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Road Trip Slovenia
Road Trip Slovenia Itinerary
Quick Slovenia facts
Republic of Slovenia
83% Slovenes 2% Serbs 2% Croats 1% Bosniaks 12% others
Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
Area - Total
Population - 2014 estimate
101/km2 262/sq m
2015 estimate $62.515 billion
Drives on the
ISO 3166 code
Road Trip Slovenia: Part One, Ljubljana
The old town of graceful Slovenia capital, Ljubljana, centred around the castle on the hill, may be surrounded by urban sprawl, like many cities, but it retains a certain historic integrity. It was the perfect place to begin our exploration of this small but perfectly formed country.
With its small size and reasonably good roads, Slovenia is perfect for a road trip. We had a week to explore some of its towns and cities and tour its verdant, forested countryside. Though before we picked up the hire car we started with a day in Ljubljana's old town, on foot, getting a sense of the place that lay behind its fairytale façade.
Ljubljana's historic core is perfectly suited to exploration on foot. Eschewing the funicular railway we decided, since it was a lovely sunny day, to hike up the castle hill. Climbing the clock tower, we were treated to amazing views out over the old town and towards the imposing Kamniske Alps to the North. We later found some delicious food in the old town, eating a local speciality made of potato and pork fat in pasta parcels, which tastes much nicer than it sounds.
After we had thoroughly exhausted the sites of the pretty old town, we had some rain, so went to the leafy cultural area of the city, to explore the National Museum and the National Gallery, where we were particularly impressed by the works of the Slovene Impressionists. When the weather had cleared, we took a stroll through the lovely Tivoli Gardens.
A man in our hotel kindly recommended a restaurant for the evening, and the best places for a lively (but not raucous) night out. We had a hearty, stodgy dinner, heavy on the meat but delicious, then retired to a bar for some live Slovene musical renditions and some enthusiastic foot tapping. We made the acquaintance of an accordion player from Ptuj, in the east of the country, who said that we must make his city part of our itinerary, gave us his telephone number and address, and very kindly invited us to come and stay at the home of he and his wife, who, he told us, was an excellent cook. He would not take no for an answer, and even made us speak to his wife on the phone so she could reiterate the invitation. So we whole heartedly agreed to come and see them just a few days later.
We spent a comfortable, warm night in the hotel, then woke early the following morning. Before we headed east, we had a few places to the west of the country that we were desperate to explore. We picked up the hire car and set off for Idrija, where old mercury mines were our first port of call. So far, so good. Slovenia had definitely lived up to its reputation for friendliness and culture. Now to find out whether all we had heard of the rest of the country and its natural beauty was true.
Road Trip Slovenia: Part Two, Idrija and The Soca Valley
We nearly left Idrija off our list of places to go during our road trip in Slovenia – only a chance Internet search had yielded details of the fascinating history of the place and resulted in out stop off in what turned out to be an extremely interesting town.
Idrija's first claim to fame, as it were, is its geographical location, in an interesting juncture between the karst and the sub-alpine hills. The second thing for which Idrija is known is its history of mercury mining. For hundreds of years, mercury was mined here. Thirdly, Isrija is known for its bobbin lace, which is said to be particularly fine. There are a large number of cultural and historical sites and museum displays in the town, showing off its proud technical, industrial and crafting history.
The mercury mine was our first stop. You could still see the veins of oxidised mercury in the walls, and there was a chapel where the miners had prayed. We watched the well-presented video and took the interesting tour of the mines, and were saddened to hear about all the people who had lost their lives in pursuit of this valuable metal with its strange properties but at the same time fascinated by this glimpse into history. If you are over six foot – watch your head! The hard hats were definitely necessary. It was also nice to be given a coat to wear, since it was rather chilly below ground.
Next, we visited the interesting museum at Gewerkenegg Castle, where we found out a little more about mining history and lace making and saw some lovely examples of the work of some of the local lace makers. Heir folk art was really very intricate and had a delicate beauty which was surprisingly engaging.
After spending a little more time in Idrija, we head for the hills, taking the line of the Emerald Route towards the Triglavski Narodni Park and the Soca River Valley. Snow on the high peaks of the Julian Alps glistened in the sunlight, but down in the valley it was a mild spring day and not at all cold. We travelled some way up the road towards the mountains, stopping off in Tolmin to visit the natural wonder of Tolmin Gorge. We took a stroll across the 'Devil's Bridge' and saw the wedged rock covered with moss that looks a little like a bear's head. A cave nearby is called Dante's cave, as it is said to have inspired the poet to create the hell of the Divine Comedy, though we did not have time to take the guided tour.
