We L-O-V-E-D Slovenia. Its capital city was charming, its mountains stunning, and its people welcoming. This is a snapshot of our week in Slovenia:
Without further ado, here are our highlights from our time in Slovenia.
Have you ever been in a city that is full of cars and traffic? If you love cities like that, avoid Ljubljana. In 2007, the city made its historic centre car-free. Strolling through the cobblestone streets along the Ljubljanica river we couldn’t help but indulge in the simultaneously laid back vibe that was mixed with a twist of city buzz. Picture the scene: cafes line the pedestrian street with tables set up with views of the river, trees are starting to come into bloom, and you hear a happy thrum of chitter chatter as you walk on by taking it all in. Ljubljana’s city centre struck that balance between being beautiful and welcoming to visitors, but still a place that locals frequented for a night out.
We’d been to a car-free city centre earlier in our Balkans trip (ahem Dubrovnick), and did not enjoy the experience. Dubrovnick’s old town felt contrived and Disney-land like. When there were no cruise ships docked, its old town was a ghost town, but then was jammed when the ships were in. We were delighted that Ljubljana couldn’t have been more different.
Day 1 in Ljubljana
Both mornings in Ljubljana started with a run in the city’s North end, around the Zale cemetery and through its surrounding open fields.
We also took advantage of the outdoor workout park outside our building. If truth be told, I didn’t get much of a workout, as I was a sucker for this little guy wanting a friend to play ball with him. Pretty paw-some :)
After our usual muesli brunch, we saddled into our host’s spare bikes and made the short 15min ride into the city centre. The rest of the day was spent walking through the car-free streets, and taking lengthy breaks for food and drinks.
We started our time in the city the same way we usually do in a new city, which was searching for a good local cup of coffee. Tim had done his homework and so we navigated our way to Črno Zrno. The coffee was deeeeelicious. We enjoyed talking with Alexander, owner and barista, about his passion for coffee and hist original trade, architecture. His love of coffee and architecture came together beautifully in his shop. We made sure to return the next day.
Freshly fuelled with caffeine we walked along the peaceful Ljubljanica river.
We checked our clocks, and it was now just past 2pm...beer o'clock! Lajbah, a craft beer joint, turned into our haunt for the rest of the afternoon. We spent a couple hours working and then some time soaking up the sun and the river views over another tasty brew and a board game.
For dinner we followed Alexander’s (owner of this morning’s coffee shop) recommendation, and went to El Patron, a small 6-seater restaurant serving tacos. With cozy seating, we struck up a conversation with our seat-mate, Klementina. The conversation continued as we finished our tacos, and we ended up grabbing gelato together.
I had been taking Laurie Santos’ The Science of Well Being course (offered free through Coursera), and in the course she talks about how social connections increase happiness; surprisingly, this includes connections with strangers!
“Even these random [social connections] are going to help us out more than we think. And so, as you leave here, talk to the people on the street, talk to the people that are around you. It will make you and them happier than you expect.” - Laurie Santos, Science of Well Being course
I highly recommend Santos’ podcast, The Happiness Lab. In Season 1 Episode 4 Mistakenly Seeking Solitude, Santos talks about how even if you are reluctant to talk to a stranger, you and the stranger get a happiness boost after talking to each other. This certainly rang true with our interactions with Alexander and Klementina.
Day 2 in Ljublana
Our second day in Ljubljana we repeated favourite elements from the prior day: morning run, bike into town, coffee at Črno Zrno, and an afternoon with craft beers on Lajbah’s sunny patio.
We also added in a few new activities.
From the city centre there is a narrow road with a stone-wall on either side that takes you up to the Ljubljana Castle.
Pro-tip: you can walk around the majority of the grounds for free, including walking along the ramparts that give a view out over the city. The entry-fee only gives access to a few additional elements of the castle.
I always enjoy views out over cities, and after having spent the previous day exploring by foot, it was fun getting our bearings with a bird's eye view and trying to pick out the places we had been.
As much as we love the traditional balkan cevapi, at this point in our Balkan road trip we had eaten A LOT of it, and therefore took advantage of the non-cevapi options available in the city’s capital. For lunch we gorged on a burger at Fanny and Mary by the river, and for dinner we enjoyed take-out pad thai in Congress Square park.
After two laid-back days hanging out in the city’s beautiful car-free centre, we were craving more time! But, the mountains were calling, so we continued on our journey, despite the fun time we were having in Ljubljana. They say that’s the best time to leave the party, right?
As I said, we left Ljubljana wanting more, and sad to be saying goodbye. But, as we drove North and the mountains came into focus, our trepidation about leaving dissipated and we looked ahead with excitement to the next leg of our trip.
Slovenia is small, and so even travel days have plenty of time for exploring. Home for the next three nights would be the small village of Doslovče, only 40minutes drive from the capital, and a good base to explore Triglav National Park. After having parked our car for the past few days, we were back to roadtrip mode and taking full advantage of the accessibility the car gave us, including access to picnic spots with spectacular views.
On route to our new home, we stopped at Lake Bled and enjoyed our first of many picnics to come over the next few days. If we had to cut something from our itinerary, it would probably be Lake Bled, but I think that’s partially because we are so spoiled with beautiful lakes back home in Ontario. After checking into Darijo’s home, we jumped back in the car and drove to Lake Bohinj for an evening walk around the lake.
