Friday, May 2, 2014

Slovenia: A Hidden Gem

A few weeks ago, Kyle and I took a great little road trip to Slovenia.  It's a country that's a bit off the radar for most Americans, but we had heard wonderful things about it and decided to spend some time there.  It was about a six hour drive to get to where we were staying on Lake Bled, and it was worth every minute of the drive.  Slovenia is definitely a small treasure of a country!  The people were warm and friendly, it was clean, the roads were great and of course the scenery was amazing!

The good thing about visiting a small country like Slovenia is that you can easily visit most everything within a short one to two hour drive.  We made Lake Bled our home base, and did a couple of day trips from there.  We stayed at a neat historic villa that was just a short walk away from the lake.  We arrived in the afternoon, dropped off our stuff and headed straight to the lake.  

There is an easy four mile walk around the lake that's paved most of the way.  Around every curve is a new gorgeous view, especially of the castle or Bled Island, which has a quaint, little pilgrimage church on it.  (The legend of the island is really interesting.  Check it out here.)  It was really hard to choose pictures since the whole lake is so photogenic!  Kyle got tons of great shots!

These traditional little boats take you out to Bled Island to see the church

What a brave dog we have!

Later that evening we drove up to see the castle.  The price was a bit steep for what you actually got to see of the castle, but we did have some amazing views during the sunset!

The next morning we headed out to see Slovenia's short 43 kilometer (27 mile) long coastline on the Adriatic Sea.  Slovenia's little coast is right between Italy and Croatia, and the Italian (specifically Venetian) influence can definitely be seen in the small coastal towns.  (Further north where we were staying, there was a more Austrian feel, reflecting the influence of Slovenia's neighbor to the north.)  Our first stop of the day was Piran.  It is such a gorgeous little town with a great, relaxed atmosphere.  We took our time, enjoying the beautiful colors of the sea and the small, narrow streets of the old town.  I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't in Italy, but it sure felt like it!

Crystal clear waters!

The perfect spot for dining al fresco!

Our next stop was to see the small port town of Koper.  There actually is a modern, industrial port in Koper, but you would never guess it while wondering around the quiet, old streets!  We had some coffee and gelato while checking out the town.

Last stop of the day was Italia!  (Come on, we couldn't be that close to Italy without dropping by!)  I had heard good things about the city of Trieste right on the coast, so we decided to check it out.  It was a much larger city than I was expecting!  We didn't have an itinerary of things to see, so we just went whichever way looked interesting.  We came across some pretty awesome stuff, including Roman ruins, an expansive piazza, a cathedral dating back to the 6th century and the 15th century Castle San Giusto.  Trieste also has a very interesting World War history.  What incredible layers of the past!

Roman ruins of an amphitheater built by Trajan ~100AD

Castello San Giusto

Busy sketching.  Age doesn't stop her!

I spy a cat!

On our way back to Bled, we stopped to see Predjama Castle, built into a cliff!  It was too late to go inside, but it was pretty awesome.  It's not everyday you get to see a cliff castle!

We didn't get as lucky with the sun on our third day, but luckily the rain held off for us!  We went to see Škofja Loka, Slovenia's best preserved medieval town. It was so beautiful and peaceful. It is off the beaten path, so it wasn't too crowded with tourists. It was a great find!

These walkways to the shops during construction would never happen in America!
From there, we headed to see Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana.  It was pretty chilly, and we were tired of walking so we didn't do the town justice.  It is a beautiful place that deserved more time than we gave it, but sometimes you just have to know when to give in!

The famous Triple bridge, connecting the old and new towns.

Gnocchi for Kyle...some Italian influence.  I had sausage with mustard and polenta...some German/Austrian and Italian influence.

We decided that we couldn't visit Lake Bled without going to see Bled Island, so that's what we did when we got back.  The sun decided to come out a little bit, making the paddle boat ride very enjoyable.  (Especially since we didn't have to do any of the paddling!)

A wedding on the island, how pretty!

Slovenia was formerly part of Yugoslavia.  Josip Broz Tito was President/dictator of Yugoslavia between 1953 and 1980.  He built his vacation home on Lake Bled, where he brought all of the important people that came to visit.  You can see his villa in the picture below.  It's now a hotel.  We went inside to take a look.

Tito's desk

Amazingly delicious Bled creme cake, created for Tito by two of his chefs.

Tito knew how to choose a place with a view!

Kyle and I were so impressed with Slovenia!  It is a hidden gem that is definitely worth travelling to.  (We didn't even get to hike the Julian Alps!  Next time!)  I guess if too many people found out about how nice it is, it might become swarming with tourists...maybe I should just keep this all to myself... :-)

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