Caroline and Drew are very nice guys in their 30's, living an active life in a big city.
They were looking for a holiday in a country which is not on everybody's bucket list, some kind of an 'exotic' destination.

They've heard and read about a pocket country in the middle of Europe called Slovenia as a clean country, a destination of relax, diverse nature, good food and wine, rich tradition and heritage, interesting language, a country with no big cities, a beautiful capital Ljubljana, with some nice guys living there.

We got in touch through the Loopy Slovenia website.
They were keen on all the multiday tours.
In the end, together we created a bit modified Slovenia in 5 days tour apart of spending some time before and after the tour also in the capital Ljubljana.
We integrated into the itinerary the places and features that enhanced their experience of Slovenia, such as caves, museums, Triglav National Park, UNESCO sites, wine tastings.
Individually you can experience them also on my day trips.

They've entered through Ljubljana Airport, they also departed back home from there.
As it's mentioned in the previous blog, there are several airports in the neighboring countries Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, as well as many options on how to get to Slovenia by train or bus.

I went to pick them up at Ljubljana Airport a day before our tour, in the morning.
After we met we did a sightseeing tour of Ljubljana, a walking tour around the city center, and went again through the itinerary of the following days.
They booked the Ljubljana overnights in the uHotel, located in the city center.

Day One

We met in the morning and had a coffee.
I have to admit, I am a coffee lover. I don't start the day without two cups of it.
In Italy coffee is almost a law. We like to learn good habits from our neighbors, in Ljubljana generally you get a good coffee.

Caroline and Drew didn't hesitate this little pleasure in the morning.

We departed towards Maribor, the second-largest city in Slovenia.
Maribor is the most known for being home to the oldest vine tree in the world, over 400 years old indigenous Žametna Črnina.
In the part of Lent, in front of the Old Vine House, this stubborn vine tree survived the Ottoman invasions, Napoleonic times, and even the World Wars.
It's still there, as a symbol of Slovenian resistance.
Inside the Old Vine House, there is a wine center where you can taste and buy the best varietals and blends of the Podravje wine-growing region.

We parked close to the Old Vine House and went for a walk first.
Drew first took a photo of the Old Bridge, a majestic construction over the Drava River connecting the old town on the left riverbank with the new part on the right one, where the city started to expand after the WWI.
We then went to see the Maribor Synagogue, passed the beautiful example of a city mansion Vetrinjski Dvor, and arrived at the Castle Square.

The Maribor Castle dominates the square with the St Florian's statue in the middle, peculiar red-bricked Franciscan Church closeby, and prominent buildings with beautiful facades around.

St Florian is the protector of firemen, his statue you can see in many towns that suffered the fires in the medieval times when wood was the main building material for widespread use.

The Maribor Castle is a baroque castle with a Loreto Chapel on the side and a wonderful staircase leading to the Knights Hall on the first floor which amazes with the richly painted fresco ceiling and paintings of the town nobility around.
It was visited by many notable people, such as the composer and pianist Franz Liszt, unfortunately also Adolf Hitler.
The castle is now a regional museum boasting a rich collection of furniture, paintings, statues, clothes, shoes, glass and even over 300 years old pharmacy items.

Caroline and Drew were not much into the museums.
When we talked I realized they think about the great museums where you have to spend hours in the queues and days to get from one sector to the other.
They were not into that.
On the other side, they were very interested in traditions and people's lives in the past.
This is why they decided to enter.

Museums in Slovenia are not the monuments to the greatness of the kings and popes but the storytellers of life.
This is like water in the desert for the one who loves simplicity.

We spent most of the time in the pharmacy section, then we continued towards Slomšek Square.
An interesting building is the Church of St John the Baptist.
Built as a Romanesque basilica it was enriched by Gothic elements and got its present shape and size in the period of Baroque.
Inside we bowed to the thumb of the remarkable Slovenian national awakener Anton Martin Slomšek, and to a memorial tablet dedicated to John Paul II, who visited the Maribor Cathedral for two times.

The headquarter of the Slovenian Post next to the church is a beautiful example of architecture from the end of the 19th century, as well as the headquarter of the Maribor University opposite to the church.

The Slovenian National Theatre beautifully fulfills the architectural eclecticism of the square.
At this point, I can mention Maribor with Ptuj and some other partner towns was the European Capital of Culture in 2012.

We took photos of all these majestic buildings and stopped for a nice sandwich and salad in one of the pubs on the Poštna street.

Most of the bars and pubs offer food like sandwiches, toasts, salads and other kinds of snacks for not more than a few euros.
It's actually great to see how the bar owners want to show their best in offering diverse and healthy food.

