Many travelers are drawn to faraway destinations, according to the motto “the further away, the better the vacation”, while often great places like Slovenia are hiding not so far away from home. In times of Covid-19, this is all the better because the travel possibilities are unfortunately still limited.
We spent a total of eight days traveling by car through the small country of Slovenia in eastern Europe. On the way, we crossed surreal landscapes with turquoise rivers, mountain giants, vineyards, picturesque lakes, sleepy villages, hip cities, and gorgeous coasts on the Mediterranean Sea. Slovenia is unfortunately still underestimated in Europe. But see for yourself! I’ve compiled our wonderful route and highlights in this post.
Tip: If you are planning a road trip, don’t forget to buy a vignette for the highways in advance of your trip. A vignette costs for example 30 euros for one month. You can also buy a vignette shortly before the Slovenian border, but then you should expect waiting times.
Our first stop took us to Slovenia’s second-largest city, Maribor. It is located near the Austrian border in the northeast of the country. The 2012 Capital of Culture is often overshadowed by the capital, Ljubljana, but offers enough entertainment and sightseeing for an overnight stay.
Immediately upon entering the city, we are welcomed by the Franciscan church of Bazilika Matere Usmiljenja with its red bricks and two 58-meter towers. Maribor is a small green city with a park, forests, meadows, and vineyards all around and is located directly on the river Drava. It is a great place to just stroll through the streets and enjoy the sun. Don’t worry, you won’t get lost, because you can walk around the old town relatively quickly. There are numerous lovely buildings, restaurants, and stores. Unfortunately, since we arrived on Saturday afternoon, almost all the stores were already closed and the streets were empty. But the atmosphere is very relaxed, empty of tourists and you can park wonderfully in the city.
During your walk through the city don’t miss the following things:
– the main square Glavni trg with the column in the middle
– the oldest vine in the world, which still bears fruit today (400 years without interruption). It is not particularly spectacular, but it is one of the top attractions of the city. You can find it on the bank of the Drava River and you can also book a wine tasting there.
– The rooftop bar Luft 360, where you have a good view over the rooftops of the city to the vineyards. The service is friendly and there are delicious cocktails with homemade gin. I especially recommend the Grapy Gin, which is also a great souvenir to take home.
– the small but nice city castle Mariborski grad, which is located between the freedom and castle square
We spent the night in the Irish Patrick’s Pub (we just love Guinness haha), which is located in the middle of the city. Next door there is a good Slovenian restaurant with traditional food like cevapcici, ajvar, homemade flatbread, and stuffed peppers. (Tip: the wine did not taste at all in the restaurant, rather take a tasty Union beer).
Right next to Maribor is the oldest town in Slovenia, Ptuj. It is located just half an hour’s drive away and hides many small streets like in the Middle Ages. From Ptuj Castle there is supposed to be a beautiful view over the city. Unfortunately, it was still closed in the morning when we visited. Alternatively, you can go to one of the bridges on the Drava River and also have a beautiful view of the charming peaceful town with its many orange roofs – a super photo spot! In addition, the pretty city tower Mestni stolp with its red tower dominates the cityscape and is definitely worth a snapshot.
I would recommend you to visit the city only from 10 o’clock because otherwise it is completely deserted just like during our visit and the castle is also still closed.
Beer fountain in Zalec
A fountain from which beer bubbles instead of water! … well at least almost. The beer fountain in Zalec is a highlight for all beer lovers and is perfect as a break on the way from Maribor to Ljubljana or Bled, where we were headed. In honor of the rich hop brewing tradition of the town of Zalec and the delicious Zeleno zlato (green gold), as the Slovenians call it, the beer fountain was built. You can try different beers from Slovenian microbreweries from six beer taps. Every month the beers change.
You can get a beer glass with a microchip on the spot and take it home as a souvenir. We paid 10 euros for 10 beers of 100ml each. You can visit the fountain from April to October from 10-19 o’clock (in summer sometimes until 21/22 o’clock) and make yourself comfortable in one of the garden loungers there. Since the town of Zalec is not really touristy, there are plenty of parking places.
