Slovenia

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In 2010, we carried on exploring former Yugoslavia going to Slovenia, small colorful country marked by its natural treasures. The diversity of landscapes is amazing compared to the small size. From the Julian Alps to the small Adriatic coast with Venetian accents, through the inland medieval villages and the amazing north-eastern vineyards, it never stops surprising and enchanting us. Between each remarkable site, you cross out of time countryside landscapes, where farms and very typical hay dryers with an old-fashioned charm – among others – run along. As far as catering is concerned, it is the foreign country where we ate the best.
Like Bulgaria, it is a little-known country which deserves to be better known. However, the reasons are different. Indeed, it is near and easily accessible for most European countries; it is even said that is where whole Europe meets. But actually, it suffers from the competition imposed by countries around (Italy, Croatia and Austria) with a long asserted tourist identity. However, it must be more than a crossroads or a stopover because it has many treasures to reveal.
We went back there for one day and one night in June 2012 during our road trip in Austria, and then for longer in August 2014 during a combined trip to these two countries, every time with a lot of happiness. We shared our love for Slovenia with a couple of friends who came with us in October 2016, and who was also seduced. We could admire landscapes that blossomed into glowing colors of the fall, and we had the feeling of rediscovering it. We even had the luxury of a one day trip to Venice, which is not so far. In 2018, we spent a bathed in sunshine extended weekend there in late September, when we were fortunate for the first time to visit the breathtaking Bled Lake site with a perfect weather: the fifth attempt was the right one. Then, J.R. returned there in December with its girlfriend to attend a biathlon championship.
We feel permanently attached to this country, especially its capital Ljubljana. We discovered a lot about it again and we want to carry on going back there regularly. We know it and enjoy it more every time. It is permanently familiar to us. Many of its nooks and crannies appeal to us and sometimes we feel ourselves at home there.



Ljubljana

You live Ljubljana, «the beloved», more than you visit it. It became our favorite city, though Prague is the most beautiful we have ever visited. It does not necessarily get hold of you from the first moment. You must allow it the time to seduce you. It is not flashy, but it reveals its charms slowly at the corner of a typical alley, a bridge or the banks of the Ljubljanica River.
It is a small capital with a provincial appearance, yet including countless churches and museums. The historic center, not very extensive, flourishes in a soothing architecture. Contrasts and colors fit perfectly. Baroque is the predominant style, but Art Nouveau and Neo-Renaissance style buildings have their place as well.
Armfuls of fresh and colorful flowers hang casually along the Ljubljanica quays and the bridges overlooking it, including the famous Triple Bridge (photo) with a Venetian character. The atmosphere is young, warm and lively. The daily market brings cheerfulness to the old center and draws some musicians who come to perform.
The Castle set high up offers a view from above over the city. It is located in both green and shaded surroundings. It is rather pleasant to visit. However, the presence inside of metal protective structures, including cable railings, can be regrettable. The choice of materials going better with stone, such as wood, would have been more appropriate. To join it, two options are available to you: the funicular, or the ascent on foot for the bravest.
At night, Ljubljana is both very romantic and very carefree. The lighting shows off the main buildings to advantage. Flames from the torches sometimes hanging at regular intervals along the banks of the Ljubljanica - lined with countless cafés and restaurants - give the place an undeniable charm, simply magical. Lanterns and candles on tables and pedestal tables come to complete this soft luminosity; so does the subdued lighting of street lamps. Street performances are diverse, but the one which appealed to us especially was the musician on glasses who played famous symphonies, which lent themselves perfectly to the fairy night atmosphere of the city.
As you move southwards from the city center along the Ljubljanica to Trnovo district, you join the Gruber Channel, an affluent of the river. The part of its banks which faces the Botanical Garden of the University is one of the favorite places of local young people and students who like to meet there at night. The atmosphere there is pleasant and relaxed. One night in June 2012, we saw with amusement one of them riding on water a funny machine he had made himself: a bike with a barrel welded to the fork that allowed him to float, and two rear-mounted barrels fitted with small paddles connected to the pedal and gear mechanism. It was the main attraction of the evening.
Finally, let's be honest: if according to you, vacation means an unbridled nightlife scouring trendy discos overnight, you will not be completely satisfied. In Ljubljana, people like partying in their own way. It is friendly, people are happy to live, pleasant and cheerful without being exuberant. Young or old, all love to laugh, to have fun very simply.
Ljubljana is an indefinable atmosphere, a pleasant sweetness of life. It is more romantic than expansive. There, you feel good, you feel alive. Quite simply. You leave it feeling melancholic, because once you fell under its spell and finally adopted it, you leave a part of yourself there.

