I’ll admit, Slovenia wasn’t ever on our list. It’s a tiny country that we didn’t know much about until we started researching our Croatia trip. We didn’t understand why every book we found on Croatia was paired with Slovenia. Then, we saw pictures of Lake Bled and the Julian Alps and just like that we added this special little country to our itinerary.
We are so happy we did.
While we were in Bled, we stayed at an incredible hotel. We often use Trip Advisor to help us start our research for an area and came across Hotel Triglav there. It didn’t take too many pictures to convince me that it would be an amazing place to stay. A special they were running which included a free row-boat rental, free wi-fi, in-room breakfast, an afternoon snack and bottle of wine and 4-course dinners sealed the deal.
The hotel was better than we’d imagined with the view from our room showcasing a great view of the Julian Alps and Lake Bled with the church on the island in the middle of the lake.
Adding to our infatuation with this hotel was its history. Opened in 1906 by the Mayor of Bled at the time, Hotel Triglav played host to Archduke Franz Ferdinand when he visited Bled that year. During the World Wars that followed, the hotel was passed onto family members of the Mayor and the eventually the state, but often sat unused. In an effort to highlight its history, the hotel has neat pictures and artifacts in all of the hallways and rooms.
The food in Bled was outstanding. We had incredible four-course dinners each night at our hotel sourced from local farms and accompanied with wines from Slovenian vineyards. Fun fact, the entire country of Slovenia is home to 22,300 hectares of vineyards which is smaller than the 29,000 hectares found in the Burgundy region of France alone. Due to limited production, Slovenian wines don’t usually make it out of the country and are instead enjoyed by Slovenians or tourists like us.
However, it wasn’t just the food at our hotel that was top-notch. During one of our days wandering around Lake Bled we stumbled upon Grajska Plaža. It sits right on the edge of the lake near Grajsko kopališče, the paid beach and play area on Lake Bled. With a huge outdoor patio Grajska Plaža offers a great view only surpassed by its food.
Ben and I ordered their Octopus Salad and their gourmet meat plate which included ćevapčići (grilled mincemeat), dimljena vešalica (smoked pork), polnjena vešalica (pork), pikantna klobasa (spicy sausage), rice, and potatoes.
The food was out of this world. For dessert, we went with the traditional Bled Cream Cake (kremna rezina). *Disclaimer, I loved the Bled Cream Cake, but my husband, who doesn’t like whipped topping of any kind, wasn’t a huge fan.
Bled is well known for many desserts and another staple to try while you are there is Potičnica. Potičnica is a pastry that is eaten near Christmas, made up of sweet dough that is rolled up with different fillings like poppyseed, honey, nuts, tarragon, raisins, etc. We ate Potičnica while we were at the church in the middle of Lake Bled. We choose two kinds with the help of the woman at the shop. The first was common for families who had lots of money, while the second one we tried was common for those who didn’t have much money. If we are being honest, it wasn’t our favorite thing to eat. It was pretty dry, and wasn’t very sweet.
Bled is a wonderful place to spend a couple days and while we weren’t able to stay as long as we would’ve liked we were still able to experience much of what it has to offer. The first thing on our to-do list was to walk around the Lake. There is a path that runs its entire circumference and depending on how quickly you walk, or how often you stop to take pictures, it should take between 60 and 90 minutes.
The lake was incredibly clear and there wasn’t a bad view from any angle. During our walk we took a pit-stop to rent a row boat and go out and visit The Church of the Assumption in the middle of the lake. There are two ways that you can get out to the church, by a row boat, or by a pletna – a boat found only in Bled. We opted for the row boat.
When we arrived at the island, we tied up our boat and started the 99 stairs towards the church at the top. The amount of history on this little island is incredible. The first church was erected there in 1465 but, hundreds of years prior to that in 1004, Henry the 2nd gave the island to Bishop Albuin of Brixen. Since the original church was erected there have been modifications and restorations due to earthquakes, but there are still pieces from that original church.
One well-known part of the church is the bell tower, which is home to three bells. It was originally built in 1511 but was renovated in 1680 to look like it does today. Legend has it that a young widow once lived at the Bled Castle and had a bell made for the chapel on the island in memory of her husband. However, while the bell was being transported, a storm struck the boat and sunk it with the bell and crew. People say that it still rings from the depths of the lake. When the widow died, the Pope blessed a new bell and sent it to the island. That bell is still there today. People who ring the bell are said to get their wish to come true.
Slovenia is quite a small country, so we used Bled as a home base for several day trips around the country.
Our first trip was to drive backroads around and through the Julian Alps. We used the guide that Rick Steve has in his Croatia and Slovenia guidebook to find our way through Triglav National Park, the Vršič Pass, and Soča River Valley.
We enjoyed having a pre-planned route with information given along the way that allowed us to be more knowledgeable about what we were seeing while still allowing us the flexibility of skipping something if we weren’t interested. The drive was gorgeous and we have some stunning pictures from it, even if we accidentally got lost for a bit and ended up in Italy – whoops!
The cherry on top of a cool day was the car train. It took us several hours to drive the route that Rick Steve had laid out and we could either spend several more driving over the Alps on some of the same roads to get back to Bled or take a car train for about 45 minutes. The train would wind through dozens of tunnels that were carved out of the mountains we would be driving over. It was a pretty easy choice.
When the train pulled up, it was just an engine pulling a bunch of flat train cars. Once all of the cars had driven off it was our turn to board. We drove up onto the train car, put our car in park, and turned it off. After everyone was loaded it was time for the train to depart. We opened our windows and enjoyed the scenery before we entered tunnel after tunnel on our way back towards Bled. The only slightly scary moment happened during the longest tunnel that we went through when something sizable flew into our car and hit Ben – we’re still wondering what it was.
Slovenia has two well-known cave systems: the Škocjan Caves and the Postojna Caves. We only had time to do one and since the Postojna caves seemed much more developed, we went with the lesser known Škocjan Caves. One important thing to note is the Škocjan Caves are not near Škocjan, Slovenia. We are lucky that Slovenia is a small country because when I typed Škocjan into our GPS, it brought us to Škocjan, Slovenia, not the caves. That was a frustrating and embarrassing 90 minutes of backtracking but when we got to the caves it was well worth it.
The Škocjan Caves boast the largest known underground canyon in the world and watching the rivers and all of the life found so far below ground was fascinating. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed inside the caves so you have to go check it out in person to see this incredible place.