I tend to get my travel inspiration from publications I follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. I kept seeing gorgeous photos of lakes and nature and they kept turning out to be taken in Slovenia.
We watched the episode of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” on Ana Roš in Slovenia (here’s a CNN article about that) and that strengthened my interest. It didn’t take long for Slovenia to get added to my “places we will travel” list.
We visited Slovenia for a week during the summer holidays (August 2018) and it was perfect timing. We stayed in Bled and took a day trip to Ljubljana. Especially in Bled, most of the “things to do” are outdoor activities, so summer is an ideal time to go.
Overall, Slovenia was a beautiful country to visit. Everything was clean. The air quality was good. We saw no litter on highways and roads. The nature was beautiful everywhere and outdoor activities were plentiful.
The Ljubljana airport was very easy to navigate. Granted, we were mostly in tourist destinations, but we found all the people to be friendly and inviting. The fact that we didn’t speak any Slovene was not a problem. The use of English was widespread.
The only negative thought I have about our time in Slovenia is that smoking was prevalent. That is the case in many parts of Europe, but in Slovenia it is still allowed in restaurants and cafés, and not even in specially designated areas. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to deal with second hand smoke and it wasn’t pleasant!
The other problem we faced on this trip (though not specific to Slovenia, it’s a constant in our travel) is that we had a “to-do” list much longer than we had time for. We often find ourselves running around like crazy doing things on trips. I get stressed about that and struggle to find a better balance between making the most of our time somewhere and relaxing/resting. I guess what I am really distinguishing is the difference between travelling and vacation.
If I am travelling, I want to see and experience as much of a place as possible. If I am on vacation, I want to relax and unwind and enjoy a peaceful place at a slow pace. We have not been differentiating between the two, and I tend to automatically think that every trip, every travel experience, is also a vacation. We have never been good at just going somewhere on vacation and relaxing. We need to find a way to have both in our lives.
See if you feel as exhausted as I do after reading my summary of what we did!
What We Did
Bled is a resort town centered around Lake Bled. One of the primary things to do is just enjoy the lake! The entire lake is circled by a walking/cycling path, a total distance of six kilometers, so you can enjoy views all the way around on foot or bike.
In addition to renting bikes, there are plenty of places to rent boats, kayaks, SUP boards, or go swimming. If you prefer to sit, you can also take a tourist train around the lake (which we did) or horse-drawn carriages (we did not). We took many walks along the lake, enjoying the scenery. Each day we were there, there were craft markets and food vendors on the Eastern side of the lake, which is also where you can find a small shopping center.
We visited Bled Castle, arriving by foot. There are a few hiking paths from the lake up to the castle and we opted for the “easiest” one that was well maintained with stairs. It was still hundreds of steep stairs. People with mobility issues may want to drive up. There is some parking available at the castle entrance.
At the castle, we enjoyed gorgeous views of the lake and surrounding countryside. We toured the castle’s museum, chapel, iron forge, honey shop, and old-fashioned print shop, where our son was able to press his own, personalized souvenir print. (Okay, “was able to” because we paid for it. But he loved the experience and is very proud of his print. And I think it is a much cooler souvenir than the plastic lizard keychain he had also been eyeing.)
Parish Church of St. Martin
At the base of the path we took to get to the castle, we enjoyed a quick view of the Parish Church of St. Martin. It’s a beautiful church that adds to the picturesque setting. We passed it on a Sunday while a service was being held.
My son, ahead of us, and awfully quick on his feet when he wants to be, has apparently become accustomed to entering churches when we travel, because he headed inside before I had a chance to blink and yell for him to stop. We spend a lot of time visiting churches as tourists, but not a lot of time in them as parishioners. Still, in that moment I found my ability to pray – praying for him to not make a scene – while my husband rushed in to grab him before he got too far. Luckily the church was crowded that day and he didn’t get too far. We got him out unnoticed, service unbothered. Travel is always exciting with a curious, adventurous, fearless (oblivious?) eight-year-old.
Bled Island and Church of St. Mary
If you’ve seen an image of Bled, it has most likely been of Bled Island and its Church of St. Mary. It is one of the first images I saw of Slovenia, one that everyone describes as a fairy tale.
