Slovenia Travel Blog
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10 hidden gems in Slovenia
by Graeme Chuter / 30th December 2020 / reading time 10 minutes
Taking you off the beaten path, and venturing north, south, east, and west across the four corners of Slovenia. Here are my favourite 10 hidden gems, including some beautiful countryside and landscapes, some historic and attractive old towns, and some lesser-known visitor attractions.
For each place, I would like to offer you some background details, how to find it, what there is to see and do, with some suggestions for dining out and sampling the local food and beverage specialities.
10) Snežnik Castle
Snežnik Castle is located in a sparsely populated area of central southern Slovenia, in the quiet valley of Loška Dolina, close to the border with Croatia. The castle apparently dates back to the 13th century but what can be seen today is mainly from the mid-19th century. The ownership of the castle has passed through several noble families from the Habsburg era, through to the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War. The last noble family owners were the Schoenburgs, who oversaw significant renovations to the castle exterior, adding a fourth upper floor, two turrets, a terrace, and elevating the defensive walls. Parkland and woodland around the castle were landscaped with new pathways constructed mainly for the purpose of hunting. The interior of the castle was lavishly furnished, and to the present day, Snežnik remains one of the best-preserved castles in Slovenia with its original 19th-century fixtures and fittings. In my opinion, this is what makes Snežnik Castle particularly well worth a visit. Guided tours of the castle will certainly provide you with an insight into local life during the period of Habsburg rule.
The castle can be visited as part of a full-day tour of the region, perhaps in combination with the nearby Postojna Caves and/or Predjama Castle. Or as a short deviation from a road trip between various locations in Slovenia and Croatia. The surrounding area is home to numerous small villages and hamlets, some of which feature a local bar or a country-style restaurant (gostilna) making it is possible to find somewhere for lunch or refreshments in the locality. For further details here is a link to the local tourist information centre.
9) Istrian hills
Venturing only a short distance away from the popular seaside resorts of Portorož and Piran, the Istrian Hills region above Slovenia’s Adriatic coastline provides an excellent opportunity for exploring authentic Istrian culture and traditions, not to mention enjoying the spectacular panoramic views across the lush green Mediterranean landscape and the deep blue Gulf of Trieste beyond. A spider’s web of occasionally steep and narrow country roads take you through the hilly forests, passing through delightful villages built in a traditional local style, using Istrian stone in various shades of beige – decorated by bright coloured wooden shutters, window panes and doors. You will also find plenty of open hillsides cultivated by grapevines, olive trees, and other fruits such as peaches, figs and persimmons. The region of Istria overlaps coastal Slovenia and a larger peninsula in northern Croatia too, and crossing the border would also be highly recommended.
The local cuisine is certainly worth trying with a wide range of specialities including fish and other sea-food, air-dried or smoked sausage, salami and prosciutto, various cheeses made from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep, typical Mediterranean fresh produce, homemade pasta, olive oil, and truffles. One of my personal favourites for a lunchtime treat is a local dish called fritaja (or frittata in Italian), which is scrambled eggs with truffles, served with fresh crusty bread. The locally produced wine features most predominantly two grape varieties, the red Refošk and the white Malvasija. Both wines are typically dry with fairly high levels of acidity and are said to have good health benefits – particularly the Refošk which is especially high in anti-oxidants. The character of the wines very much reflects the growing conditions as you would expect, with a soil rich in minerals, a warm climate, and salty sea air. Wine tastings can be arranged which can provide an enjoyable addition to a day out here. Or for the really keen early risers, there is the possibility to go out truffle hunting with a local farmer. For more information about this beautiful region, you can visit the website of the local tourist information centre.
8) Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge is located just four kilometers from Lake Bled. To be honest, this natural beauty spot should probably no longer be regarded as a “hidden gem”, as its notoriety has grown hugely in recent years. However, if you visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon or evening, it is possible to avoid the larger crowds that can be expected in the peak holiday season. From Lake Bled, it is possible to walk to the gorge, taking a circular route past the village of Podhom, through the gorge from top to bottom, taking the lower exit point on to the footpath which leads up to St.Catherine’s Hill (Sveti Katerina), down to the village of Zasip and back towards the centre of Bled. There are a number of different options for lunch or refreshments, and I would particularly recommend either of the Gostilna Fortuna in Spodnje Gorje, Gostilna Vintgar near the main entrance to the gorge (but this can get overwhelmed at lunchtimes in the busiest summer months), and Gostilna Kurej in Zasip. If arriving by car or by private tour, there is a car park adjacent to the main entrance and you will need to walk down through the gorge, and then backtrack to the top. I would recommend between an hour and 90 minutes for this so that you have enough time to walk at a relaxed pace and to take plenty of photographs. For more details such as the entrance fees and ticketing arrangements, you can visit the Vintgar visitor website.
