It’s time for the next installment of Eurotrip 2016: Trevor & Christine Take the Former Yugoslavia. First up is the beautiful country of Slovenia.
Slovenia is known for its mountains, forests, obsessed gardeners, a capital city no one can pronounce, and for being the trivia answer to “What is that bit on the map between Austria and Croatia?”. Oh, and as one local reminded us, it’s also the country where Mrs. Trump was born… not sure if that’s a selling feature though!
Whether to visit Slovenia was a tough decision. We’ve wanted to go to Croatia for years, and wanted to make sure we got there while the temperature was still warm enough to swim. We didn’t add Slovenia to our itinerary lightly, and we’re happy to say it lived up to the hype (insomuch as there’s hype about Slovenia).
The amazing alpine lake town of Bled
Bled is probably on the top of everyone’s list of places to see when they’re in Slovenia. And that position is well deserved. Bled is amazing. Trevor visited this tiny town 9 years ago at the end of a short trip through Eastern Europe, and always said if he’d gone there first, he would have spent the entire vacation there.
For those who haven’t heard of it, Bled is a tiny town a 45 minute drive from the capital of Ljubljana and only 25 minutes from the airport. The town is at one end of a crystal clear alpine lake, surrounded by the mountains of the Julian Alps. Oh did we mention there’s a little island in the lake with a cute church on it… or that there’s a castle high up on a hill overlooking the lake? It seriously feels like you’re walking around a movie set! Water, mountains, tons of restaurants, bars and patios – what more could you want?
Bled can be a bit sleepy, so it’s a good destination for hiking and relaxing more than nightlife. During the daytime, there are also plenty of companies offering hiking tours, canyoning, rafting and other adventure sports.
To explore independently, there are tons of hiking paths you can take from the town, getting out into the countryside within minutes. We hiked the Vintgar Gorge, approximately 3km out of town. It was a great day hike, 7-8km round trip with 1.5km of that on boardwalks along the inside of a beautiful gorge.
The biggest tourist attraction is the lake itself – many people board small boats called pletnas and get rowed out to the tiny island in the middle of the lake. A few people rent small rowboats and go it on their own. The island is great to look at and makes for a good picture. But we’d heard from multiple sources that renting a boat to go to the island and paying to enter the church were a rip-off, so we didn’t bother.
Lake Bohinj – Even better than Bled?
To get a bit more off the beaten track, head another 25 minutes west to Lake Bohinj. We didn’t think it was possible for Slovenia to have an even more picturesque lake than Bled, but we were wrong. Similar in some ways – small town on one end of a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by mountains. But different too – no tour groups, fewer daytrippers from Ljubljana, bigger lake, and a feeling that you’re right in the mountains rather than just near them.
Again there are hikes you can do around the lake, and plenty of restaurants and some accommodations. We did a 2 hour round-trip hike from Stara Fuzina to along the Mostnica gorge near Mt Triglav. It’s possible to take buses from Bled to Lake Bohinj, but we rented a car for the day to give us more flexibility to explore the area.
Ljubljana – A Surprisingly Cool Capital
This we didn’t expect. Ljubljana (“Loo-Blah-Na”) was really cool. The old town is fairly compact and all car-free, making it easily walkable. The entire vibe was very laid back, but with plenty to see and do.
We did a free walking tour through Ljubljana Free Tour, just to get the lay of the land. The rest of the time we spent exploring on our own, including the old town and the castle that overlooks the city.
The castle itself is a very steep climb up from the old town. Why are castles always uphill? We want to find a castle in a valley 😉 But the views are worth it, and the castle has multiple exhibits (that we didn’t bother paying for and therefore can’t comment on).
One thing that really impressed us is that Ljubljana does a great job with its waterfront. The Ljubljanica river winds through the city and is lined with patios for restaurants and bars, as well as vendor stalls. It was a great place to get a drink, sit on the riverside, and read a book.
Probably the most memorable part of our stay was the night we arrived. It was a Friday, and the weekly Open Kitchen food market was on all afternoon and evening. Many of the best restaurants from around town set up food stalls in the old town, and the food was amazing. Our favorite was Dezela Okusov, serving Egyptian shawarma. We got it for lunch and dinner, it was that good!
Since we’re talking about culinary experiences, one other to try in Ljubljana is horse. And no, we’re not talking about the filler that goes into a fast food burger patty. In Slovenia, horse is a common food. In the interest of the full cultural experience, we went to Hot Horse in Tivoli park where Trevor took one for the team by trying a horse burger. It looked promising, but ultimately isn’t something we’d recommend. We would, however, strongly encourage anyone visiting the city to get some homemade gelato at Gelateria Romantika – this stuff was the real deal and they had some seriously unique flavours.
The Italian Slovenian Coast
The trip from Ljubljana to Rovinj (our first stop in Croatia) was going to be a 4 hour bus ride. Trevor is not a big fan of long bus rides (but who is, right?). Instead, we decided to break it up with a stop in Piran, on the Adriatic Coast just north of the Slovenian-Croatian border.
We finally were getting back to summer weather after spending August in the UK. The medieval town had a distinctly Italian feel to it, and you could actually see Italy across the water.
The best Slovenian wine also comes from this western region of the country. We wish we had had an extra day so that we could have explored some more but, unfortunately, we needed to move on.
The Postojna caves are rated the top tourist attraction in Slovenia. We didn’t go there – we went further on to the Skocjan caves. We did pass by the first ones, and it was overrun with tour buses. However, we highly recommend the Skocjan caves. You have to take a mandatory tour, run on the hour and lasting approximately 90 minutes. The tour takes you through a HUGE cave system, including the largest cavern in Europe and over a bridge 45m above the river below. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed inside the caves so you’ll have to trust us!
As we said, whether to visit Slovenia was a tough decision, but we’re very glad we did! While it’s not as inexpensive as many other countries we’re visiting, it’s like a less expensive, less busy version of Austria or Switzerland. But with a coastline!
Check out our full Slovenia gallery here.