Last Updated on January 6, 2023 by Goya
Sure, you can drive from one end of Slovenia to the other in 4-5 hours. But don’t let that fool you, this little country is jam-packed with places to see and things to try.
During this trip, we only had the car for 4 days and there were a couple of things that we had to do: First, we had to come back to Ljubljana every evening (no overnight stays), and second, on one of those days we had to go to Maribor to see a friend. So, the breakdown of our day trips and some of our destinations were perhaps a little unusual, but they proved to be a fantastic introduction to the extremely rich cultural and culinary heritage and great outdoors of Slovenia.
On the way to Slovenia, since we were going to be there for well over a week, I thought this would be the trip where I would get to see all the places I couldn’t see the first time around. But once we were on the road and in the moment, I quickly realised how naive that was and how much this country truly had to offer and I fell in love with it even more!
Hopefully, with this post, you will too 🙂
Day 1: Bled, Bohinj and Slap Savica
With its deep turquoise lake surrounded by Julian Alps and forests, picture-postcard church plopped in the middle on an islet (Assumption of Maria Church on Bled Island), and a 12th century castle perched atop a steep cliff above the lake (Bled Castle), it is no wonder why Bled is Slovenia’s most popular tourist attraction.
Whether you opt for a shoreline walk around the lake (1 to 1h 30 mins), a traditional pletna (a traditional gondola that can only be navigated by a trained pletna oarsman, or “pletnar”) or boat ride to the island, a climb up to the terrace of the Bled Castle, or whether you simply go for a swim or stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP) on the lake, you are bound to be amazed by the beauty of your surroundings.
We started our day in Bled with a stroll to Mlino to take a pletna ride to the Bled Island, where you can spend some time visiting the Assumption of Maria Church, ring the “wishing bell” and climb up to the lookout tower with pendulum clock. The views from all around the island are exquisite, so in my opinion, the lookout tower is not worth the entry fee, especially since the view from the tower is mostly obstructed by the wires they put up for safety (how dare they, right? :)).
While still on the island, you can try a potica (the traditional Slovenian nut roll) or enjoy an ice cream like we did. The walnut and pumpkin oil ice cream was divine!
Once our lovely pletnar took us back to the mainland, we continued our walk around the lake, past the happy campers, swimmers and their dogs around Velika Zaka and Olimpijski Veslaski Center Bled. (Of note: We didn’t do it but apparently, a quick detour to Ojstrica viewpoint is well worth the trip). At every little nook and cranny, we could see people setting up their deck chairs, chilling under the sun or jumping in the refreshing waters of Bled.
Our walk soon led us to the staircase that takes you up to the Bled Castle. The climb was not too bad, but I’d recommend not doing it in the middle of the day, when it’s 32 degrees (you know, like we did :)). The views from the castle were absolutely fantastic, from the blue of the lake, to the church on the island (which, perhaps not surprisingly, looked a lot less imposing from this angle), to the backdrop of Julian Alps and the Karawanks speckled with paragliders slowly making their way down to earth.
While we could easily look at this view forever, we were starting to get a little hungry. With our next stop still some drive away and unsure where to stop along the way, we decided to have a quick lunch in Bled, which consisted of a pršut (Slovenian prosciutto) sandwich and Blejska kremšnita (Bled cream cake) from the nearby Market by the Lake, which we enjoyed on the greenery next to the Heart of Bled, overlooking once again the beautiful church on the island.
If you can, I would definitely recommend spending at least a day, or perhaps even stay overnight, to really appreciate the chilled vibe and beauty of this place. However, if you’re only in Bled for half a day, like we were, then you can follow our footsteps here:
Located within the Bohinj Valley of the Julian Alps, 30 minutes away from Bled, lies Lake Bohinj with all its majesty. True, it doesn’t have a castle, a pretty island in the middle, or a dessert named after it, but it has indisputable natural beauty and authenticity.
Bohinj is a region not a town, so there is no Bohinj town centre. But if there was one, it would probably be Ribčev Laz. This is where you can find most of the shops/amenities and the beautiful Church of St John the Baptist. While great for renting boats and SUPs, this is also the busiest part of Bohinj. So if you’re after a chill day by the lake, I suggest you keep driving towards Ukanc, and stop when you see a pit stop on the right. (Of note: It’s not marked on Google Maps, but you can find it near “4265 Ukanc”).
Church of St John the Baptist
This little spot by the lake has been the highlight of our day. I don’t know whether it was the feeling we got jumping into crystal clear waters after a long, hot day; the music in the air (courtesy of a fellow traveller and his guitar); or simply the serene beauty of our surroundings… But it was truly wonderful!
While in the area, you can also visit Savica Waterfall (Slap Savica) located roughly 15 mins away from Lake Bohinj. You can either walk or drive there from Ukanc, and once there climb for 10-20 minutes (depending on your ability). It is an easy, clearly marked path, so you cannot get lost. The views afforded are definitely worth the minimal entry fee (3€), although perhaps not the overall total with the parking fee.