7) Rogaška Slatina & Olimje
Rogaška Slatina is a well-preserved original spa town located in the north-east of Slovenia. A natural spring in the locality was documented for the first time way back in the 12th century, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that a commercial spa resort was created for visitors. The spring water at Rogaška Slatina is said to have the highest natural magnesium content in the world and is renowned for its health benefits and healing qualities. I would recommend visiting the town in combination with one or two other local attractions, as a couple of hours here is more than enough to take a relaxing stroll around the attractive pathways and colourful gardens. For more information about the town and its amenities, you can visit the local tourist information website.
Olimje is located just half an hour from Rogaška Slatina through an attractive river valley, directly on the border with Croatia. The village is best known for its 17th-century monastery and adjoining Church of the Assumption, first constructed as a castle one century earlier. The monastery is still inhabited by an order of monks who with prior arrangement can provide guided tours, including an interesting explanation of the Garden of Medicinal Herbs and the Old Pharmacy. The tradition of studying and formulating natural remedies goes all the way back to 1663 when the Pauline monks first arrived here from nearby Croatia. For more information, you can follow this link.
There are several different options for lunch or refreshments in or nearby to the village of Olimje. One of the restaurants that I have particularly enjoyed is Gostinstvo Haler, which also happens to have its own microbrewery and therefore a good selection of local beers.
6) Krka Valley
The Krka Valley is located in the southeast of Slovenia, in the region of Dolenjska, adjacent to the main route between the two capital cities of Ljubljana and Zagreb. The area can be explored either as a dedicated day out from your base in Slovenia or by making one or two interesting diversions en route to the Croatian border. Castle Otočec (pictured above) is an enchanting medieval castle built on an island on the River Krka, linked by two wooden bridges. The castle dates back to the 13th century and it has now been converted into a luxury hotel. However, it is still possible for non-residents of the hotel to take a stroll around the castle courtyards and gardens, and to enjoy lunch or refreshments on the terrace of the hotel restaurant. Approximately 20 km downstream is the charming little town of Kostanjevica na Krki, which actually feels more like a village than a town. Built on another small island on the River Krka, the town dates back to the early 13th century and claims to be the oldest known town in the entire region. The town has two parallel main streets which these days are mainly residential, with just a small number of local shops and a couple of riverside café bars. Away from the island and just a short distance away from the town centre is a former monastery, again dating back to the middle ages and built in an attractive baroque style. This is now the site of an art gallery, dedicated to the works of a famous local artist called Božidar Jakac.
5) Štanjel & the Slovenian Karst
Štanjel is located in Slovenia’s so-called Karst region, in the south-west of the country and inland from the Adriatic coast.
The Karst (Kras) is a rocky plateau that extends westwards from Mt.Učka just over the border in Croatia, across the south-west of Slovenia continuing into Italy, where the steep cliffs at Duino tower majestically above the Gulf of Trieste. The Karst region is said to have over 1,000 underground caves, including the Postojna Caves (listed in my blog – 10 best places to visit in Slovenia), and the Škocjan Caves which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also well worth a visit. The Karst region has some beautiful landscapes, typically wild and rugged in places, but also lush green with plenty of pine forests and cultivated valleys, and a deep reddish-brown fertile soil. There are plentiful orchards of olive trees and vineyards, and the region is known especially for two products – a full-bodied red wine called Teran and air-dried ham or prosciutto. The region has approximately one hundred villages and towns, and it has been said that Štanjel is one of the most attractive.
