The Balkan Series - Part 2

Slovenia - The Sunny Side of the Alps

In October 2020, Chris visited Slovenia, the state in the
northwest of the Balkan peninsula. Read everything about his
experiences and find out why Slovenia should not be missing
on your bucket list!

Estimated Reading Time: 11 min

I came, I saw, I fell in love.

It was already dark when I reached the Slovenian border in mid-October and after explaining the border controls what a German guy coming from Vienna and Krakow, my previous stations, plans to do in their country and after assuring them that I was not infected with COVID-19, I was allowed to enter Slovenia. My first impressions: pitch-dark, winding, and super cold.
All I could concentrate on were the next few meters of the switchback – and one hour later I finally arrived at my accommodation in a small municipality called Žirovnica, only a few kilometers away from famous Lake Bled. I had almost no expectations on Slovenia, the state in the northwest of the Balkan peninsula. But it didn’t take long to realize that I was about to have the time of my life in this small but incredibly beautiful and diverse country.
The next morning, I was having a wonderful breakfast (scrambled eggs and bread with various spreads and cold cuts) when I looked out of the window and saw what I couldn’t see in the night of my arrival: majestic, snow-covered mountain ranges rising above the small town! I scraped my plate and was ready to explore all the places that Ania, who soon should become Giving Getaway’s first Travel Expert, had recommended.
It is almost an irony of fate that I spent most of my previous weeks with planning other people’s trips and creating Customized Information Packages while at the same time I was running out of time to plan my own trip from Poland to Montenegro. That’s when Ania picked up the slack and thanks to her detailed itinerary with numerous fascinating places that were on my way, I was able to fully enjoy this trip without bothering my head about the next steps.

Wooden walkways through a miracle of nature

The first place on my list was Vintgar Gorge, a 1.6 kilometers long gorge in Triglav National Park. It was a sunny Saturday morning, I packed provisions for the day and only 20 minutes later I arrived at the entrance, ready to explore the narrow canyon that has been formed by the Radovna River. I paid the 10€ admission fee and started to follow the one-way wooden pathway which was constructed above the river and underneath the sheer rock walls.
The turquoise shimmering water weaved its way through the narrow canyon – a mesmerizing spectacle of nature! I struggled between trying to capture this magical moment and simply enjoying it without holding a lens in front of my eyes. The whole walk took about one hour and ended with a big bang: the 15 meters high Šum waterfall!
Since it was a one-way trail, I had to choose between a long, scenic walk back to the parking lot and a short one. I decided to hike the long path which was supposed to last 1.5 hours – and I should not be disappointed! At the halfway mark, I reached the first viewpoint. The welcoming committee – a herd of cattle – celebrated my arrival with tinkling cowbells while I ensconced myself on a nearby bench, enjoying the view of the valley, snowy mountain ranges and a cute little church to my left.
I could have sat there for hours, observing the cows that were strolling around without further guidance, enjoying the fresh mountain air and the sun shining on my face. But as the viewpoint was high enough to overlook parts of my next stop, which was Blejski Grad, the medieval castle perched on a precipice right next to Lake Bled, I knew it was time to go.

Mystic, picturesque and steeped in legend - Lake Bled

About an hour later I parked my car not far from the castle and started to hike up the steep hill. I decided against exploring the castle’s interior and instead, I climbed up a few rocks right next to it, unwrapped my sandwiches and ate lunch while having a fantastic sight of the small island and the famous pilgrimage church that was dedicated to the Assumption of Maria.
The legend about the origin of Lake Bled says that a bunch of reckless, young shepherds let their sheep graze on the holy, green pasture where the chapel was built on. God judged this behavior as an act of desecration, which is why he decided to protect this holy place by creating a lake around the chapel.
Today, Lake Bled is considered as Slovenia’s most famous tourist attraction and climbing Mount Ojstrica on the other side of the lake made clear why that is the case. The steep hike took no longer than 20-30 minutes, but the view from up there was priceless! From here you can not only see the island with the pilgrimage church, but also the castle on the rock hillside right behind the island, snow covered mountains in the background and the forest around the lake, shimmering in red, yellow, orange and green, which made this scenery perfect.
The air was clear and fresh and the silence on the mountain peak was only interrupted by the church bell that was tolled by tourists every few minutes, cheering parents and the announcer of a canoeing competition that took place that day at Lake Bled. The sun began to set, a magical day was about to end, and slowly and with a bright smile on my face I moved off to walk around the lake and head back to my accommodation.

"The wonders of nature are endless."

The following day was at least as sunny as the last one and knowing what I planned for the day excited me from the moment I opened my eyes: driving the Vršič Pass through the Julian Alps! Built by Russian prisoners in 1915 for military purposes, the Vršič Pass reaches an altitude of 1,611 meters which makes it the highest mountain pass in the country.
It took about half an hour to reach the mountain range, but as soon as me and my car started to fight our way up the mountains, every additional meter rendered me speechless in astonishment and gratitude. The perfect weather conditions offered clear sight of the snowy mountains and since it was impossible to enjoy the view while driving this winding road, I stopped several times to calmly enjoy the flood of impressions.
After taking a walk and trying to resist the temptation to climb one of the snowy trails without proper gear at the highest point of the Vršič Pass, it was time to go down and explore the next highlight that was just around the corner: Soča Valley! The Soča is a 138 km-long river that is especially known for its turquoise (some say emerald green) color.
What impressed me the most in Soča Valley was the so called “Grand Canyon of Soča”. In this section of the river, the Soča winds its way through a narrow canyon of sharp and rugged rock formations. It was the perfect place and time for a lunch break and while I made myself comfortable with a hot cup of coffee which I brewed with my gas cooker, a group of Italian photographers joined and made bold attempts to find the best spots to take the perfect picture.

