Monday, May 27, 2024

Bridgeworthy: Slovenia – A Magical Escape for Adventure Lovers and Foodies Alike

The Soca River with its striking colors and surrounding mountains makes it one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in the world.

Coronado is a vacation destination second to none, and during the busiest tourist months locals may yearn for an escape that will offer new and exciting adventures. Slovenia, with its beautiful landscape, storied past, friendly people and fantastic food is a hidden gem still relatively undiscovered as a European travel destination. Unlike its neighboring countries of Italy, Croatia, and Austria, Slovenia has yet to be overwhelmed by tourism, making it an ideal spot to escape and unwind.

A country with a population (just over 2 million people) smaller than that of San Diego County nestled between the Julian Alps and the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia is the perfect place for those wanting to get off the beaten path, away from the crowds and enjoy nature. A fairly young nation, having gained its independence in 1991 when it seceded from Yugoslavia, Slovenia has a surprisingly rich history dating back to the 6th century. Slovenes were ruled by Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon, the Hapsburgs and the Yugoslav Kingdom until they fell under communist rule in 1945. Despite their recent establishment as a sovereign state, Slovenians have a deep-rooted identity and sense of nationalism focused on peace, sovereignty and environmental stewardship.

We chose Slovenia for our recent travel adventure after researching inn-to-inn experiences that would be reminiscent of the wonderful self-guided hike of Mont Blanc we did a couple years ago. With the goal of hiking and biking across a new European country, Slovenia was the perfect choice offering beautiful mountains, lakes, the Soca River Valley, and Brda wine country all within a two hour drive of its capital.

Having never been to Slovenia, I chose to work with local experts to help ensure an excellent, locally inspired experience. We found SLOTRIPS, a travel company that offers guided and self-guided experiences across Slovenia. Their unique adventures range from four to nine days. After doing my own in-depth research on Slovenia, I had specific locations and experiences in mind that my coordinator Katja implemented into our 8-day personalized vacation.

Ljubljana

The view of Ljubljana as seen from the castle above the city.

Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, is located right next to the country’s primary international airport, offering an ideal location to recover from a long journey and get ready for upcoming adventures. SLOTRIPS did a fantastic job selecting excellent accommodations in great locations with friendly and knowledgeable local staff. Hotel Cubo with its stunning historical architecture, yet modern and comfortable rooms, is located just a couple blocks from Ljubljana’s main square, the river, parks and great restaurants. The included breakfast is possibly the best breakfast I’ve ever had, beautifully plated and delicious. The coffee also inspired our friends to purchase the coffeemaker used by the hotel so they can replicate the wonderful morning brew.

Ljubljana is also known as the Dragon City based on lore from the city’s storied past.

Ljubljana is a small, beautiful city with a rich history and excellent food and wine at the many cafes and restaurants lining the streets and river. The staff at Hotel Cubo recommended the free walking tour of the city that provides a glimpse into Slovenia’s storied past and an understanding of how their past shaped Slovenian culture today. Ljubljana highlights not to be missed include a walk up to the castle for an incredible view of the city, strolling along the river and over the Dragon Bridge, purchasing fruit and honey in the farmers market, taking time to appreciate the beauty of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas and its Slovene Door designed in a way to beautifully tell the history of Christianity in Slovenia.

The Slovene Door tells the history of Christianity coming to Slovenia. The intricate detail is beautiful and elicits powerful emotions as the history unfolds before your eyes.

Foodies will enjoy the many delicious restaurants that incorporate fresh ingredients from surrounding farms and local wines into their menus. Ana Ros, a self-taught Slovenian chef ranked the ninth best chef in the world in 2022, recently opened Ana in Slon, an exceptional restaurant I would highly recommend trying while in town. While Ljubljana was intended as just a rest stop on our itinerary, it was the perfect way to begin our trip.

The local Farmers Market offers flowers, fresh fruit, vegetables and honey from local farms and is located in the square behind Ljubljana Cathedral.
A stroll along the Ljubljana River overs beautiful views of the city’s architecture.

Lake Bled & Lake Bohinj

A view of Lake Bled and Bled Castle.

After two nights in Ljubljana we were off to Lake Bled. The driver from SLOTRIPS came and picked us up from Hotel Cubo and dropped us off at Polka Dot Cycling shop in Bled where we met our guide for the day, Katja, and rented our e-bikes. The driver then went on and dropped our bags at Penzion Kaps while we spent our day biking, visiting a local beekeeper and tasting their delicious honey, paddle boarding on the lake and hiking a neighboring peak.

Church of the Assumption of Mary on Lake Bled

Lake Bled is the most well-known tourist destination in Slovenia, and for good reason, it is extraordinary. A beautiful blue-green lake surrounded by mountains and home to a teardrop island that holds the picturesque Church of the Assumption of Mary. The best way to appreciate Lake Bled’s beauty on a warm summer’s day is to paddle-board out to the island, hike around and climb the 99 steps up to the church then treat yourself to their local ice cream. Make sure to jump in the lake on your paddle back and take in the grandeur of Lake Bled Castle, built into a precipice above the city overlooking the lake. The experience is unforgettable.