The town is built on an elevated hillside position with panoramic views over the surrounding area, featuring a recently renovated castle, several cobbled streets lined by terraced houses built from local Karst stone, the Church of St. Daniel (Sveti Daniela) with its unusual gothic style bell tower, several art galleries and the attractive Ferrari Gardens (Ferrarijev vrt). I would recommend a couple of hours in Štanjel to explore the town at a nice leisurely pace. A visit to Štanjel as part of a day trip could be combined with the nearby Škocjan Caves or the Lipica Estate, or alternatively with wine tasting at a vineyard in the Karst region or the Vipava Valley which is also closeby. Restaurant options for lunch in Štanjel are rather limited from my experience, with just one restaurant in the old town located within the castle buildings (Gostilna Kobjeglava). This is more of a fine dining establishment, offering a range of tasting menus that are very good but require plenty of time to be fully savoured and appreciated. For a more practical lunch stop, there are several country-style roadside restaurants located at numerous other villages and small towns throughout the Karst region. Further details can be found on the website of the local tourist information office.
4) Radovljica & the Upper Sava Valley
Radovljica is a quaint old medieval town located in the north-west of the country, just a few minutes drive from Slovenia’s most famous tourist destination Lake Bled. Established as a small market town in the 13th century, Radovljica grew in importance from the 18th century onwards as an administrative centre for the local region and as a cultural hub for music and drama, both of which have been maintained to the present day. The town hosts several arts festivals throughout the calendar year and a popular chocolate festival every April. The pedestrianised main street of the old town is somewhat of a museum piece, where many of the old baroque-style buildings proudly display some original frescoes on their facades. There are two museums here that are dedicated to two important local traditions of the region, one for apiculture (or beekeeping), and the other for baking and ornately decorating gingerbread. Radovljica is also home to a number of good restaurants serving specialities of alpine Slovenia, making it a good place to make a lunch stop. I would particularly recommend Gostilna Lectar (which also happens to accommodate the Gingerbread museum in its cellar) and Gostilna Avguštin. For morning coffee or afternoon tea, there also happen to be several good café bars serving a good selection of local cakes, pastries, and ice cream. For more information, you can visit the website of Radovljica’s tourist information office.
The town is situated on a hill above the River Sava, at the confluence of two tributaries, the Sava Dolinka and the Sava Bohinjka. From here the River Sava, Slovenia’s longest river, snakes its way through the centre of the country, crossing the borders into Croatia and Serbia, where at Belgrade it flows into the River Danube. The hills above the Upper Sava Valley are also worth exploring, including the fascinating village of Kropa with its industrial heritage of iron forging, the pretty white church of Sveti Primož & Felicijan at Jamnik (pictured above), and the impressive Basilica of Mary the Virgin (Bazilika Marije pomagaj) at Brezje – a highly esteemed pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics. The landscape of dark forested hills towering above the lighter green meadows of the river valley, with the backdrop of the peaks of the Karavanke mountains to the north, and the Julian Alps to the west, is very easy on the eye.
The village of Jeruzalem and the surrounding wine hills are located in the north-east of Slovenia, a short drive from the old historic town of Ptuj, heading east. This area is still relatively undiscovered, typically quiet and peaceful, and the landscape is beautiful. Taking a detour from the main road which links the towns of Ormož and Ljutomer – names which might familiar with wine enthusiasts – steep and narrow country lanes criss-cross the rolling hills heading up towards the picture-postcard villages of Svetinje and Jeruzalem.
According to the local legend, the village of Jeruzalem was named by crusaders on their way back from the holy land in the 12th century. The story is told that the crusaders stopped on one of the hills to rest, where they were met by hospitable folk who offered them food and wine. Apparently, the crusaders liked this place so much, they decided to stay and claim it as their own, never to leave. The Church of Our Lady of Sorrows (Cerkev Žalostne Matere božje) is certainly well worth a visit. Dating back to the middle of the 17th century, the church was named after the painting of the Mother of Sorrows which is said to have been brought to the village by the crusaders, and placed into a small chapel that existed here at the time.
The region is best known for its wine and for more information about the wines produced here, you can take a look at my blog – Getting to know Slovenian Wine. A popular spot for sampling the local wines is the so-called Malek Vineyard Cottage nearby to the village, which showcases the wines of P&F (Puklavec & family), other local products, and souvenirs. There are two restaurant options for lunch where you can also try a glass or two of the local vino, Gostišče Kupljen, and Vinski Hram Brenholc. In my opinion, combining a visit to Ptuj with the wine hills around Jeruzalem makes for a lovely day out, feasible as a day trip from Ljubljana or Lake Bled. It is also worth considering one or two overnights as part of a private tour of Slovenia. For more information about the area, you can visit the local tourist information office website.
