A relatively unknown pocket country in the middle of Europe
Slovenia is often overlooked.
I had the tours with guests coming either from Italy, Austria or Hungary not even knowing they are in Slovenia.
They just stopped on their way to Croatia and realized a new country popped up in their itinerary.
Now, some of them keep coming every year.
Slovenia became their starting destination for tours further around Europe.
Where is Slovenia
The coast and the Adriatic Sea, the rugged Alps, the flat Pannonian Plain, and the limestone Dinarides are the four main geographical regions of Slovenia.
Located between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia it enjoys a fusion of different cultural influences, pleasant climatic conditions, geographical areas, geological phenomena, availability of natural resources and rich, fertile land.
Ljubljana, the capital, is located in the center of Slovenia.
From Ljubljana to any direction you reach the border in up to 2 hours driving.
It is the main Slovenian transportation hub, pretty well connected with airports and popular destinations in the wider region.
The currency in Slovenia is Euro.
How to get to Ljubljana
The main Slovenian airport is located in Brnik, about a half-hour drive from Ljubljana city.
It is a smaller airport in comparison with most of the ones in the neighboring countries.
Already the Zagreb airport in Croatia is slightly bigger and busier. It is one of the Qatar Airways hubs in Europe.
From the Zagreb airport to Ljubljana there is a 1,5-hour drive if there's no much traffic at the border.
The border with Croatia is the only border around Slovenia.
In Italy, you can rely on the airports in Venice, Treviso or Trieste.
Venice is one of the main European hubs, while Treviso and Trieste are very well connected by the low-cost airlines, such as WizzAir, EasyJet and Ryanair.
From Venice and Treviso, a relaxed drive with a refreshing stop to Ljubljana will take some 2,5 hours drive, from Trieste about 1,5 hour.
Austria's Vienna Aiport is one of the most important central European hubs.
The drive from there usually takes around 4 hours with refreshing stops in between.
Other Austrian airports, suitable to reach Ljubljana easily and in a short time, are the ones in Klagenfurt (northwest of Ljubljana, about 1-hour drive) or Graz (northeast of Ljubljana, about 3 hours drive).
The furthest is the Budapest Airport, about 6 hours drive with refreshing stops.
Suggested, if you start the exploration of Slovenia from the Pannonian Plain on the far northeast.
There are good connections from the mentioned destinations to Ljubljana by train or bus too.
You can also contact me, we then integrate the lift to the itinerary.
Once you are in Ljubljana, you are in the heart of Slovenia.
You can just stay in one of the accommodation places and do the day trips and excursions from there, returning every day.
It's not a surprise, that the day trips from Ljubljana are the most popular tourist products in Slovenia.
For more curious, the option is to go around the country and try a different place every day.
Going around Slovenia for 3 days in a slightly different way
Let me describe a tour I created for Judy and Mark, and how we traveled Slovenia in 3 days.
They didn't want to do the day trips repeatedly from Ljubljana but see various environments, try different air, be confused by different climates, and experience all other diversities they read about on a multi-day tour.
At the same time, they wanted to include the itinerary the most visited places around the country.
Judy and Mark are an interesting couple in their 60's, with vast knowledge about Europe and its history. They are from Portland, USA, and keep traveling Europe almost every year.
Well, I said. Let's do it.
We agreed on a slightly modified West Loop tour instead of already created Slovenia in 3 days one.
I picked them up a day before our planned Slovenia in 3 days tour in the hotel in Zagreb, Croatia.
We had a pleasant drive through the southeast of Slovenia, stopping and having lunch with wine tasting at the Jelenič winery in a wonderful town on the island in the middle of the Krka River, Kostanjevica na Krki.
We arrived at the hotel Ljubljana in the afternoon.
The staff in the City Hotel is always very helpful and provides a quick and informative check-in.
In an hour we were ready to continue with a relaxing orientation walk around the city center, which was followed by a dinner in the Monstera Bistro.
A new wave restaurant is building its reputation on special preparation of fresh traditional Slovenian ingredients, inventively composed to simple, but exquisite dishes.
Petite, but metropolitan, recently voted as one of Europe's top cities to visit.
Ljubljana has everything you would expect to find in bigger cities to spend more than just one day there.
Day trips, excursions, museums, galleries, food places, cafeterias, shopping, and bustling market places.
Add the small town magic, the tranquility, feeling of safety, clean environment, the wonderful local people and you will understand that we have a really special place here.
The city center of Ljubljana is relaxing for visitors.
Being the European Green Capital in 2016, it keeps the environmentally friendly orientation, keeping the highest percentage of recycling in Europe and introducing more and more regulations in order of sustainable development.
Public transport and bicycles instead of cars, air instead of smog.
