To think I nearly missed this place! I was busy planning a trip to Croatia that included day trips to Montenegro & Bosnia. I thought I was all set. That is, until I read a snippet about Slovenia and I knew I had to change my itinerary to fit it in!
Slovenia is a rather small country squished between Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary with a “toe” touching the Adriatic Sea. Most Americans had probably never heard of this place until Donald Trump began his run for president (in case you haven’t heard, his wife is from Slovenia). Though small, different parts of the country have a different feel. For example, near the north it resembles Austria. However, near the coast, it flaunts a more Venetian feel. While this country shares much history and some other similarities with the other former Yugoslavic countries, it certainly has its differences and a much different vibe than say, Bosnia.
How to Get to Slovenia
You can, of course, fly into Slovenia from wherever you are. Or drive a rental car from whatever surrounding country you are in. There are also buses, tour companies and the like to get you here as well. This is a fresh and clean little country. Major roads are well cared for and easy to navigate. And totally safe for solo travelers, such as myself!
Quick Tip: If you’re driving yourself in Slovenia, be sure to purchase a road toll vignette ASAP (it’s a sticker you put on your car). If you get pulled over without one, it’s an automatic immediate payment of 50 euros (last I checked). You can purchase one at any gas (petrol) station and they are 15 euros for one week, depending on the kind of vehicle you’re driving.
What to See/Do
While my visit was approximately 4 days, but I think one could easily spend a week here (or more, depending on what you like to do). You could make Lake Bled your base and drive your rental car to nearby sites (or walk). There are various tour companies that will take you to and fro, but I love the freedom and autonomy of having my own set of wheels.
Serene Lake Bled
I ended up driving from Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia to Bled. I arrived late and in POURING rain (argh!). Fortunately, the next day brought only overcasts skies with spits & spurts of rain. I woke up early to go for a run around the lake, which turns out is approximately 6 km (a little over 3.75 miles). I enjoyed this less crowded time, as the only people around were fellow exercisers and those rowing on the lake (motorized boats are banned).
After a shower and breakfast, I took a more leisurely pace around the lake, trying to capture just the right light and angle. I took the path (a bit steep-if you are not in shape, take the transport up) to Bled Castle (Bledjski Grad) to take in the (cloudy) views. There are also some interesting exhibits explaining the history of this area. But the views are what really make the trek up here worth it…yes, even on a dreary day.
Later I took one of the Pletna boats (not ordinary boats or oarsman) over to the island. While the church was not mind blowingly spectacular, its quaint & I enjoyed my time exploring this little place. But if you are pressed for time or really hate riding in a boat, I don’t think you’d be missing out on anything epic if you stay shore side. The rest of my daylight hours were spent wandering around the town (and scoping out the best spot for some famous Bled Cream Cake).
So in my honest opinion, this place is worth a day. The lake is pretty, but the town is a bit less charming than the places I just came from (think Croatia, Mostar, and Montenegro). And, tour buses come here by the droves, so it can become overrun with tourists at times.
- At least one stroll around the lake
- A visit to the Castle for those fantastic views
- Tasting a piece of the Bled Cream Cake!
Eat/drink: Penzion Mayer (I ate a delicious vegetarian dinner here)
Stay: Penzion Mayer (great location with quiet, large rooms)
From the Gorge to the Peak
The next day, I again arose early for one last run around the lake before striking out on my next adventure: Vintgar Gorge (Soteska Vintgar) followed by a drive through the Julian Alps.
I thought the gorge was beautiful and absolutely worth the trip! It really is just as lovely as the photos you see when you google it. I would, however, skip the waterfalls at the end…unless you are totally obsessed with waterfalls or have never seen one before. Then by all means. But they weren’t special, in my humble opinion.
Quick Tips for Vintgar Gorge: Arrive early or plan to go later in the day. Otherwise you’ll arrive with everyone else, including the tour buses. Not only will parking be tough if you drive (you could walk from Bled), but so will walking along the narrow pathways. EXTREMELY crowded! Forget trying to get some great pictures with the mobs of people in your way! Also, the path can be wet, so wear appropriate shoes. If you are a speed walker and have no crowds and only do the gorge it’ll take you a little more than 20 minutes each way. I suggest allowing time to linger a bit, though.
After my stroll through Vintgar Gorge, I headed for my crazy hairpin packed (there are 50!) driving tour through the Julian Alps. As I drove with Mount Triglav in view, I kept waiting for Julie Andrews to come running around the corner! I know, this isn’t Austria! But it really FEELS like you are. From the architecture to the stunning green color of, well, everything, you cannot help but feel like you are in some kind of movie. Or in Austria.
