I opened a book, a fairy tale
And saw pictures of a place
Where a green river unveils
I packed my bags, to find this mystical land
And found in reality, my dreamland.
On 14 June 2017, we packed our bags at Zagreb to visit a small country at its northern flank, called Slovenia. S and I choose our places purely out of some fantasy we want to fulfill, and our true purpose was to visit a place that had a mythical green river, where the source of that green is still a mystery. Six months ago, while flipping through Netflix, we saw a show called ‘Chef’s Table’ and an episode on the World’s Best Woman Chef of 2016, Ana Ros. While the show was all about her, the scenery in the background was constantly diverting our attention. It was breath taking! Now Croatia was already on our itinerary, so we decided to go out on a limb and find that emerald green mystery during this trip.
Slovenia did not disappoint! The first feeling I got when I saw Ljubljana was pure love. That place just gives you that vibe. It was a cloudy morning, and the streets were fairly deserted, but my gut was still feeling very mushy. Now, I am really big on ‘getting a feeling’, so I knew I was in the right place for some much-needed love (sorry S, I love you too).
Our trip to Slovenia was short and sweet (Ljubljana- Soca Valley (Bovec) for 4 days), but the hardest to plan, because, unlike Croatia that is very commercial, Slovenia has only very recently put itself on the map as a hub of tourism, especially for Indians. While we could manage Ljubljana and Bovec, other places to visit in Slovenia are Piran, Portoroz and Izola (along the Adriatic Coast), Idrija, and the other parts of the Triglav National Park. (check out Bruised Passports’ Page ; and Shivya Nath’s instagram page and blog too- She was in Slovenia until very recently).
Best time to visit: April – June and December – March
Slovenia is dotted by the Julian Alps, so the best time to visit is Spring / beginning of summer. Just a caution- in June, the water levels can seem to be quite low, but locals say that adventure sports like kayaking and river rafting in those rivers require the waters to be low, so it’s a good time to visit.
December-March is said to be a good time for those who like winter sports. We saw some ski spots and resort spots when we were there, and they look very inviting for a healthy dose of skiing in winter.
Visa requirements: Schengen Visa
Slovenia is a Schengen Area Member State, so all you have to do is apply for a Schengen Visa to visit. A type C (multiple entry) visa is always preferable, especially if you’re clubbing Slovenia with other countries to visit in Europe that are Schengen Member States.
You can carry your euros to spend in Slovenia, and it is always preferable to carry some cash, as not all places in Slovenia accept credit cards as a mode of payment. Make sure you have a reserve for adventure sports– we could not make a credit card payment for paragliding when we were there.
The other option is withdrawal from ATMs, but check with your credit card company about the fees for withdrawal. Typical ATM withdrawal fees would be around Rs.300/- per withdrawal. It would also be worthwhile to check with your bank about whether withdrawal on your card is permissible in Slovenia or not.
There is no direct flight from India to Slovenia, but lots of options to major cities in Europe like Turkey (Istanbul), Germany (Munich) and Austria (Vienna). Depending on the distance from your destination city, you can opt for a bus/train or flight to Ljubljana. It is always preferable to travel by bus because it is a cheap mode of transport, especially if you’re already in another European city, but make sure that you limit your bus travel to 5-6 hours, as it can get quite strenuous.
Ljubljana is well connected and most places are close to the city centre, so walking / cycling is preferred.
To travel from Ljubljana to the interiors of Slovenia such as the Soca Valley (Bovec, Kobarid or Tolmin), there are sparse and time-consuming connections by bus, so we preferred renting a car (https://www.sixt.com/car-rental/slovenia) to travel. It was one of the best decisions we took, as we could travel at our own convenience and cover places to see in a short span of time.
To rent a car, the mandate is to have an international driving permit (IDP), but we did not see any checks on the road for it, nor did the car company ask for it. Nevertheless, always best to be safe than sorry!
Some tips if you’re renting a car in Slovenia:
- Prepare to drive on the right-hand side of the road! It’s difficult, but you can observe cars while you’re travelling for practice!
- Make sure that your car has a vignette on it. A Vignette is a permit for a legal passageway for cars in Slovenia. Once you have a vignette, you can pass through tollbooths without paying toll tax.
