Four hours of scenic travel on the somewhat slow and dated regional train took us across the Austrian border to our first destination in Slovenia, Lake Bled!
We have always dreamed about visiting the picturesque Lake Bled, although the sceptics within us wondered whether the lake would truly be as blue as Instagram would have us believe! First on our agenda was a 6.5km walk around the lake, where we quickly discovered that the hype was true – turns out the beautiful and clear turqoise water is real! As it was a Sunday, the lake shores were alive with tourists and locals alike taking advantage of the 35 degree, sun soaked day. We thought we would join, and after picking out a private spot amongst the trees we spent the afternoon swimming in the amazing lake, with a perfect view of both Bled Castle and Bled Island – the island in the middle of the lake!
To get another perspective on the lake and the surrounding landscape, we decided to hike up the Straža Trail to the Ojstrica lookout. It felt like we were the only ones on the trail, perhaps due to the fact it was a hot afternoon which was not ideal for hiking! However, with the thick forest, scampering squirrels and views of Lake Bled for company, we felt like the only ones on the trail!
With our Airbnb situated somewhat outside the centre of town, we were within an hours walk of Vingtar Gorge, a 1.6km gorge with an accompanying wooden walkway, located in the Triglav National Park. The walkway provides for spectacular viewing of the flowing Radovna River below, turquoise in colour and clear as crystal! Tourist tip: we chose to visit the gorge early in the morning, and as we left at midday there was a massive line!
Slovenia is home to the famed Lippizanner horse, and Anne would not have left the country without at least one trail ride. We drove out to the nearby village of Zirovnica with 3glav Adventures for a morning of fun! After selecting our horses we were treated to 2.5 hours of riding through the pristine and continually vivid Slovenian mountain landscape, including yet another turquoise lake – we were becoming accustomed to the amazing water colour by this point!
Last but not least, we could not leave Lake Bled without tasting the renowned Kremna Rezina (Cream Cake), created by the Park Hotel in 1953. Everything to do with this cake follows the lucky number seven, with the puff pastry folded seven times before baking, egg custard cooked for seven minutes, and each cake cut into a perfect 7cm x 7cm square! The Hotel serves 3,500 slices of this cake every day, and has a drive-through specifically for the cake!
After four amazing nights in Lake Bled, we were back on the road for a long and tiring 40 minutes before we arrived in the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana (pronounced lyub-li-ana). Tourist tip: after heading to the public bus station we happened across Mamut Slovenija, who, for only 2 euros more than a regular bus ticket, provide transfers to the capital in approx. 40 minutes!
To acquaint ourselves with the small but vibrant capital, our first port of call was a free walking tour provided by Ljubljana Free Tour. This was one of the better walking tours we have done across Europe! Our guide, Peter, provided us with an interesting and succinct summary of Ljubljana’s history and culture. The city has banned cars from the city centre, was named Europes ‘Green Capital’ in 2016, has a weekly street food event, and has a dragon on its coat of arms – what is not to love!
We spent the remainder of the day exploring the city’s highlights, including the quaint Metelkova district, a former military barracks of the Yugoslav National Army. In the year 1993, with this area largely home to a rogue hippie community, the Ljubliana government decided to demolish this site. The people of Ljubljana responded by squatting in this area in protest. Today, this area serves as an independent (anti)cultural site, with art galleries, clubs and even a hostel on site.
Whilst in Ljubliana we also tried the famous Carniolan Sausage, a tasty meat dish from the Carniola region, at Klobasarna, which locals profess is the best sausage restaurant in town! We were also lucky enough to be in the city on a friday to experience the ‘open kitchen’, a weekly street food / food cart event held on Fridays. The square beside the Cathedral was buzzing despite the impending rain, and we sampled some memorable Slovenian and international foods!
To explore some more of Slovenia’s unique sites, we took a half day tour with Roundabout Travel to visit the Predjama Castle and the Postojna Caves, both within proximity of Ljubljana. Predjama Castle was truly one of the most unique castles we have seen (and we have seen many in the past 3 months!), as it is the worlds largest castle in a cave – talk about fortified! The castle has many stories and legends, particularly due to the two secret passages carved into the rear of the castle and surfacing in an unassuming location in the forest above! The Postojna Cave is a mammoth sized cave, stretching for 24 km and even housing a cavern named the Concert Hall that accomodates up to 10,000 people (which has been used for many concerts). Interestingly, the cave has a train inside that transports visitors from the entry to the largest portion of the cave. The 1.5km walk through the cave in the 10 degree temperature was humbling, with the age of each stalactite and stalagmite difficult to comprehend!
When we discovered that Roundabout Travel ran a day trip to Venice, we thought this was a great opportunity to visit the city of love! As Australians, the concept of driving across the border into another country is novel and exciting! Three hours and we were in Venice! Of course we hit the main attractions including Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge, Saint Mark’s Basilica, and Saint Mark’s Campanile (Bell Tower). We also explored the small alleyways, bridges and admired many stores selling the famous Murano glass. Of course no trip to Italy is complete without some pasta! Daniel was in food heaven! Unfortunately, the day was dramatically dampened by thunderstorms in the afternoon. To avoid the rain we took a water taxi back to the van before a three hour drive home.
We definitely recommend Roundabout Travel. Our tour guides were Klara and Sanjin. Both were fantastic, knowledgable and all round good people!
Next stop… Croatia!
Until next time,
AP & DT