Slovenia – Europe’s Best Kept Secret
Did you know that Slovenia is the only country in the world to have the word LOVE in it? If you’re like me, your mind will now be going into fast forward to prove whether this is indeed true or not. How about instead, we invest our energy exploring the LOVE in Slovenia, because, by jove it has it in bucket loads! I guarantee that this little known country, nestled between its European cousins Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, will capture your hearts, as it did ours.
We hadn’t planned to come to Slovenia; it wasn’t on any bucket list and, if truth be known, we didn’t really know much about it. After all, when we thought about Europe, Slovenia was just not a place that came to mind. May be if that’s the same for you, I hope after reading this, Slovenia will most definitely be on your ‘must visit’ list.
In my view, Slovenia is one of Europe’s best kept secret and there is a little of me that really doesn’t want to share its magnificence, as its innocence and authenticity are so rare these days. Although share it I must, as it truly stands out amongst the kings of European culture, natural wonders and history. Such is its diversity, that you will surely be magnetised by its captivating aura and be changed forever.
I must also add, at this point that we didn’t cover all of Slovenia, just the western edge – mostly around the circumference of Triglav National Park – there is so much more to discover and uncover. So imagine if this is how we feel after exploring just this small section of the country, what venturing further into its heart-land would create for us!
Here are our Top 7 Slovenian experiences that have made this country such a special one for us.
1. As you enter Slovenia from either its Austrian or Italian cousins, Kranjska Gora is the first town that welcomes you. A ski-resort, just a few miles across the border from Italy, Kranjska is primarily a winter playground, although it attracts plenty of summer visitors for its hiking, cycling and summer toboggan run. The heart of the village itself has managed to maintain its roots and character whilst the Ski area looms large at the other end of town. The real magic for us was Kranjska’s secret doorway to the Triglav National Park. Access to this astounding natural beauty, via the 206 highway, will take you up over the mountains and through the Trenta Valley. Slovenia’s highest road, the Vršič Pass was created initially for military purposes although now takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the most spectacular mountain scenery, finally to be embraced by Boveč at the head of the Soča valley.
2. The National Park, complete with its Julian Alps, craggy limestone peaks, gorges where the emerald river rages even in the height of summer and stunning waterfalls that emerge, seemingly from no where – is a must. This area of the country is an outdoor lover’s paradise; summer brings paragliding, hiking and white water rafting, whilst winter offers all the sports associated with snow-filled mountain tops and valley floors.
3. Boveč itself is definitely worth a visit. You are surrounded by companies looking to help you experience the thrill of the white water – some of which is rated at level 4 and 5 – yet beyond their sale’s pitch is a pretty village and a fascinating journey back in time to World War 1. Starting in the Austrian Alps, the Walk of Peace follows the Isonzo Front to the Adriatic coast, where Austrian-Hungarian troops protected their lands against the Italians from May 1915 – October 1917.
Following this path you will see many WW1 fortresses, some of which are now museums holding records of the war’s events, in memory of the soldiers who died. One of the best examples is Fortress Kluže just fifteen minutes from Boveč. You will also see cemeteries that offer refuge for the warriors’ ghosts, with nameless plaques respecting and honouring those who fought and lost their lives in the name of freedom. An outdoor museum, about 3km from Boveč is a humbling transportation into the soldiers’ lives, who battled from an unassuming hillside. You can still walk through the caves, tunnels and bunkers that remain in tact and the whole experience leaves you with a huge sense of their suffering and remorse for all that war represents.
4. The one thing that surprised us most is Slovenia’s wine region – yes wine! Slovenia produces an amazing wine stock that challenges its European’s rivals and just has to be tasted to be fully appreciated. Private vineyards cover the south western region of Slovenia and invite you to partake in their local nectar. They may not be big in the wider market place as their production I guess is not big enough for the commercial boys, although there is something extra special about Slovenia’s small scale wine secrecy and it must be sampled.
5. I cannot pass up the opportunity to mention the beauty of Ljubljana – Slovenia’s capital, which at its heart is an understated yet charming city that will lure you into her magnetic charm. There are the normal magnificent buildings that most cities offer, a stunning three way bridge and a cable car that transports to her renovated castle that played such a poignant role in both World Wars. Yet when you visit, you are most struck by the lack of crowds and peace that she wraps you up in. There is a youthful vibrancy that the University brings to its streets, numerous cafes, restaurants and wine bars, which is accompanied by a history that satisfies those looking for a tale of treachery, battles and conquests. You will be enthralled by Ljubljana’s idyllic river that winds around the old city with weeping willow trees sheltering its banks and you will love the parks that pop up all through the city contributing to a Green way of life. In fact they have won an award as European Green Capital 2016 for its environmental efforts. At night the city transforms itself into an energetic yet gentle buzz of entertainers, evening strollers and cafe-goers, happy to pass their time chatting over a bottle or two of that delicious Slovenian wine. Candles flicker and together with the symbolic green lights shining on the castle walls, creates a completely different atmosphere to the capital’s daytime experience, leaving you feeling totally connected with the city and wanting more.
6. A visit to Ljubljana must be accompanied by a saunter up to Lake Bled and its iconic island church, whose bell tolls out the wishes and dreams of its eager visitors, as they echo around the mountain backdrop. The castle towers above the lake keeping guard over its legacy and the neighbouring Vintgar Gorge offers you the most incredible, naturally carved scenery that the Bohinj Glacier began sculpturing eons ago. 1.6km of wooden walkways guide you along the ever-changing river as it gushes and glides through the gorge, until it reaches its waterfall crescendo. And all for a €4pp entrance fee – it’s a steel.
7. If Lake Bled all feels a bit too much, then travel west into the mountains for thirty minutes where you will be treated to the much quieter Lake Bohinj. Here tranquility and restoration are assured in this secluded location, sheltered by the maternal Triglav mountains. Hidden from most tourist trails, Bohinj is a little gem that won’t be inundated with tour guide flags, coaches and camera clicking visitors. You get the feeling that Bohinj is where the locals go for their mountain retreat and it is worth putting on your list.
I realise that our Top 7 favourite Slovenian experiences really only capture a small essence of the whole country, although we have seen enough to fall in love with its culture and its authenticity. Slovenia will stay within our hearts – so much so that a return visit is assured. You too could fall for Slovenia’s charm, which subtly hypnotises all who travel within her diverse borders.
Karen and Myles – The Motoroamers.