2) Upper Bohinj Valley
The Upper Bohinj Valley is quite often missed by the visitors of nearby Lake Bohinj because the main road to Lake Bled takes a more direct route through a different valley. If you are visiting Lake Bohinj (as mentioned in my blog – 10 best places to visit in Slovenia) I would certainly recommend taking the back road through the Upper Bohinj Valley. The alpine scenery is wonderful and the beautiful villages on this route – Stara Fužina, Studor, Srednja Vas, Cešnjica and Jereka – appear to have been stuck in time for the past couple of hundred years. It is possible to get a feeling of real country life in this valley, and there are several traditional inns where you can enjoy lunch, refreshments, or dinner in a truly authentic setting. On multiple occasions, I have used three different restaurants in the village of Srednja Vas, namely Gostilna Rupa, Gostilna & Pizzerija Ema and Gostilna Pri Hrvatu, none of which have ever disappointed. I have a particular soft spot for Gostilna Pri Hrvatu because of its idyllic location above the river and for the homemade Štruklji which are simply divine – a traditional Slovene dish composed of dough in the form of roulades with various types of sweet or savoury fillings, such as cottage cheese with a wild mushroom sauce, or chopped walnuts drizzled with honey. For more information about Lake Bohinj and the surrounding area, you can visit the website of the Bohinj tourist information office.
1) Goriška Brda
Goriška Brda is a small region on the western side of Slovenia, partially encircled by the border with Italy and just a few kilometres from its nearest large town, Nova Gorica. As you can see from the picture above, the landscape is awe-inspiring, with gently rolling hills carpeted with vineyards, orchards of cherry and olive trees, and quaint medieval hilltop villages. This happens to be my personal favourite place in the entire country. But that aside I would say that “Brda” fully deserves its number one position in my top ten list of hidden gems because of its magnificent scenery, the feeling of peace and tranquillity, the friendly hospitality of the locals, and not least because it produces some of the very best wine in Slovenia.
The food here as one might expect has a strong influence from neighbouring Italy, with the emphasis on local, seasonal and fresh. There are several small towns and villages such as Kojsko, Šmartno, Dobrovo, Medana and Kozana which offer a good selection of accommodation, restaurants and wine cellars. For dining out, my favourite restaurants are Hiša Marica and San Martin in Šmartno, Belica in Medana and Hiša Štekar in Kojsko. For more information about the local wines and my tips and recommendations for wine tasting, you can take a look at my blog – Getting to know Slovenian Wine.
A couple of days in Goriška Brda can be spent walking or cycling around the numerous country lanes – but always bear in mind that what goes down must surely go back up!! Lazy afternoons can be spent indulging with long lunches, wine tasting, and sitting back to enjoy those fabulous views. This is truly a perfect location for rest and relaxation. If you are staying in Ljubljana or Lake Bled for example and would like to visit just for the day, I would recommend a road trip through the Julian Alps and Soča Valley (as featured in my blog – 10 best places to visit in Slovenia), en route to Goriška Brda to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon, with enough time for a late lunch or wine tasting. For further details about the region, you can visit the website of the local tourist information office.
That concludes my selection of 10 hidden gems in Slovenia. I hope that you find the information provided and my personal tips useful.
Getting to know Slovenian Wine
by Graeme Chuter / 20th November 2020 / reading time 10 minutes
Hands up if you are aware that Slovenia is a wine-producing nation? Hands up again if you have ever tried Slovenian wine? Either way, let’s get better acquainted with Slovenia’s wine regions, the impressive selection of wines produced, and how these can be best discovered and enjoyed?
A matter of quality over quantity.
Slovenia is one of the smallest countries in Europe, located at a central point where west meets east, and where the Alps meet the Adriatic. Numerous sub-climates across the country are influenced by cool alpine breezes from the north, and the southerly winds from the Mediterranean, creating perfect conditions for cultivating vines and making fabulous wine.
As might be expected, in terms of total output Slovenia is a relatively small producer, certainly compared with its mighty neighbour Italy.
Therefore, wine export volumes are also relatively modest and you would do well to find a bottle of Slovenian wine on a supermarket shelf outside of its own borders, and especially further afield in countries such as the UK or the US. But look more closely and you could find a couple of white varieties available in the UK at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, supplied by two of Slovenia’s largest wine co-operatives. Typically though, you would need to go to a specialist wine outlet to pick up a bottle or two.
