For our fifth wedding anniversary, we decided to head to Europe. We prefer to go to Europe during the off season to avoid the crowds. We covered three countries during this trip - Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. We started our trip at the beautiful capital city, Prague. True to our travel style, we ventured out of the city on our second day in Czech Republic. We did a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, one of the most magical fairy tale small town in South Bohemia. Followed by another trek in Narnia.
After Czech, our next stopover was at Slovakia - for two rather short days. We arrived by train from Czech (because it is efficient and cost effective).
Our final stop on the trip was Slovenia. When you travel to three countries in one trip, its tough picking a favorite. However, this one time was a no-brainer. The Bohinj valley in Slovenia was undoubtedly the highlight of our winter getaway last December. There is something about these postcard perfect places that leaves us speechless.
Is it the tranquility, the landscape or just the thrill of being there taking it all in?
Day 1 - Christmas markets
Day 2 - Lake Bled and Bohinj Valley
Day 3 - Ljubljana city
Best time to visit
I would imagine the weather is pretty amazing in the summer but the winters are rainy, gloomy with snow and temperatures in the low 20s (Fahrenheit not Celsius). That being said, visiting Europe during the winter is absolutely magical and something everyone must experience at least once. So if you haven't done that already I would highly recommend visiting Slovenia during the Christmas season to soak in all the festivities. Luckily when we visited, there wasn't a lot of snow but the temperatures were below freezing during the night.
Getting there and Visa
We arrived by train from Slovakia via Vienna, Austria. The central station is centrally located in the city and I would recommend taking the train to get here, if you are already in Europe.
A Schengen Visa is required for entry into Slovenia.
The official language spoken in the country is Slavic.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel and Medical Insurance is mandatory to travel to all Schengen countries. Currency is Euro.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the quaint but comfortable Art Hotel in Ljubljana. I chose this place because it's literally a 5 minute walk from the city center.
The rooms were a decent size. The breakfast was delicious - if you need a latte or Hot Chocolate, they make it for you (sometime for an additional charge).
Cost and getting around
Slovenia was not very expensive overall. Hotels are reasonably priced (during the off season). Cabs are expensive, as you would expect them to be anywhere in Europe. A proper meal on average will be around EUR 10 per person.
Had no issues with safety. We felt everyone we met was warm and helpful.
As always, I was able to find lovely vegan friendly restaurants around the area.
If you decide to stay at the Art Hotel, you have to check out the what can only be called the best pizza in town from Pizzeria FoculuS. I was jumping for joy looking at the crazy kinds of veggie and vegan pizzas they had on the menu. We tried two of them - both amazing. The place was packed at 10 in the night - so maybe book a table if you want to spend some time there.
What to pack
Winters are cold. Pack rain jackets, winter jackets, scarves and beanies if you are going around the same time as us.
Day 1 - evening We took the train from Slovakia and after a short 15 minute walk go to the hotel. It was nearly 7 in the evening when we checked in. So quickly freshened up, coffee in hand, we decided to check out the city. What welcomed us was quite simply the most amazing market we had been to so far.
There were streets and streets of lighting. I believe they have a different theme ever year and this year it was planets and stars. We haven't been to a lot of these markets but if you want to see a real Christmas market - probably a good idea to head here.
Day 2 - Lake Bled and Bohinj Valley
We did a day tour with TO DO IN SLOVENIA. I found them on Viator. They were very professional and had tons of epic info to share with us during the trip. We were scheduled to be picked up at 8 30 a.m. but there was a slight delay due the rains. It was an incredibly cloudy day, so weren't even sure if we could see the lake but we were the only ones on the tour so we had the luxury of spending more time there, if needed. It turned out to be a private tour (this happened twice during our trip)- a big reason to travel to these tourist locations in winter.
Our first stop was going to be the Bohinj Valley (about a 2 hour drive from the city). Situated in the heart of the Julian Alps, the Bohinj Valley is a hidden gem of Slovenia. Every time I look back at memories from being here, can’t help but be in awe of this gorgeous world we live in. Lake Bohinj doesn’t have a spectacular view of a church or a castle in the middle of an island .. but it’s incredibly stunning in its serenity, towering glacier alps, deep gorges and unmatched sense of zen.
We spent a good two hours taking in the towering mountain ranges, alpine meadows and pristine lakes.. the Bohinj valley really is one of Slovenia’s most authentic destinations. Visiting during winter, when the place is not overrun by tourists, will allow you to take in the unmatched sense of calm in this region.
Before losing more light, we decided to head to Lake Bled. Our first stop was finding the hidden spot for best aerial views of the lake. As you drive towards bled from Bohinj, you will find a small path that leads UP towards the mountains. Park your car and prepare for a short hike. The path will be slippery with sleet, so wear trek shoes. After a mile or so, you will see a sign marked OJSTRICE and OSOJUICA (which will take you higher still). We turned to ojstrice since the path was path up was slippery still... another 10 minute climb later, we were at the view point.
We were literally the only ones in this famous “insta” spot. Needless to say, the views from up here blew my mind. I was so surprised to see the fall colors. I was fully expecting the bled to look magical covered in snow but boy, was I wrong. The fall leaves and the foggy lake made for one hell of a dreamy view from the top.
If someone told me there is a place somewhere in the world that has a cutesy church in the middle of a lake... you would think that I was talking about a place out of a fairy tale. Luckily this place does exist. It is called Bled and it is absolutely incredible.
We spent an hour up there.. before hiking back down and heading for lunch (which was included on the tour). The food was absolutely wonderful, fresh and piping hot - we had the cream of mushroom soup and the gnocchi with cream sauce. Pro TIP: Don't forget to try the infamous Cream Cake at Hotel Park.
Post lunch, we spent a few hours strolling around the castle grounds. You can take a ferry (leaves every other hour) to the church - we decided not to do this and walk around lake bled instead.
We were just so thrilled by the fact that we were lucky enough to witness the beauty of this place.. we wanted to soak in every little inch. Huge castle sitting tall, bluish green lake still as ice, rippling only through a swan wing... an island surrounded by the Julian alps, that looked spectacular covered in fog.
After a good four hours of having our minds blown from sheer beauty, we drove back to the city in time for dinner.
Day 3 - Ljubljana city
On our last morning in the city, we spent half a day walking the empty streets of Ljubljana.
The Ljubljanica River meanders its way through the fairytale-like village of Ljubljana crossing under several bridges that connect the two sides of the city. Among the most popular bridges are Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and Butchers’ Bridge, better known as Ljubljana’s love bridge.
The city’s Old Town is split into two parts on either side of the Ljubljanica River.
From the main square ( named after Slovenian national poet France Prešeren), you can cross the Triple Bridge to the medieval section. Mestni trg (Town Square) and Stari trg (Old Square) are two of the oldest preserved streets in the city.
The medieval Ljubljana Castle is situated on a hill above the city and accessible by a funicular. It houses art and museum exhibitions, a chapel with 15th century frescoes, viewing tower,
and two restaurants.
We were stunned by the sheer number of bridges that cross the river - each so unique and they all have a story too; felt a lot like Amsterdam or even Venice.
Yes, Lake Bled was great but it was really this place that I fell in love with. Why? Well for one, it was a ghost town. Mr. A and I were the only souls here.. apart from the ducks. All you need is a bit of peace and quiet to observe nature in all its glory.
When we first planned this trip to these somewhat less popular European countries, my hope was that we not just explore them but feel and comprehend them. True to our travel style, it was action packed and we stayed away from cities and delved in to the countryside as often as possible.
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