We were just a few meters from the Main Square.
The Town Hall has a peculiar asymmetric facade, reportedly built like this on purpose because the architect didn't get paid.
In front of it, the Plague Statue is a beautiful example of Baroque art in Slovenia.

We walked back down towards the Drava River to the Old Vine House, where we were warmly welcomed.
Despite there were other guests we learn a lot about the winemaking in Slovenia through the explanation of kind hosts and the multimedia presentation of Maribor wine district in one of the rooms.

Caroline and Drew decided to have a wine tasting a bit later, in Ptuj.
Regardless, they were amazed by the stories of Ice Wine and even more special Dry Berry Selection Wine, once known as royal wines.
They purchased a bottle of each, a few other hand-made souvenirs from the well-supplied souvenir shop and we were ready for the next step.

The village of Jeruzalem is located in the Ljutomer - Ormož wine district.
The peculiar name derives from a reportedly true event back in the medieval times, when a group of crusaders stopped there for a break on their way to the Middle East, to the real Jerusalem.
Crusaders were tired, hungry, and thirsty.
Generous locals served them food and provided them the accommodation.
When the warriors tried the local wine it was the end of their journey.
The taste of wine made them decide they got to their final destination.
Hence the name Jeruzalem.
We drove the hilly region with endless vineyards wherever you look. Magic.

Caroline and Drew decided to do the overnight in Ptuj.
Ptuj is reportedly the oldest Slovenian town.
Well, the people of Piran would not agree, claiming they live in an older town.

None of the places in Slovenia and the wider area can beat Ptuj in the time of carnivals.
Several leading guide books mentioned Ptuj Carnival one of the most amusing and biggest world carnivals, hosting tens of thousands of visitors, breathtaking chariots and carnival groups, concerts, exhibitions, food and wine.

The chosen accommodation was Hotel Mitra, located literally ten steps from the Slovenian Square, one of town's main meeting places.
As we arrived there in the late afternoon, we had time to relax a bit and meet later for a short walk around the town.
Ptuj Castle, we decided to visit the next morning before departing to Rogatec.

We started our walking tour just next to the hotel, at the Orpheus Monument.
The biggest Roman monument made of a single piece of stone stands on the square in front of the St George's Church and the Ptuj's Theatre.
Ptuj Town Tower next to the church is over 600 years old former watchtower, for the last 300 years a parish tower.
We went down the street to the main square, dominated by the town hall.
In front, like in Maribor, a baroque statue of St Florian.

Few steps further down towards the Drava River the Minorite Monastery with its spacious courtyard, today a popular venue for public events.
More than 5000 books, some dating even to the 16th century, are kept in the monastery's library.
We took a photo of the Plague Statue in front of the monastery and continued to the bank of Drava River.

The early evening view to the town and the Ptuj Castle from the bridge was like a photo from a guide book and explained to us how the town was divided in the past.
The castle above, the big houses with courtyards in between, the tiny houses at the riverside.

The old town of Ptuj is one of the most preserved medieval town centers in Slovenia.
The buildings are dating back even 400 years, the tiny streets and passages are revealing the old urban plan, the shaded courtyards are telling the secret stories of the past.

Caroline and Drew booked the dinner in the hotel, while the wine tasting they booked at the Kobal Wines, just next to the hotel.

At the Kobal Wines, we were warmly welcomed by Bojan Kobal, the owner, and his niece Tina.
One of my friends from Ptuj joined us too.
Bojan is one of the most known winemakers in the Haloze district, Podravje wine-growing region.
Drew, Bojan, and my friend immediately got along.
In the end, I was the first to leave.
As I got to know the day after, Caroline was also not among the last ones.

Day Two

Drew said the wine is excellent because he tried a bit more samples than usual but had no consequences.

As agreed we went first up to the Ptuj Castle.
Built by one of the Salzburg archbishops in the 12th century, was home to many nobles during medieval times.

Today Ptuj Castle is home to the biggest museum collection in Slovenia.
We entered and dove into the world of all that fancy embroidery, paintings, tables, sofas, stoves, furniture, weapons, musical instruments, carnival masks and costumes.
In the end, the castle's wine cellar now turned into a little wine museum with some interesting winemaking items from the past.
Drew loved it.

After taking photos of Ptuj from the panoramic viewpoint in front of the castle we walked down towards the Dominican Monastery, today a venue for the exclusive events.

We had another coffee in the hotel.
I have to mention the Mitra Hotel has its own coffee brew called Kipertz.
This was something for Caroline and myself, the coffee lovers.

Both Caroline and Drew were surprised by Maribor and Ptuj.
About anything specific, it was just nice all together.