- Check the types of insurance for the car while renting it out. Apart from the basic insurance, there is a full coverage insurance that you can take for zero liability upon damage. There is a separate insurance for cars taken outside Slovenia. Now this insurance is especially important, because there are several routes from Ljubljana to Soca Valley that take you through Italy (and are very scenic routes), so having this insurance can be a plus. Do note that this is just an indication from our experience, and insurance types can vary depending on the rental company.
- Make sure you have an in-built Navigation System (GPS) in the car. Google maps doesn’t work very often especially in the hinterlands with no network connectivity.
Where to Stay: Hotels, Hostels and Airbnb!!
There are a lot of options to stay in Slovenia, in terms of hotels and hostels. S and I always prefer staying in apartments listed on Airbnb. There are parts of Slovenia in the hinterland, but if it is a major destination for activities (like Bovec) then there are good Airbnb apartments to find. If you are apprehensive about renting an apartment, then there are some good hotel options available as well.
How to connect: Local sim cards
Go to your nearby newsstand and ask for the tourist sim card. Options vary between calling card and Internet card. Our Internet card cost 4 euros, with 1 euro worth of internet connectivity per day. We took a top-up (extra credit) for 5 euros in case we ran out of credit, and in 3 days, it did!
Weather in Slovenia is very unpredictable and changes by the hour! It’s good to keep checking the weather apps but we found them inaccurate at times (not always). Carrying an umbrella would be prudent in May and June. We also swear by our all-weather jackets, which can work as a windcheater with a light fleece lining. Also carry a thin sweater in case you need some extra cover.
- Water is potable in Slovenia. Don’t waste money buying mineral water.
- Your chargers and plugs will work in Europe so no need to carry travel adapters.
- Find the nearest tourist information center – don’t hesitate to ask your questions and pick up the brochures.
- Eat fruits! I promise you, they’re amazing! You can find them at the supermarket or local bazaars.
- Vegetarian options are easy to find in Slovenia – from pizzas to pastas to falafel sandwiches. In case you don’t find a vegetarian option on the menu card at any restaurant, you can always ask the server to make something vegetarian (specify: without meat), I lucked out a couple of times doing this!
Snapshot of our Slovenia trip: Ljubljana-Soca Valley (Bovec)
We spent two half-days in Ljubljana, and 3 days in Bovec.
Ljubljana [pronounced: Lubliana]
Being the country’s capital, one would expect a lot of noise and crowds on the streets on Ljubljana, but surprisingly, it is a quaint and peaceful city nestled at the heart of Slovenia. The heart of the city is the emerald green Ljubljanica River, with the old town organized around it. Just follow the path down the river, and you’ll catch a glimpse of what it is like to live there.
- The best way to explore Ljubljana is on foot, so head straight to the oldest part of the town where the Ljubljanica River flows. You can take a pick from the numerous museums and art galleries there. See the Ljubljana Castle via the funicular, and see the city from the top.
- Wander along the banks of the Ljubljana river, or as my friend PV suggests, go for a run in the morning!
- You can eat at the numerous restaurants, or drink at the pubs that dot the Ljubljanica River at both its ends.
- Visit the Tivoli Park and go for a picnic there! We could not make it because we had already had our dose of green in Bovec, but people who have visited Ljubljana swear by it.
- Watch out for the various markets in the city! I’ve noticed that locals love their food cooked in the open and celebrate with all their heart, so go to the nearest tourist info center and ask about the markets, or spot one right there! We were fortunate to walk into the beer and burger AND the wine tasting festival on a Saturday, and my, was that fun!
- The biggest highlight is to visit Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj by taking a day tour or staying a night at Lake Bled. Tickets to go to the lakes can be purchased from the bus station at Ljubljana. The time taken to reach Lake Bled from Ljubljana is approximately 45-60 mins, and the time taken to reach Lake Bohinj from Lake Bled is approximately 15-30 mins.
- Lake Bled: Take a walk around the lake, and spend some time soaking in the beauty. You can also visit Bled island at the centre of the lake by boat, and visit the church and museum. You can also climb up to the Bled Castle and see the entire lake from the top. Lastly, I cannot emphasize the absolute need to EAT THE CREAM CAKE at any café at the city centre.
- Lake Bohinj: Take a walk around the lake: it is a complete contrast from Lake Bled. While Lake Bled’s colour is a shade of cyan, Lake Bohinj is cerulean in colour. You could rent a boat to see the whole vista of the lake, or simply find a spot at the shore and see boating enthusiasts slumming their way through the lake.