What once were choked car-packed streets, are now venues with colorful buildings, full of life.
There is a huge variety of things to do and sites to discover around the old town, which is cutely compressed between the Ljubljana Castle hill, the Ljubljanica River, and the two roads, which are announcing the end of the old town and the beginning of the traffic zone and wider city area.
Well, if you don't feel to walk, you can simply sit down on one of the benches in large public parks with plenty of trees and flowers, providing a pleasant shade in hot summer months.
The University of Ljubljana, Philharmonic Orchestra Hall, the first Slovenian publishing house Slovenska Matica, Kazina building, St Trinity Church, Ursuline Convent and Jože Plečnik's Gymnasium are encircling the largest square in the city's central area, Congress Square.
Prešeren Square on the same riverbank is the traditional meeting point before crossing the Triple Bridge to enter the old town.
The statue of Slovenian national hero France Prešeren, the famous poet, is reigning the art-nouveau style square.
After the devastating earthquake in 1895, most of the city was entirely rebuilt in the then-popular Viennese Secession Style.
Two buildings on the Prešeren Square that survived the earthquake. One is the Baroque style Church of St Mary's Assumption, another a triangle-shaped house opposite to it.
On the other side of the Ljubljanica River the Arcades, part of the unfinished project designed by Jože Plečnik, the most influential Slovenian architect from the first half of the 20th century.
Behind the Arcades, the Cathedral of St Nicholas is boasting the Baroque interior with breathtaking wooden decoration and a majestic pipe organ.
Next to the cathedral, likely-to-be the most lively part of Ljubljana.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly baked pastries and bread made of different types of grains, cured meat, honey, cheeses and other dairy delicacies, homemade syrups, wine, olive and pumpkin seed oil, flowers, handmade craft products and souvenirs, even the fresh yogurt dispenser are always available on the Ljubljana Market.
Ljubljana to Lake Bled
In the morning we cheerfully started our Slovenia in 3 days tour by driving towards Lake Bled, some 45 minutes drive northwest from Ljubljana towards Austria.
Lake Bled is situated by the lake at the end of the plain which geographically connects Ljubljana with the beginning of the Alps, right before the beginning of the Triglav National Park.
About 15 minutes drive from Lake Bled, it was our first destination in the Alpine region.
On a 1,5 hour walk, we stretched our muscles and enjoyed the hike on a well-maintained path in the canyon of the Radovna River.
Previously Judy and Mark were advised about the easy level of difficulty, and to wear sporty outfit.
I checked also what's the situation.
Vintgar Gorge can get busy, so get informed about it and try to get the time when there are not too many visitors in it.
The next destination on our way was the Bohinj area, located within the Triglav National Park.
I took the road up the Pokljuka Plateau, the cross-country capital of Slovenia and a summer holiday destination with the shepherd's cottages.
After getting to the top we started to descend down to Studor Village, reportedly the area with the most 'kozolci' at one spot.
'Kozolci' are the hayracks, a traditional feature of Slovenia.
Wooden constructions with single or double rack lines are storages for hay and farming tools.
Triglav National Park
The largest protected area and only national park in Slovenia is the size of 840 km2 (about 324 sq mi), which is approximately 4% of the entire size of Slovenia.
Most of the Julian Alps peaks within the park are over 2000 m (about 6500 ft) with Mt Triglav as the highest with its 2864 m (9396 ft).
The Triglav National Park is home to more than 7000 species, among them the brown bear, red fox, red deer, alpine marmot, grouse, chamoix, alpine ibex, eurasian pygmy owl, black woodpecker, golden eagle as the largest bird in Slovenia, alpine newt, alpine salamander, venomous European adder, Soča trout.
Lake Bohinj amazes with the purity of the water and location right below the steep slopes of Mt Vogel.
Agatha Christie once visited the place searching for inspiration. She didn't write much. She said Bohinj is too beautiful for a murder.
In the vicinity of the lake, you can take the cable car up to Mt Vogel or hike up to the gracious Savica Waterfall.
We didn't take the cable car as Judy was scared of heights.
The distance between the lower and upper cable car station is almost 1 km (about 0,6 mi), with blood-freezing panoramic views from really high altitudes.
The award for the high heartbeat is a miraculous view to the highest Mt Triglav and other peaks of the Julian Alps from the panoramic plateau at the upper station.
You can see the entire Bohinj area, consisting of several villages and hamlets, with lonely farms extending right under the peaks of the mountains.
We took the lunch break in a local restaurant Pri Hrvatu in the village of Srednja Vas, where we had an interesting chat with the owner Branko about the food chain in these remote areas.
That was a lesson of self-sufficiency and sustainability, worthy to be integrated into some university study book.
