We were in Slovenia for so short a period of time that there’s little I can say about it than you have to visit, and I have to go back.
Laura had told me years ago that I would love Slovenia: rolling mountain ranges, nature, outdoors activities like hiking and cycling, good beer, handsome villages. Of course, she was right.
Kacey, Allison, and I flew into Ljubljana after a grueling 11-hour flight from JFK to Istanbul. (A side note on JFK: flights may be cheaper out of this airport, but it took us 2 hours to get there and Kacey bravely left her car in an off-site lot called Aardwolf, so we decided we’d fly out of Newark from now on.)
We had an 8-hour layover in sweaty Istanbul, and then we were in the air for an hour or so before descending into Slovenia.
Slovenia is one of those places you know is going to be breathtaking as soon as you catch glimpses of it from the plane window. We picked up our rental car from the airport and proceeded to immediately get lost.
Our GPS urged us to make a left off the first roundabout, but that exit was blocked due to construction. We ended up trying to manually reroute ourselves and wound up on someone’s farm. Still, the views were stunning, with late afternoon sun streaming golden through grey clouds, and mountains on all sides. There are worse places you could get lost.
The drive to Jesenice, our first stop on the trip, was equally scenic, with small villages springing up every so often with steepled churches and lazy water mills along rivers. It was something straight out of a Disney movie, where you imagined everyone knew everyone else, and we wondered what people did if they needed emergency medical aid.
Our first AirBnB was a renovated wine cellar. We found it fairly easily and parked our car in a lot a short walk away. The wine cellar, we all agreed, had a degree of unmet potential. Down a short flight of stairs, the cellar boasted white brick archways and…well, that’s about it.
Three beds were spread out in the main room, with a sink in a small room off to our left and a toilet and shower around the corner at the other end of the room. The shower, it should be said, had no curtain and was as much a part of the bathroom as the toilet. Walking back from the shower, Allison bumped into the wall and knocked a large piece of plywood from where it hung, revealing a deep hole.
There was also a closet with discarded objects and a creaky staircase that led to a door that led someplace else. It had character, but the character may have been a ghost.
By the time we got settled, it was nearly 10pm, so we walked around the corner to a traditional Slovenian restaurant for dinner. Just kidding. It was a Mexican-inspired restaurant with a giant chili pepper outside, but it was one of the highest-rated restaurants on TripAdvisor for the area.
And, let’s be honest. Anywhere I can get a beer after a long day is fine by me.
I woke up early the next morning to run. It was raining, a cool mist that turned into a steady rain by the time I finished. Still, it was a nice way to get a feel of the town. I showered – and left the bathroom soaked from the door to the toilet – and then headed to the coffee shop to get some coffee for us before we set out for the day.
Our first stop was Lake Bled, because it’s Lake Bled. My friend, who had just been there a day before, had posted a photo on Instagram of her rowing a boat, the sun shining off the sparkling blue water.
We drove into Lake Bled to find it enshrouded in cloud that veiled the mountains and the small island church in the middle of the lake. Hoping to outlast the rain, we headed for breakfast at the swanky Cafe Belvedere, which offered us a 16 euro buffet that included Prosecco and a chilly view of the lake.
All of us were wearing workout clothes and completely unprepared for the weather. Upon seeing Allison, shivering in a tank top, the waitress said, “Do you want me to bring you a blanket?”
We opted for the fizzy warmth of mimosas.
We walked around the lake to inquire about boat rentals, but the sign on the rental booth said CLOSED DUE TO BAD WEATHER, so we retreated to the car and headed to our next stop, Bohinj.
We hadn’t planned on going to Bohinj, but the Sixt agent who had rented us the car the day before swore it was more beautiful and less touristy than Bled, so we added it to the list.
It was a dubious drive, as our GPS sent us out into the countryside, where the road wound through beautiful – but empty – fields and mountains. A tiny hamlet of a village would appear, and then nothing.
“I don’t know if there’s a lake up here,” Kacey said after driving for about 30 minutes. “If you look at the GPS, there’s no blue circle or anything.”
Out the window, I spotted a sign that simply said LAKE, and an arrow pointing in the direction we were heading.
We decided to tough it out and see where we wound up, which was a dirt and gravel parking lot with a map near the split-rail fence. I squatted down to read the map and noticed immediately a web of hiking trails and a photo of the lake.
“Look! I found the lake!” I cried triumphantly. Kacey and Allison, who were standing behind me, pointed ahead and said, “Uh…look up.”
Behold! The lake.
Bohinj was exactly as the Sixt agent had promised. Long, winding trails around a beautiful, quiet lake. Where Lake Bled’s lake paths were crowded with tourists, these paths were traveled by the occasional couple and, immediately after we arrived, a loud tour group.
Soon, people were swimming in the lake as we circled it on the dirt path. I suddenly wanted to join them, but Kacey reminded me that we had one more stop on the day’s itinerary, which was Vintgar Gorge.
Since the rain had tapered off, though, we sat at a cafe/bar on a dock overlooking the lake, where we indulged in 3 Euro Prosecco and 1 euro white wine. These are prices I can get used to.
Vintgar Gorge, a short drive from Bohinj, offered an easy hike along wooden paths down to a waterfall. Even with overcast skies, the rocks and rivers were beautiful. With wide ferns and overgrowth, it reminded us of Jurassic Park. Minus the raptors.
The pathways were narrow, so in certain spots you had to give way to other groups of gorge-gawking tourists, but even that wasn’t so bad.
That’s the thing about Slovenia. It has somehow managed to remain off the beaten path, so much so that it’s main attractions aren’t crawling with mobs of people. This is a place I could – and will – come back to.
But for now, it was off to Zagreb.