We took the traditional Pletne (pletna) boat ride to Bled Island. These are flat bottomed, wooden boats that are rowed by their operators. Our navigator explained that they are usually family owned and operated, but it kind of seemed like to me that they were all being operated by the same “family.” He also entertained us with facts about the area, claiming that the country is the second most corrupt country in the world, second only to Africa. Seeing as how Africa isn’t a country, I decided to take everything he said with a grain of salt. Still, if his corruption facts are even partly accurate, my theory about one “family” being in charge might be as well.
Once on the island, we had about 45 minutes to tour the church and other parts of the island. Local folklore says that if you ring the church bell three times you can make a wish. Of course, we had to do it. You can also climb the bell tower and see the inner workings of its pendulum clock. We were left with just enough time to visit the gift shop before boating back to shore.
Another great view of the lake can be seen at Straza Bled, an adventure park with a toboggan sled, ziplines, and other adventure activities. In the winter they have skiing and snowboarding. We enjoyed the chair lift ride to the top and the mountain toboggan down.
It was a little different from the mountain slide we rode near Stuttgart, but equally entertaining. They were a bit stricter about filming while riding though, so I don’t have video footage to share.
Vintgar Gorge is a beautiful place to walk/hike and enjoy nature. The guidebooks we had were a little short on details about how to get there. Some say it is within walking distance of Lake Bled, and technically that is correct, but it is far enough, and on busy enough roads, that we didn’t want to do it with a child. There are a few parking areas along the way, too, so you can add any number of distances to your hike on your way to the gorge depending on where you want to start your journey. We chose to go all the way to the car park near the entrance and just walk the gorge’s trail itself.
The trail is well maintained and often is on raised wooden decking and bridges. It was crowded in parts, but still enjoyable.
Lake Bohinj is just a short drive from Lake Bled. It is equally beautiful and picturesque and has the benefit of being less developed and less crowded. We spent time there swimming and kayaking instead of on Lake Bled.
There are a few places to rent kayaks. We used Alpinsport. For swimming, there are a few areas along the lake where there are larger rocky beaches that make a perfect entry point. Unlike at Bled, you can swim from any point along Lake Bohinj. Apparently, some of the beaches are designated for naturists, which seems a worthy warning to share, in case you are a prude like me. It took us a little while to take the plunge into the alpine waters, but once we did it was very refreshing!
There is a small shopping center at the lake. One of the shops also has a post office, so we sent a postcard to some relatives and my husband shopped for some craft beers.
Slap Savica (Savica Waterfall)
Slap Savica is a waterfall near Bohinj that is another destination that you can walk/hike to from any given point depending on how long you want to make your journey. Again, with a child and other plans in our day, we parked at the main entrance and just walked the main trail up to the waterfall.
Postojnska Jama (Postojna Cave)
Postojnska Jama (Postojna Cave) is about 100 kilometers from Lake Bled. We were comparing it to the Skocjan Caves because we only had time to visit one. We chose Postojna based on personal recommendations, and because they use small trains to take you into the caves and that looked fun! It’s a 2km train ride into the caves, 1km guided tour, and 2km train ride back out.
We bought our tickets in advance which I recommend because the ticket line looked to be at least an hour wait. You purchase your tickets for a scheduled entrance time. The tours are offered in multiple languages. I was told (by a native Slovenian who has tried) that Skocjan Caves does not sell tickets in advance, so that was an added benefit of choosing Postojna.
Once inside, we enjoyed the train ride, spectacular limestone formations, and olms (lizard fish). We’ve toured a few caves in the past but we have never seen anything like these formations. It always amazes me how much my brain wants to make faces out of the shapes and shadows. It’s a bit creepy, but cool! It is also literally cool down there, meaning cold, so as they suggest, do take layers to stay warm. If you forget, they have jackets you can rent.
Radovlijca is one of the older villages in Slovenia and is a short drive from Bled. It is apparently the capital of beekeeping in the country and they have a museum about beekeeping, though we didn’t visit it. We did visit the Gingerbread Museum, which is really just a room where you can see how gingerbread is made and decorated, and of course, buy beautiful items! They also give workshops and the building also has a restaurant and hotel.