The way to Rogatec took a bit longer than a usual half-hour, driving picturesque rolling hills of Ptujska Gora and Donačka Gora.

The little town of Rogatec has two churches on the main square, which proves its strategic importance in the past.
Farming is still the main economy, besides tourism in the nearby spa center of Rogaška Slatina, where the most known Slovenian mineral water Donat Mg is coming from.
It is the water with a very high content of Magnesium, considered a remedy.

Caroline and Drew were amazed by the Rogatec open-air Museum, the biggest ethnological park in Slovenia.

Not just you can see the farming tools and sub-Pannonian vernacular architecture.
In the nearby Strmol Manor, you can even attend some of the workshops in terms of knowing better the traditions and heritage of our ancestors, such as pottery, embroidery, baking the local Žulika bread, weaving wicker or bast fiber.
There were no many guests so we had a bit longer chat with the lady in the museum.
She explained to us about traditional life in a farming family as she derives from one of them, and even invited us for a short lesson in pottery.

The experience was priceless.
Suddenly all that we were looking at got and added meaning and value.

It was lunchtime.
In one of the local inns we had a snack, usually eaten by the workers as so-called brunch.
A barley stew was an abundant healthy meal until the dinner in Bled later in the evening.

Pleasantly full we departed towards Kostanjevica na Krki.
Driving the area of Kozjansko and Bizeljsko is always a big pleasure.
These areas are not known as the popular destinations in western Slovenia.
On the other side, these are the areas where Slovenian households get supplied from the most.
The indigenous apples and pears of Kozjansko are widely known as the best to use in the preparation of the famous sweet called Strudel of special marmalades.

Podsreda Castle hidden up the hills silently keeps the mystic story of Emma of Gurk, considered the first Slovenian saint.

We entered the Posavje wine-growing region.
Bizeljsko is known for its nice whites and peculiar Repnice underground cellars.
Dug into the quartz sand, these labyrinths were used as storages for vegetables.
Recently, with the improvement in wine production, some smart guys found out these underground cellars are perfect rooms for wine with the constant temperature, humidity, and darkness.

In the afternoon we arrived in Kostanjevica na Krki.
This quaint little town is located on an artificial island in the middle of the Krka River.

We parked the car on the island and went for a walk.
There is actually nothing special. It's just simple.
Simplicity is becoming a luxury.
From this point of view, Slovenia is a luxury destination.

A road around the island, on both sides the charming tiny houses, all renovated and well maintained.
People are happy when they see somebody visiting their town, the place is not crowded, life is going on in an easy, but effective way.

We walked around and had a chat with the owner of the coffee place that provides also the boat rides on the Krka River.
Before going to meet my friend Marjan we went to see Božidar Jakac Gallery, the biggest gallery in Slovenia with a vast forma-viva park.
This time we followed Caroline's wish as she was passionate about folk art.
It took about an hour to visit the showrooms.
She was impressed by the exhibition.
An unexpected jewel, she said.

The last stop before going towards Ljubljana and then Lake Bled, our last destination of the day, was the visit of Jelenič winery.
Both Caroline and Drew liked to try different wines of different terroirs.
Located on the panoramic spot above the island town it offers a view to up to the Triglav National Park and the Julian Alps.
Yes, the view from the southeast to the northeast of the country.
Maybe it seems a bit unbelievable but in the sunny weather possible. Proven.
Marjan is a great host.
He takes care of his guests as of his family.
Usually, he starts by pulling our some salami from somewhere.
Then, the wine journey begins.
His wines are proof of devotion to the land and heritage.
He is one of those who insisted on keeping the old varieties that today are becoming the parade wines of the Dolenjska wine district.
Marjan is definitely one of the masters of wine tastings in Slovenia.

It is never easy to leave so it wasn't this time too.
Until Lake Bled we discussed farming and wine production, enriched with fresh knowledge we gained on the way.

We reached Ljubljana in an hour, after some 45 minutes more we arrived in Bled in the early evening.
Caroline and Drew booked one of the apartments near to the Lake Bled.
A nice lady welcomed us, they settled in and we had a free rest of the evening.

Day Three

Lake Bled is one of the most known Slovenian destinations, beside Ljubljana and the Postojna Cave with Predjama Castle.
But it's not just about Lake Bled.
Around there are many other beautiful places to visit and things to do, such as hiking the Vintgar Gorge and other natural wonders, going for a cycle tour to the surrounding villages, go to see the nearby Lake Bohinj, a starting point for the explorations of the Triglav National Park, and much more.

Caroline and Drew have checked the information about the destinations very well.
They were interested in the town called Radovljica, some 15 minutes drive from Lake Bled area.
Why not?