Slovenia is an incredibly green destination and is especially known for its gorgeous scenery and large blue lakes with mountain backdrops. Therefore, our plan was: camping, canoeing and hiking to great viewpoints at Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj; the reality: lightning, thunder, and pouring rain followed by thick fog! We decided not to let this lousy weather spoil our mood. It’s no use anyway! We drove through the small town of Bled and parked at the Pristava parking lot, one of the many public parking lots. You really can’t miss the parking lots there, because they are all marked with huge signs “P”. You should not make the mistake to park directly at the castle of Bled. The parking lot costs 3 euros, is totally overcrowded and you can’t see anything except the castle itself, which then costs another 15 euros entrance fee (totally overpriced for our taste).
Off we went in the pouring rain to Lake Bled below the Julian Alps. The lake is one of the most important and famous sights of Slovenia. We were not surprised: the scenery is fantastically kitschy and has an absolute postcard motif!
Since the mountains were overcast after half an hour, we saved the planned hikes to the viewpoints Velika Osojnikca and Ojstrica. What goes instead always in bad weather? Right, food and drink! So we stopped at Café Belvedere and treated ourselves to the delicious traditional Bled Cream Cake with a direct view of Lake Bled and the famous island with its Church of Assumption. Absolutely gorgeous – for photographers and foodies alike! Usually, the lake is suitable for swimming in summer and you can paddle to the island by boat.
Camping turned into glamping at Puzman Farm Glamping, a real experience. We stayed in a wooden tent, in front of the door a hot tube from which you can enjoy the mountain panorama with a beer or wine. Host David is very friendly – a homemade schnapps to welcome us, fresh vegetables, milk, eggs, and sausage from the farm. Everything was very clean. The small town of Radovlijica can be reached by car after 10 min and offers a small village center with nice restaurants. Our accommodation highlight of the trip!
4 km from Bled you will find the magnificent Vintgar Gorge, a spectacular gorge of the Radovna River. You walk on wooden walkways through the gorge, all the time along the blue water. Since it had rained a lot the days before our visit, the water was even more thunderous and fortunately, there were fewer visitors there because of that. Otherwise, the gorge should be quite crowded in the summer. Either way, I recommend you to be there already at the opening in the morning and best to book tickets online. You save yourself the queue at the ticket office.
The ticket price is 10 euros per person. For parking, you pay (as almost always at the sights in Slovenia) extra (5 euros). In total, we spent about 2 hours on the circular route. There are photo spots all along the way. We found the wooden bridge crossing the river and the waterfall (at the end of the gorge) especially scenic. When it rains heavily, the gorge is closed because the paths are very slippery.
Following our visit to the gorge, our first camping night was planned, which unfortunately fell through due to the recurring rain. So we decided to drive towards the sun, namely towards the coast in the south!
On the way to the coast, I definitely recommend a visit to the Predjana Cave Castle. The castle is built in the rock wall. This medieval wonder is today the largest cave castle in the world.
Slovenia is not exactly known for its sensational coastline on the Mediterranean, but there are quite gorgeous little towns. We decided to take a closer look at the coastal towns of Koper and Piran. While the region in the Julian Alps reminded me of a mix of Austria and Croatia, the Slovenian coast shows a Venetian style like in neighboring Italy. Being very spontaneous travelers to the south, we decided to stay in Koper as Piran was almost fully booked and unaffordable.
The city is not really known by tourists. So you meet a lot of locals enjoying their free hours by the sea. The bay shimmered turquoise blue when we arrived – yay, all done right! This is where the sun had been hiding.
There is a small bathing bay, but it was very crowded due to the sunny weather, it was enough for us to cool down. And who can claim to have swum right next to the industrial yards and the thick ships? Well, it’s not really idyllic, but the pretty promenade with its palm trees is. The city center is tiny. You won’t get lost.
