaurant, where it’s one of their signature dishes. But the look of horror on my friends’ faces when I told them I planned on trying this Slovenian delicacy this forced me to have a re-think. For whatever reason, horse meat seems to appall even the most faithful of carnivores so giving in to peer pressure, I ended up ordering the less controversial rabbit dish instead. Whatever you go for, this restaurant won’t disappoint – it’s a bit touristy but hugely characterful with flagstone floors, impeccable service and a varied, traditional menu.
The next day I got my opportunity to try another obscure meat and this time, there wasn’t time to talk me out of it. We headed to the city centre’s central food market to peruse stalls piled high with fresh figs and jars of nuts in honey. I soon spotted a stall selling cured game sausages and without thinking, merrily popped a sample in my mouth. The stall owner grinned, ‘you are eating bear, madame’. My friends tried to mask their disapproval as I scoffed another just to check it was as delicious as I thought. I can report it absolutely was. So whilst I can’t comment on the horse meat, I HIGHLY recommend cured bear sausage to any adventurous foodies (I’m assured it’s very ethical – we eat wild boar right?). AND you can take it back on the plane…
7) PLUNGE HEAD-FIRST INTO AN ICEY WATERFALL
A short drive from Bled is the unmissable Vintgar Gorge, a 1.6-kilometer gorge carved by the Radovna River. Take your camera for the wondrous labyrinth of rickety wooden bridges which criss-cross above this translucent water. You’ll need comfortable footwear but more importantly, a lot of patience to endure the surge of people all heading upstream like salmon towards the water’s source. It’s worth the bunfight. We heard the waterfall’s powerful crashing before we saw it and the one advantage of it’s freezing temperature is that you’ll more than likely be the only one brave enough to jump in. Like having your own private plunge pool.
8) RAFT ON THE SOCA RIVER
The Soča Valley region stretching from Triglav National Park to Nova Gorica is pure paradise if you like the great outdoors. This real-life Narnia allows you to cave, hike, raft and kayak through a pristine emerald river. We went with a group and an experienced rafting guide – stopping along the way to use our inflatable rafts like bouncy castles to jump into the water. Hands down the best outdoor activity we partook in during our time here. I highly recommend Activi Planet who we went with – competent, fun and experienced instructors, great equipment and a solid track record.
9) SKI IN THE CHEAPEST RESORT IN EUROPE
Zig zag through the mountains from Vintgar Gorge to Kranjska Gora on the stunning Vršič Pass, a high mountain pass which takes you across the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia. You’ll share the road with die-hard cyclists and flocks of brazen sheep, who don’t seem to understand the rules of overtaking and will force you to stop completely until they’ve all trundled past. Eventually you’ll reach Kranjska Gora, renowned as the cheapest ski resorts in Europe. Even in the height of summer (when we went), this region is worth a visit for its spectacular mountainous setting.
I’d also recommend staying in one of the folksy alpine apartments at Villa Flora, run by a friendly family who can also book rafting on the Soca River if you ask. When you’re travelling in a country with so much to do, it can be all to easy to run around and “see all the sights” without ever having a chance to really connect with the people who live there. I think one of the best things about our stay was meeting Slovenians in Air BnBs and guest houses along the way.
10) BECOME A WINE CONNOISSEUR
Slovenia’s wine isn’t particularly well-known, probably because so little of it is actually exported. And it’s easy to taste why – I’d be inclined to keep it all too! If you want to see how it’s produced, spend a night staying on a vineyard or go on a tasting tour in the south westerly region of Primorska, which produces around 40% of Slovenia’s wine.
11) LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STALAGMITES AND STALACTITES
The adjective ‘jaw-dropping’ is overused in travel but in this case, it’s entirely justified. The Postojna Cave is a 24,340 m long cave system near Postojna, also in south western Slovenia. I’ve seen caves all over the world but this network of wonders takes some beating. Take a train to ogle the drip-formed structures where you’re chaperones around by a knowledgable guide, who explains how this mesmerizing natural wonder came to be. Icicle-like formations are lit by sparkling chandeliers and strategically positioned uplighting makes even more of a feature of this eerie underworld.
12) CROSS THE BORDER TO ITALY
Slovenia is sandwiched between Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia so is perfectly positioned to continue your travels on a longer European road trip. Crossing the boarder to Italy was effortless (no passports required!) and we dropped down into the Prosecco region, which we all regretted not having had more time to explore, before continuing to Croatia. But with so much to do in Slovenia, you’ll probably never want to leave. This dream-like destination is the stuff of traveller legend but inexcusable easily to reach. And definitely my new travel muse…