Until five minutes before we landed I want sure I would make it to Ljubljana at all. A massive thundercloud was stubbornly sat over the airfield and the pilots were talking about alternative airports. In the end, after a nervy landing, I made it to Slovenia about three hours later than expected.
I’d wanted to visit Slovenia after reading the book Feral, which featured an amazing chapter about the resurgence of Slovenia’s natural environment, so it was a great place to meet my girlfriend as she travelled round Europe.
Our first thee nights were in the capital, Ljubljana. After reuniting and leaving my things at the hotel we wandered down to the riverside to visit open kitchen. This is a weekly event on Friday nights throughout summer where local restaurants, food stands, and producers come together at a local market. After checking out the stands and sampling a couple of glasses of wine I picked a salmon burger which was excellent.
The next morning I had planned another food adventure. We met Iva from Ljubljanajam for a food walk around the city. I was really excited about this before I came and it wasn’t a disappointment. We started by exploring the local markets and trying some beautiful fresh produce. As well as showing us food Iva was also telling us more about the city and country. The markets had so much fresh produce from around the country, why can’t we have this at home!?
When I was arranging the food tour I also asked Iva for tips about local restaurants. She recommended Luda so I booked us a table. Hidden away from the main tourist streets this was a real gem, with fresh food creatively cooked. The menu changes weekly to highlight the best produce. I started with courgette with parmesan and walnuts, which, as a courgette fan, was spectacular. My main was prawns with porcini and nectarines, and for dessert I had figs with jasmine ice cream. Both were excellent. Including drinks, the meal was €70 for two, which was an absolute bargain for a real culinary experience.
After the meal we headed up to the castle via funicular. In summer evenings the castle courtyard turns into a cinema so we finished the day with a film.
For the rest of our time in Ljubljana we saw the sites, stopped at cafes and bars, and had more excellent food. We revisited an excellent gelateria from the food tour, and returned to the castle to take in the views. Ljubljana is small and relaxed for a capital city and it had a great vibe. It’s a perfect weekend destination from the UK.
Our next destination was Kobarid. A small town in the Alps, Kobarid sits in the valley of the Soca River, which is famous for it’s amazing blue colour, excellent water sports, and massive trout.
On our first evening we went on a quick hike to a viewpoint above the town. On the map this looked easy, but, this is the alps, it was actually pretty tough. It had started to rain, and afternoon rain showers turned out to be a regular feature of our time in the mountains.
Kobarid was the site of intense fighting in the first world war. The Italians fought a futile campaign against the Austro Hungarian Empire in the mountains. We walked the Kobarid Historical Trail which was a great way to spend a day discovering more of this history. The trail visits ancient settlements, the remains of the trench systems, and the Italian Charnel House where many of the bodies were brought after the war. It also visits a spectacular waterfall within a deep canyon. Being the Alps the scenery was typically incredible. It was hard to imagine intense suffering in such a beautiful and peaceful place.
On our last full day in the valley we got to experience the river close up with some whitewater rafting. The blue water looks so inviting but it’s actually freezing cold! I’d never rafted before, although I’ve used to kayak regularly. Once I got used to the lack of control I really enjoyed it. It was exciting without being too scary or physically demanding and a great new perspective on the local scenery.
On the previous days walk we had watching people jumping from a high rock into the river and I’d casually said ‘I could do that’, so when we stopped at a big rock and were asked if we wanted to jump I had to have a go. It was difficult to climb back down, so we were told if we went up we had to jump. From the water it didn’t look too high but from the top it was a long way down! I’m still not sure if it was the same rock?! After a couple of seconds to think about it I took the plunge!
From Kobarid we headed to Lake Bled via bus then train. This seemed like it was going to be stressful as the times to get from bus to train were very close but in fact it was fine; the train was waiting for the bus to arrive. We’d chosen to get the train journey as it was part of the route from Nova Gorica to Jessnice which was listed as one of the best train journeys you’ve never heard of. It was a nice ride, but I was a little disappointed. It was always pretty but never truly spectacular.
My first impressions of Lake Bled weren’t great. Sure it was scenic but it was also very touristy, with lots of coach tours and massive hotels. It felt like a theme park. The weather had turned and low clouds were blowing in which didn’t help my mood. We visited the castle, which I found underwhelming, and spent the rest of the day hiding from the rain with a few glasses of wine.
The next day the weather had improved and so had my mood. We took the day to walk around the lake – only 6km but with lots of places to stop. Away from the tourist end of the lake it was much nicer. As we made our way around we stopped to swim, then headed up to viewpoint which had been recommended to us.
As in Kobarid, this was’t just a gentle stroll, it was steep and exposed in places, and muddy from the recent rain. In the heavy woods I wondered if we would even be able to see anything when we reached the top.
There was nothing to worry about! A short scramble from the summit we found a truly spectacular view. This was the postcard image of Lake Bled, the church on it’s island, the castle on it’s hill, with the alps rising majestically behind. For me this was a highlight of Bled. There are actually 3 viewpoints, but the one at the very top was the best by far. This was the summit of Velika Osojnica, and can be found from paths at the west end of the lake.
After returning to the shores of the lake and a well deserved beer we got out on the water with stand up paddle boards. This was another first for me and it was surprisingly easy. We had the run of the lake so we paddled around the island along with the local plenta boats.
From Bled I had to return to the airport. Slovenia was everything I expected. Ljubljana is a great little city with excellent food and drink, perfect for a quick break. The alps are the alps, and it was good to see them in a less developed environment than in France. The week was a great mix between the city and the outdoors. This was my first time in Slovenia but it won’t be my last.