In keeping with the coast, a portion of fresh fish is a must. How about some lobster croquettes from Fritolin? (Attention: you can only pay cash here).
The charming Mediterranean town of Piran really enchanted me. The cityscape is characterized by medieval buildings, narrow streets, and clean squares. You can easily explore the city on foot and see great photo opportunities. Right at the entrance to the city, you have a fabulous view of the Piran skyline and its yachts – a real Mediterranean paradise!
It’s best to park your car in one of the parking garages Arze or Fonace just outside the city, as the old town is almost a car-free zone. Only to unload luggage, you can leave your car briefly in the city. That this really makes sense, you will realize at the latest when you walk through the narrow streets.
Start your city tour at Tartini Square in the heart of Piran and walk to the tower of the Cathedral of St. George – the view is great! An absolute must for all photographers. From up there you can see the entire coastline all the way to Italy and Croatia. The entrance fee is only 2 euros and is worth every penny. Opening hours are from 8 am – 8 pm (June – August) or 8 am – 6 pm.
The price level in Piran is a bit higher than elsewhere in Slovenia, at least in the restaurants and hotels. There are many Mediterranean specialties such as pizza, pasta, and fish. Very tasty cocktails can be found right by the sea at Cafinho (breakfast at the next table also looked delicious).
There is no beach in Piran, but you can still go into the sea via stone steps and swim around.
From the Mediterranean coast, we went back north to the next city, Ljubljana! On the way to the capital, we cooled off briefly in Lake Podpec. The lake is a natural pearl without tourists. You can chill there on one of the jetties, enjoy the sun, and swim.
By the way, for your visit to the lake and the coast, I can highly recommend the Hamam Towel and Bag from Le Stoff’s collections. I won both in the Gadget Lottery from Traxplorio. The towel has a very great quality, strong colors that remain beautiful even after washing and can be easily stowed in your luggage. It dries very well and is a real eye-catcher. I chose the Rainbow organic Hamam towel because I like it colorful in the summer! With the bag, I was skeptical at first, because I’m not so much on this kind of jute bag. Honestly, I had them with me all the time! It also has top quality and looks great with jeans and on the beach. Both parts are 100% organic cotton. On my next Turkey vacation, I will certainly try the towel in the Hamam. Thank you so much for this!
But now to the friendly and incredibly green (yes I repeat myself) city of Ljubljana! We arrived in the afternoon and decided to do a little sightseeing tour of the city.
Along the Ljubljanica river, many cafes and restaurants are settled and it’s totally nice to linger there. My recommendation: Sisters Kurtos, there you get totally delicious ice cream in a Kürtöskalác. We shared the variety Freshy (with ice cream, Greek yogurt, pistachio cream, peaches) for 6 euros… mmmmh yummie!
On the river you will encounter many bridges, especially popular is the dragon bridge Zmajski Most. True to the motto “If you don’t have a photo with the dragon, you haven’t been to Ljubljana”, we directly took the first snapshot in the Slovenian capital.
Passing the Market Square, you get to the landmark of the city: the Three Bridges Tromostovje, which runs towards Preseren Square. In combination with the apricot-colored church in the background, this makes a great photo motif. However, you should bring some patience, because the square is always quite crowded and you always have someone walking in front of the lens.
Parallel to the river runs the shopping street with some restaurants/bars. In the Vinoteka Movia you can try the famous Orange Wine. This is white wine, which is made like red wine.
During the walk, you can look up at the castle all the time. We skipped the visit in this case and went to the rather special Metelkova neighborhood instead. It’s within walking distance of the city center. On the old empty barracks complex, you can find all kinds of street art, which reminded me a lot of LX Factory in Lisbon. I found it absolutely fascinating this time as well.
On the way back we had a delicious pizza at Capriccio Ristopizza and a beer or two at Lajbah Craft Beer Bar and Unicorn Brewery (the freshly tapped Grapefruit Radler was my favorite).
