I’m not sure what I was expecting when I booked a trip to Slovenia, but what I got was quite a lovely surprise. Slovenia won my heart, knocking my beloved Scotland off of its perch as one of my top travel adventures.
Slovenia had all that the highlands of Scotland gave me: vast landscapes, breathtaking scenery, vaulting mountains, endearing and genuine people. But, on top of all of those things, it had lovely weather. The sun was shining from sun up to sun down. It had amazing food, (being close to the border of Italy meant delicious pizza and wines.) It had small villages, connected with winding footpaths, that offered the cutest cottages, barns, and farmsteads. One could spend the day wandering from one village to the next, each offering something unique and new to explore. And it had cats. Lots and lots of cats.
Once I began to drive up (and up and up and up) I got a better idea of just how enormous the landscape of Slovenia really was. The air became cooler, the homes disappeared far below, and I was surrounded by rock, and snow, and the greenest of trees. As I wandered, I discovered rock formations, burial markers, abandoned cabins, and a palpable silence. One especially magical moment was coming upon a Russian Chapel tucked into the pines. The structure was built to memorialize the deaths of thousands of Russian POWs, forced to build a road high up into the mountain during WWI. How unexpected, and magical, to find such an immaculate structure in so remote a place.
After spending the day high up in the mountains, exploring trails and hidden history-lessons, it was time to journey on to Bled. And suddenly, just like that, Slovenia changed. Gone was the highlands-of-Scotland feel. Instead, after a 30 minute car ride, I found myself in a resort-like atmosphere nestled around the lovely Lake Bled. Luxury hotels dotted the shores, tourist boats floated out on the water with kayaks, canoes, and rowboats as company. Ice cream stands, boardwalks and bistro cafes were full of tanned tourists. And all with a giant castle standing high overhead, a sentry from a long-ago time well before paddle-boards, selfie-sticks, and suntan lotion.
Once the lure of the mountains and the beach towns wore thin, Slovenia had yet one more thing to offer: the cosmopolitan city center of Ljubljana. Walking down the cobbled streets, I felt I could be in any European cafe-society. Streets filled with bistro tables, looked out onto the passing parade of tourists, food stands stacked with fruit and vegetables tempted the hungry, and an old man sketching views of the square hoped to sell his work as souvenirs. It was all so familiar. This was the same scene I saw in Toulouse, in Florence, and in Venice. It all felt very comfortable and easy.
At the end of my visit, on the way back to the airport, I stopped off in a medieval town named Skofja Loka. It had the same cafe society of Lbijuana, but on a much smaller scale. Its alleys, nooks, and ancient stairways led me up to an abandoned castle. It was at this moment that I decided Slovenia had it all: nature, mountains, vast landscape, beach towns, cosmopolitan cities, and medieval villages.
It was at this moment I fell in love with Slovenia. And I suppose the secret is out.