Soca Valley [pronounced: Socha Valley]
The minute you step out of the city, you will be swept away with a view of lush green fields and coniferous forests on mountains! The roads become narrow, and wind through the forests where the trees tower upon you and the winds sing to you. As you climb up the mountain and then slope downwards, the vista will take your breath away! After living the polluted city life of Delhi for a year, my lungs were struggling with the amount of oxygen going into my body! Nature really has a way to make you scream out a prayer, and thank your stars for being able to see its true glory.
Our route from Ljubljana to Bovec was through the hinterland; this is what it looked like:
A note of caution – this road takes you through very narrow paths, and sometimes a dirt road, so without a navigation system, it may be difficult to reach your destination.
Other route options are:
Note: The route highlighted in blue takes you through Italy, where immigration formalities and border checks may have to be completed. Since we did not have insurance to take the car out of the country, we opted out of this route. We have heard that it’s very scenic.
Note: this is one of the more popular routes to and from Bovec, and Vrsic Pass is known to be one of the most scenic spots of Slovenia! This route is also good for a stopover at Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj on the way to Bovec.
- Bovec is a hub for adventure sports in Europe. It’s crown jewel is rafting and kayaking on the Soca River, so go to your nearest adventure sports shop and book this! Other activities include paragliding (we did this and the view just made me cry), canyoning, zip lining and mountain biking.
- Do not miss the Soca trail! It is 25 km long that begins from the source of the Soca and ends at Bovec. The route runs along the Soca river, with scenic spots at every interval. On the other side of the trail is the main highway connecting various towns along the river. You can either drive up to the source, or hitchhike your way there. The route is very user-friendly: if you want to exit and go back home, there are several paths that lead to the highway, where you can hitchhike your way back home. S had a sprained leg, so we could not do the entire stretch of the trail, but here are a few highlights pointed out by the info center that are worthwhile:
- Source of the Soca – the hike to the source is very interesting. After a short walk up the hill, the path narrows down to walking on steep rocks, and the source can be seen after crossing this path with the help of a metal rope attached to the rocks. The source itself is a glistening subterranean lake, from which the spring gushes out.
- Mlinarica Gorge- a gorge formed by the Mlinarica stream that ends in a 8 km waterfall.
- Alpinum Juliana- a botanical garden that houses approximately 600 species of plants;
- Great Soca Gorge (Velika Korita)- located just below the Soca village, this gigantic gorge is 750m long with the waters of the Soca river gushing at terrifying speed, thus creating a magical blue foamy effect. It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen!
- Bovec is also famous for cheese-making and sheep-rearing. You can visit any of the establishments to see how sheep-wool is woven and cheese is aged. You can try the cheese at restaurants in the town as well.
Special Mention – Hisa Franko!
I have never been to a fine-dining restaurant of this caliber before and my true purpose was to meet my Sheroe, Ana! Ana is a self-taught chef, who left her promising career of becoming a diplomat to pursue her true love of becoming a chef. She beat all odds, and is currently the reigning queen of her profession!
Owned by Valter (Ana’s husband, who is also the sommelier at the restaurant), Hisa Franko’s true magic is in creating dishes where the ingredients are sourced from Slovenia itself, and usually within a 1 km radius of its location. The dishes are authentically Slovenian, with a fusion of multinational culinary delights. The ingredients are strictly seasonal, so every mouthful of food will remind you of the season that you’re living at that time. It is truly an art to convert a feeling of a season into food, and Hisa Franko does just that!
We had an eight-course meal with wine pairing, so we went all out on this one (our cost was approximately EUR 252.50, including coffee to sober up in the end).
Note: Hisa Franko is not for the faint-hearted. If you’re there, you will not be served with vegetarian options and non-vegetarians will be tested for their skills in meat eating. Being a vegetarian all my life, I could appreciate the food there and had no problem at all!
At the end, we met Valter (Ana’s husband and owner of Hisa Franko), and he was a wonderful host! I wrote down a small note to Ana and fulfilled my fan girl moment! (Ana was in London so I could not meet her).
This is it from me. If you are interested in creating a detailed itinerary customized to suit your needs, you can contact me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp or WordPress!