A view of Bled Castle from the Island in the middle of Lake Bled.
The Assumption of Mary Church on Lake Bled.
Paddle-boarding on Lake Bled is the best way to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.

The bike tour around the outskirts of Bled offers gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains, churches, farmland and the lake. We were brought to a farm where Daniella, the beekeeper, provided our tour, sharing the importance of beekeeping in Slovenia and gave an in depth tutorial on how they harvest their exceptional honey. Slovenia is known as the cradle of modern beekeeping, it is a tradition that began in the 7th century and continues today with more than 180 schools where children can learn the art of beekeeping. We learned the many healing properties of honey and how Slovenian honey is carefully harvested to ensure the highest quality.

Traditional Slovenian beekeeper boxes are beautifully painted.
One of the many beautiful churches found in the countryside of Slovenia.

Finally, after returning the bikes and a quick hike up to a peak behind our hotel for a gorgeous view of the lake, we grabbed a delicious dinner at Old Cellar Bled where the food and wine were the perfect way to end our evening.

A view of Lake Bled and Bled Castle that we enjoyed on our walk back from returning the bikes.

Penzion Kaps is a wonderful place to rest after a full day. The caretaker, Peter, offered his local knowledge on must see sights and places to eat as well as setting up a reasonable and quick laundry service. The rooms were spacious and comfortable and breakfast was delicious.

A view of Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj, located just a short drive from Lake Bled, is not as popular a tourist destination as Bled but it is exceptionally beautiful. A driver picked us up from Penzion Kaps and dropped us at the trailhead Blato Meadow where we began a 7.5 mile self-guided hike of a lonely alpine meadow in the Julian Alps. It was an overcast and misty day but that only added to the beauty of the trail.

Bohinj is a secluded lake surrounded by the Julian Alps.
Blato Meadow Hike.

We didn’t encounter other hikers and seemed to have this majestic mountain to ourselves. The hike began with a rigorous climb for two miles and then opened to prairies and meadows nestled in the pines. We came upon what seemed to be a village of deserted mountain huts accessible only by foot or four wheel vehicle, and to our surprise it was inhabited by a local cheesemaker who used milk from the resident cows to make delicious cheese.

Pigs greeted us as we entered the village.
The app provided by SLOTRIPs to guide us along our hike notified us to look for a local shepherd named Lucija. Lucija was the cheesemaker and took the time to walk us through her cheesemaking process, later allowing us to purchase some of her cheese to snack on during the hike.
The mountain village covered in mist looked enchanting.

Shortly after continuing on our hike we ran into the cows grazing along the trail. As we navigated to the last of the mountain huts along the trail, the skies opened up and hail, thunder and lightning had us seeking shelter. We made it to the hut that overlooked a beautiful small lake and warmed up with some local stew and Lasko beer.

The cows have the run of the mountain for grazing and we passed them shortly after leaving the village.

After the storm passed, we finished our hike and ended up down at Lake Bohinj where the sun was shining over the beautiful lake. We took a local bus back to Lake Bled and went directly to Pizzeria Rustika where the pizza was fantastic and the local wine pairings were delicious. We finally made our way back to Penzion Kaps for a warm shower and a good night’s rest before leaving Lake Bled the next morning.

The mountain hut that provided shelter during the storm.

Kransjka Gora

From Lake Bled we had a true Inn-to-Inn experience. We left our luggage with the front desk to be transported to our accommodations in Kransjka Gora and walked back to Polka Dot Cycling to get our electric bikes. We were off on a 31 mile self-guided bike trip through Bled and Triglav National Park ending at Hotel Milka nestled in the mountains of Kransjka Gora. Biking around Lake Bled and over the mountains into the national park was magnificent, a beautiful morning with blue skies and cool breezes that made our departure from Bled just as spectacular as the visit. Travelling through the countryside and up into the mountains on electric bikes was a new and exhilarating experience for us all. The views were stunning, the air crisp, and the freedom to go at your own pace and stop to take in all the beauty nature had to offer was amazing.

A view along the bike route through Triglav National Park.
The Waterfall is a beautiful side trip that allows you to take a short break from the bike.

We opted to take a short side excursion through the Vrata Valley to do a short hike to Pericnik waterfall. While our bike ride was spent in relative solitude, the hike was popular with the locals, but that didn’t in any way take away from the beauty and power of the waterfall.

The short hike allows you to walk behind the powerful waterfall.

We continued on and made it to our destination of Boutique Hotel & Restaurant Milka, a beautiful accommodation that sits just above a Lake Jasna and is surrounded by the Julian Alps. The hotel rooms are luxurious, while incorporating the natural beauty of the surrounding landscapes.

Restaurant Milka is a Michelin rated restaurant and the dining experience was like no other with a tasting menu that took us on a tour through Slovenia. The ingredients were all local but the preparation was unique and delicious with a beautiful presentation. The head sommelier, Lenart Plavcack, was knowledgeable, funny and really made the whole evening exceptional.