Ljubljana is part of our favorite cities. To have direct access to the rubric, click here.

North-East

Maribor (photo) is the second largest city in the country, and the only university town with Ljubljana. The atmosphere is lively and young. As the capital, we only started to really appreciate it from the second visit, but it permanently appealed to us as well. We visited it four times. We were notably lucky to find ourselves there in June 2012, year when it was European Capital of Culture, which we did not know. Many events were taking place then. Old fortress, it has a castle, ramparts and defensive towers. It stretches from both sides of the Drava River and the hills are covered with vineyards. However, the oldest vine in the world (over 400 years) is located in the city center, and it still produces grape and wine. The old town is superb. The University, the Slovenian Grand Theatre, the Provincial Museum, the Janez Krstnik Cathedral, and the former Town Hall Rotovž are architectural treasures. Very diversified styles meet: Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Gothic, Venetian... The alleys lead to magnificent places where it is good to live. For lovers, the organic market takes place every Friday on the old square, Glavni Trg.

Ptuj, museum-town, is the oldest in the country. The heart of the city is made up of narrow streets that lead to the Drava River. It knew many cultures and civilizations, which gave it a much diversified architecture. The Medieval style dominates, but it is close to Rococo, Baroque ant Gothic Revival (Town Hall) styles. The main buildings were restored from the 1980s. Its Baroque castle is much extended and houses the Provincial Museum. Its courtyard has beautiful arches, pillars and Tuscan columns. The Dominican Monastery, the Saint-Georges Church, the Small Classic Theater and the Drava Tower are also the main attractions. The old market square is remarkable, and the town enjoys private mansions that are also worth a visit. Finally, Ptuj is famous for its late winter carnival, and particularly the Kurent, springtime and fertility ritual where many protagonists wear amazing hairy masks. Much appreciated, it draws numerous participants.

The vineyards of Jéruzalem lie on a hilly area. When you have a view from above, you are amazed by the breathtaking curves followed by vines and poplars-trees rows, which makes you think with a bit of imagination of terrace rice fields in Bali and the Philippines, relatively speaking, of course. We went there at the end of the day in the summer of 2010, and the sun was shining down on the hillsides with soft and shimmering colors, in a remarkably deep calm. The place was particularly entrancing. In 2016, we wanted to visit the Wine Cellar of Jeruzalem, but it had unfortunately closed sooner than expected. Then we went to the Puklavec mansion to have a high quality wine tasting in an idyllic setting. Moreover, we had a warm welcome.

The Žiče Carthusian Monastery is hard to find for the simple reason that it's not located in Žiče itself but in Žička Kartuzija, 7 or 8 kilometers west of Žiče. We didn't know it and that's why we were not able to find it in 2010 and 2014. But we found further information before our stay in October 2016, because we didn't want to give up and thus we decided the third attempt would be the right one. We didn't regret to insist, because it's a place out of the ordinary. The peace that emerges from it is entrancing, and that place gives us the impression that time has definitely stopped there. That monastery surrounded with ramparts was founded in 1160. It's rather well preserved, excepted Saint-Jean Baptiste Church, in Gothic style, which roof caved in. The only defensive tower that remained was restored. Embedded in its pleasant green setting, it's a real haven of peace that temps to meditation. The dense forest that surrounds it seems to isolate it from the rest of the world, which adds to its both intriguing and captivating charm. Ruins are close to renovated parts, but it does not alter in any way the harmony of the ensemble, which includes among others a Gothic chapel, a small museum and an herbalist's shop. The latter was rebuilt in order to take up again the ancestral tradition of healers and herbal therapy that earned that place its reputation.