This is a wonderful Alpine little town with a well preserved medieval center.
What is more important, it is home to the Museum of Apiculture and it is a Slovenia's beekeeping headquarters.

Not far from Radovljica, in the village of Breznica, the pioneer of modern apiculture was born.
Anton Janša became the first royal beekeeper appointed by Maria Theresa and the first teacher at the beekeeping academy in the Holy Roman Empire.
His books 'Discussion on Beekeeping' and 'A full guide to Beekeeping' are still considered the basic study books in beekeeping.
Janša's birthday, the 20th of May, was chosen as the World Bee Day by the United Nations.

We took a combo ticket for the Beekeeping and Municipal Museum.
In the latter one, we had a look into the life of another remarkable man of Radovljica, Anton Tomaž Linhart.
The visit extended over the planned time.
Caroline and Drew didn't expect the museum to be so informative and interesting.

When we discussed the theatre, I figured out both of them are passionate about folk music.
This is my field. I was an actor in a semi-professional theatre group and I play the tuba.
It is always a pleasure for me to do the extra mile for my guests who are curious and interested to see more.

That's why I took them to another special place.
This time it was my pleasure.
The village of Begunje, not far either from Lake Bled or Radovljica, is home to the Avsenik Museum.
Slavko Avsenik, together with this brother Vilko, are the legends of Slovenian folk music.
We have to know that every region in Slovenia has its own musical heritage because every region is under different cultural influences.
After WWII, Slovenians united around the music played by Avsenik brothers.
The Polka and Waltzer rhythms, played by the ensemble of the euphonium, guitar, clarinet, trumpet, and voice became the Slovenian national music.
Avsenik brothers created the most played instrumental song in history, the Golica Song.

Caroline and Drew were fascinated. Such a small country, such a rich heritage.
Part of the museum complex is also a restaurant, we had a delightful lunch there.

The rest of the day we spent around Lake Bled.
We skipped the famous Vintgar Gorge because it was quite busy. The walking path there is quite narrow, so in the busiest periods of the year it's maybe better to choose some other natural wonder around.
We drove up to the Bled Castle, perched upon the rock above the lake.
Fairy-tale scenery is crowned by the view to the Lake Bled and the Bled Island from the panoramic plateau at the top.
We had a look into the castle museum on two floors and had a refreshing drink in the bar at the lower panoramic plateau.
While looking to the Pletna boats down below I told them the mystic story about the Bell of Wishes.

The story is about a landlord and his wife who lived in the Bled Castle.
They were not really kind to their people so one day some guys killed the landlord in an ambush.
Sad widow gathered all her gold and ordered a golden bell, blessed by the Pope, from Rome.
When they were transporting the bell to the church on the island the storm suddenly appeared and the boat with the golden bell sunk to the bottom of the Lake Bled.
She got enlighted.
She figured out this was a punishment for all bad she and her husband did to their people.
She wanted to go back in time and change everything.
Because this was not possible she granted everything to the Church and spent the rest of her life in the convent wishing to change the past.
The Pope sent a new bell, the present Bell of Wishes.
It is there for all who want to make a wish for a better tomorrow, as we can't change the past.

I took them down to the lakeside, the rest of the day they enjoyed on their own.

Day Four

It was early July so the Lake Bled area was quite busy.
The busiest months in Slovenia are June, July, and August.
That's the time of school and public holidays in Europe, consequently busier roads.

Therefore we decided to take the Predel instead of Vršič Mountain Pass to get to the Soča Valley on the other side.
Vršič Mountain Pass is the highest, located in the Triglav National Park. Hence more known.
Predel Mountain Pass is at least the same panoramic. In addition, we drove a bit of Austria and Italy before getting back to Slovenia.
There is another one, Soriška Planina Mountain Pass, leading from Lake Bohinj area to the Baška Grapa Valley, which is a tributary valley to the Soča one.

Descending down towards Soča Valley we passed two forts that played important roles in the Napoleonic Wars, Fort Predel and Fort Kluže.
The latter one is still well maintained, turned into a small museum.
It was built on a peculiar strategic position, right above the Koritnica Canyons.
We stopped and had a walk around.

Soon after the break at the for we arrived at the crossroad.
If we turned left we would arrive in Trenta village where the emerald Soča River springs, the beginning of the Soča Valley.

