Mountains and dragons, oh my! A quick peak at Slovenia.
Where can one find baby dragons, a castle built into a cave and a church on an island in turquoise waters? You didn't guess it, but it is Slovenia!
Slovenia has all an adventurous soul could want: a lively and clean capital city, mountains, crystal clear lake and rivers and...did I mention the caves?
While staying in lovely Ljubljana, it is possible to take a bus to many beautiful spots within an hour or so. But, first, we had to explore the city with our boards!
Ljubljana comes alive at night with music and a great al fresco dining scene. The cuisine is quite varied, from tradition Eastern European fare to Korean and of course gelato can be found every 20 paces.
We stayed at Harmony Gallery, found on Booking.com during our four days in Ljubljana. It had all the basics, but what truly made it perfect was the location. It was so peaceful, you would never know that a flight of stairs down and out the door, you'll walk right into the substantial outdoor market. This market operates daily, taking up a large parking lot, and selling juicy seasonal fruits, fresh vegetables, as well as meats and cheeses. You can also get a banging cappuccino for $1.
From Harmony Gallery, walking nearly everywhere in the city is possible. Or if simply hanging out along the river-walk is more appealing, there is plenty to take in. On Saturdays, the unique artisan crafts of high quality emerge, including some cool jewelry that we couldn't resist (scroll through the pictures below to get an idea).
Exploring the Mountains
When it's time to get out and explore the natural beauty outside Ljubljana, consider a day at Postojna caves where the olms (baby dragons) live.
Since light exposure harms these adorable little creatures, we were unable to take pictures. You can see some great footage and read their story here.
The Postojna Cave itself is spectacular and the largest in Europe. The train takes you about 2km into the cave, where it then drops you off to walk the footpath for the next hour or so. The tour is always guided, but there's a good mix of education and simply walking in the awe-inspiring underground world.
After the cave tour, visit the Vivarium (a small underground zoo of sorts), to see all the cave-dwelling creatures and learn about their unique lives.
Next we hopped on the free shuttle to Predjama Castle. This fortress is perched in the middle of a 123 meter cliff, and has enjoyed the view for more than 800 years. Although it probably does not have much competition, it is in fact the largest cave castle according to the Guinness World Record.
The whole castle is set up like a museum, capturing the way of life through most of its existence (um... cold, dark, damp). Upon entering, you're given little gadgets in your language that guide you through the history and tidbits of fun facts about the life and times of this castle. Side note, it's great that the volume is at a perfect level where all people must hold it to their ear and therefore no one is being disturbed by a bunch of cacophonous nonsense.
Let's be honest, this castle in the depths of a cold winter would not have been very jolly living. But was it safe? Nearly impenetrable, until one of the King's servants let slip that the top floor restroom was the only point of weakness for the structure. And that is where the King met his final moment.
One of the more popular gems of Slovenia is Lake Bled. While it is considered well-traveled, we were pleasantly surprised that it was just not that crowded for a gorgeous lake accessible by bus. There are plenty of spots along the lake to tuck into a more private swimming hole, or there are paddleboards to rent. Of course, we choose this option and paddled into the center of the lake for swimming through refreshing waters. Lake Bled is a swimmer's paradise, with clear, clean water and no motorized boats! The temperature is refreshing but not shocking. In short, it's heaven.
While walking back, we failed to find the clifftop castle path. A light drizzle started coming down. Wouldn't you know it, our fate was to find a local woman selling homemade soft serve ice cream. What?! Does this exist anywhere outside of this Lake Bled paradise? I think not. It was delicious.
We barely scratched the surface of the beauty Slovenia has to offer. By the end of our short stay, we were already scheming on what lakes and mountains we would like to visit next time. While renting a car would be an ideal way to travel this small country, the bus travel options are excellent. Get to Slovenia, and you'll understand the slogan "sLOVEnia". Lonely Planet may have summed it up best, describing Slovenia as "An earthly paradise of snow-capped peaks, turquoise-green rivers and Venetian-style coastline, Slovenia enriches its natural treasures with harmonious architecture, charming rustic culture and sophisticated cuisine."
Yes, waiter, we'll take more of that.