Celje is a town filled with history, but which has paradoxically a few interesting buildings to offer. Its only real attraction is its Old Castle. Majestically perched on its rocky promontory and slightly outlying, it seems to watch over the austere city. That’s why you are immediately tempted to turn your eyes away from the latter to take an intrigued and admiring look to that monument with massive outlines. It has all the characteristics of medieval fortified castles. Various festivities take place there all along the year, but the most interesting is the medieval fair accompanied with a particularly copious feast.

In the same way, Velenje only has its castle as a major point of interest. It was built in the 13th century in Renaissance style, as evidenced by its towers and its courtyard with arches. It has undergone some renovations, but its overall appearance almost remained the same. It houses a museum, a boutique with an old-fashioned charm, and an inn from the 1930’s filled with authenticity. Finally, the town was partner with Maribor, European Capital of Culture in 2012.



North-West

This border region with Austria and Italy is mostly covered by the Julian Alps and the breathtaking Triglav National Park. It abounds in remarkable natural sites, and includes two medieval towns:  Škofja Loka and Kranj.

Velika Planina is a a picturesque high plateaus with pastures untouched by mass tourism. Most preferred integrated tourism, which allows to preserve the authenticity of the place, and harmonizes with the cowherds and the shepherds’ activity without bothering it. Their wooden houses are very typical and easily recognized by their conical roofs. Simple but very aesthetic, they look like big huts and play a part in making that place extraordinary. Marie-Neige Church was built in 1939 by shepherds and dairymen in honor of Virgin Mary, according to the plans of the famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. Burned during World War II, like any houses, it was rebuilt in 1988 and it is now famous for its Christmas Holy Mass. Toy can have access there by a cable car and a chairlift, and the ascent is truly a delight. On a clear day, you can see Ljubljana in the distance, then the airport and the town of Kranj, and even the Julian Alps. The air there is pure and invigorating, and you feel immediately overcome by a feeling of peace and wholeness.

Škofja Loka,medieval city with harmonious shapes, is one of the most beautiful towns in Slovenia. Its old squares show their Renaissance façades, and its inner courtyards, often accessible, will enchant you with their vaults and their arches. Loški Muzej houses items with a strong historical value, from furniture to diverse artworks and art crafts, as well as parchments. We had the privilege and the wonder to attend in 2012 a medieval market and various performances and processions with period costumes. It all matched perfectly with the magnificent setting of the charming town, leaving us with an indescribable impression of time travel.

Kranj is an ancient fair town erected on a rocky promontory. The historic center is very attractive, particularly the market square and its beautiful Gothic and Renaissance style houses. Although it suffers from its proximity to Ljubljana, the 4th town in Slovenia enjoys a dynamic atmosphere. Its beauty and its diversity tempt to stroll. A pedestrian area, which highest point is Sv. Fabjan Church perched on the promontory, allows you to discover it quite serenely. The Town Hall (Mestna Hiša), remarkable Gothic manor, houses ethnographic and archaeological pieces. Near the theatre stands the statue of the poet Prešeren, who lived his last three years in Kranj. Its old residence is worth a visit. Some works of Jože Plečnik complete the picture.

Bled is a must-see. The «Pearl of the Alps» is on its own a real attraction that draws crowds. The lake is overhung by its castle (Blejski Grad), which dates from the early 11th century. The bishops of Brixen took up residence there. It has a drawbridge, a small museum and a chapel from the 16th century in Gothic style. The famous island and its Holy-Mary of the Assumption Church are embedded in blue water with the mountains tops in the background. It is a real postcard landscape where many photographers - professional or amateur - linger for a long time. It also enjoys hot springs. Even if it seems at hand from the lakeshore, the small island appears to be both mysterious and dreamlike when it is bathed in mist. You can reach it on board a pletna, charming local gondola.
The walk around the lake is a real delight. There you can see among others a superb old weather station with rolls of paper that unwind as articulated pencils draw graphics that indicate the temperature, the atmospheric pressure and the humidity level. A real journey into the past!
In late September 2018, we had for the first time exceptional weather conditions there. We seized the opportunity to take the very physical hike leading to a high perched belvedere that offered us a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the site.