There are several decent-size co-operatives in the country, where each one typically has a hundred or more member farms contributing to the production. The grape quality across the different vineyards is stringently monitored by the co-operative oenologists, and this enables them to produce distinctly different lines. From mediocre so-called “open wines”, to medium quality fresh wines, through to the highest quality premium wines – aged barriques, produced from the best-rated fruit and requiring optimum weather conditions.
The vast majority of Slovenia’s 28,000 wine producers tend to be small and family-run, where the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity, and where long-standing family values and traditions have been meticulously followed and passed down through several generations.
The usage of supplementary chemicals and pesticides is typically kept to a minimum, and most of the grapes are picked by hand, even by the largest producers. For many boutique wineries, gaining official recognition as an “organic” producer has been relatively easy since only minor tweaking of their methods has been required.
The wine regions and grape varieties in Slovenia are surprisingly diverse.
Slovenia has three primary wine regions which are located in the south-west of the country (Primorje), the south-east (Posavje), and the north-east (Podravje). These three regions are divided into sub-regions as illustrated in the table below. The overall wine production of around 80 million litres per year comes from approximately 70% white and 30% red grapes, using many international and indigenous grape varieties, and resulting in a mouth-watering selection of white, red, rose and sparkling wines.
|Primary regions||Sub-regions||Most popular grape varieties|
|red: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah (shiraz), pinot noir, barbera, teran, refošk.
white: rebula, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, pinot grigot, zelen, pinela, malvasija, rumeni (yellow) mušcat.
|red: modra frankinja (blaufränkisch).
white: laški riesling, traminec, pinot grigot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, rumeni mušcat.
red & white blend: Cviček – typically a blend of žametna črnina and modra frankinja (reds), and krajevina and laški Riesling (whites).
|red: modra frankinja, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
white: laški riesling, renski riesling, rumeni mušcat, mušcat blanc, pinot blanc, pinot grigot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, traminec, šipon (furmint) and kerner.
Primorje is located in the extreme west of Slovenia, adjacent to the Italian border. The corresponding administrative region of Primorska (meaning “by the sea”) is split into two, north and south. South Primorska is located on the Adriatic coast and also includes an inland area known as the Slovenian Karst. Here the climate is classically Mediterranean, with reasonably mild winters and hot and dry summers. The deep reddish-brown soil is particularly rich in minerals, which makes it ideal for producing Refošk, Teran, and Malvasija. North Primorska includes the sub-regions of Goriška Brda and the Vipava Valley. As well as being vineyard country, the region is also known for growing many other different fruits in abundance, such as cherries, peaches, nectarines, figs, and olives.
The climate is also very hot and dry during the summer months, but the land is cooled by fresh winds coming down from the nearby mountains during the nights, and occasional downpours of rain provide a sufficient supply of water. The landscape here is stunningly beautiful – with lush green rolling hills carpeted by vineyards and cypress trees, peppered with “Italian style” medieval hilltop villages, ornate bell towers, and stylish castles. Goriška Brda and the nearby Vipava Valley offer the widest range of grape varieties, compared with Slovenia’s other wine regions.
White wines are produced in the largest volumes, including Rebula, Zelen, and Pinela – indigenous varieties rarely found anywhere else outside of Slovenia – plus Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigot, Malvasija, and Rumeni (yellow) Mušcat. In smaller volumes but with good quality, the red varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz), Pinot Noir, Barbera, Teran, and Refošk.
The Posavje and Podravje wine regions are located in the east of Slovenia and take their names from the rivers which flow through each area – the Sava and the Drava. The administrative territories which are covered here, running from north-east to south-east are Prekmurje, Štajerska, Dolenjska, and Bela Krajina – bordering with Austria and Hungary in the north and with Croatia to the east and south. For the most part, the landscape is made up of gentle ranges of hills and wide river valleys, with a temperate climate. The cultural feel here is a mix of Slavic and Germanic, in vivid contrast with the obvious hints of Italy in the west of the country.
The east is best known for its outstanding white wines and sparkling wines including Laški Riesling, Renski Riesling, Rumeni Mušcat, Mušcat Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminec, Šipon (Furmint), and Kerner. The red varieties include Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkisch), Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is probably fair to say that producing top-notch reds is more challenging here compared with the south-west of Slovenia because of the cooler climate.
The rise of the cuvées and orange wine.
There have been two particularly noticeable wine trends in Slovenia over recent years, which are the increasing popularity of cuvées and the growing fascination with orange wine – the so-called “amber revolution”.
