Slovenia. It might not be the first place that jumps to mind when it comes to summer holiday ideas, but my God it should be. When a dear friend of mind suggested a trip to Slovenia to mark her birthday weekend I jumped at the opportunity. I mean, any time anyone suggests going away I’m there. And when I started doing some actual research I couldn’t believe Slovenia hadn’t been on my radar before. It’s stunning! So here’s three places you simply have to visit to get you started on your adventure planning.
A few quick points of note…
We stuck mainly to the north-east corner of the country, which borders with Italy and Austria. I’d say this area is perfect for adventure lovers, whilst the south-east is ideal if you’re looking to take a wine tour and the east your best bet if you’re looking for spas and relaxation.
I highly recommend hiring a car, there were five of us on this trip and so between us we hired a VW estate which was ideal for us and all our luggage. Public transport isn’t great in Slovenia so hiring your car is your best bet for getting around, particularly if you’re looking to go off the beaten track a bit.
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and home to its only airport, so it’s more than likely that this will be your entry point into the country. Don’t pass it over, however. Although small (the population is just under 300,000 people), it’s worth spending some time here.
We opted to stay for just a night, landing around lunchtime and heading off again late the next morning. This gave us plenty of time to get to grips with our hire car (hello changing gear with my right hand) and settle in to Slovenian life.
If you’re looking for an affordable yet different option, I encourage you to check out Hostel Celica. A prison in its former life, Hostel Celica was recently converted into a hostel with the help of a series of local artists who were each assigned a cell and a set budget to convert into some of the most unique accommodation you’ll find in Europe.
After freshening up, take a wander in the direction of the river where you’ll find historic bridges a plenty and a fun party atmosphere coming from the numerous bars and restaurants lining the banks of the Ljubljanica.
For a slightly less touristy supper, and some local food, head away from the river to Gujzina. Here you’ll find Slovene classics, from meaty stews to errr… more meat, and plenty of local wine to see you through your evening.
But, don’t stay up too late because you’ll want a reasonably early start the next day as there’s a bit of a climb for your morning coffee…
There are two options for getting up to Ljubljana Castle. One is via the funicular and the other is on foot. I highly recommend the latter! Not only does the steep incline get your blood pumping, it also offers beautiful panoramic views of the capital and a stunning approach to the castle as its high walls loom into view.
Conveniently, you can visit the castle café without having to pay the castle entrance fee (ideal if you’re a bit strapped for time). It’s here that you’ll find your morning caffeine hit. I mean, when else do you get to start your day with coffee in a castle?
I admit, Bled is quite possibly the most touristy spot you’ll visit in Slovenia but there’s a reason for that. It’s bloody beautiful. And, in my opinion, it’s significantly less busy than most other touristy places you’ll visit in Europe. (But, then again, I do live in London…)
Bled is just a 45 minute drive from Ljubljana along well maintained highways weaving through majestic mountains and lush green countryside. So ensure you have a good playlist, or designated DJ, to accompany you on this mini road trip.
Once you get to Bled you’ll find plenty of parking along the lake shore, where you can pay €10 to leave your car for the whole day. And trust me, it’s worth spending a decent amount of time here as there are plenty of activities you’ll want to try.
Before you begin, head to Hotel Park to try some Bled Cake and fuel up for your day ahead (thanks to Rach for this recommendation!). Cited as the original inventors of Bled Cake, the hotel terrace offers impressive views across the Lake Bled so is the perfect spot to get your bearings and plan what to do next.
We opted to try Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) which is officially my new favourite activity. You can hire paddle boards from the boathouse next to the roped off castle bathing area on the northern side of the lake for just a few euros. Don’t expect a lesson though! You’ll be handed a paddle, a board and told to “not stand up until you’re further out” as you’re pushed off into the lake.
The bathing area also offers lockers, changing cubicles, a snack bar and plenty of slides etc. It was the perfect spot for half of our group to hang out sunbathing whilst the other half (I’ve never been very good at sunbathing…) went for a wander.
It turned out to be a rather steep wander as we found ourselves heading for yet another wander, this time to Bled Castle which overlooks the lake. I wish we’d had more time to look around but we had to rush back to meet the girls for our next hike! I highly recommend a visit though.
Next up was another steep walk (detecting a theme here?) to a viewpoint we’d actually learnt about on Instagram. Holy moly. This hike was intense. Although reasonably short my goodness it was tricky. Expect near vertical scrambling up the hill, including a ladder in one part.
Not good if you’re scared of heights… though, I must say, the view makes it more than worth it. The perfect spot to watch the sun dance across the water.
Bled to Bovec can be a bit of a drive, depending on what route you want to take. We rather doubled back on ourselves, as we wanted to visit Lake Bohinj first (another stunning lake it’s worth spending some time at) before taking the Russian Road through the national park.
Open throughout the summer months, the Russian Road was built by Russian prisoners or war during WWI and when you get there, you too will struggle to imagine the incredibly harsh conditions these people were put in day after day. About half way up the eastern side you’ll find the Russian Church, a beautiful wooden monument marking the spot where 300 Russian POWs died during an avalanche. It quickly becomes clear why the road is now closed during the colder seasons.
Whilst this drive was an adventure in itself, it also acted as a stark reminder to the tumultuous history of Slovenia – from the world wars, to its time as Yugoslavia, right up to present day.
After a slightly nauseating drive down – there are a lot of hairpin bends – we arrived at our campsite for the night, on the outskirts of Bovec, tucked away in a little woodland. Since we were here for Kiah’s birthday, we had treated ourselves to a fancy pants glamping tent. It was amazing.
The team at Adrenaline Check Eco-Place are fantastic at organising any activities you want to do – from climbing to canyoning and mountain biking. It’s the perfect spot to base yourself when looking to go out and explore the surrounding valley.
We kicked things off with some birthday kayaking along the ice-cold Soča River, bobbing along bright turquoise water and choppy rapids as sheer rocky cliffs looked down on us from above. It came as no surprise to learn that this was one of the filming locations for Narnia, a more magical wonderland would be hard to find.
If you’re looking to stay a little dryer on your adventuring, you’ll find plenty of options for walking routes from Bovec. Whether you’re more of a day tripper or serious hiker, there’s plenty to choose from. And the campsite team will help you plan it all if, like us, you’d rather just rock up and figure it out as you go along!
So, there you have it, four jam-packed days in Slovenia. Have you ever fallen in love with a country you’d never thought about visiting before?