The Gorges of Vingtar are located east of the Bled Lake. The immaculate foam of the waterfalls flows into the pure and crystal-clear blue of the river which abounds in trout. The path which runs along it is punctuated with small wooden footbridges, which gives that place an additional charm. The thick greenery completes that entrancing play of colors. After a good long walk, it ends up in an amazing waterfall which force will astound you, with a deafening noise and a rising current of drizzle. You can admire it from a small wooden bridge that overhangs it. According to the configuration of the place, rays of sunshine came in very rarely. So, it is advisable to cover up well, preferably with waterproof clothes because you will be exposed to the water that sometimes streams down the rocks above you, and to the splashes of the river and the waterfalls. Moreover, opt for hiking boots and beware wooden bridges that can be slippery when wet.

The Nature Reserve of Zelenci stands near both Italian and Austrian borders, west of Kranjska Gora. It is very rich in flora. Shady trails are beautiful and pleasant, arranged in places as wooden footbridges. They will lead you to a lake with a remarkable purity, where pontoons extend towards turquoise water. It is one of the sources of the Sava River. Many birds live there part of the year. A wooden observatory allows you to admire this particularly breathtaking panorama. Not far, the top of Jalovec, Nadiže waterfall and the Vršič Pass await you. However, don't go on an adventure if you are not experienced hikers, because the proposed routes include sometimes places with particular difficulties. Just admire them from the distance; that is something.

Bovec is a paradise for enthusiasts of rafting, canoeing, canyoning and skiing in winter. At night you can attend a summer tradition in small Slovenian villages’ cemeteries: the inhabitants come to honor the memory of the dead by placing candles and lanterns on the graves. Bovec cemetery is slightly sloping, overhung by the mausoleum and its steps. Without gate, it is accessible to everyone night and day. The sight is even more magical when an incredibly deep cloudless sky allows you to admire the stars as well. Warning: if you stay in a hotel, you will have to pay a tourist tax before  you leave.

The Soča River (photo) is an incredibly turquoise river with many currents. Paradise for fishermen, kayakers and swimmers, it has its source in the Julian Alps. A few wooden suspension bridges with a typical charm overlook it in places. Kobarid is the place where it flourishes perfectly. Feel free to make a long stop. Indeed, that village is located in a place where the valley widens, which allows the river to display all of its beauty. That added to its Museum and its monuments make it an essential stopover, although the village itself has no particular features. Moreover, its restaurants are known to be among the best in Slovenia. If you follow the path which runs along the Kozjak brook, you will end up with wonder to the picturesque Veliki Kozjak falls, in a cave which concretions remind the ones in karstic caves as in Postojna. The 15 meters high fall offers an astonishing natural spectacle as it flows into the brook, in a prism or emerald and turquoise colors piercing the darkness.

The Savica River has its source in Triglav National Park, west of Bohinj Lake. A rather physical trail leads you to a lookout which offers a breathtaking view of a beautiful waterfall in the heart of a green setting. The purity and the quality of water there is exceptional, so that it is called «the source of life».



South West

Piran (photo) is the most beautiful city in the coast. Venetian and Gothic influences mix there, offering an extraordinary architecture. Moreover, people speak as much Italian as Slovenian. And for good reason: Piran was Venetian from the 12th century to the 18th century. It is very preserved and you can't get to the historic center by car. You must park just a few hundred meters from the city and go there on foot. Parking is also possible in the heights, but finding a parking place there can be very difficult especially during the tourist season. Its narrow streets and colorful houses are full of charm. It has medieval buildings that were restored in the 1980’s like in Ptuj. Tartinijev Square and its Neoclassical Town Hall, the marina, the churches with their ex-voto marine paintings, the monastery and the baptistery are the main attractions. However, it would be a pity not to venture into the heights to admire the rooftops of the city, which curious sharp and salient outlines seem to plunge into the deep blue water of the Adriatic Sea. Indeed, it was built on an amazing rocky ridge that juts into the sea.

