The Lilliputian and intensely beautiful country, Slovenia, nestles in the Julian Alps, surrounded in a clockwise sweep by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. It was the first of the Balkan countries to break away from the former Yugoslavia and became independent in 1991. Clear rivers and gushing brooks born in the mountains and vast, pristine, glacial lakes form the backdrop of the northwest.
Bottled water is a sacrilege here, as there’s pure, fresh water everywhere. Well over 60 percent of the country remains thickly forested. We found the short driving distances between Slovenia’s most beautiful sights very convenient, and the unpeopled countryside hikes felt as though we had the entire place to ourselves. Visiting summertime adventurers- walkers, bikers, climbers and rafters- enjoy Slovenia’s gorges, rivers, pretty villages, hillside castles and the lingering dance of low clouds. The winter months see a flurry of skiing activity. Ski jumping is a particularly important event here (a 250 meter flight has been docked) and locals joke that if you ski jump in Slovenia, you should carry a passport, as you might easily land in another country.
Lakes Bled and Bohing
Landing near the capital, Ljubljana (loob-li-ana), we drove 30 minutes to the country’s most photographed spot, Lake Bled, with its hilly surrounds and fairy-tale isle. A cliff top castle at the edge of the lake rewards with extensive views once you huff up the steps. A handful of hotels perch at the edge of the lake and the surrounds, their windows filled with views. We took a pletna (traditional gondola style row boat) to the island and explored its church and little museum. The intense teal-blue colour of the water beggared belief. In the evening, I was thankful for the heavenly hour-long walk on the well-marked track around the lake, and although it was getting dusky, it felt utterly safe. Fresh and hearty Mediterranean-style dinner ended the day on a high note, topped with a flakey “cream cake,” the local specialty.
The next morning, we explored nearby Vintgar Gorge. Walking along the wooden pathway clinging to the sides of a deep, rocky crevasse, we crisscrossed the roaring Rodovna River, ducking the spray of many waterfalls. The drive to the much larger Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park was 45 minutes away and en route we came into contact with the Slovene farms and heartland. Alpine-style chalets with wooden fretwork were festooned with vibrant flowers, and we came across the famed vertical haystacks and numerous apiaries. For eons beekeeping has been integral to these parts, and the wooden bee-box sections were painted with colourful, lively scenes from daily life. Strong local traditions continue to thrum in Slovenia, and someday I hope to return in the spring to see the Kurentovange carnival in Ptuj where locals don dramatic sheepskin costumes and dance on the streets to scare away winter.
We walked the wild-flower strewn meadows around the placid and magnificent Lake Bohinj, and took in views of Mount Triglav’s highest snow-covered peaks from the cable car up to Vogel and an Alpine meadow.
The Soca river valley
Dotted with picturesque little villages such as Most na Soća, Kobarid and Lapena, with pretty river and mountain surrounds, the Soća River valley is remote and unspoilt, with utterly pure air and water. A thickly forested uphill drive took us to Javorca Spominska Cerkev, a serene and beautiful hilltop church built by Austrian soldiers. Driving via Kobarid village known for its war museum, we stayed at the small, ultra-charming Vila Dobra in the Bovec village, a base for adventure sports such as rafting, canyoning, zip lining and hiking. While rain dampened our rafting plans, we trekked the scenic hills around Lapena village and walked amidst fireflies at night. Driving to Ljubljana via the 50 hairpin bends of the dramatic Vrisić pass, we encountered the most spectacular vistas filled with tall forests and snow-painted mountains and marveled at how this achingly beautiful corner of Europe has remained a secret.
Plan your trip
How to get there:
Fly Easyjet or Wizz Air to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana via Stanstead or Frankfurt etc. or drive from Croatia or Italy.
A driver/ guide and car can be organized by ABC tourism firstname.lastname@example.org
Adja.email@example.com +386 31 382060
Driver/Guide The amicable and informative Mr. Dragan Begćić can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org + 386 41 632563
Best time to go: May to September
Stay at: any one of these cozy, central hotels- Vander Urbani Resort, Lesar Angel, Cubo Hotel, Allegro
Eat at: Juliya restaurant, Stari Trg 9. +386 1 425463
Stay at: Hotel Triglav, recently renovated, has elegant charm with nice views and a good restaurant.
Vila Bled, Tito’s former home has grand proportions, but no air con.
Hotel Toplice, a smart, large edifice is on Lake bled
Affordable style- Vila Preseren on Lake Bled
Stay at: Rustic House 13, an eco friendly guesthouse, a 20-minute walk from the lake.
Triglav National Park:
Stay at: International Wild Flower festival May 21st to June 5th. www.bohinj.si. General info- www.tnp.si
Stay at: Dobra Vila in Bovec has 11 rooms, and is infused with charm, serves delicious food and has lovely mountain views.
A visit to Javorca Spominska Cerkev in the thickly forested Triglavski Narodni Park revealed a beautiful church in hilltop surrounds built by Austrian soldiers around WW1.