From crystal-clear rivers to rugged mountains, Slovenia is a hidden hiking gem. One of our Area Specialists recently returned from our Hiking in Slovenia journey with fantastic stories from the field—and some incredible photos to match them. Enjoy!
Sometimes we visit a country with preconceived notions about what that experience will be like, but in this case I was completely free of expectations. In fact, I don’t think I even knew that Slovenia was a country until college, probably because the outdated textbooks I had growing up still called that part of the world “Yugoslavia”. As it turns out, Slovenia is very much a real place, and it is delightful.
The Old World charm and quaintness pulled me in right away as we spent the day exploring the quiet, car-free streets and medieval castle of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s small and approachable capital.
After an early start one morning, we rode across the country (in about an hour and a half) to the ancient city of Ptuj. Our first hike found us wandering along meandering backroads and paths through rolling hills dotted with vineyards, and ended at a bucolic farmstead with a delicious lunch of cured game meats and wine from the farm’s vines.
Leaving Ptuj behind, we headed into the mountains and the Logar Valley. This was my first taste of the Alps, and I was astonished by the beauty of this gorgeous location nestled in the craggy arms of the Kamnik–Savinja Alps. Here was everything that the Sound of Music told me the alps would be: wildflowers, rambling farms with window boxes bursting with flowers, cows, and cowbells.
We saw it all from our hikes, and the views were spectacular—although we often had to work for them. Slovenes are, by and large, active, outdoorsy types and if one of them ever tells you that a hike will be mostly flat or that it’s almost over, don’t believe a word of it.
Sometimes there was a trail…
…and sometimes we were happily scrambling over rocks.
Fortunately, relief came the next day in the form of a leisurely stroll along a wooden path clinging to the striated walls of the Vintgar Gorge, the river below us an absurd shade of turquoise, and impossibly clear.
The rest of the day was spent lounging by the shores of Lake Bled, with its perfect storybook church sprouting from the wooded island in the center. With no motorized watercrafts allowed on the perfect blue water, visitors are rowed across to the Chapel of St. Maria on traditional flat bottomed boats that called pletnas. Here again, as in Ljubljana, the charm and quaintness is almost overwhelming, but in a way that feels so cozy and welcoming that you may find yourself thinking, yes, I could move here and be happy. Slovenian can’t be that hard to learn, right?
Pletnas are piloted by oarsmen called pletnarstvo, and the trade is passed down through the generations.
No matter how lovely the people and traditions of Slovenia may be, the real star was the outstanding natural beauty, which was on full display as we hiked into the Julian Alps.
We passed by thundering waterfalls and through silent, primordial forests to the base of Mt. Triglav, the distinctive peak that adorns Slovenia’s coat of arms and the highest mountain in all of the former Yugoslavia.
The waters of the Mostnica River are another outlandish shade of blue-green, and have carved the limestone into fantastic channels and pools.
Descending from the Alps, we found ourselves in the gorgeous Soca River Valley. It’s hard to picture it today, but a little over 100 years ago the foothills here were covered in barbed wire, artillery shell craters, and blood. The land is still scared by trenches dug by the Italian, German, and Austro-Hungarian soldiers who fought here in what came to be known as the Battle of Caporetto.
Once can’t help but think of the contrast between the explosive violence of WWI and the tranquility of the valley today.
As we continued our way south toward the coast we stopped for a tour of Postonja Cave, a 15 mile karst labyrinth carved out by the Pivka River. The formations are spectacular, but since photography is not allowed inside the cave, you’ll just have to go and see it for yourselves.
Our final days were spent in Piran, a former Venetian colony on Slovenia’s almost insultingly small share of the Adriatic coast. It was charming and welcoming in a way we’d come to expect, but there was a distinctly different feel to it. The alps seemed so far away as we lounged by the water eating all manner of sea creatures, but the wonder of Slovenia is that it had taken us less than three hours to drive from the land of cowbells and meadows to the sunny Adriatic.
I think for me that sums up the best part about Slovenia. You might think that its diminutive size would be limiting, but Slovenia manages to pack in a surprising variety of landscapes and cultures into a country the size of New Jersey. It’s hard to really get to know a place in only two weeks of travel, but it gets a little easier when that place is Slovenia. And it’s definitely worth getting to know.
Tomo Petek, Mitja, and Stanislav Simicic, our excellent guides to Slovenia.
—Text by WT area specialist Andrew Coggiola, photos by Kenna Miller (Andrew’s wife), Hiking in Slovenia.