Portorož is typically the coastal city with great tourist attractions. Completely the opposite of Piran, hotels, casinos, restaurant and shops expanded very quickly there, making it lose its authenticity and its beauty. The old Hotel Palace from the early 20th century and other rare style buildings have now difficulty carving out a place. Still, a pleasant summer atmosphere remains, especially along Obala, the central road, where all levels of society mix, the discrete or the eccentric (we had the surprise and the fun to meet a lady who was walking a tame raccoon!). Like Croatia, Slovenia only has pebbles or concrete beaches. However, Portorož is an exception to that rule by offering sandy beaches. We didn't visit the whole seafront, but in the neighborhood where we stayed, it was a wide sandbox located behind a small promenade along the Adriatic Sea. There, deckchairs and parasols were placed in a quasi-military discipline. Finally, if you want to park for free in Portorož, stay on the main road and drive away from the city center in the direction of Sečovlje and the former salt marshes. After a few tens of meters, you will find a sign that delimits the pay parking zone and the free parking zone. However that information dates from 2010. We did not return there since then. Remember to check!

The Postojna Caves are the must-see site in the country par excellence. Millions of visitors gathered there through decades. Admittedly, the place suffers from excessive and sanitized tourist exploitation, but you will forget it as soon as you walk into that extraordinary spot with a breathtaking beauty. The spectacle is astounding, shapes and colors are fabulous, result of millions of years of erosion. You visit it aboard a small electric train over a distance of 20 kilometers during 90 minutes. In summer as in winter, think about bundling up because the temperature never exceeds 10°C. Finally, maybe you will have the privilege to behold the proteus anguinus, or «cave salamander», amazing cave-dwelling animal you can only meet in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. For me, Dom, going back there was a highly emotional moment because I had already been there when I was a child, at a time when Yugoslavia was still united.

Located nine kilometers away from the center of Postojna, the Predjama Castle will surprise you with its singularity. Perching on a rock wall as an eagle’s nest and surrounded by caves and galleries, it looks like an impregnable fortress. In the beginning, it was a troglodyte castle built in the 13th century. It was renovated in the 16th century with Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance extensions. In addition to the visit of the castle, visiting the Knight of Erasmus Caves is possible, but be aware that you will have to climb many stairs and many ladders. A big medieval fair which draws crowds takes places every year in late august, early September.

Štanjel is a terraced fortified medieval village located on the Karst plateau. Perched on its rocky promontory, it overlooks a hilly landscape composed of vineyards, farms, and small villages or hamlets cut off from the world. Taking a walk in its alleys where old stone houses run along make you feel time has stopped there. The presence of ruins here and there reinforce that impression. Its castle was converted into a gallery that exhibits paintings and graphic works. Concerts take place every summer in its courtyard. Kraška Hiša (Karst House), which dates from the 15th century, has a slate roof and a stone gutter that makes possible to collect rainwater in a cistern. It was converted into an ethnological museum. The village includes two churches from the 15th century:  Saint-Daniel Church and Saint-Gregory Church. The beautiful Ferrari Garden has – as the name suggests – Italian influences, notably its small Venetian bridge. Strolling there is idyllic and it offers a breathtaking view of the Vipava Valley with the mountain tops in the background.



The South-East

Novo Mesto, Episcopal Center and capital of the Dolenjska region, was built in the 14th century in a bend of the Krka River. Its Historic Center is very attractive, notably Glavni trg, its central square with nice arches from the 16th century. It is surrounded by beautiful town houses. But the main attraction remains its splendid Town Hall in Neo-Renaissance style that displays nice coats of arms. Unfortunately, the square was under construction when we visited in in late September 2018, which spoilt a little our pleasure.
The city enjoys museums that house collections of very high value, notably the Ethnological Museum and the Dolenjska Museum. The remarkable Grm Castle combines Renaissance and Baroque styles. The Franciscan Church of Saint-Leonard, in Gothic style, was built in the 15th century. Its harmonious outlines rise a stone’s throw away from Glavni trg. It includes a monastery that is home to a library rich in books. However, it is rarely open to the public. The Church of The Chapter Saint-Nicholas (photo), in Gothic style as well, was renovated many times over centuries. Its altar is embellished by superb ornaments. Its crypt is open to the visit. The Priory, which dates from the late 15th century, includes an inner courtyard with arches.




Published on December 18th 2012
Modified on September 24th 2014
on November 23rd 2016
and on May 4th 2019