"We are a way for the universe to know itself."

My last stop of the day was the Boka waterfall which was situated right on my way south. Only 15 minutes of hiking were needed to reach the viewpoint which revealed the two-stage waterfall with an overall height of 139 meters. Right after that, it was time to find a good spot for the night since I intended to spend the night in the car. Although I looked up these spots in advance, usually parking lots and deserted places, I never knew exactly what to expect. Almost two hours later, I found myself right next an old, abandoned, and overgrown government building. It was already dark, and the scenery appeared as if it was straight out of a horror movie, but only for a moment. I prepared my car for the night, went outside and recognized something I haven’t seen in five years: the Milky Way!
It was not as clearly visible as in the outlands of Utah and Arizona, but enough to leave me speechless – again, for the third time of the day. The reason why most of us never see the Milky Way in many parts of Europe and other populous places of the world are the lights of the cities. This night proved what I suspected ever since I started to explore the country: Slovenia is full of nature, forests, mountains, valleys and lakes, and big cities are scarce. Happy as a clam, I jumped into my sleeping bag and made myself comfortable in my uncomfortable, tiny car.

Delving into another world.

A new morning has dawned which meant that my third and last day in Slovenia had begun. It seemed unimaginable to me that my previous days could be surpassed, but that last day had some surprises in store that were like the cherry on the cake. I started the day by visiting the Postojna Cave, a place that was highly recommended and touted by my travel planner Ania. But checking the prices in advance left me with mixed feelings. Almost 26€ for a ticket and 5€ for parking. Would it be worth it? I visited a cave in Germany earlier that year which was very nice and much cheaper; can this cave really be so much better? Let me anticipate the answer: YES! It was an experience of a lifetime and so much better than any cave I have ever seen in my life before!
The karst cave system has a total length of 24 kilometers which makes it the largest cave system in Slovenia. It is considered as Europe’s most visited tourist cave and already in 1818 the Postojna Cave was prepared for visitors, back then particularly for Franz I, the first Emperor of Austria. 53 years later, the first cave rails were laid and until today, more than 38 million tourists were boarding the train. At about 11 a.m., the train driver carried me, seven other tourists and our tour guide 4 km into the cave – according to our tour guide the smallest number of visitors he has seen in 25 years. Already the train ride left me speechless since the sheer fact of riding a train inside of a cave appeared kind of surreal to me. I must have looked like a little child with wide-open shining eyes, a broad grin while uttering “ooh”s and “aah”s during the entire tour.
We were exploring the most beautiful parts of the cave by foot and the tour ended in one of the biggest chambers of the cave which is often used as a concert and event hall. It was time to get back into the train, and what felt like a short excursion into another world ended after 90 minutes. ​
Still reminiscing about what I have just seen, I set off to drive to the next attraction which was only 10 kilometers further. Ania, who also recommended this place, sent me a picture of Predjama Castle in advance, but as is mostly the case, seeing such a place in real life was far more impressive. Located in the village of Predjama, this castle was built within the mouth of a cave already in the 12th century! Thinking about that moment, leaning on the railing, feeling the sunshine on my face, and listening to the birds singing and the muttering of locals drinking coffee still makes me feel pure ease and comfort. I took one last deep breath and then it was time to go.

Piran - the pearl of the Mediterranean

With Piran as my next stop on the list and my plan to cross the Croatian border and drive to Pula in the evening, I knew that I didn’t have the time to dwell in one place for too long. So I drove south and bit by bit the landscapes around me started to change. Two hours later, rugged mountain ranges and thick forests were replaced by promenades with palms, medieval buildings and above all – the Adriatic Sea! While I was fascinated by all sceneries I have seen on my trip until that moment, the Alps, the Tatra Mountains in Poland, Franconian and Saxon Switzerland in Germany, gazing at the vastness of the sea and listening to the sound of the waves evoked emotions that go far beyond pure fascination. And all of a sudden, I realized that everything I have done in the past years was meant to lead me to this moment. I knew from deep down that I was on the right track – and that my journey was just about to start.
I walked towards the beautiful old town of Piran, kids were skimming stones, locals were fishing, some tourists were sitting in almost empty cafes and restaurant sipping coffee and listening to relaxing music. I strolled through narrow alleys and took pictures every few meters while the sun slowly began to set. I walked back to the coast, made myself comfortable and started to book accommodations for my upcoming adventure which was just around the corner – one week in beautiful Croatia!

Slovenia: country of many faces

Considering its size and population, Slovenia is among Europe’s smallest countries. It is a country that is often overlooked as its bordering countries Italy, Croatia and Austria seem to enjoy a much better reputation among tourists all around the world. I was one of these tourists, but three days in Slovenia were more than enough to disabuse me from this misconception. Its diverse and breathtaking landscapes made a lasting impression me, which is why I highly recommend every single one of you to not miss the chance to visit this wonderful country as well!
Slovenia is not only the perfect destination for weekend getaways, but also for trips that last for several weeks – and with Giving Getaway’s Customized Information Packages and the help of our competent Travel Experts, we help you plan a travel experience of a lifetime for you! Choose the package that suits you best, answer 10 questions, lean back and let Giving Getaway do all the work!

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