Many years ago, long before EasyJet flew anywhere near Eastern Europe, I caught the bus from Italy to Croatia. Expecting a monotonous motorway journey, I glanced out of the window and found myself in the midst of meadows and wildflowers. Picturesque villages and wooden cottages whizzed by, mountains towering in the distance. What country was this? And why wasn’t I staying?!
This was Slovenia. A country I’d barely heard of and, to be honest, it was very possible I was confusing it with Slovakia. My lack of Slovenia knowledge needed to be addressed, and fast. I decided there and then that someday I would go back and explore Slovenia.
And one summer, I did.
Returning to Slovenia
By then Slovenia had joined the euro and EasyJet offered direct flights into its unpronounceable capital city, Ljubljana (it’s lyoo-blyah-nah, in case you were wondering).
Slovenia’s star was on the rise. Scenery lovers, hikers, backpackers and adventurers flocked to Slovenia’s unspoilt landscapes and historic towns.
And so, with no real plan at all, my boyfriend and I hired a car and went to uncover Slovenia’s secrets. Here are a few of my favourites.
1. Lake Bohinj
You’ve probably seen pictures of Lake Bled. It’s that mountain lake with a church on an island in the middle. It’s fairy-tale pretty of course, but in the height of summer we found it to be completely chock-a-block with traffic and sweaty tourists. So after a quick look, we headed for neighbouring Lake Bohinj instead. Here, a tranquil lake glitters in the sunshine, island-free but surrounded by towering peaks far more impressive than those at Bled.
To admire the lake in all its glory, we decided to circumnavigate it on foot, a leisurely four-hour hike. Along the way we spontaneously hired a canoe from a lakeside hut, and spent an hour or two splashing about on the impossibly clear blue water, occasionally jumping in for a swim. Just us and the birds; we practically had the lake to ourselves.
2. Radovlijca’s beekeeping museum
Bees are a big deal in Slovenia. The country boasts its own protected native species, the Carniolan bee, and over 170,000 of its hives are dotted around the country.
But nowhere is the bee obsession more prominent than in Radovlijca. Here bee enthusiasts swarm to the delightful Museum of Apiculture to learn the history of Slovenian beekeeping through a wide variety of bee-related exhibits, including the largest collection of painted beehive panels in the world. Believe me, this is way more exciting than it sounds; they’re beautiful works of art and copies of them make a lovely souvenir.
The museum’s standout highlight is the live bee hive. This cleverly designed box of bees has one wall made of glass, allowing you to see the bee colony inside, and a small pipe leads from the hive to the window so the bees are free to go pollinating as they please.
We sat for a while, mesmerised as we watched them buzz back and forth along the pipe, like a bee highway.
3. Scenery watching in Kranjska Gora
Right on the border with Austria, Kranjska Gora is essentially an alpine ski resort, and so is pretty quiet outside the ski season. We relished a few quiet days among the dramatic karst mountains, surrounded by lush green meadows.
Although there are various hikes and cycle paths around the town, we contented ourselves with wandering Kranjska Gora’s cobbled streets, whiling away sunny afternoons drinking cold beer in the square and hiding in the church when the heat got too much.
Kranjska Gora is home to a number of excellent restaurants, most serving freshwater fish caught from one of the local lakes. I tried a ‘rustic trout’ and was delighted to find that in this case, ‘rustic’ meant absolutely smothered in chopped bacon and butter. Mmm!
4. Canyoning in Bovec
The Queenstown of Slovenia, Bovec is the place to come for adventure sports. Scare yourself silly with white-water rafting, hydrospeeding, kayaking or canoeing on the Soča River. If you don’t want to get wet, try paragliding, bungee jumping or skiing.
We plumped for canyoning, which is how we found ourselves clad in skin-tight wetsuits, carrying very heavy ropes while hiking up the side of a gorge in the 34°C heat.
I have a track record of being completely useless at anything involving a harness, a rope or a wetsuit and, as this involved all three, I was feeling more than a little apprehensive. My fears turned out to be justified, as when we abseiled over the first rock I leaned too far backwards, lost my footing and ended up dangling upside down on the rope, my terrified shrieks echoing around the gorge.
Everyone else found my peril hilarious, with the instructor comparing me to a cured sausage hanging from the deli ceiling. I made it over eventually and, heart in mouth, spent the rest of the day flinging myself into plunge pools from great heights and leaping down waterfalls.
5. Postojna Cave
Slovenia is no stranger to caves, boasting over 11,500 of them, but the 24km-long Postojna system was my favourite. First up, and perhaps the reason why I loved this cave so much, was the cave train, which whisked us 2km into the darkness.
On arrival into the Velika Gora (Great Mountain), a vast chamber filled with crazy shaped columns and huge stalactites, we entered Spaghetti Hall, where the ceiling drips with thin spaghetti-like protrusions, before pausing in the bright white Winter Chamber to admire the glistening pillars. This was without a doubt the most impressive cave I’ve ever visited, and I’ve been to a lot of caves.
6. Predjama Castle
Just 9km from Postojna Cave, and so easily combined with it, 12th century Predjama Castle is suspended precariously half way up a cliff. Despite asking for directions to ‘Pyjama Castle’, we found it easily enough; it is the only cliffside castle in the region, after all.
Its renaissance-style interior is heavily renovated and restored, but this didn’t detract from our enjoyment of walking through the rooms, chatting to the costumed staff and getting completely lost in the maze of passageways. From the balcony at the top of the castle, we were treated to excellent views of the rocky overhangs and rolling countryside.
7. Velika Planina
A gently undulating Alpine plateau dotted with old wooden huts and dilapidated barns, the Velika Planina is a lovely farming pasture. Indeed, the main soundtrack here, is jangling cow bells and bleating sheep.
We came for the hiking, taking the chair lift up to 1407m and gently walking back down again in the sunshine, pausing for numerous photo stops, visits to tiny churches and, of course, to eat at one of the traditional farm restaurants, where we tucked into spiced goulash, local sausage and bread spread with lard. Don’t make that face; it’s delicious, try it!