A suspension bridge you pass as you enter Kranjska Gora
View from the room at Hotel Milka

 Vrsic Pass

The diversity of the hike leading from Kranjska Gora to Vrsic Pass is incredible, beginning with a beautiful river coming down from the mountains.

After a scrumptious breakfast on the terrace overlooking Lake Jasna, we reluctantly checked out of Hotel Milka. While excited to begin our 7.5 mile hike to Erjavceva Koca Mountain Hut, the relaxing setting and delicious food where hard to leave behind. The day’s hike led us up to the Vrsic Pass, the highest road pass in Slovenia built by Russian war prisoners during the first World War. Along the way we stopped at the Russian Chapel and other WWI memorial sites before our ascent to the top of Mt. Mavrinc, a peak with stunning 360 degree views of the Julian Alps. The hike concluded at the mountain hut, located on a hill just below the summit of Vrsic Pass surrounded by the steep walls of the Spik, Skrlatica and Prisojnik mountains.

The Russian Chapel is a somber reminder of the darker parts of history in this region.
The view from the top of Mt Mavrinc looking down in the distance to Lake Jasna.
The view from the trail as we approach the Mountain Hut, our accommodations for the evening.

The Soca Trail – Alpe-Adria Walking

The Soca River is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world.

A quick transfer from the mountain hut to Trenta Info point started what was to be a spectacular 14 mile hike along the enchanting Soca river, known as the Emerald Beauty. The colors of the Soca River range from opal to emerald green and as you cross its many suspension bridges and lean over the side of the gorges, the beauty of its waters is overwhelming. A long but beautiful hike, the Soca trail offers an escape from the busy world we live into a picturesque path full of wildflowers, burbling rapids and swimming holes.

One of the Soca River trail’s numerous suspension bridges.
Gorges and waterfalls greet you along the Soca River offering views like no other.

The trail ends at the town of Bovec in Northwestern Slovenia, an adventure seeker’s paradise that is the launch pad for whitewater rafting, kayaking, ziplining, and more. We spent the night at Hotel Soca, a newly renovated, extremely comfortable hotel with another five-star breakfast included. Soca Rafting was located right in the lobby, enabling us to easily begin our next challenge, whitewater rafting the class III rapids on the Soca River. Thunderstorms overnight left the waters a bit gray and muddy rather than the emerald green we had seen during the hike the day before, but the views of the surrounding peaks and the interesting history the guide provided as we rafted was phenomenal. The water level had risen and the current was stronger because of the rains making our trip down the river a brisk one. At the end of the voyage we were met by a SLOTRIPS driver who brought us to our final destination, Goriska Brda, the wine region.

A white-water kayaker gets ready to take on the rapids of the Soca River south of Bovec.

Brda Wine Region

The view from Scurek Winery terrace showing miles of vineyards in Brda Slovenia and into the Fruili region of Italy.

Known as the ‘Tuscany of Slovenia,’ Brda Wine Region is famous for its wine, art and culture while offering beautiful views of rolling hills blanketed with vineyards spanning all the way to the Mediterranean. Before checking into our accommodation at Peterc Vineyard Estate, we had a private tour of Scurek Winery, a family vineyard run by a couple along with their five sons. After a tour through their extraordinary wine cellar filled with beautifully painted barrels, a tie to the artistic passion in the region, we were treated to a tasting on a terrace overlooking the vineyards. The experience was intimate, entertaining and delicious as we enjoyed local charcuterie, olives and fresh bread while sampling the delectable wines.

Local artists paint the tops of the wine barrels for Scurek Winery.

Upon arrival at Peterc Vineyard Estate we were greeted by our hosts, Milena and Uros with a glass of their sparkling wine and offered a tour of the beautiful Bed and Breakfast. Each room overlooks the 200 year old vineyards with expansive views ranging from the Mediterranean to the Julian Alps. The well-appointed rooms were luxurious, the breakfast was delicious and the information on things to do in the area was expansive. The pool is refreshing and the atmosphere so relaxing you feel as though you are staying at a luxury spa. Uros and Milena shared the history of the estate and the surrounding area and were engaging and friendly.

A glass of the Peterc Winery Sparkling Wine with their vineyards in the distance.
This small, family run estate is is beautifully maintained and offers luxury and privacy for its guests.
Peterc Vineyard Estate pool offers a relaxing way to enjoy the views.

I left Brda wishing I had more time to relax, unwind and explore the area. This is a region I will return to and take advantage of all it has to offer from hiking, biking, a rich history and great wine! 

Slovenia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. The eight-day itinerary gave us a glimpse into the diversity of the region and introduced us to the wonderful people and culture of Slovenia. I would highly recommend a tour through Slovenia for travelers who enjoy hiking, biking, exceptional food and wine, and friendly hosts.

Fun facts we learned along the way: Slovenia takes its wine seriously, there is one vineyard for every 70 people in the country. One in every 200 Slovenians is a beekeeper. Slovenia has one of the largest populations of brown bears in Europe. It is the only country with the word “love” in its name.


I paid full price for all experiences and received nothing in return from any business or person highlighted in this article. My trip was fantastic and I want to give proper credit where credit is due.


 

 

 



Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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