Slovenia

Our 10-day holiday adventure in May 2014, taking in stops in Piran, Ljubljana, Bled, and finally one evening in Zagreb, Croatia on the way home.

Piran

After flying into Venice, our first stop was Piran, one of the major towns on Slovenia’s short bit of coastline between Italy and Croatia. This area was formerly part of Venice, which is obvious from the architecture and the very narrow streets. The town is traditionally Italian (Pirano, in Italian) and the inhabitants were mostly Italian speakers, but after rejoining Yugoslavia following World War II and Italian annexation, most Italians left and Slovenes have been the majority since. Piran is extremely Italian in its general appearance, but there are some other indication of the town’s mixed history, which I’m not sure are so common in Italy. Via Lenin, for example, is just round the corner from Via Friedrich Engels…

Piran is quite popular with tourists, but it seems that most that arrive are just day-trippers. In the evening, the town quiets down and the promenade becomes a good place to relax, with people fishing, or walking their dogs, or going for a quick swim in the sea.

At the heart of the town is Tartini square (Tartiniev Trg), named after the composer Giuseppe Tartini, who was born in Piran. Until 1894 the square was actually part of the marina, but since sewage ended up there and it had become surrounded by important buildings, it was decided to bury that part of the marina and turn it into a real square.

The walk from Piran along the coast is a very pleasant one. About 20 minutes walk from Piran is a tourist resort, next to a place called the Fiesa lakes, which is some sort of nature reserve. There’s also plenty of opportunity for watersports too.

The hilliness of the area around Piran (and Slovenia in general) means you are never too far from a good view. This was just one view over the centre of the town on the way back from a walk.

For 1 euro you can get access through an electronic gate to what remains of the town walls, and the views that the towers can give you. Last entry, at least in the high season, is 9pm, which is perfect for watching the sun set over the town in front of you!

After the first two days of fantastic weather, the clouds (and some rain) arrived.

Undeterred by the weather, we set off on a 15 km walk to and around Strunjan national park, which is many kilometres of cliffs, footpaths, trees, and scenic views. In the centre photo – that’s Piran, off in the distance.

More of Piran, in the evening.


Ljubljana

After a very pleasant stay in Piran, we caught the bus up to Slovenia’s capital city of Ljubljana, which is interesting in having not all that many obvious attractions, other than being generally very easy on the eye and a pleasant place to be. One of the few obvious attractions, however, is to climb the hill to the castle, where – after parting with some euros – one can climb the main watchtower and get a superb view over most of the city. This photo is an ambitious panorama looking from south-west to north, the original having a resolution of about 64 megapixels in total!

Just walking through the cobbled streets of the old town (which covers quite a large area) is the best thing about this city, and along the river (named Ljubljanica).

To the west of the city centre is Tivoli Park, which is a large park much like others in other capitals (e.g., Hyde Park in London or Łazienki Park in Warsaw), but behind it is a much larger area with a couple of sizable hills (called Rožnik and Šišenski hrib) which are less manicured, and is an excellent area for running, hiking, etc.

Kongresni Trg is one of Ljubljana’s main squares, overlooked by the castle on the other side of the river.

The castle isn’t the only great view in town – near the city centre is a skyscraper called Nebotičnik (literally means skyscraper in Slovene), which was built in the 1930s – not much to look at, but interesting for historical reasons nonetheless. However, it has a cafe and a viewing terrace at the top, which gives a 360 degree view of the city. There’s also a fancy restaurant on the floor below, but according to TripAdvisor it’s not worth the money...

Took the stairs down from the cafe/viewing terrace after, all of a sudden, two huge groups of people wanted to use the lift. The stairs were a good choice.

The Triple bridge (Tromostovje) is a group of three bridges right next to each other across the river, at Prešernov Trg (Prešeren square). This is more or less the active centre of Ljubljana.

The intention always was to visit one of Slovenia’s famous cave systems – ultimately we decided to visit the caves at Postojna, which is 1 hour on the train from Ljubljana and is apparently Slovenia’s top tourist attraction. As an attraction, it is quite well-developed – a train takes you Disneyland-style about 2 km deep into the cave (the system is more than 20 km long in total!), followed by a 1 hour guided tour. Being the conscientious tourist that I am, I followed the instructions not to take photos until the very last part ;)

Some night-time photos from Ljubljana.

Bled

The last portion of our trip saw us stay in the picturesque lakeside town of Bled, famous partly for its dramatic castle, but most famous for…

...looking like this.

The small island with the church, sat in the crystal clear lake among the mountains, with the castle looking over everything, is really the stuff of fairytales. Seeing the sun rise over the mountain, and the fog floating over the lake, is truly an experience. The only downside is having to set an alarm for 4.30 am, but it was worth it!

In northwestern Slovenia is Triglav national park, home for the Slovenian part of the Julian alps, and named after Triglav, the highest mountain in the country. At the northern entrance to the park is the small town of Kranjska Gora, a ski resort during the winter – nearby is this picturesque lake with still snow-capped mountains. Unfortunately it was not quite as idyllic as I had hoped – some workmen were clearing some woodland, involving chainsaws and bonfires, and, just out of shot, some others had crashed their van into the lake.

Tolmin Gorges was a real surprise – we were actually looking for somewhere else which we knew was in the area but didn’t know the name of (which we didn’t find).

The drive back to Bled from Kobarid took us through almost 100 km of spectacular countryside and a succession of pretty villages. At one point, the sat nav lost the plot and sent us down a peculiar detour, which took us to probably the prettiest village of the lot, Sorica – an array of houses scattered amongst rolling hills, sandwiched between dramatic mountains.

On our last full day staying in Bled, we went to walk around the spectacular surrounds of Lake Bohinj – which was even more spectacular than we imagined it might be.

Zagreb

Ok, admittedly, Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and is not Slovenia at all. But still, we had a short stopover there on the way home, and some hours to explore the place. Actually, Zagreb was a bit of a surprise – the old town centre is very pleasant, and compared to other places with old towns which I’m familiar with such as Stockholm, Tallinn, Warsaw, etc., you get the impression that the neighbourhood is not just about tourism but that it really is a meeting place for people to go and have a drink, or dinner. Plus, it’s cheap! Most of the bars we passed were selling half-litres of beer for ~1.50 euros!