I open my eyes and the sun is pouring in through the window, and the barn next door is full of lively morning activity. Life feels good.
After preparing our picnic lunch and dinner, we jumped into our little white Citroen and headed deeper into the mountains. Helloooo switchbacks, we’re back! The last time we had been on serious switchbacks was a few weeks prior in Montenegro--I was grateful for Slolvenia’s wider and better maintained roads. As we made the climb, I kept thinking back to a book my Mum read to me in days past, The Little Engine That Could. “I think I can--I think I can--I think I can” I kept on saying on behalf of our little C1 Citroen as Tim shifted down into first gear at every corner. And that she eventually did!
I later looked up the specs on the car, and to put it in comparison, my sister’s compact Honda Fit has 128hp and 113 lb-ft of torque vs our Citroen C1’s 68hp and 70lb-ft of torque. It’s no wonder I felt we might not make it to the top at times.
It was Good Friday, and had we been back home, we would have continued a tradition we started many years back of hiking with friends (and if we were really lucky a pre-hike breakfast with Tim’s sister’s family). We couldn’t have breakfast with the Bennetts, but we figured we could still continue with the hiking part of the tradition!
We parked at the highest point on the pass, at 1,600 metres, in a lot near the Tičar Lodge on the Vršič Pass. We were again foiled by the amount of snow still in the peaks (this had caught us off guard in Montenegro). Nonetheless, we set out for a very short 3km hike to Vršič peak and enjoyed our picnic lunch on the trail with mountain views in every direction.
Given we didn’t have any winter hiking equipment we didn’t have much appetite to continue trying to go further into the mountains with the snow. Satisfied that we had given it a half-hearted attempt and made it to a summit (albeit mostly by car), we made the short hike back down to the car and descended down the other side of the pass to the village of Trenta in search of an afternoon hike. More on our afternoon hike below.
Following our afternoon hike we picked up some cold radlers at the convenience store in Trenta. Radlers seemed to be a thing in Slovenia, and we were embracing them fully. We drove a few kilometres West along the Soca river to where we had spotted a pull over and some picnic tables by the river. Another tasty picnic with the sounds of the Socca river in the background.
Our second full day in the mountains we decided we didn’t have it in us to do the switchbacks again, so we headed to Planica park. From the parking lot there is a 4km trail that brought us to the base of the mountains to access more trails, as well as a hut serving food and drinks. Time for a refreshing radler!
We then attempted a trail ascending one of the mountains, but discovered a recent avalanche, and glacier like snow with water evidently running underneath. We made it 1km up the trail before fear took over and we turned around.
Our dinner picnic we enjoyed on a dock at Lake Jasna with the Triglav mountains as a backdrop.
After rather unsuccessfully attempting to hike in the peaks of Triglav National Park, we descended through the pass to the small town of Trenta, in hunt of a suitable Good Friday hike. The woman in the park office recommended the Soca trail, which end-to-end is a 25km trail that follows the Soca river.
We hiked a small section from Trenta towards Bovec, covering 4km of the trail, 8km round trip. Apparently in the summer months there is a bus that runs from the start of the river to Bovec, which would allow hikers to walk the trail end-to-end in a day. It was the perfect afternoon hike, and the spring feeling in the valley was a welcome change from the snowy peaks.
We spent the majority of Easter weekend in Darijo’s converted family home in the small village of Doslovče. We had initially only booked two nights, but extended to a third, and boy are we glad we did!
Our hosts had texted us Saturday night (our final night at their home) to come to the kitchen at 9am the next morning for a surprise. All night we were curious to find out what the surprise would be! And what a lovely surprise it was - they had prepared a traditional Slovenian Easter breakfast for us! A traditional Easter breakfast in Slovenia includes decorated eggs, ham, horseradish and homemade potica (traditional Slovenian festive sweet bread with a nut filling). Darijo’s daughter taught us an Easter game that she and her family have played since she was young, and we enjoyed conversation with the two other couples spending Easter at Darijo’s home. We felt grateful to be a part of a family’s Easter celebration and traditions.
After a filling breakfast, we packed up and hit the road for the small town of Sabjone, our final destination in Slovenia. On route we visited Predjama castle, a medieval castle built into a rock cliff. Despite usually skipping the museum-like stops, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the visit.
As we made our way south, the road progressively got smaller and smaller until we arrived at our lodgings, the last building in town. We thought Doslovče was small, but Sabjone was even smaller - wikipedia says it has a population of 80 people. We were greeted with warmth from our hosts, as well as afternoon refreshments served on the terrace in the sun. The view from our terrace was stunning, with rolling hills, some lakes below, and towns dotted throughout. We played rummy over our welcome drinks and snacks, and then went for a walk down the single track farm road. Enjoyed the sun, the company, and the tranquility.
Stores and restaurants were all closed because it was Easter Sunday, so we were very grateful our host offered to make us dinner. Over dinner and wine we talked and talked into the night, soaking up the moment, the kindness of strangers, and savouring these last magical moments of the trip.
It was over this dinner that Tim asked "Ten or twenty years from now, what do you think you will remember about this trip?" You can read about that, and an overview of our month long roadtrip through the Balkans here.