If you chose to walk there, you might want to stop at the restaurant at the bottom. And grab something to eat/drink… Beer or Štruklji (traditional Slovenian cheese dumplings), maybe?
To go back to Ljubljana, we took the long way through forests and villages (2+ hours) instead of the main road (about 1h), past Škofja Loka (a charming small medieval town that is definitely worth a visit), and were awarded with gorgeous views like this:
QUICK TIP:Staying in the Julian Alps for more than a couple of nights? Then you might want to invest in The Julian Alps Cards, which give you free or discounted access to transport and various attractions around your selected region.
Bled, Bohijn, and Slap Savica are all very close to one another. So if you wanted, you could see them all in one day (as we did). But if you have time, I’d definitely recommend spending more time in each:
Day 2: Ptuj and Maribor
One of my closest friends is from Maribor. So when we both miraculously found ourselves in Slovenia at the same time, it was inevitable for me and Mister to pay her and her beau a visit in her hometown.
As she was busy with work in the morning, we decided to visit somewhere on the way before meeting her for lunch, and that place was… Ptuj!
As a cute medieval town with ornate monasteries and a hilltop castle, it was definitely a nice little stop on our way to Maribor, but I have to admit, it was not necessarily buzzing. Perhaps it was unfortunate that we were there in the morning, because it definitely looked like something was going on… Some sort of a the-day-after-night-out-haze in the air. In fact, we later heard that this is where the annual festival of Days of Poetry and Wine take place. So perhaps we were just a little too late, or too early, to the party.
Still, we had a quick walk around the city, which took us from the Ptuj Castle, to the Dominican Monastery, the bridge over the Drava river, the Minorite Monastery, the Town Hall, and finally the Orpheus monument. From there we walked up the quiet, cobblestoned and arched Grajska ulica back to the Ptuj Castle where we had left our car.
(Of note: The castle is also a regional museum, where you can check out musical instruments, weapons, glass paintings and traditional carnival masks.)
The journey from Ptuj to Maribor, the nation’s second largest city, was about 30 mins, which was perfect because once again we were starving!
Our first stop was City Terasa, serving Adriatic cuisine with the views of Drava River and Pohorje. The menu was extensive both in terms of food (although not very vegetarian/vegan friendly) and wine. And it even included some dishes cooked on the Big Green Egg outside (which certainly raised Mister’s heart rate by a couple of beats). We went for one of the many seafood options available (except for my friend who is vegan), all of which were washed down with several bottles of beautiful Rumeni Muškat.
After our meal, we headed over to Lent on the riverside and stopped at the Old Vine House, home of one of the oldest vines in the world (planted over four centuries ago) which can be found winding its way up the front of the building. After a quick tour of the museum inside, we were sat outside, facing the Drava River, to start the wine tasting.
The tasting here was not prescriptive. There were no flights, no set menus. You could choose and try whatever you want, or you could simply let yourself be guided by your host(ess). We gave a few pointers as to what we like and got some amazing recommendations. Of those, two simply had to come back home with us: Marof’s Sauvignon Blanc from Prekmurje, and Kren’s ice wine, or Ledeno Vino.
We continued our great inebriated tour through Maribor with a walk through Glavni trg, Maribor’s medieval marketplace. Dotted with cute cafes and restaurants all around, you can see that this is the beating heart of the city. You really can’t miss it, as this square also houses the Maribor Town Hall with its beautiful turquoise church spire and a massive plague pillar erected to celebrate the end of the plague epidemic that had claimed a third of the city’s population.
We followed the beautiful, endless rows of pastel-coloured buildings, walking past the shops on Gosposka Ulica and Jurčičeva Cesta, a lively medieval square called Grajski trg (perfect for enjoying a Hugo Spritz while watching people go about their day), the Maribor Regional Museum and a cathedral (Stolna župnija Maribor), as well as some other stops closer to our host’s heart.
And because we’d barely had a sip all day (!), we decided to stop at another wine bar before we head back: LeVino Wine Bar.
We left Maribor thinking we need to come back soon – this time to stay over and really take advantage of its excellent location as a gateway to Podravje, the largest of Slovenia’s three wine-growing regions. I hear that fireworks at Trg Leona Stuklja on New Year’s Eve are also pretty spectacular.. So who knows, maybe our next trip can be sooner than we think!
In case you’re wondering, this is what half a day of drinking in Maribor looks like:
Day 3: Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle and Piran
Our most ambitious day trip of this journey yet, our day started with a 40 minute drive down to Postojna Cave from Ljubljana, followed by a 15 min drive to Predjama Castle (you can also take a shuttle from one to the other) and an hour-long drive to Piran.
While individually the distances may seem small, considering the amount of things you can see and do in each of these places (especially in Piran and its surroundings) and the fact that we had to go back to Ljubljana to catch an open-air musical at 8 pm, we definitely had not allow ourselves enough time to appreciate one or two, let alone all three, of these places. And I have to say, that was mea culpa trying to fit everything in one day!
