Slovenia: Europe’s Hidden Masterpiece

When my four friends and I went interrailing for a month at the end of A levels, we were not expecting Slovenia to be our favourite destination, particularly when it was against some strong contenders such as Italy, Croatia, Czech Republic and Hungary. None of us were expecting our most stunning and memorable moments of the trip to be found in Slovenia, yet they certainly were.

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After leaving Venice around midnight one night, we caught an overnight train into the Slovenian town Bled. As the sun rose we were riding through the Austrian mountains during the one of the most peaceful and beautiful mornings of my life (which was unexpected considering I hadn’t slept all night). The train station in Bled was small and quaint and there was little around. There was one taxi waiting outside the station which we watched somebody occupy and had to wait for the same driver to return to take us to our destination. We were staying in an apartment around a 15 minute drive from Lake Bled in the mountains towards Triglav National Park, however we got the taxi to take us straight to the Lake. It was still early morning by this time and the lake was silent and peaceful, no tourists were around yet. We sat in a café overlooking the most beautiful waters and the quaint island which sat in the middle of the expanse of the clearest blue. We ordered coffee and some breakfast, which was reasonably priced considering what we were looking at on, before proceeding to walk around the freshwater.

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It was early July and we were lucky enough to have great weather the whole time we were visiting Slovenia. On that particular morning there was a clear blue sky and by 11am the sun was beating down on us hard. We got ice creams from a shop half way around the lake, which also leased out boats you could ride to Bled Island. It was 10 euros for an hour and we spent around 2 hours rowing there, exploring the island and then rowing back. It should only take 10 minutes to get to the island although it took us a bit longer to suss out how to actually get the boat to move in the right direction.

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Once you reach the island you can tie your rowing boat up to the small port area with a padlock given to you from the other side of the lake. It was truly beautiful on the island and there was a small church which you could explore at your leisure, as well as a café. We just languidly mused around and sat by the water’s edge, admiring the views and taking photos.

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Once we had rowed back from the island, we found a pier and grassed area where people were sunbathing and swimming in the lake as we walked around further. I set myself up for an afternoon of tanning while Rory, Paul, Ben and Tash who I was travelling with all swam to the island we had just came from. It took Rory Paul and Tash around 40 minutes, while Ben swam for 5 minutes before coming back to join me on land and read his book in the shade. Apparently it was hard work and Tash ached for days afterwards but they said it was an amazing experience and something they would recommend if you are a strong swimmer.

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We got a taxi to our accommodation up in the mountains after the sunset and made our classic pasta and tomato sauce dish which featuring throughout most of our trip. It was so beautiful and peaceful up there and the next morning we explored the local national park.

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After two nights in Lake Bled, we went on to stay by Lake Bohinj. It was around 30 minutes by coach from Lake Bled and the coaches ran regularly between the two destinations. I personally found Lake Bohinj more impressive even though it was significantly less busy and touristy than Lake Bled. When we arrived we took a cable cart up to the top of the mountain which overlooked the lake. It was absolutely awe-inspiring to see what we did at the top of that mountain, it honestly took my breath away, it was like nothing I had seen before and probably the highlight of our whole trip around Europe.

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Upon coming back to the ground the five of us hired a canoe, kayak and paddle board and took them out into the waters which was super fun. They had amazing wifi around the lake so at one point we were in the middle of Lake Bohinj on a canoe snapchatting friends from home, which is arguably more impressive than the views themselves…

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Rory had been responsible for organising the accommodation for Bohinj and to all of our distain booked a cabin in the absolute middle of nowhere. It was a 45 minute car trip into the mountains from the Lake and a specialist off road van had to take us to it. We went up and up and up this spiralling road for what felt like years and I honestly felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining on the route to madness. The owners luckily waited until the next morning to tell us there were bears in the forests by our cabin, not that I got much sleep anyway!

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After spending two nights in Bled and one in Bohinj, we spent our final two nights in Slovenia in the capital, Ljubljana. Having spent the previous week in the Italy it was a huge change in tone and atmosphere; it was nowhere near as busy as Rome, Florence or Venice, but it was still a comforting reconnection with civilisation and modernity after the past 4 days of being nestled in the mountains and lakes of the Julian Alps.

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There were barely any cars around and it was pristinely clean everywhere we went, clearly warranting it worthy of the European Green Capital of 2016. The lake which ran through the city was beautiful and parallel to the lake ran bustling bars and restaurants. The Slovenian beer “Union” was cheap and went down well the boys, while Tash and I enjoyed the Union lemon and grapefruit Radlers.

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The shopping in Ljubljana was really good, there was a huge Zara that Tash and I spent years in. There was also a huge market at the foot of the hill which led to Ljubljana Castle, which sold fresh fruit, vegetables and loads of souvenirs. When we arrived we climbed the hill to Ljubljana Castle, you could pay to get the cable cart but it really wasn’t far to walk. The views at the top were lovely and admission into the castle was free so it occupied our whole afternoon.

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On our first evening in Ljubljana, Rory got utterly wasted and decided to swim across the Ljubljanica River (the river that flowed through the capital). It is definitely not something I would advise, anybody who knows him knows that he is athletically mad, he does regular triathlons and once did a 75km cycle for charity before one of his A Level exams, so for those familiar with him this isn’t out of character.  However as dangerous as it was we did become celebrities for the night. Everybody in the bar we were in stressed that he would get injured, that bodies had been dragged out the river from when people had tried to swim it in the past. All the bars along the terrace of the river had emptied out to watch him complete his swim and once he had done found himself inundated with free drinks, praise and people wanting to take pictures. He was completely stupid to have done this of course, but like I said, if you knew him you’d understand.

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It’s a difficult city to put into words because in all honestly there isn’t a huge amount going on, but there is this peaceful yet lively atmosphere about the place. As you walk along the river past the bars and restaurants there is such a buzz, it’s as though Covent Garden meets the Julian Alps, it feels enchanting. The vibrant, bright colours of Copenhagen’s port resonated in Ljubljana’s spirit, it was a truly magical city.

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