I decided to do my drive going up the switch backs, over Vrsic Pass, then down the other side through the gorgeous Soca River Valley. Several of the pullouts have particularly scenic views or something else of interest. Those of note include: after the waterfall at #8 hike the stairs, #17 for “window” rock (a popular hiking destination as well), #22 for the ghost face in the cliff wall, #24 for summit views, #28 for WWI remnants, and #49 for the source of the Soca River.
The Soca River Valley is also known as “Valley of Cemeteries” because much blood was shed here during WWI. In fact, Ernest Hemingway was here during the war and later wrote about it in A Farewell to Arms. If you are a history buff or big Hemingway fan, you may find this area particularly intriguing.
I cannot even tell you how taken I was with this river. It is stunning! It’s this clear, pristine, milky green color that I just could not get enough of! I found myself pulling off several times to cross some suspension bridge, or get a little closer to the river for better views. I really would’ve loved to spend a bit more time exploring this area. I did notice there were little places to stay right on the river as I drove along. Kayaking and rafting are other activity options if you are interested.
Quick Tips for the Alps: If you’re here in the summer, you don’t any special type of car to drive the Alps. There was a bit of snow at the top, but none on the road. Just keep an eye out for bicyclists-there are a fair amount of them chugging up and down the road. I was just fine driving my little rental. Without a car? There are guides with their own vehicles you can hire or do a group tour for a bit less cost. I’d plan several hours in this area if you don’t plan on spending the night here. There are also a lot of hiking trails and ski resorts in the area if you are interested in spending more time in this area (fantastic idea!).
After leaving the Valley, I was off to Ljubljana.
- Those Alps (Triglav National Park)
- snapping a pic of the Slovenian haystacks (everywhere as you drive near the mountains)
- If you are big ski sport fan, stop by the biggest ski jump in the world
- Soca River Valley
Feel Like the Only Tourist (Almost)
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and is definitely worth a visit. Not only is the Old Town colorful and charming, the locals actually hang out here. That’s right, locals, not droves of tourists are the cause of all the buzz in this part of town. The riverside walkways brim with shops, restaurants, locals, and musicians. This place really just has an ambiance that makes you want to stroll around and then grab a seat at a cafe for prime people watching. Just beware Sundays are generally a snoozefest as most places are closed.
Ljubljana also has a castle overlooking it and you can hike or take the funicular to get here. The views are nice, but the rest I found a bit meh. In my humble opinion, the best site is Old Town itself. I wandered around, poked into a few shops, sat at cafes, and took in the scene. Perfect!
Eat/Drink: Vinoteka Movia
Stay: Adora Hotel (quiet, nice sized rooms, good breakfast, great location)
Take a Ride in a Dark Cave
After spending a full day and night in the capital, the next morning I headed for the Karst region. The two best/most popular are the Postojna and Skocjan. I opted for the latter. If you pick Postojna, however, you’ll be near Predjama Castle if that is something you really want to visit. However, if you are really into horses, Skocjan is near the Lipica Stud Farm.
At Skocjan, you purchase your ticket for a certain time and wait outside the opening of the cave for the groups to be called. Guided tours are mandatory, so don’t expect to be exploring on your own. I also thought the other attractions seemed a bit gimmicky, so stuck with just doing the cave tour. I am no cave expert, but I was VERY wow’ed by my experience. These caves are HUGE and the formations other worldly in appearance. The guide is full of information and keeps the group moving through the cave system. While I cannot compare the two cave options to each other, I can tell you I was extremely happy with my choice. I enjoyed the option to walk around and explore versus riding a tram the whole time. I have also read that Skocjan can be less crowded than its counterpart.
Quick Tip: You will walk approximately 2 miles while visiting Skocjan, including steps. So if this isn’t for you, you may want to opt for Postojna. It’s also quite cold inside the caves, so bring a jacket or sweater (yes, even in the summer!).
After standing in awe of nature for a few hours, I headed back to Zagreb, the last stop on my journey.
Other Places of Interest in Slovenia
- Spend more time in the Alps (you can make Bovec or Kobarid your base)
- Explore the Soca River Valley
- Lake Bohinj (you can take a bus here from Bled)
- If you’re interested in a bit more off the grid, try Logarska Dolina & the northern valleys of the Kamnisko-Savinjske range
- If you are interested in wine, Slovenia is the home to quite the winemaker. Click here, to read the article from Food & Wine. Vinoteka Movia is Ales Kristancic’s wine bar and I definitely recommend a stop here.
Quick Facts for Slovenia
Language: Slovenian, though English is frequently spoken
Electric: 240V/50Hz (same as western Europe)
Dialing Code: +386
Guidebook Used: Rick Steves Croatia and Slovenia, google, and TripAdvisor.com