We had arranged to go river rafting on the Soca, a popular activity said to be one of the best white water experiences in Europe. So we got back in t
Idrija and The Soca Valley
Road Trip Slovenia: Part 3, Rafting the Soca, Ziplining, Hiking
The next morning we got up bright and early and once we were all kitted out and had been given our friendly safety briefing and so on, we got into the boat with some others and headed off down river. The water was an amazing turquoise colour that didn't even really look real. (When we came back everyone thought the photographs had been manipulated, though they had not.)The mountain peaks rose around us as we made our bumpy way down the river, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. We could not have asked for a better way to see the natural splendour of this beautiful country.
We started at the Boka Waterfall and it took us around an hour or an hour and a half to make our way down this most scenic stretch of the river to the village of Trnovo ob Soci. After having some lunch near the Rafting rendezvous point in Bovec we decided on a whim to go zipling with the same outfit. There were several steel wires to zip down set in the wonderfully scenic Učja Canyon and we spent a happy hour or two whizzing down those wires and looking at all the landscape and wildlife. Usually, you have to book in advance but we were lucky and they were able to squeeze us in with another group.
We were pleased by the eco-friendly nature of the days activities, as we were aware of our carbon footprints after all the driving we had been doing lately. The valley is well protected and much is done to ensure that it stays as it is. We were not fortunate enough to see a bear while we were there, though we were assured that they do live in the valley. We did, however, see a number of quite rare birds and flowers. The ziplines were very sensitively installed and run, which gave us a lot of hope for the area.
After another good night's sleep at the campsite nearby, we drove deeper into the Julian Alps, determined to find some good hiking trails in the Triglav National Park to burn off a few of the calories from all the carbs., rich sauces and red meat we had been eating since arriving in the country. It was not difficult to find some excellent walks.
We spent a whole day tramping happily in the mountains, not returning to our campsite until the sun was sinking below the mountains and dusk was falling. It was warm work climbing the steep trails at times, but we were glad of the alpine climate which meant that temperatures were around 20 degrees Celsius and not around 30 degrees Celsius as they were in lower lying areas of the country.
Nursing our aching muscles we decided that it had definitely been worth the effort to see the spectacular views we had seen, though other walking areas were better for seclusion. We had met many hikers on the trails, sometimes big groups, but we never felt crowded and everyone was very friendly – the overriding impression we had gained of the country so far could probably be summed up in that one word.
Rafting the Soca, Ziplining, Hiking
Lake Bled & Lake Bohinj
Road Trip Slovenia: Part Four, Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj
Leaving the adventure of the Julian Alps behind us, we made our way round the edges of the Triglav National Park and headed for one of the most famous tourist spots in the country – Lake Bled. The calm bluish-green lake nestled at the foot of the Julian Alps like a scene from a fairytale – complete with magical castle on an outcrop beside it and a church with towering spire on a densely wooded island.
We rowed a small boat out to the island – there is no motorised transport on the lake so you if you want to get to the island you have to get there under your own steam. If you don't row, you will have to swim, as some laughing young people decided to do while we were there. The weather was baking hot, even though it was still early in the morning, so swimming in the cool, clean water was a definite temptation. We stayed in the boat though, keen to explore as much as possible before we moved on once more.
Tradition dictates that the stronger partner carry their loved one up the stairs to the church, but not sure that was a sensible idea- especially when we had to row back again – we decided to forgo that tradition. Still, we found the island an extremely romantic place, perfect for couples to enjoy some time together in the most insanely picturesque of surroundings.
We had a drink and a slice of a traditional dessert – a sort of vanilla slice – to fortify us, then hiked round the lake and up to the Castle. Since it was such a hot day it was pretty tiring and we were flagging by the time we reached the mediaeval castle overlooking the lake. Still, the views were astoundingly lovely, and the castle itself an interesting glimpse into history.
After reluctantly leaving beautiful Lake Bled, we wound our way south to another of Slovenia's famous scenic locations, Lake Bohinj. Lake Bohinj was somewhat wilder and less touristy than Lake Bled, but no less picturesque. In fact, Lake Bohinj, with its more unspoiled nature and tranquillity, was more our scene.
We pitched our tent at the campsite overlooking the lake, and took a stroll round the edge. When we got too warm, we went for a swim. There were a few other walkers and hikers, but it was not as busy as it has been at Lake Bled. Nowhere in Slovenia had been terribly busy though – one of the benefits to this country's somewhat overlooked status.
Late afternoon, we took the Cable car up the mountain, and looked out over the lake which was as still as a mill pond, glinting in the setting sun.
Slovenia was proving far more beautiful than we had ever imagined. We found ourselves wondering why so few people seem to visit this spectacular country from northern Europe or elsewhere. But we were glad that it was not a honey pot – all the more space for us.
Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj
Road Trip Slovenia: Part 5, Ptuj and the East
Most of Slovenia's best known attractions are to be found in the West of this small country. We had intended to remain in the West for the duration of our road trip but a chance encounter with an accordion player in Ljubljana meant that we were now on our way to stay with him and his wife for a night in the historic town of Ptuj.
We left beautiful Lake Bohinj and the Julian Alps behind and two and a half or so hours later we found ourselves in the historic centre of Ptuj, perhaps one of the loveliest towns in Slovenia, extremely glad that we had decided to come.
Ptuj's red roofed houses clustered round the castle on the rise, nestled in a wind of the calm, wide river. Its mediaeval streets were postcard perfect, the sun was shining and a cool breeze kept the temperatures pleasant.
We met our new found friend on Prešernova ulica, the atmospheric main street of the town, by the Church of St. George, and he guided us to his house which was quite nearby. His wife welcomed us warmly in perfect English, not at all dismayed to be hosting two strangers. They were used to it, she said, as they often hosted backpackers who were making their way round Europe.
We sat on their terrace in their little courtyard garden to eat our exquisite lunch of beef and fresh vegetables and shared a bottle of local wine. We could not believe our luck! Over lunch we discussed Slovenian culture, and current events in the country. In just that brief time, we felt we had learned more about Slovenia and Slovene people than we had in the entire trip up to that point.
After the leisurely lunch, we were shown up narrow cobbled lanes to the Castle. We looked back down over the pretty town, and took a look around the Ptuj Regional Museum which was housed in the Castle, which was itself an interesting mix of the architectural styles of different eras.
Later, chatting all the while in perfect English, our hosts took us for a stroll in the old town along the Drava river. Then we returned once more to their house, where a couple of their friends and fellow band members of our host joined us for a little party. We sat outside eating snacks and listening to them play the odd traditional tune as the wine flowed freely. It really was a genuine moment of connection and one of the highlights of our trip.
After an extremely comfortable night in their spare bedroom, a huge breakfast and some excellent coffee, our hosts tried to persuade us to stay, but amid promises to keep in touch and vows to return, we reluctantly left Ptuj and made our way back towards the West. We were going to see one of the most spectacular cave systems in Europe, and the country's coastline, for the last leg of our Slovenia holiday.
Ptuj and the East
Postojna & Skocjan
Road Trip Slovenia: Part Six, Caves and the Coast
The cave systems found in South Western Slovenia, at Postojna and Skocjan, are perhaps amongst the most popular of Slovenia's attractions. We had heard and read many good thing about these cave systems, and when we checked them out for ourselves, we were definitely not disappointed.
At Postojna, a train hurtled us through tunnels to transport us to the start of the guided walk. The air was chilly but the rock formations were spectacular – vast jungles of rock where one might almost expect to see delving dwarves.
Skocjan is somewhat less visited, but was perhaps even more enchanting. The tour took us through a number of huge halls full of stalactites, down secret passages and echoing chambers. Eventually we reached the stunning Murmuring Cave, which is said to be the world's largest subterranean canyon! We could almost imagine that we had entered the Mines of Moria, from 'Lord of the Rings', but of balrogs, fortunately, there was no sign.
We were glad that we had taken the time to see both of these cave systems, as each had something slightly different. Still, after our morning spend almost entirely underground, we were glad to get back up into the sunshine and head for Slovenia's coast.
Realising that Portoroz's glitzy hotels, casinos, skyrises and nightlife would not be for us, we decided to make straight for the more unspoiled Piran.
Piran could not be more different from its neighbour. Its historic houses crowd round the peninsula on which it is situated, clustered around picturesque Italianate squares. Church spires point to the sky and the whole of the old town juts out like a finger into the striking blue of the sea and the white sails of yachts stood out here and there against the waves.
Piran had a much more Balkan feel to it, the first time that we had been reminded of Croatia rather than Slovenia's other neighbours, Austria or other countries with a middle-European vibe, since we had been in this country.
We spent some time down in the harbour watching the boats, then went to Tartinijev trg, a striking oval shaped plaza ringed by pretty Venetian palaces and an imposing town hall. We sat a while and watched the people passing by, sightseeing and going about their daily business. Then we took a stroll in heat that could crack the flags down Rozmanova ulica to the Baroque masterpiece of the Church of St. George.
We drove up the short coastline, through the busy, historic, fishing town of Izola, the appeal of which was somewhat lessened by bad traffic, then stopped for dinner in another picturesque town, Koper, where, again, we strolled through the pretty streets soaking up the historic atmosphere.
Finally, we left the coast and made the short drive back to Ljubljana. Unfortunately, our time in Slovenia was coming to an end. But Slovenia and particularly its friendly people and breathtaking scenery had made a strong impression on us. We would most definitely be back, if only to catch up with our new found friends.