We continued down towards the town of Bovec and then to Kobarid, where we went to see Napoleon's Bridge and continued the way up to the Breginj Corner, to the Avsa village.
This area is included also into one of my day trips to the Soča Valley.
We had a lovely lunch in the farmhouse Jelenov Breg pod Matajurjem.
All food homemade and fresh, including the fruit juices and herbal teas.
We had a look at the stags, cows, and other animals on the farm.
The kind owner took us even to the nearby Jevšček village to see the Nježna House, a reconstructed farming house typical for the steep slopes of Breginj Corner.

From there we went to the Brda wine region, where we first went to see the panorama from the Gonjače view tower, then we visited the village of Šmartno.
The only village in Brda with preserved medieval walls is an architectural gem of the region.
Most of the houses are merely renewed, some are reconstructed on the base of old architectural plans.

Caroline and Drew booked the accommodation in the Hotel San Martin.
This family-run hotel is located on one of the best locations in the Brda Wine Region, just a few meters out of the village walls above the vineyards, fruit orchards, and olive groves looking towards the Adriatic Sea.
The hotel has excellent food and a rich wine list of the wines by the local producers.
This was the reason, why Caroline and Drew decided to spend the rest of the evening in the hotel.

Day Five

They enjoyed the dinner and the wine tasting very much.
Vesna and Bogdan, the owners of Hotel San Martin, made them super happy.

After breakfast we started our drive to the Škocjan Caves and Piran, the coastal jewel of Slovenia.
There were cherry vendors by the road, so we picked a kilogram of sweet, crispy cherries.
Brda cherries are known widely for their sweetness.
There are different ones, we enjoyed the so-called crunchy ones.
In June, there is a big cherry festival going on in Brda.

After approximately one hour of driving, passing the town of Nova Gorica and Vipava Valley, we arrived in the Škocjan Caves, one of the UNESCO sites in Slovenia.
They chose Škocjan Caves instead of Postojna Cave mainly due to the size of the first ones and the 50m (about 165ft) bridge over the Reka River inside the caves.
In the Škocjan Caves, there is no train like in Postojna Cave.
The 2-hours guided walk is considered semi-difficult with about 500 stairs to do.
There are two options of returning back to the ticket office, the cable car and the walking path.
Caroline and Drew chose the cable car.

After meeting back at the ticket office I took them to see the panoramic view to the exit from the cave, simply breathtaking.
Karst phenomena related to limestone are many in Slovenia, especially in the Inner Carniola.
Almost half of the country has limestone bedrock.

Regarding food, we decided to have a sandwich and wait for nice seafood late lunch in Piran.
The drive from Škocjan Caves to Piran lasts about an hour.
We arrived in Piran in the early afternoon, parked the car in the garage outside the town due to traffic restrictions in the old town.
A free shuttle bus took us directly to the main Tartini Square.

From there we went for further exploration of the scenic town.
On the way up towards the Church Hill, we had a look at some of the artisan shops and stopped in the Franciscan Monastery.
After arriving at the viewpoint in front of St George's church we went even higher, to the Piran Walls.
That's an incredible viewpoint from where you can see 3 countries.
You are standing in Slovenia, looking to Croatia and Italy.
If the weather is nice you can see even the Alpine peaks in Austria.

We strolled the narrow alleyways back down to the town.
Specific Venetian architectural style and urban plan, completely different from other parts of Slovenia.
The town is concentrated on a sandstone peninsula.
Houses are stuck together, often you can follow a discussion among the neighbors from opposite apartments, where there is less than 2m (about 6,5ft) of the distance between the houses.

Piran was one of the main hubs for the salt distribution to the north of Europe.
Together with Venice in Italy and Rovinj in Croatia, it took part in the so-called Salt Triangle.
Outside the town, in the Sečovlje area, the salt is still produced.
The finest and most exclusive salt is the salt flower.

After passing the lighthouse, the southwesternmost point of Slovenia, we arrived at the Pavel 2 restaurant, where we had a brilliant farewell dinner.

On the way back to Ljubljana we did the final photo stop at Predjama Castle.
We got there in the time of sunset.
The scenery was magic, the perfect conclusion of a 5 days tour around Slovenia.
Predjama Castle is the largest cave castle in the world.
This impregnable stronghold is incorporated into a 123m (about 400ft) cliff, within the mouth of a cave.
If you walked the tunnels behind the Predjama Castle you would arrive at the entrance of the Postojna Cave.

Caroline, Drew and I spent together 5 days in Slovenia.
They were curious and interested to see more than just the highlights besides the capital Ljubljana.
Thus I was able to integrate into the itinerary the places and features away from crowds, explaining the Slovenian identity, heritage, and traditions in a much clearer and pristine way than some of the busy tourist sites.

We met again for a coffee the day before the departure in Ljubljana.
And we are still in touch cos they want to come back with a new member of the family in the near future.