Located at the tip of the Balkans and long utilized as a crossroads for traders between Germany, the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Mediterranean, Slovenia’s culture is a mix of many different cultures and unlike any place I’ve ever been. Never really on our list of places to head to, when Tim’s coworker suggested we head to Ljubljana, I jumped at the chance. We planned our whole trip around three tours and had the most amazing time.
Since it wasn’t on our list of places to go, I assume it’s not high on other people’s lists. But I’m here to tell you that that needs to change. Here, in no particular order, are ten reasons that Slovenia is the perfect place to spend a vacation.
The largest city of Slovenia, this is a city with a small town feel. Only 300,000 people live in the capital of this tiny country and it won’t take you long to walk around the center of town. But there’s plenty to do and see. Delicious restaurants line the main streets, interspersed with quaint artists’, souvenir, and antique shops. The Ljubljanica river flows through the center, spanned with several beautiful pedestrian bridges. Ljubljana Castle sits atop a hill at the center of the city and it’s beautiful buildings spread outwards. If you stay in the center of the city, everything is extremely walkable, but if you do need to catch a ride, the city offers small free tourist trams.
Located to the south west of Ljubljana, about halfway between the capital and the (now) Italian town of Trieste, Predjama Castle is medieval castle built into a massive cave. This design made it impregnable with very few vulnerabilities. Even more intriguing is the fact that, through the caves behind the castle, are a series of hidden corridors that allowed inhabitants of the castle to escape and retrieve food. All unbeknownst to the enemy who had cut off entry to the castle. The architecture of this castle is very interesting and the views amazing. Your afternoon here will be well spent.
ProTip: You can get combined tickets for this castle and the Postojna Caves and have a
wonderful day trip. We even scheduled a tour guide to drive us there. It made for an interesting and
stress free day.
I’m no cave buff, but I do like to visit them now and again. Postojna Caves are natural, massive limestone caves just a few kilometers away from Predjama Castle and are the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen. The caves themselves are beautiful but the lighting installed by their caretaker make them absolutely breathtaking. So large that you have to take a small electric train ride to the main areas, these caves had me speechless the entire time. Every time we turned around there was something more beautiful to see. My favorite was a room that had massive crystal chandeliers hanging from the cave ceiling. I instantly thought what an amazing place to have a wedding, ball or party.
ProTip: It gets a little chilly in the caves so take a light jacket if its warm outside.
Slovenian cuisine largely revolves around pork. They love their sausages, prosciutto and meat-based soups. We took a food and wine tour allowing us to try several traditional dishes in one go. My favorite were the sausages called kranjska klobasa. Only made with the highest quality meat and without additives, they are delicious, especially with mustard and horseradish. Some of our other favorites were filled dumplings, some with cottage cheese and some with onions and potatoes. It amazes me how the range of traditional foods reflects the complex cultural variety of the country’s geography.
In addition to tasty main courses, Slovenia doesn’t slack on dessert. Two of their traditional cakes are both absolutely mouth watering. Prekmurska gibanica was my favorite. A layer cake with apples, walnuts and poppy seeds, I found it sweet but not overwhelmingly so. The other sweet known as kremšnita or cream cake is vanilla custard and whipped cream sandwiched between layers of puff pastry dough. I found this one good but not great, as the whipped cream was a bit overwhelming. If I made it myself, I would layer less whipped cream and more vanilla and be quite happy.
Wine is a huge part of the culture in Slovenia and though it’s not up to par with France or Italy, it’s still come a long way. While under communist rule Slovenian wine makers didn’t need to make more than the stats quo in wine, but in 1991 when they gained independence from Yugoslavia and became a republic, competition in production made producers work a little harder. With competition comes improvement on their product and thus, in the last thirty years, wine production in Slovenia has blossomed. As I’m not a huge red wine drinker I was very surprised at one of the regional wines called Teran. It’s a fruity red wine that went down smoothly.
Nature in Slovenia is unlike anything I’ve seen before. We decided to spend much of our time in the country exploring natural phenomena like caves and rivers. We white water rafted down the Sava river which was phenomenally teal blue. During slow times while we drifted I sat mostly in awe of the brilliant waters and the forest surrounding it. I watched four cranes fly around us during our trip and swam in a dark teal lagoon. It’s something I’ll never forget. If white water rafting isn’t your thing, a relatively easy stroll down the Vintgar River Gorge is just as stunning, if not more so. The river here is the same brilliant turquoise but when it’s not rushing it’s spectacularly clear. The river gorge walk was so beautiful I wished I could stay there longer with a picnic lunch.
Our guide that day told us that a photo of Lake Bled on Lonely Planet a few years ago is what started spurring more traveller to visit Slovenia. When we arrived at Lake Bled, I could see why. Though it’s a bit touristy, it’s still an amazing lake in the middle of the mountains. In the center of Lake Bled is Slovenia’s only island. We spent 45 minutes on the island and that was more than enough. But don’t be fooled into thinking because it’s so small you can skip it. The views from the island are spectacular. The church is gorgeous and comes with it’s very own wishing bell. Make sure you pay the six euros to go inside and ring it yourself. The ticket also lets you climb the bell tower, which, if you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you’ll know is my favorite part of any city. Climb to the top of something high and take spectacular photos.
Speaking of climbing something high, while you’re at Lake Bled, make sure you visit Bled Castle. It’s from here you’d get the most stunning views of the lake, Slovenia’s island and the surrounding mountains. It’s small as far as castles go so you won’t need much time, but it’s worth the trek for the photos alone.
Like I said earlier, we went white water rafting and hiking in Slovenia, but there’s also tons of other adventures to be had. The company with which we rafted also does paragliding, canyoning, hot air ballooning and bike trips. It was all just a short drive from Ljubljana and they came to get us from our hotel. I loved that we could be in the wilderness in the day and be back in the capital city by evening for dinner and drinks.
Everyone we met in Slovenia was amazing. People are friendly and helpful and all our guides were a wealth of knowledge. The Slovene people are very proud of their country and it shows in all they do. Taking guided tours was the best choice for us because we met so many great people and learned so much from them.
The city of Ljubljana is absolutely stunning. Besides being walkable and clean, it’s buildings are simply gorgeous. Many of the buildings are in the Baroque style, rebuilt after a massive earthquake rocked the city in 1511. But another significant addition to the city is the art nouveau style. Things like the Dragon Bridge, the famous passage depicting the fire-breathing symbol of Ljubljana. In fact most of the bridges that span the Ljubljanica river in the center of the city are beautifully designed. I loved that Ljubljana’s buildings are all different hues, a virtual a carnival of color throughout the city.
If you’ve read this far you might sense a trend on things I love while traveling and on the top of that list, besides food and wine are the vistas. I love a spectacular sights, especially from the top of something high. Slovenia offered this in spades with amazing views from their “skyscraper,” their castles (all three that we visited) and their mountains. Everywhere I looked I saw beauty and that’s really why you should visit Slovenia, it’s just utterly, and completely beautiful.