But it was beautiful nonetheless, and it definitely gave us a good sense of what is out there and what we would like to come back to see.
The Karst Plateau or the Karst region is a plateau that stretches from the beautiful Gulf of Trieste to the fertile, wine-rich Vipava Valley, where the porous limestone is constantly moulded by the rivers, ponds and lakes above and below the ground. As a result, it is home to many magnificent, complex subterranean structures, each one carved, formed and reformed over eons.
Of those, the most well known ones are Škocjan Caves (a UNESCO world heritage site) and Postojna Cave. While both are beautiful in their own right, during this trip, we opted for Postojna Cave, as it is also very close to Predjama Castle.
The caves can only be visited with a guide, so it’s important to be at the entrance ahead of your allocated time. Especially as visitor entry/exit is only possible with a cool electric train:
Once in the cave and off the train, all you have to do is wrap up warm and follow your tour guide along an easy footpath… And let yourself be mesmerised by the endless beauty of this subterranean paradise. Or the uniqueness of its inhabitants; like Olm (Proteus anguinus), a blind aquatic salamander, which can go a decade without food!
Nine kilometres from Postojna, lies the once-impregnable Predjama Castle – the home of the renowned robber baron Erazem Lueger. Perched at the mouth of a cavern halfway up a 123-metre cliff, it is definitely a unique sight and worth a visit while in the area:
Ah Piran! I will never stop kicking myself for not coming here earlier and for longer.
Imagine walking in the most perfect little harbour town, surrounded by Venetian Gothic architecture, getting lost in quaint winding alleyways, with a glorious sun and the sea breeze on your face…
Watching the town from the grounds of hilltop St George’s Cathedral. Then making your way down to centre, listening to the harpist on the street…
Stopping for a little handmade souvenir at Nika’s Tiny House or Piran salt at Soline…
Or until you see your favourite wine bar… Or the smell of seafood from a nearby restaurant (Fritolin Pri Cantini or Pirat maybe?) tempts you…
Piran can offer you all of these in just a couple of hours. But if you are anything like me, I doubt this will be enough. So don’t make the same mistake Mister and I made, and stay here a little longer. Maybe spend the night, or pay a visit to the other towns (Portorož, Izola, Koper), salt pans and national parks nearby…
Need some inspiration to design your itinerary? Check out this list of things to do in Piran by Wander-Lust. I have already bookmarked it for the next time!
Day 4: Tolmin, Kobarid, Soča Valley, Goriška Brda
After the madness of yesterday, I promised Mister a calm(er) day. So, we started the day with a walk through The Tolmin Gorge at the entrance of the Triglav National Park.
It is an easy-ish trail snaking through deep river canyons peppered with beautiful rock formations before looping in around itself with the help of a suspension bridge. It is easy to follow too, thanks to the map handed upon entry and the numbers along the trail.
Some of the famous sights include Bear’s Head (Medvedova glava), Dante’s Cave, and The Devil’s Bridge.
From Tolmin, we head to Kobarid, the gastronomic Mecca of Slovenia and Soca Valley… And of course, home to Hiša Franko by Ana Roš.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, in this case) we don’t have a reservation. But to be honest, even if we did, we are not exactly dressed for a Michelin starred restaurant at this point. Nor are we really looking to spend three hours of daylight on a restaurant. Having said that, it’s definitely on the list for next time! 🙂
(Of note: Hiša Franko also is a guesthouse. So you can enjoy a delightful dinner with all the wine pairings, and not worry about driving back.)
Instead, we opt for a lovely meal at Hisa Polonka where we try:
- Idrijski žlikrofi (traditional Slovenian dumplings originating from Idrija) with wild garlic
- Lamb bakalca (a rich Idrijan stew from) with homemade gnocci
- Kobariški štruklji (or Kobarid dumplings; a traditional dessert made of walnuts and served warm)
Imagine green, rolling hills everywhere the eyes can see, with every hillside blanketed with vineyards and orchards. With views like that and a reputation as the country’s foremost wine-growing areas, it is not hard to see why Goriška Brda is called the “Tuscany of Slovenia”.
Wine tasting is the main activity in this part of the country. And the biggest provider of tours and tastings is the wine cooperative Vinska Klet Goriška Brda, which also houses the largest wine cellar in Slovenia.
We had booked the last tasting of the day, so we had the whole place to ourselves. It was a wonderful way to end our day, enjoying the wine, cheese…
…. And of course, the most beautiful sunset on the way back:
I honestly cannot wait to go back to Slovenia and spend more time there. Mister and I already have a huge list of places to go and things to see/do. And it includes more day trips from Ljubljana, like:
- Spend a couple of days in Piran, with day trips to Isola and Koper
- Dinner and overnight stay at Hiša Franko
- Stay at the breathtaking eco-resort Garden Village Bled with a river running through it
- Water adventures, kayaking and rafting on the River Soča
If you get there before us and try any of these, do let me know. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you!
Lots of love,
Goya Galeotta © – www.goyagaleotta.com | Tom Dymond © – www.tomdymond.co.uk