Let’s start with the cuvees. Even the smaller size producers typically cultivate a good range of grape varieties, with distinctly different characteristics, and this has enabled them to experiment with creating different blends of whites and reds. Overall the results have been pretty impressive because the vintners have been using mostly good quality fruit and aging the wine in oak barriques, to produce premium cuvée wines. Some of my favourite Slovenian “smooth reds” are cuvées, including the Prinčič Mihael Rdeče which combines Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, the Sveti Martin Tresse Rdeče which uses Barbera, Merlot, and Passito, and the Klet Brda A+ Rdeče which brings together Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.
For anyone who might be less familiar with the term “orange wine”, it is created from white grapes, where rather than pressing the grapes immediately after harvesting and prior to fermentation, the grapes are allowed to macerate for a period of around one to two weeks. The skins are gently crushed but remain intact before these are pressed. This allows more of the skin matter to pass into the juice, resulting in higher levels of acidity and tannin, and adding a rusty brown-orange tint to the colour of the wine. The grape varieties which work particularly well are Pinot Grigot and Rebula, and the best orange wines tend to be matured in lightly toasted oak or acacia barrels. A couple of my personal favourites include the Emeran Reya Pinot Grigot and the Žorž Pinot Grigot.
Organised wine tasting tours in Slovenia.
It is possible to arrange tastings directly with some wine producers, but you should bear in mind that the vineyard owners are typically farmers first, and hosts second. This means that they are often difficult to get hold of, and moreover even harder to pin down for a scheduled visit. On top of this, who the heck wants to drive anyway?!!
Therefore, you might well be better off arranging cellar tours and tastings with an experienced wine tour provider, who can co-ordinate multiple vineyard visits within a 1-day tour, or over several days as part of a private wine tour package. My own incoming travel agency – Four Seasons Travel, Slovenia – has been arranging custom-made wine tours for individuals and groups for almost twenty years, establishing good relations and personal friendships with some of Slovenia’s top wine producers. Solo travellers and couples are more than welcome, but you should be aware that some wine tasting venues require minimum group sizes of four, six, or eight persons.
Four Seasons Travel wine tours include a good balance of the larger size co-operative producers and the smaller, family-run, boutique wineries. Tastings tend to be informal and relaxed, giving you the opportunity to try an interesting mix of varieties, whilst enjoying the hospitality of the personalities behind the wines.
Hands up who knows a lot more about Slovenia wine now? Or should that be bottoms up?!! Thank you for reading and hopefully see you soon.
10 best places to visit in Slovenia
by Graeme Chuter / 15th October 2020 / reading time 10 minutes
From the Julian Alps to the Adriatic Sea, and from underground natural wonders to the most attractive cities and towns, here is my personal selection of the “10 best” places to visit in Slovenia.
For each location, I would like to offer you some brief background information, a few details about what you can see and do, plus some useful tips and recommendations.
Ptuj is reputed to be Slovenia’s oldest town, dating back to Roman times and first documented in the year AD69 when the region was part of the so-called Pannonion Province. Today Ptuj is a relatively small market town built on the banks of the River Drava. The oldest part of the town features several attractive cobbled streets and buildings which date back to the Habsburg period and beyond. Ptuj Castle was constructed in the middle of the 12th century when the area was controlled by the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In my opinion, a couple of hours should be enough time to explore the old town and to take a walk up to the castle – unless you are a castle or museum fanatic – in which case an additional hour might be beneficial. There are a few café bars and a couple of reasonable restaurants if you would like to have morning coffee or lunch here. For more information visit the Ptuj tourist information website.
The Lipica estate is the original home of the stud farm for the Lipizzaner breed of horses, renowned for their immaculate dressage shows at The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Founded in 1580, during the time of Habsburg rule across the region, a collection of six stallions and twenty-four mares was brought to the estate from Spain. And the rest is history as they say. During the course of four centuries, the Lipica Estate has endured numerous wars and different regimes, ruled by the Habsburgs, Napolean, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy, Yugoslavia, and now Slovenia. Despite these disruptions, the estate which spreads across three hundred acres of partially wooded pastures, has maintained its position as a leading breeding organisation, holding the original studbooks of the Lipizzaner breed.
For today’s visitors, there are plenty of attractions on offer, including private horse riding, horse-drawn carriage rides, shared group tours of the main stud facilities, a museum, and occasional dressage shows in the presentation hall. The most popular combination is a one-hour guided tour followed by a thirty-minute presentation show, but this is available only three days per week during the busiest months of the summer season. Therefore it is advisable to check the Lipica website in advance of your visit.
8) Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj is Slovenia’s largest glacial lake, located inside the boundary of the Triglav National Park, and just half an hour’s drive from its more famous neighbour Lake Bled. Nature lovers are likely to be of the opinion that Lake Bohinj is more beautiful, peaceful, and unspoiled. The lake is approximately 12 km in circumference and if you don’t fancy walking all the way around, there is a pleasure boat running from one end of the lake to the other during the summer months. At the southern end of the lake, there are two further attractions – the cable car up to Mt.Vogel and the Savica waterfall – popular with keen walkers and also for those wanting to enjoy the mountain views without too much exertion.
Directly adjacent to the lake at the northern end is the village of Ribčev Laz, which has several café bars, restaurants, hotels, and shops, yet is not over commercialised. The charming little 12th-century church of St John the Baptist is certainly well worth a visit, with some of the oldest original frescoes in Slovenia. It is a good idea to check the local tourist information office website for up-to-date opening times and other details.
7) Soča Valley
The Soča Valley, also known as “the Valley of the Emerald River”, is located on the extreme western side of Slovenia, running north to south and adjacent to the border with Italy. Taking the road from Bovec in the north towards Nova Gorica in the south, there are numerous beauty spots to explore on foot. My personal favourites include the hike up to the viewing point at the Boka waterfall (the tallest waterfall in Slovenia), the walk from the Napolean’s Bridge to the Kozjak waterfall, the town of Kobarid and its superb First World War museum, and the town of Kanal ob Soči. The turquoise waters of the River Soča are a sight to behold and a photographer’s paradise. It is hard to believe that this peaceful and tranquil valley was once the setting of many bloody battles during the First World War, which were the inspiration behind Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”. Nowadays the only shrieks one is likely to hear by the riverside are from adrenaline rush-seeking kayakers and white water rafters. For further details, you can visit the website of the tourist information office for the Soča Valley.
6) Julian Alps
The Julian Alps are located in the north-west of Slovenia, bordering Italy to the west and Austria to the north. For keen mountain walkers and climbers, there are countless opportunities for pursuing these activities. The region is easily explored by road and there are several routes that can be taken to enjoy the spectacular alpine views and to take photographs.
My recommendation for spending a day in the mountains would be taking the circular route which starts and finishes at the village of Kranjska Gora, going clockwise over the Vršič pass to Bovec, and returning using the Predel pass which crosses the border into Italy before heading back into Slovenia at the village of Rateče. The mountain roads on this route have plenty of lay-bys for stopping to admire the views and to take photographs. I would particularly recommend making stops at the Jasna Lakes, the Russian Chapel (Ruska Kapelica), the top of the Vršič pass, Bovec, the Predel Pass, Predel Lake (Lago di Predil) and Planica – the ski-jumping centre near Rateče. For more information about the region and related activities, you can visit the Julian Alps tourist information website.
5) Predjama Castle
Predjama Castle is one of the most enchanting castles you are ever likely to visit, built in front of a cave on a sheer rock face. The original castle dates back to the 13th century but the outer construction which can be seen today was completed in the early 17th century, following a turbulent period in the castle’s history and a devastating earthquake. The most renowned stories about the castle go back to the 15th century when the Knight Erasmus, known to be somewhat of a rogue and a thorn in the side of the Habsburg elite, was besieged in the castle for over a year. I won’t tell you the full story now, which is quite amusing and perhaps better left until you are actually here. Tours around the castle are self-guided using an audio player and tend to be combined with a visit to the nearby Postojna Caves, just ten minutes drive away.
4) Postojna Caves
The Postojna Caves are Slovenia’s biggest visitor attraction and well worth a visit in my opinion. Yes, the caves can get very busy in the peak season and it can feel rather commercialised. But the tours are very well managed, the organisation is slick and there remains a very impressive wow factor when you get inside. An open-air train ride takes visitors through the outer caverns and into the first of a sequence of large galleries which are explored on foot with a local guide. The guided walk takes around 45 minutes and is quite easy, requiring just a reasonable level of fitness and walking ability. Comfortable footwear such as trainers or gym shoes are advised and be sure to take something warm to wear inside the caves where the temperature is a constant 8 degrees celsius. For more information about visiting the caves and ticket prices, visit the official website of the Postojna Caves.