After lunch, we had a stop by the lake, met a fisherman, and continued our way back to Lake Bled.
We actually did a loop Lake Bled - Pokljuka Plateau - Bohinj area - Lake Bled.
Lake Bled and Bled Castle
The most visited Slovenian tourist destinations beside Ljubljana and Postojna Cave is Bled.
Crystal clear Lake Bled with the island in the middle of it is like taken out from one of the Disney cartoons.
We entered the Bled Castle and went up directly to the panoramic spot in the upper courtyard.
Traditional 'Pletna' boats riding across the placid Lake Bled to the island with a Baroque church in the middle of it, with the sun hanging on the sky just before turning to sunset was simply a movie-kind of scenery that made us petrified.
We then had a brief history lesson in the two-floor museum and discovered all other castle rooms and features.
The dinner at the tourism farm Pr Matjon, where one of the overnights on our 'Slovenia in 3 days' tour was booked, was a delight.
Teas made out of hand-picked herbs, fresh fruit juices, crunchy appetizers and finally the tasteful main dishes prepared us to put together the impressions of the day and slowly depart to the world of dreams.
From the Alps to the Adriatic Sea
We decided to take the famous Vršič Mountain Pass, the highest mountain pass in Slovenia to cross the mountains and where to enter the Soča Valley from.
Views on this mountain road are phenomenal.
A serpentine road up the rugged Julian Alps is one of the main Alpine sightseeing roads.
Admiring the sharp peaks, green forests, shepherds' cottages, cows grazing the slopes around, saying hello to the nature-made portrait of Heathen Maiden we started the descend to the other side.
We entered it through Trenta, the main village of the homonymous valley, a tributary to the Soča one.
This is where the emerald Soča River sources.
From the last curves of the Vršič Mountain Pass to the end of the Soča Valley in Solkan at the border with Italy, the emerald queen follows you partly wild and torrential, partly calm and smooth.
There are the upper, middle, and lower parts of Soča Valley.
In Trenta village, we stopped for a plate of local cheese and curd, made of milk by the indigenous Bovec Sheep.
The main hub of the upper section.
Due to excellent natural conditions is home to many brave guys, outdoor activities and water sports, known as the adrenaline capital of Slovenia.
If you will try any of the sports, it's requested to be accompanied by a professional guide and tutor from one of the local agencies, specialized in mentioned activities, knowing every single inch of the Soča Valley.
The most known town on the middle section got its fame due to a not really nice reason, the WWI.
Kobarid Museum is keeping various objects, weapons, letters, uniforms, documents, maps, other kinds of artifacts, and especially personal stories as a warning what should not be repeated again.
Inspired by the events in Kobarid and surroundings in the time of WWI, Ernest Hemingway wrote a classic novel A Farewell to Arms.
The area was on the battle line between Italy and Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
Slovenians were not asked about anything but pushed into the craziness of the war just by living in this beautiful part of the planet.
We stopped at the museum as Judy and Mark were deeply interested in this part of Slovenian history.
The administrative hub of the Soča Valley is home to the Tolmin Gorges, the lowest point of the Triglav National Park.
The two canyons of Tolminščica and Zadlaščica rivers join into a confluence deep down under the village of Zatolmin.
The temperature in the Tolmin Gorges is always lower than above, before the entrance.
Especially in the summertime, the cool winds provide a pleasantly refreshing breeze.
The hike lasts for some hour and a half, consider it semi-difficult.
You'll be awarded by astonishing natural rock formations that the two rivers have been carving through the limestone for thousands of years.
Tolmin is also home to some of the biggest open-air festivals in Europe, taking place in a magical scenery on another confluence, in this case of Soča and Tolminščica rivers.
We drove from Kobarid to the Brda wine region, about an hour's drive.
Brda wine region
The winemaking region of Brda is a go-ahead region in Slovenia and the best example of progress in wine production.
Following the country's independence the quality and reputation of Slovenian wine have been constantly increasing and Brda today is among the top wine regions in Europe.
The parade wine is Rebula.
This indigenous variety could not stand the competition of other, wider spread varieties in the time of mass production and almost disappeared during the last 100 years.
It survived thanks to a few proud 'Brici', the locals of Brda that kept it as a family pride and are now paving the path to the wine Olympus with it.
Hiking and cycling trails with nature and culture sites are spread around the hills covered by vineyards, olive and fruit groves.
This is the last stage of one of the most diverse hiking trails in the world, the Alpe-Adria hiking trail.
It extends on 750 km (about 465 mi) from the Alps in Austria, through the Triglav National Park and the Soča Valley in Slovenia, to the Adriatic Sea in Italy.
We had our lunch stop in the Kabaj Winery and Homestay.
