What to do in Slovenia
Part Alpine fairy tale, part Mediterranean paradise – Slovenia needs to go to the top of your Eurotrip list STAT. A hidden gem, tucked between popular holiday hotspots Italy and Croatia, it still has the magic of a well-kept secret. Its spectacular scenery is guaranteed to leave you awe-struck, from snow-capped mountains to castles perched above vast and tranquil lakes. Throw in some fine food, glorious sunshine and a lively capital city, and you’ve got the ideal weekend break. Here’s how we made the most of three days in Slovenia:
Arrive in Ljubljana on a shuttle from the airport and join a walking tour in front of the Town Hall to get a taste of Slovenia’s history and culture. You’ll even get a taste of some traditional sausage and dumpling-like dessert štruklji at the oldest tavern in town. Your €10 ticket (available only at the tourist office) will include a peaceful boat trip between Plečnik’s Ljubljanica Sluice Gate and the Špica embankment. A ride up to Ljubljana Castle at the end is optional – the main attractions up here are the fancy Strelec restaurant and panoramic city views.
If you choose not to dine at the castle, take a stroll along the picturesque Ljubljanica river, to check out the busy bars and restaurants that line the water. We ate at the charmingly cosy Julja, where we tucked into a delicious and wholesome beef goulash with homemade polenta, for just €10.
Find the beauty spots
A day trip to Lake Bled is an absolute must. From the moment we stepped off the bus, we felt as if we had stumbled into fairy tale land of enchanted forests and magical waters. It was so beautiful we had to start our day with a cup of tea in the charming garden of Caffe Peglez’n (Cesta svobode 19, 4260 Bled), just to admire the surroundings. We then embarked on the short hike (15 minutes, with a few photo stops) up to the castle. The entry fee is well worth it – you will be rewarded with stunning views of the lake and the tiny yet striking Bled Island.
The castle grounds are well kept, with an array of cafés and restaurants to kick back, relax and take in the sights. We chose to head back down to Vila Preseren and had some seriously good salads, right out on the waterfront itself.
To work off that lunch, if you fancy rowing out to Bled Island, you can rent a boat from several points around the lake. A ferry service also operates and takes between 5-10 minutes, depending on your starting point. We opted instead to take a stroll around the whole lake itself, which took around 1.5 hours at a leisurely pace. (And more photo stops, of course).
Buses head back to Ljubljana at 5.30pm. We had just enough time to pop into Zakladi Slovenije (meaning Treasures of Slovenia), a fantastic souvenir shop on your way back up to the station. It’s crammed with all manner of Slovenian delicacies, from wines and liqueurs to honey and sweet štruklji (similar to a doughnut). A fantastic place to pick up gifts.
Back in Ljubljana, we took a walk slightly further along the river to the delightfully old school Manna restaurant. It bears the slogan “heavenly dishes on earth” – and they certainly did not disappoint. I dined on succulent venison on a bed of carrot purée, which literally melted in my mouth. The surroundings were as warm and jovial as the waiters – highly recommended.
For a further-flung adventure, board the 2.5 hours bus to the stunning coastal town of Piran. You’ll see the forest melt away as you leave Austrian-influenced Central Slovenia behind, and edge closer to the Italian border and the dazzling Adriatic waters.
Upon arrival in Piran, the best place to start is Tartini Square – named after the acclaimed violinist who put the town on the map. The best thing about Piran’s proximity to Italy (besides the blazing heat) is the endless Italian cuisine on offer. We had lunch at Mario’s (Kajuhova 6, Piran 6330), where I tucked into the best garlic and white-wine soaked mussels of my life.
For the best views of the red and white patchwork town of Piran, climb up to the old medieval city walls. Each new angle is more breathtaking than the next. Take your book and relax in the peaceful gardens up here and soak up the sun and sea views.
If you are not taking the bus back to Ljubljana, walk along the seafront towards the lighthouse. Lively bars and restaurants will tempt you with all manner of cocktails, seafood and desserts. We opted for Restaurant Riva (Gregorciceva ulica 46, Piran), almost at the end of the stretch, which was an ideal spot for catching a magnificent Spring sunset. We slept soundly at the cosy B&B Maricolo di Mare, and were pretty gutted to have reached the end of our trip.
Get out of town
After enjoying the last coffee in Tartini square, it was time to catch a bus out of town. Buses leave for Ljublana at 10.15am, or if you want to continue into Italy, Venice is a short bus, and then a train ride away.
Had we known what a complete winner Slovenia was going to be, we would have definitely organised a longer holiday. The best advice I can give is to book now, before the secret is out.
Flights from London Stansted to Ljubljana start at just £60 return (Easyjet.com)