One of the things I love most about this job is seeing different cultures and really getting beneath the skin of a country. It isn’t just about lazing around a pool and enjoying the excellent cuisine and fine wines, although of course that also helps!
I have to admit before I started working at Weekend a la Carte, I knew absolutely nothing about Slovenia and would have failed at locating it on a map. Therefore when our Slovenia specialist Abigail, would put together fantastic trip proposals for clients wanting to experience a Slovenia holiday, I was particularly interested. The Lake Bled photos almost resembling a mythical castle on an island reached by a calm lake, convinced me I had to go.
Flying into Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital is less than a 2hr flight by plane and a short drive took me into the heart of the city centre. Ljubljana is a surprisingly compact little city where I immediately felt comfortable and could very easily walk around without the need for transport. With quaint shops selling salted chocolate (a local speciality!) and dragon statues in various shapes and sizes (the traditional emblem of Ljubljana), there is plenty to shop for.
A trip on the funicular to Ljubljana Castle is a must do. Presiding over the town on a hill, this castle has battlements you can walk along and enjoy the view. Just a shame it was a little wet when I was there, so I couldn’t do the view justice!
Next I headed to Lake Bohinj, north of the capital for the first boat ride of the trip. This smaller lake can be reached through a very alpine-Swiss, Austrian-style set of villages. The guide told me that tradition has it that when God was handing out land to all his people, he realised there was a small group he had forgotten. For their dignified patience, he gave them the best land of all and they called it Bohinj, which means God. It certainly was beautiful and very peaceful.
I continued onto Lake Bled. Being only a small journey from Lake Bohinj, at the bottom of the Julian Alps, there was actually snow on the peaks, which the guide told me was not due until November, and it was only early September! This lovely little town was so picturesque; I almost didn’t believe I had actually arrived. Hotel Toplice was the only hotel that afforded a superb view of the entire lake and I can see why Abigail singled this out as the base for her Slovenia holiday package. The balconies over the lake are fantastic.
After some wonderful meat dishes in Ljubljana, on the lake food understandably favoured fish options, including trout caught straight from the lake. Seriously worthy of a second helping! When lunch was complete, I was pleasantly surprised to see a cute little train driving around the lake; a perfect way to experience the view from all angles.
The Bled Island trip was scheduled for the next day. Getting to the island involved oarsmen rowing boats quite similar to Venetian gondolas but with a roof. After the day to day noises on the roads, it was refreshingly quiet rowing gently over the lake. Once arrived on the island, I had a ninety-seven step climb to the top to reach the church. The Slovenian’s regularly hold wedding services on the island and tradition has it that the groom has to carry his bride up all ninety-seven steps. If he fails, she is free to “kick him back down” and cast him off! Assuming he is successful, the ornate church is a lovely place to hold your special wedding ceremony. There was a “wishing rope” inside – a hasty tug for the sun to return was gainfully employed!
Feeling sad to leave Lake Bled behind, I then travelled south west to Portoroz, which translates as “The Port of Roses.” The sun came out and with everyone enjoying either the beach or the shops, I got to explore this beautiful, stylist little sea port town.
I ventured for a final boat trip to the Salt Pans where as well as learning all about salt (one of the main sources of exportable income in Slovenia), I also got to see the Slovenia-Croatia border. Then back on the boat for a short ride to Piran, another lovely little town to while away half a day. After a good wander, some refreshment and a bit of retail therapy, I left this Venetian-feeling little town behind to head to the real Slovenia-Italy border for a wine tasting. Slovenia boasts some excellent wines, some of which I was very fortunate enough to sample.
The final day of the trip saw me heading inland to the Postonja Caves. These are the largest caves in Europe. A small open-top train takes you 2km inside where you walk with your guide a further 1.5 km weaving through stalactites and stalagmites. These caves are truly vast and I couldn’t get my head round just how far they extended to.
I’m sure it was planned to happen, when halfway through the walk all the lights went out and it was complete darkness. Although it only lasted several seconds, there is no darkness quite like a cave! Nearing the end of the walk, I got to see the elusive Olm; blind transparent fish with arms and legs that live in the cave and can go ten years without eating; not like me on this Slovenia trip!
The train route on the way back to the surface differed to that entering, which just showed the sheer scope of the caves. I was taken through the concert hall used for music recitals at set times of the year, which was stunning with chandeliers and candles mounted all around.
The final stop of the day was to nearby Predjama Castle. Built into the rock, making the castle virtually impenetrable to invasion, this castle gave a good taste of Slovenia being formerly part of the Austrian empire. From a building perspective, it was quite an eclectic mix with bits added to from each age and ownership. It is worth noting that for those visiting the Postonja Caves, entrance to Predjama Castle is also included, making this a worthwhile day’s excursion.
As with all trips I didn’t want to leave. Slovenia is a beautiful country with incredible scenery ranging from mountain to seaside, while taking in the Alps to the Istrian Coast. It has fantastic cuisine and the friendliest people. I strongly urge you to discover this unspoilt country as a priority!
Click here to see the itinerary for our beautiful trip to Lake Bled, Slovenia