Built on a small peninsula, Piran is undoubtedly the prettiest town on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. Built in a classic Venetian style, the town features several attractive squares – most notably Tartini Square, the largest and grandest, – a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets, a cute harbour, and a stylish promenade that follows the curve of the peninsula and provides stunning views across the sea towards Croatia and Italy. On a clear day it is also possible to see the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Julian Alps and the Italian Dolomites rising in the distance. If you are visiting Piran as part of a day trip, I would say that two or three hours is adequate time to take a gentle stroll around the town and to see the main highlights.
For the more enthusiastic and energetic walkers, there are footpaths with plenty of steps that lead the way up to St George’s church (Sveti Jurija) and to the old town walls. The panoramic views over the rooftops and across the Bay of Piran are stunning. If you would like to make time for lunch, dinner or refreshments there are plentiful café bars and restaurants. The local specialities include fish, other seafood, local cheeses, and cold cuts. It is perhaps also worth noting that the ice cream is pretty scrummy too! Here is a link to the tourist information office for Piran and neighbouring Portorož.
Ljubljana is still perhaps one of Europe’s lesser-known capitals, but the awareness of its charm and friendliness has undoubtedly been gaining momentum over recent years. When I first arrived in Slovenia back in 2002, for me Ljubljana felt like a pleasant and welcoming city, if perhaps a little bit sleepy and rather bland. But even in those days, one could feel that the city centre was oozing with potential, and almost twenty years later Ljubljana has found its mojo. Especially during the warmer months of the spring, summer, and early autumn, the old town which straddles both sides of the river Ljubljanica in the heart of the city, feels colourful and vibrant. Most of this area is now pedestrianised, making Ljubljana a comfortable place to navigate on foot.
The number and variety of boutique hotels, restaurants, and café bars have blossomed, with lots of outdoor seating along cobbled streets and adjacent to the river bank. It has become a popular overnight location for short city breaks, but if you are staying elsewhere I would say that you should allow a good half day to take in the main sights. The most attractive part of the old town is conveniently condensed into approximately one square mile, in the shadow of Ljubljana Castle standing on the hillside above. A circular walk around the centre should ideally include Congress Square (Kongresni trg), the river embankment, the city hall and Robba fountain (Robbov vodnjak) in Mestni trg, the Cathedral of St Nicholas (Sveti Nikolaj), the market square, the Dragon Bridge, the Triple Bridge, and Prešeren Square. Whilst it is quite straightforward to navigate one’s self around the centre of Ljubljana, I would say that this is one place where the services of a local tour guide pay off, even for just an hour or so. I often work with local guides in Ljubljana when I have my own private tours. For more information about this wonderful city, here is a link to the main tourist information website for Ljubljana.
1) Lake Bled
Lake Bled provides perhaps the most iconic image of Slovenia, the small teardrop-shaped island with its adorable church and bell tower. Like something out of an ancient fairy-tale.
The lake is actually quite small (6.5 km in circumference) and a brisk walk all the way around should take you about an hour or so. However, with camera in hand and the opportunity to take one or two refreshment breaks along the way, this can easily turn into half a day! There are regular “pletna boat” crossings over to the island, or you might decide to hire a rowing boat and do it yourself. Honestly, the island has become somewhat of a tourist trap and can get busy, not to mention quite expensive, during the peak summer months – but that said, a trip to the island is hard to resist. Towering above the lake on the top of a steep rock face, Bled Castle is certainly worth a visit in my opinion, with an interesting museum, and with panoramic views across the lake that are simply amazing.
The centre of Bled has more of a resort feel about it rather than a town, with purpose-built hotels, a promenade, and a shopping centre. There are many restaurants and bars to choose from if you would like to enjoy lunch, dinner or refreshments. The infamous Bled cream slice or Kremna Rezina certainly goes down very nicely with morning coffee or afternoon tea. Lake Bled remains one of the most popular places for visitors to stay when holidaying in Slovenia, and I would recommend a minimum of two or three nights here. There are many different accommodation options available, including private rooms, B&B hotels, stylish boutique hotels, prestigious luxury hotels, and even glamping. If you are visiting just for the day, I would recommend a full day, which might also include visits to the nearby Vintgar Gorge and to Lake Bohinj which is just thirty minutes down the road. For further details, you can visit the Bled tourist information website.
There you have it, this is my personal selection of the top ten places to visit in Slovenia. I hope that you find the information and my recommendations helpful.