Following on from my cheeky weekend in Venice I transferred from Venice to Piran in Slovenia by GoOpti. I can’t recommend them enough for the simplicity of getting from one place to another. I tend to use companies like this for across border journeys where normally I would have to do a train, bus and maybe a few of each. With GoOpti they will text you the night before to arrange pickup, it is a shared transfer so there will be others to pick up along the way. We waited half an hour at Trieste Airport for a pick up but it was still far more direct and comfortable way to travel than several modes of transport with not necessarily easy connections.
I had a week to explore Slovenia. During my research it would seem a lot of people stay primarily in the capital, Ljubljana and do day trips out. Slovenia is a small enough country to cover most of it in this way, but I like exploring and staying in new places so once I got to Ljubljana I hired a car. Just a note, to drive the motorways you need to buy a vignette – tolls have been replaced with this sticker, you can buy on the border if you’re driving into the country or from petrol station’s. Hire cars come with a vignette (but best to double check).
Slovenia is an incredibly beautiful country with it’s mountains, lakes, the emerald blue Soca River, waterfalls and green valleys. Just breathtaking!
Armed with an old school map of the country, I covered a lot of the country. Once you’re out of the main city and larger towns [and Bled town centre] the roads are quiet, the views are stunning and there are plenty of waterfalls, lakes, mountains, vista points and small towns to stop at that you would normally bypass by bus or train. I could ramble on all day but here are some of my highlights of possibly one of the best road trips I have done to date.
I knew Venice was going to be a hectic weekend so first stop in Slovenia was purposeful and a relaxing night by the sea. I splashed out for a sea facing room with a balcony at Hotel Piran. To be honest this cost the same amount as five nights in a hostel but just look at this view from my balcony……
Piran is a small medieval coastal town, it only took an afternoon to explore. A walk along the peninsula, stop for some seafood and once the sun wasn’t as strong a hike up the hill to the old town walls for a magnificent view down over the terracotta roofs of the town and back to the hotel for that wonderful sea view with some sundowners! Note though if you are driving – Piran is a car free zone but there are plenty of car parks.
The capital of Slovenia is easily accessible by public bus from Piran, just a few hours drive. The city is small, compact and very picturesque. I only had one afternoon but my hostel was central and because the city is so compact I could see everything that I had wanted.
- The Triple Bridge over Ljubljanica River is a good starting point and a good place for my picnic lunch.
- Metelkova – was my main point of call – a former military barracks which has turned into an autonomous Cultural Centre with lots of weird and wonderful art installations.
- Dragon Bridge – four dragon statues on each corner.
- Wander the streets of the old cobbled town.
- Head up to the castle via the funicular, sadly it started pouring with rain at the moment I decided to go up so took shelter in one of the bars just by the entrance – Daktari and had a pint of “Human Fish”.
- Stop for a drink or have dinner along the river or one of the cobbled streets.
Postojna Caves & Predjama Castle
My first drive out of Ljubljana – very easy to navigate and back on the road towards Piran to reach Postojna Caves. There are lots of options of ticket combinations and four different areas to visit with information centres and interactive rooms for the kids but I simply just wanted to to do the 1 ½ hour guided tour through the caves. The tickets are timed but there is plenty to see or stop for some food if you can’t get booked in for a while. The tour itself starts with a 4km train ride into the caves, it can be a bit wet and cold – they are caves! – so bring a jacket and some sturdy shoes. After the train ride there is an hours easy walk through the chambers looking at the biggest stalagmites, stalactites and columns I’ve ever seen. It ends with a glimpse of the newly born HUMAN FISH and another train ride back out of the caves. I was a bit blase at the beginning as I’ve visited a lot of caves around the world, but this one is definitely one of the best for pure sheer size!
Predjama Castle is a fairytale style castle set in a mountain which is 9km from the caves. I didn’t go inside, something about my Dad taking me to ALOT of castles when I was younger put me off. I did however bring a picnic lunch and it was the perfect spot!
The Vršič Pass amongst the Julian Alps is possibly one of the most memorable, beautiful, stunning mountainous roads I’ve driven. When I’m in a country where I’m having to drive on the opposite side of the road than the UK, I always hire an automatic. I just end up bunny hopping when the gear stick is on the “wrong” side, luckily when driving this road, for me, it was invaluable. 24 km long with 50 hairpin bends (each numbered) and whilst I consider myself a good driver it was nice to not have to constantly change up and down the gears.
The road was built by Russian prisoners during WW1 connecting Bovec with Kranjska Gora. There are a few places to stop – two cabins towards the top that serve drinks and a selection of food. Not only is the view worth it, but for me it was a quick rest from concentration. I pretty much had the road to myself, when researching driving in Slovenia the travel forums talk about people overtaking you on precarious corners but locals avoid this stretch of road if possible and the only people that overtook me were touring motorbikers.
It’s easy to miss, but around turn 8 there is a Russian Orthodox Church built by Russian POW for their fellow soldiers that were killed in a landslide in 1915.
Depending on which way you drive, I ended my Vršič Pass journey at the crystal clear Lake Jasna. I stayed in a wonderful hostel which is a few minutes walk to the lake. The ski resort of Kranjska Gora is about a 15 minute walk (walking was much needed after all that driving). Plus, I must mention I had THE best pizza, beer and service at the pizzeria at Hotel Kotnik in Kranjska Gora.
And finally….. Lake Bled…. most people’s destination in Slovenia.
Arriving in Bled it was the first time I came across heavy traffic and when you catch your first glimpse of the shimmering lake you suddenly realise why – it’s breathtaking. There are many ways to view the lake (I did all of them….) – by pletna boat – a traditional boat made by locals, drive round the lake, walk round it, view it from the castle, or my favourite – from Vila Bled. Vila Bled is the hotel which Tito, the former president of Yugoslavia, chose as his summer residence – and you can see why. Travelling on my backpackers budget I had to simply make do with the lovely small cafe adjoined to the hotel to stop at instead. It’s quite a hike up a wooded hill but there are stunning (and less crowded) vistas across the lake. Stop for while to catch your breath, sample some of the local cream cake and watch the pletna boats ferry people back and forth the shore and the Church of the Assumption.
The castle is perched on top of a cliff overseeing the lake. I found that I paid 10 EURO for pretty much a view over the lake as there isn’t much to learn at the castle. There are dozens of coach parties and I had a frustrating time trying to take in the view without a selfie stick in the way or quite simply being barged out of the way. I have heard there is a cheeky free view from the castle area but couldn’t find it when I was there.
If you want a less crowded beautiful lake then Lake Bohinj is a short 26km drive from Lake Bled.
There are a lot of places to park but all are quite €€ especially the closer you get to the both of the lakes. Make sure you keep some spare euros.
Another highlight for me in the area was Vintgar Gorge. Get there for when it opens and you’ll be rewarded with having the boardwalks to yourself as you wander down the gorge and across the rapid Radovna river. It’s a 1.6km walk to reach the 13m high Šum waterfall which marks the end of the walk. As I was heading back the coach tours had started to arrive….
The list doesn’t just stop here but this will certainly give you a taste of the spectacular things you can experience in Slovenia. Enjoy discovering!