The Goriska Brda region is considered the Slovenian Tuscany! After all the city tours, it was time to relax and discover nature in more detail. This works especially well in the west of Slovenia, for example in the vineyards of the country. Honestly, it would have been much better to make a detour there on the way from Piran to Ljubljana, since it is practically on the way. However, we had already booked some accommodation in advance, so we were not quite as flexible.
The entire region around Brda is totally idyllic. On the way to our accommodation, we had a great view of the Solkan Bridge, the longest railroad bridge in the world, built only of stones. Unfortunately, we could not pull out our camera as fast as we had already passed it.
Our first stop took us to the picturesque mountain village of Smartno. The village is located relatively high, which is why you have a great view of all the vineyards in the region. There is not much going on in the village. There are old buildings, residential houses, hotels, and narrow streets with cobblestones like in former times. Since we arrived in the morning, we had breakfast at Marica. It was really delicious with fresh fruits and homemade jams on delicious croissants. At 15 euros per person, not exactly a bargain, but it was worth it.
The road led us further to the accommodation Pri Marjotu in Kojsko. We were warmly welcomed by the hosts and enjoyed a glass of wine on the terrace with a fantastic view. Next to the terrace are olive groves, orchards, and a small farm with two roosters, a baby calf, and a lovely dog. By the way, the homemade cake at breakfast is outstanding!
Want to taste the wine? We recommend a wine tasting at the Ferdinand Winery. The owners Matjaz and Jasmina take a lot of time to explain everything about wine. The ambiance is excellent and the wine is delicious. Our favorite is the white wine Malvazija. (The cost of the wine tasting is 25 euros per person for 5 wines).
Good photos are best taken at the Gonjace lookout tower, which, by the way, was right next to our accommodation. From up there you have a 360° view over the region. In good weather, you can even see from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea.
Soca valley in Triglav National Park
Yes, the Soca River is in reality as turquoise as in the photos, hard to believe but true! The Soca rises in the Julian Alps in northern Slovenia and flows all the way south to Italy, where it then enters the sea.
We stayed overnight in the town of Bovec, which lies directly on the Soca. The place somehow reminded us of a typical après-ski place with Slovenian folk music and full bars in the evening. Bovec is a paradise for adventurers: rafting, canyoning, kayaking, paragliding – everything is possible! Our canyoning tour was unfortunately canceled due to too strong a current, so we settled for some nice hiking. You can easily spend two days in the Soca Valley and still not have to see everything. Our highlights were the following:
– the Soca Trail is the hiking trail that runs along the Soca River. It is 25 km long and we hiked a part of it. In between, you can always refresh yourself, at least with your feet. The water is ice cold! There are incredibly beautiful viewpoints and photo spots, especially when you walk over the many suspension bridges and look directly at the river and the magnificent Alps. You can take beautiful landscape and nature photos here!
– the Slip Virje waterfall is definitely worth a visit. There is a parking lot nearby, making it a 20-minute walk to the waterfall.Sit down on the big stones and enjoy the view or jump into the cooling water!
– the hike to the highest mountain lake in Slovenia, Lake Krn at 1391 m, is a real challenge. You can park at the mountain hut Dom Dr. Klementa Juga in Lepena. The path is well marked and leads in serpentines through the forest. Don’t be fooled by the difficulty rating “easy”. The path is very steep and full of stones and boulders, you should definitely walk with hiking boots and enough water. We worked up quite a sweat on the 2.5 hour hike! The lake and the landscape full of colorful alpine flowers is very picturesque. Tip: have a picnic on the meadow. Unfortunately, you can not swim there, because the special ecosystem of the lake should be preserved.
With this highlight ended our Slovenia vacation and one thing is for sure: we will be back because this nature, hospitality, and diversity are just great! Did you already have Slovenia on your bucket list or do you have some tips for me? I look forward to your comment.