We enjoyed walking in Radovlijca and looking at old frescoes on homes. Apparently, the town has escaped harm from wars and other disasters so some of the architecture here has been virtually unchanged for centuries.
I also enjoyed browsing in a book store, antique store, and a regional food and produce shop, 18sedem3, (whose shopkeeper was especially nice and friendly). We treated ourselves to some snacks and an afternoon ice cream and beer before leaving.
Skofja Loka is another one of the oldest villages in Slovenia. Its historic city center is a protected monument. The old town has a castle, Capuchin monastery, churches, and more. We walked around, again enjoying the historic buildings and frescoes, and had lunch.
Skofja Loka is not far from the Ljubljana airport. Since we had a late afternoon flight home, it was a perfect spot to pass a few hours on our last day in Slovenia, seeing a little bit more before we had to leave.
I wrote a separate post about what we did during our day trip to Ljubljana. Here’s a link to that.
What We Ate
Slovenia has emerged as a foodie destination with award winning chefs offering locally sourced, farm/garden to table meals (like Ana Roš mentioned above). We didn’t venture out to any world-renowned restaurants, but we did enjoy some good meals. I was excited to try some regional specialties since this area offers some dishes we haven’t tried before. We definitely saw the influence of Balkan countries in the food offerings, but also Italian and Bavarian influences, which all makes sense geographically.
Homemade lemonade seemed popular everywhere and we tried it a few different places. But lemonade here means something different than what we are used to, adding a third definition of “lemonade” to our vocabulary.
In the States, lemonade refers to a drink made from lemon juice, water, and sugar, so it is tangy and sweet. We’ve learned from our travels that in the UK, “lemonade” more often refers to a citrus soda like Sprite or 7Up. In Slovenia, “lemonade” was simply lemon juice and water (sometimes with other added fruits or veggies like berries or cucumber), but no sweetener. It was good but took some getting used to!
We ate all our breakfasts at our hotel as it was included in the price. They served a pretty conventional continental and European breakfast. The only regional differences we saw were pastries, and sometimes pasta (they called it gnocchi, but it was more what I would call tortellini) which felt like an odd choice for breakfast.
We enjoyed hot pretzels from a market stand in Bled that was also selling hot corn on the cob. A street food we hoped to try but never did was burek, like Turkish borek, a pizza-like dough with different topping options. Something else we never found to try was potica, a supposedly popular pastry roll with nuts.
Our first meal was a late lunch/early dinner at the Panorama Restaurant, one of a few restaurants right on the lake with beautiful views. We all picked traditional Slovenian dishes that were very good. We tried local sausages, cevapcici (meat balls/sticks), struklji (dumplings with curd cheese), and Lake Bled’s own kremna rezina cake.
We had another lunch at one of the oldest pubs in Bled, Gostilna Pri Planincu. Here we also tried some regional specialties, comparing two types of schnitzel. My day was made with an appetizer of fried cheese. On the side, we enjoyed more struklji dumplings. Thanks to the gentle prodding of our friendly server, even our son branched out and tried pasta with carbonara sauce (yes, new to him) and he loved it.
We had dinner at the Park Café, home to the original Bled Cream Cake (kremna rezina), though since the restaurant owners also own many other restaurants on the lake, I think you can get the original recipe in many places! Here I enjoyed trout. I don’t usually go for fish on a menu, but in Slovenia I knew I should!
I also had fish when we had dinner at Okarina. This was a nice restaurant with a variety of options on the menu if you are looking for something other than the local favorites. My husband had ribs and my son had pasta. One of Okarina’s claims to fame is that Paul McCartney has eaten there. If it’s good enough for him…
Our last dinner in Bled was at Vila Preseren, another restaurant right on the lake with a great view. Here we had pasta and a local meat and cheese platter.
There were a few nights we found ourselves opting to eat in our hotel room, having purchased food from local markets. Some of our lunches were so heavy, we didn’t always need big dinners!
