Somehow Slovenia made it to our list of destinations only 1 week before booking the adventure. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but Whitney was reading a few articles about Croatia and we ended up going to Slovenia. I guess that’s part of the freedom of backpacking. Anyway, we purchased a train ticket from Budapest to Ljubljana where we would rent a car and drive into the Julian Alps. Excitedly we were ready to get off the beaten path and outside to enjoy nature again. Whitney found a nice hostel near Lake Bled where we could stay a couple nights then make a small road trip through the mountains and back to Ljubljana to return our car and head to Croatia. So there’s the logistics of our adventure…now on to the story!
Our train arrived to Ljubljana early in the afternoon. We loaded into our rental car, set the GPS and sped off to Lake Bled. It turned out to be only an hour drive from the city. As we were driving we noticed that the weather may not cooperate with us for our entire stay, but we would still make the most of it.
Soon we are passing through the small village of Lake Bled and eventually pulled up to Jazz Hostel and Apartments. We met the manager and owner at the front desk where he gave us his comical spiel of the hostel, the town and most of the local area. Complete with some tips, restaurant recommendations, coupons, and a map detailing the must do adventures of the area, we settled into our room. Once we finished checking in on our social media and deleting our junk emails, our stomachs were growling. We headed to a recommended restaurant by the hostel manager holding a coupon for a 10% discount.
The rain seemed to be holding off when we finished dinner, so we decided to get a little walking in as we’d been sitting on our rear ends for most of the travel day. We began along the path leading around the edge of the lake and later veered off and up the steep steps to Bled Castle which overlooks the lake. The lights cast on the walls drew us to the top on that dark night. We found it essentially closed except for a small restaurant, so we sort of snuck around within the castle walls to see what we could see. With the still overcast weather, we couldn’t see much. It was still quite a fun little nighttime excursion.
We awoke the next morning excited to see the area, but sadly the rain was pouring down. Slowly we gathered our cameras and raincoats, hoping the rain would stop. We had breakfast at the hostel bar for a few Euro then set off with our raincoats to enjoy our day rain or shine, dry or not. We headed back to the Bled Castle for daytime views, but could only see it from the outside. Apparently the courtyard within the walls (where we spent time the night before) was supposed to be paid entry. We had no interest in seeing the inside of the tiny castle especially for 10 Euros. Instead we took the pathways around the castle to get some of the gorgeous views. Unfortunately the trail with the best views was closed for renovation so we continued back down to the lake. As we hiked down, the rain picked up. Our raincoats were doing little in the pouring rain, but we were determined not to hide in our rooms. Instead we rented a rowboat at the lake dock and took a little ride out to Bled Island to see the Church of the Assumption of Maria. We were absolutely drenched within minutes, but I was still enjoying myself. We were the only rowboat on the lake except for an actual rowing team who appeared to be practicing as we passed by.
We slowly made it to the island, tied up the boat and headed up to the check out the church. As soon as we reached the top of the island, we saw a nice little café and thought we could definitely use a coffee and at least dry off for a few moments. We sat down ordered a cappuccino for me and a tea for Whitney with a couple slices of their homemade cakes. A nice little treat.
As we were leaving the café the rain seemed to be finally letting up. Blue skies started to peek through the distant clouds and the day seemed to be taking a turn for the better. I paddled us back to the dock just in time to complete our 2hr rental window.
The next and probably the top thing to do outside of enjoying the lake itself is to take a little trip to the stunning Vintgar Gorge. We momentarily debated walking or driving the nearly 6km to the gorge and not surprisingly ended up walking it. The skies were clearing making it a very pleasant hike. It took about 90 minutes to get there, going through a few off the beaten path roads. We got lunch at a restaurants right before we entered the park (it was the only one, and I don’t remember the name) and then paid the small entrance fee to the gorge pathway. There is a well maintained wooden pathway clinging onto many of the twists and turns of this narrow gorge. It was a beautiful walk and although it was a little crowded, I think the rain kept most people away that day. The trail ends at the top of a small waterfall, which is a confusing place to end, however we found a couple accessory pathways and snapped a couple pictures of the falls before heading back through the gorge and home from there.