Jean-Michel Kabaj is one of the world's top winemakers. Proved in top wine magazines by top world wine experts.
His passion and devotion to the land made him an 'enfant terrible' in the revitalization of Amphora wines, known also as biodynamic Orange wines.
This antique way of doing, reportedly originating from present-day Georgia, brings out the most pristine wine without any additives or chemical, just by natural processes.
Jean-Michel's wife runs a food place, where they offer a degustation menu adapted to the wines of the house.
They showed us also the accommodation, perfectly complementing the wine and food offer.
Supported by the energizing biodynamic wine, Judy and Mark were so amazed that they started to think about changing the itinerary and extend our Slovenia in 3 days tour by an additional overnight in Brda.
Finally, they agreed to come back next time and make a move on to the coast this time.
The panoramic drive over the Brda hills was accompanied by the descending sun, mesmerizing scenery.
After an hour and a half drive, we arrived at the coast.
The Slovenian coast is just about 46 km (about 28,5 mi) long.
Between the border with Croatia on the east and Italy on the west, there are 3 coastal towns of Koper, Izola, and Piran.
Our final destination of the day was Piran.
We arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon.
Judy and Mark booked the room in Hotel Piran, reportedly a hotel with the best sea view in town.
I let them enjoy their own evening with the sunset and went to prepare everything for our last day.
At least I thought it's like this.
From Piran to Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle
Drop off in Ljubljana
After breakfast, we went for a walking tour around the Venetian-spirited Piran.
Cobbled narrow alleyways and the salty breeze made Judy and Mark have a de-ja-vu of being in Venice.
The quaint, fairy-tale-looking town is located on a sand-stone promontory under the church hill.
St George's Church is a beautiful example of Venetian Baroque architecture of the 17th century.
It is a copy of the St Marcus' Church in Venice, explaining who the territory belonged to at that time.
The courtyard in front of the church is a panoramic spot offering you a splendid view to Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and the compressed town of Piran and the Tartini square below.
Piran was one of the 'salt triangle' towns together with Venice in Italy and Rovinj in Croatia.
In the times when the salt worthed almost the same as gold, these three ports were crucial for the salt export towards the north of Europe.
Piran enjoyed the wellbeing and economical background of the Venetian Republic.
The salt determined centuries of town's history.
Still today the top quality salt has been produced in the salt pans our of town.
The salt flower, the most tender and delicate first harvest salt from there is an indispensable spice in the kitchens of the world's best restaurants.
Note, the traffic in the town is limited to the minimum and strictly surveilled.
If you come by car you have to park it in one of the external garages.
At the end of the walking tour, Judy and Mark returned to the hotel.
I went to get the car and came to the hotel to pick them up together with the luggage.
We were ready to continue our Slovenia in 3 days expedition, this time in the underground of Slovenia in Postojna, some hour drive from Piran.
Postojna is the town on the highest altitude in Slovenia (560 m, about 1840 ft).
This destination between the coast and Ljubljana has made its fame from one of Slovenia's top sights, the most visited cave in the world, Postojna Cave.
Located a stone-throw from the town center, this cave is also the cradle of Karstology, the science studying the natural phenomena related to limestone.
It was the first cave, opened for visitors in the world about 200 years ago.
The main attraction is the train that takes you through the major part of the tourist trail.
The cave is home to the endemic Proteus or human fish, a cave salamander you won't find anywhere else in the world.
The temperature inside is constant 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 Fahrenheit).
About 1 km (0,6 mi) walking path is considered not difficult, easy.
Just a short drive along a forest road is the best place for castle lovers, Predjama Castle.
This peculiar highlights, located in front of the cave is an impregnable medieval stronghold.
The first parts were built in the 12th century into the side of an over 100 m (about 330 ft) cliff, with several secret cave passages and tunnels behind, joining the Postojna Cave system further in the depths of the underground.
The castle remained undestroyed during all the historical periods and is beside the Bled Castle one of the oldest and best-preserved medieval castles in Slovenia.
Conclusion of our Slovenia in 3 days tour
We had lunch in one of the restaurants on the way to Postojna.
After the visit of the Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle, we head back to Ljubljana.
The next day Judy and Mark had in plan to depart towards Vienna, Austria.
Well, they had in plan.
After our experience, their plans changed.
They extended their stay in Slovenia for 2 more days. I was available and ready to create another tour, this time around east Slovenia, starting with the areas above the Dolenjska region that we visited the first day.
After the two marvelous days around the east of Slovenia, Judy and Mark continued their European vacation from Maribor, the second largest Slovenian city.
Don't make too strict plans, Slovenia can surprise you.
What to see in Slovenia in 3 days?
An example of a 3 days itinerary
A relatively unknown pocket country in the middle of Europe