Like the title suggests - We are absolutely in LOVE with sLOVEnia! :)
Christmas is always a magical time of year, and especially in Europe. Living in Australia all our adult lives, our experience of Christmas is on the beach, a BBQ, in shorts and dying of 40 deg heat. So whilst most people look to escape the cold during this time of year, we wanted to do the exact opposite and experience a quintessential White Christmas. And Slovenia definitely did not disappoint.
Vruchi and I landed in Ljubljana (the capital city) in the morning and picked up our hire car. For those that do not know the geography of Slovenia, it’s actually quite a tiny country that shares borders with a number of countries, including Austria in the north, Italy in the west, Hungary to it’s east and Croatia to it’s south.
We headed south towards a town called Piran. As we were driving, we became enamored with the amazing countryside. It is impossible to write an article about Slovenia without talking about how beautiful the countryside is. We kept stopping every few kilometres to take photos of the stunning surroundings. Beautiful snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see. It seemed as if we had stumbled upon a hidden gem in Europe.
As we continued driving, we started to notice some subtle changes in the landscape around us. The houses started to look slightly different, perhaps a little more orange than what we were seeing before. Also, we noticed the street signs were blue instead of green and the language started to resemble more Latin. We continued driving for another hour before we realised that we were in Italy! Thats right! Our journey that began in Ljubljana, headed for Piran, took an incredible detour and now we were deep in the heart of Trieste, Italy! Vruchi and I always wanted to cover 3 countries in 1 day, and we had just ticked that off our list! Morning in England, afternoon in Italy and evening in Slovenia! Europe is truly an incredible place.
After stopping to appreciate the beauty of Italy, we decided that we better head to Piran if we had any chance of catching the sunset. As we drove back to Slovenia, we still could not get over how incredible this part of the world was. We eventually arrived in Piran, just before the sunset. Pro-tip: We discovered that the town of Piran only allows parking for residents of the town, meaning that visitors can not park in Piran. So we had to park just outside of Piran, at a nearby carpark and walk through (about 10 mins). The view from the coast of Piran was definitely worth it. We stood at the very edge of the coast of Piran, viewing the north-west coast of Croatia, whilst watching the sunset and reflecting on the incredible day we had just had.
Over the next few days, we had continued to explore the Slovenian countryside further.
Road trip suggestion:
Our eventual destination was Lake Bled but along the way we had stopped at so many places, just because we could not get over how beautiful the countryside was. What was supposed to be a 2 hours journey from Ljubljana to Bled, took us almost an entire day as we detoured along to small towns and winding mountain ranges. From Ljubljana, we headed north to Skofja Loka, then west to Gorenja Vas and continued on to Cerkno. From Cerkno, we continued north through Jesenica, Podbrdo, and up to Bohinjska Bistrica. From there, we drove further west to Ribcev Las, before eventually arriving at Lake Bled. The views across the countryside were absolutely breathtaking.
Christmas Eve at Lake Bled
Eventually, we arrived at Lake Bled in time for Christmas Eve. In terms of the geography of the town, it is located in the Julian Alps in the northwest. The lake is the centre of the entire town, and right in the centre of the lake is a beautiful church, called Cerkev Marijinega Vnebovzetja, that sits right atop a small hill.
You can catch a ferry or kayak through to the church on the centre, which a lot of tourists there were doing.
There are beautiful views of the church from various spots around the lake. However, no doubt the most beautiful view of all of Lake Bled: can be seen from Little Osojnica Hill. Its quite a steep climb (hike?) and we definitely recommend wearing some comfortable hiking shoes for the climb (which I definitely was not wearing), but if you can put up with the trek, its an incredible view. Vruchi wasn’t wearing the best footwear for the hike so she decided to stay behind. I went forward and climbed to the top and managed to catch the last glimpses of the sunset over Lake Bled. This was an absolutely amazing view and truly worth all the effort!
In terms of the town itself, it is a small town but there are a few restaurants, bars and cafes all within walking distance of the main lake. Parking can be a bit of an issue near the lake, so we suggest parking a bit further out in the streets and walking down. Lake Bled feels a lot more touristy compared to many of the other towns that we drove through, so the restaurants, cafes and bars will invariably have more people (and a bit pricey) compared to many of the smaller towns in Slovenia.
Accommodation, Attractions & Places to Eat
We were quite pleased with our accommodation options both in Ljubljana and Lake Bled. In Ljubljana, we stayed right in the heart of the city, very close to 'Zmajski Most', commonly known as the famous 'Dragon Bridge' in Ljubljana. The dragon is seen quite a fair bit in Ljubljana and has become the symbol of Ljubljana. Legend has it that centuries ago, there lived a fire breathing dragon that lived in the marshes surrounding the Ljubljanica River and fed on fish, otters, river rats and any humans that were unfortunate enough to cross his path. This was until Jason (the founder of Ljubljana) and the Argonauts, arrived on the Llubljanica River, having fled from the King of the Black Sea. Jason heroically fought this Dragon and conquered the beast, and thereby became the official first citizen of Ljubljana.
Another key attraction of Ljubljana were the Christmas markets. They are located in Ljubljana’s Old Town, and there is a wonderful mix of food, fun and festivities that beautifully portray the charm of this wonderful town and magical time of the year. They are just a short walk from Zmajski Most so, for those driving to Ljubljana, we recommend finding an all-day parking and walking around the town.
For breakie / lunch - we drove outside of Ljubljana to a small lake side town called Zbilje. Approx 26 mins away from the city (up north), there's a small little cafe Bistro Dotik. The food isn't the greatest (mainly sweets and coffee) but the view of the lake is absolutely stunning (below). You can also feed the swans that come by in flocks and just watch the mist and fog from the lake slowly lift as the winter sun rises up. We had a beautiful morning here just taking in the natural beauty!
In Lake Bled, we stayed at a beautiful Airbnb just a few minutes drive from the lake. In terms of attractions, of course there is the church in Bled itself, however another attraction that we unfortunately did not get to see but we thoroughly recommend seeing (just based on the story itself) is the “Legend of the Sunken Bell” The backstory for this is that there once lived a young nun in Bled, whose husband was killed by thieves and his body was subsequently dumped into the lake. In an attempt to console herself, she gathered all her gold and silver and created a bell for the church on the small island in the centre of Lake Bled. However, during a terrible storm, the bell had sunk and never made it to the church. After this, the inconsolable widow sold all her belongings and left Bled. Following her death, the Pope, hearing this story and knowing of her life as a nun, decided that they would make a new bell and each year on Christmas Day, the citizens of Bled gather around this giant illuminated bell, ring the bell three times before sinking it into the river. There is also another small bell in the Church itself for tourists to ring :)
Overall, Slovenia was a beautiful place and we thoroughly recommend travelling to this part of the world. Very often, when talking about the European countryside people talk about France, Switzerland and Austria and whilst taking nothing away from those countries, there is definitely something special about Slovenia. However to truly appreciate the beauty of Slovenia, don’t simply cover the cities. Make sure you hire a car and drive out to the country side, and we have no doubt that you'll fall in love with Slovenia! :)
Are you planning a trip to Slovenia soon? Have we missed something in Slovenia that is an absolute must-see? Send us a comment below or an Instagram DM :) We would love to hear from you guys!
Lots of love S&V