That night, we decided to take up the offer to dig into the “all you can eat” BBQ buffet at our hostel for only 7 euro. Nothing can beat that price. We settled into a table with other fellow travelers and shared our experiences with each other.
We checked out early the next morning to headed off on our road trip through the Julian Alps and circling back to Ljubljana for the night. We had a handful of places we wanted to see along the way and hoped to make it to Lake Bohinj before finishing the trip.
As we were setting off, I quickly skimmed the GPS map and saw a handful of tiny roads that would take us on a more scenic route and avoid the highway before getting the only road crossing over to the other side of Triglav National Park. I made a few turns down a narrow road then noticed what looked like mud scattered all over. As I turned the next corner, there was a huge cow standing in the middle of the road with a bell ringing on his collar while staring at us as if to say “what are you doing here?” the same question I was asking him. Just behind him and spread along both sides of the road were numerous other cows just grazing as if nothing was happening. Apparently this road led us into and through a small cow pasture that seemed to lack any kind of fencing. (At least we could still pass through and it was not a dead end).
Not long after, we were on the main road and headed up through the mountains to Triglav pass. This is the highest pass of the Julian Alps and a picturesque ride through the mountains. Every so often we would pull over just to take in the impressive views. One such stop led us to the Russian Church which was built after a large number of Russian soldiers were killed in an avalanche building this particular road many years ago.
We stopped briefly at the top of the pass to take a few pictures just as the rain was starting again. It wasn’t long before it was steady rain again, however we were nice and dry in the car this time. It’s too bad some of the views were hidden by the weather though.
As we are nearing the far side of the National park we found a line of traffic at a standstill. I assumed it was an accident on the mountain roads and in the pouring rain and decided to make my own detour. Skimming the GPS I saw a much smaller road on the other side of the river that could possibly get us beyond the supposed accident. This little side road turned out to be more like a gravel driveway with two parallel lines of stones for the tires and grass in the middle. Even so, it led us out in front of the traffic…except it was no car accident at all. We arrived to a road block and through a couple broken English translations found out that the road was essentially closed for the next couple hours for a Marathon. I asked how much longer it would be closed and was told that the last runner should be coming by any moment. Basically we ended up driving behind the last runner of the marathon for the last 15km of the race. It was a slow ride to say the least, but we as runners applauded the effort of anyone running a marathon even in the final position.
Eventually we got through all the road closures and we were back on our way. Seeing Lake Bohinj was surely out of the question at this point in the day, but Whitney had one more surprise waterfall for us to see. Even though we missed a couple turns we finally found the parking area for the waterfall. It was a short hike upstream until we began to hear the falls. The trail wound it’s way around the corner until we were almost in a cave where the water was pouring from high above. Along the way I saw a few people wrapped in their towels and thought maybe I should go for a dip too. Whitney shook her head as I jumped into the ice cold water. I have Whitney to thank for the rest of the pictures.
After this last waterfall excursion we headed back into Ljubljana to check into a hostel for the night and return the rental car. The final stage of the drive was not as uneventful as we had hoped. I “turned left over a solid line” and got a traffic ticket about 200meters from the car rental return. The kind Slovenian police officer pointed me to the ATM across the highway and graciously allowed me to withdraw cash to pay him on the spot (sarcasm included). After returning the car, we briefly walked through downtown Ljubljana and indulged in a couple of kebabs and cups of gelato before calling it a night.
We certainly enjoyed our time in Slovenia and wish the weather had cooperated during our short time here. There seems to be many hiking trails and outdoor activities that attempt to rival those of Switzerland. While they really can’t compete with the Swiss Alps, the Julian Alps are definitely a more budget friendly and beautiful alternative. Lastly, after only a short stroll past the old town of Ljubljana on our way home, we wish we had made time to visit this city as well. Maybe next time!!
Next stop Korcula, Croatia!