What I’ll remember most about Slovenia is the color green. That and hundreds of neatly stacked woodpiles, dense pine forests and a spotlessly clean little country. I had absolutely no expectations when we decided to visit the Republic of Slovenia, only that Joe had told me after he briefly visited its capital city of Ljubljana on a masters degree program trip in 2004 that the town was a lovely, little gem. The five days we spent in Slovenia confirmed that his characterization applied not only to its capital, but to the rest of the country as well. The young nation of just over two million people appears to have emerged from the years as part of Yugoslavia relatively unscathed and was the first former Communist country to join the Eurozone.
We headed east into Slovenia from Trieste, Italy. Our first stop was the Kendov Dvorec Hotel, a Relais et Chateaux manor deep in the mountains in the evergreen-rich village of Spodnja Idrija to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. The property was lovely, friendly and quiet – just what we needed after the hustle and bustle of Venice – and we enjoyed two romantic dinners of Slovenian specialties in the candlelit dining room.
Next on our itinerary was the spectacular Lake Bled set high in the foothills of the Julian Alps up north near the Austrian border. I’m pretty much a beach girl when it comes to relaxing by the water, but this stunning fairytale kingdom lake invited us to put up our feet and stay awhile and changed my mind, at least for a few days, about my favorite waterside setting. Lake Bled is a glistening jewel, pure and simple. Swans float on its emerald waters and gondolier-style oarsmen rowing canopied boats shuttle visitors to the lake’s signature centerpiece, Bled Island. The Church of the Assumption’s picturesque white steeple with its pointed gray tip, its image reflected in the green waters, beckons couples from not only Slovenia, but around the world, to tie the knot on the tiny island. In fact, our hotel was filled with the friends and family of a British couple getting married that weekend – talk about a fairytale destination wedding. To appreciate the mountain lake from every angle, we walked the four-mile, just over an hour-long route around its perimeter. Adding to the drama of the setting was red-roofed Bled Castle, which from its perch high over the crystalline lake provides a birds eye view of the surrounding countryside. Built atop a white limestone cliff that rises from the lake’s shore, the castle is one of the most picturesque we saw in all of Europe and it is definitely worth the hike up if only for the view.
We reluctantly left rural Slovenian for an overnight stay in Ljubljana, one of Europe’s newest capital cities. As we approached from the north on the motorway, there were some shamefully ugly apartment blocks, vestiges of the bygone communist era, but everything remained as clean and tidy as the countryside. The pre-fab concrete housing quickly morphed into the charming medieval architecture of Old Ljubljana, a prosperous place filled with theatres, museums, galleries and no shortage of restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs kept hopping by a significant student population. The narrow Ljubljanica River divides the heart of the city in two and its colorful embankments are magnets for activity, including promenades by scores of strollers. We walked over the Triple Bridge with its three arms reserved for pedestrians, walked through the old town, took the funicular (Joe was in heaven) up to the 12th century castle that watches over the city and ended our day with dinner at a chic outdoor cafe.
Our final destination took us southwest and back into the Slovenian countryside, this time outside the little town of Lipica, home of the original stud farm for Lipizzaner horses. We’d witnessed these lovely steeds go through their paces in Vienna and were surprised to discover that most of them had their beginnings in Slovenia. From the moment we first glimpsed the horses, my heart melted and I turned back into a little girl in pigtails, my nose pressed to the fence, watching the weeks-old foals with knobby knees and spindly legs frolicking in the fields with their mothers. Our guide took us to say hello up close to and stroke the velvet noses of the mature, muscled stallions in the stables, including Kanizo, an equine beauty presented as a royal gift to Queen Elizabeth on a state visit several years ago. I was so sad to leave these noble thoroughbreds and end our tour of the expansive, pristine, very green pastures. When a Belgian woman in our group inquired about the price of a horse, our guide quipped as we completed our tour, “Let’s just say that rich people buy horses and really rich people buy Lipizzaners.”
Slovenia was green, friendly and sophisticated. We had absolutely no problems negotiating the roadways since they were well-organized, modern and were marked well with terrific, clear signage. It was by far the tidiest country we’ve visited and it is already well on its way to benefitting from a solid tourist trade. It has an Adriatic coastline, gorgeous rolling mountains, dramatic peaks, drop-dead gorgeous lakes and an endearing yet sophisticated capital city. “Hvala, Slovenija,” thank you for a delight-full visit.
Pictures of our adventures: http://gapyeargirlgoestoeurope.shutterfly.com