One thing we did eat often was ice cream. Many nights were capped with an ice cream cone and a walk around the lake. We always got our ice cream at Bled Sladoglednica ice cream parlor. Owned by the same company that owns several hotels and restaurants on the Lake, this parlor serves the ice cream flavor unique to Bled, sladogled. This flavor won Bled the title of “world’s best ice cream destination in 2017” from an Irish marketing agency. Basically, just a fun marketing award, but the ice cream was good, so I won’t get too sassy about the marketing gimmick. Seriously, try it.
Some of our meals were enjoyed while on the road for some of our day trips and excursions. In Radovlijca, we enjoyed sampling lectar (gingerbread) from the Gingerbread museum. We also enjoyed a snack of ice cream and beer there at Kavarna & Slascicarna Vidic, a pleasant café in the ground floor of a bed and breakfast. I loved sitting inside there and admiring the old architecture of the building.
We ate two lunches in Bohinj. The first was a pizza place called Kaza, which does not appear to have any online presence to link to, and doesn’t even show up on Google maps, but it is right next to the Alpinsport offices.
The second lunch in Bohinj was at the Hotel Center Restaurant. Here we had one of the HUGE lunches I mentioned earlier. My son had the pljeskavica, an enormous meat patty, and my husband and I split a mixed grill of vegetables and meats (sausages, cevapcici, schnitzels, port chops, and more). This mixed grill option was popular on menus here and was both delicious and gut-busting.
After exploring the Postojna Caves, we had a lunch of burgers at Magdalena Food & Fun, one of the on-site restaurants at the park.
Our final meal in Slovenia was a lunch of pizzas in Skofja Loka at Jesharna. They had a large variety of pizzas to chose from, or you could build your own. The homemade crust was delicious. Our server was very nice, and my husband enjoyed a nice conversation with him about the growth, and subsequent shrinking, but still fairly strong movement of craft beer brewing in Slovenia.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in Lake Bled at the Hotel Savica Garni. This is one of the Sava Hotels and Resorts, a group that seems to own many of the hotels and restaurants in the area. As a perk of staying there, we received coupons and discounts at a few attractions and vendors in Bled, presumably owned by the same management group. This particular hotel seems to be their “family” hotel offering. It was very family friendly with suites, daily planned activities for children and families, and a playground and outdoor play equipment. We were able to use the pools and spa services in the hotel next door, which we did practically every day. The pool was huge and included a water slide and many hot tub and jets features.
We enjoyed our stay here and appreciated that it was convenient to the Lake and to the local shopping center. I would recommend it if you want convenience and full-service amenities. If you are looking either to save money or be “off the grid” more, I would recommend looking into some of the smaller, more independent B&Bs in Bled, Bohinj, or surrounding villages. There were a lot.
What We Missed
Even though we felt like we were constantly on the go, we still didn’t check everything off our to-do list in Slovenia. Another week would have given us more time and flexibility.
In Bled alone, we hoped to do more activities like cycling, SUPing, or boating. Horseback rides are also available nearby, which I would have enjoyed, and of course, more time in the spa would have been nice.
I wanted to visit at least one other small village nearby, Kropa, known for its history of iron forging. You see a lot of iron in the architecture and ornamental design in the country and apparently much if it is (or had been) done in Kropa.
While touring the Postojna Caves, we decided not to add on a trip to the nearby Predjama Castle. It looks cool, but we read there wasn’t too much to see once inside. We realized we’d be going more for the photo opportunity than anything else and decided to save ourselves the time. It would have been cool to see, but we had to make some choices like this to avoid complete exhaustion! Also, as mentioned, we chose the Postojna Caves over the Skocjan Caves, but heard great things about them, too.
It would have been nice to spend more time exploring nature in Triglav National Park and/or the Soča River Valley. My husband really wanted to see the source of the Soča River, and also wanted to drive the Vršič Pass.
Finally, we discussed trips further away to Lipica to see the famous (amongst horse people, anyway) Lipica Stud Farm, to the Piran Peninsula to see the coast, or even into Croatia (this tavern would be a fun, quirky place to stop for a beer!), but we just didn’t have enough time.
Alas, there is never enough time to see it all, so Croatia and other regions of Slovenia will just have to be put on our wish list of future places to travel!