I’m going to fast forward through lots of hours on buses and trains and the crazy-but-fun blur that was Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Budapest and jump straight to Slovenia! This place deserves the credit.
We were super excited to get there, not only to slow down our mental speed travelling, but we were ready to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big cities. We’d not seen, let alone been in, real ‘nature’ since Capileira so we were overdue a forest bath, as Lucas calls them.
We had a quick two-nighter in the tiny picturesque Slovenian capital, Ljubljana (pronounced loo-blah-nah), before hopping straight over to Bled – possibly/probably one of the most iconic places in Slovenia.
You might have come across photos of Bled; it’s pretty stunning. The church on the island in the middle of the lake, with the castle just behind it, and the dramatic mountains in the backdrop? Well, that’s exactly what it looks like in real life.
As soon as we arrived we couldn’t resist a lap of the lake, taking a zillion photos of everything, from every angle, as if we were afraid it was all going to disappear in the morning. The weather was gorgeous and there were people swimming, SUPing, rowing, and sunbathing along the banks… It seemed pretty idyllic, no wonder the place was so popular.
The next day, eager to explore, we hired bikes and mapped out an ambitious cycle route to get our bearings. We cycled through towering mountains, past fields of huge waving corn, and into little villages with award-winning vegetable patches, clearly tended to by devoted green-fingered gardeners.
We were having a great time, dilly-dallying and taking in the incredible views – until a brief thunderstorm chased us into a pizzeria (wearing our uber sexy blue plastic ponchos) where we hid out and dried off watching the heavens open while the ‘gorgeous’ weather took a lunch break.
Ever the keen beans, the next day we unfolded our map once more and hiked around the lake and up to a viewpoint to see the iconic vista from up high. Like I said, we were excited to be able to do stuff outside!
We didn’t find the official viewpoint, getting lost along the way, but we did find an off-piste secret clearing with the same iconic vista (well, near enough, and tourist free!) where we sat down with some chocolate raisins contently.
We needn’t have bothered with snacks really – another great thing about Bled, or rural Slovenia in general, is that there are fruit trees everywhere!
Lucas the Forager, as I should call him, would dash into wild prickly bushes and come out with handfuls of blackberries – which we hoped on first bite weren’t poisonous – and fresh apples that had just fallen from the trees. You’d even find the odd plum and pear, too, if they hadn’t been pecked by the birds.
Talk about getting your five a day…
After our excited burst of outdoor galivanting, we were shattered every evening – but in a good, satisfying way. I don’t think we saw nightfall properly for our first few days, holing ourselves away from dusk with a home cooked dinner and a good book until we passed out.
At one of the hostels, a group of young lads even asked us if we’d been out clubbing and could we recommend some good places. We looked at them as if they’d asked us a question in a foreign language.
One night we ventured out, however, watching the sun set behind the lake. That was pretty special.
If we hadn’t done enough already, we also managed to walk to and through the Vintgar Gorge, as well as rent a boat and go rowing on the lake, just to tick off more of the ‘must do activities in Bled.’
But, the coolest thing we did – and definitely the most daring – was to paraglide off the side of a mountain at 1500m high. It was a pretty spontaneous decision, and pretty random for a Wednesday morning at 10am, but it was so cool!
We were dropped off at the top of a rocky mountain trail in a battered up old jeep with our two tandem jumpers who we had met just 5 minutes before – and who we were entrusting with our lives. Dramatic, I know.
It was easy to be all excited and confident at the start, but when I saw the drop and actually comprehended what was about to happen, my body flooded with an ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod adrenaline rush.
My tandem man wasn’t particularly forthcoming with instructions either, which did nothing for the nerves, so I had to ask him exactly what I was meant to do in our paragliding partnership and to please go over it a few times, looking down nervously from where we were standing…
‘Run and then don’t sit until I tell you,’ he said.
And then that was it, suddenly his weight was propelling me down the hill and we ran until the ‘kite’ caught the wind and… then we were flying! I think I buggered up the ‘don’t sit too early’ part, oops.
As I was first to fly we were able to spin back around and face the mountain so that I could watch Lucas and his tandem instructor take off, too. They made it look effortless.
The whole flight/glide was about 15 minutes, and you could see all the way to Lake Bled and to the mountains that separated us (Slovenia) from Austria. We were closer than I thought.
We did a few sharp twists and turns – I may have shrieked, just a bit – as my previously untalkative tandem man told me about his world championship paragliding wins which did a lot for building my confidence. I wish he’d told me sooner.
After that I was happy to sit there admiring the incredible view until we landed down with a gentle thud to the bum.
On that note, that was how we rounded off Bled! There was more excitement and activities to come.
Our next stop was Bovec, a town the other side of the Triglav National Park, where we’d booked into a campsite, opposite the pebbled beach where Narnia was filmed, to explore the Soča Valley.
If you google images of Soča (pronounced with a ‘ch’) you’ll see why we chose to go there. Its crazy crystal turquoise water and massive mountains were just too good to miss.
We took the bus right over the pass which looked onto the tallest mountain in Slovenia – the eponymous Triglav – as we switched back countlessly, down and round hairpin bends before driving along the river giving us a sneak preview of what we’d come for.
In the early morning we hitched a ride into town (more successfully than anticipated) to catch the bus up to Isvir Soča, the Soča River source, where we would walk the Soska Pot (Soča Trail) all the way back down to Bovec: a 25km long hike. It was far, but we were confident we’d have bags of time before we needed to get back to camp and, more importantly, get back before night fell.
From the start the views were insane, incredible, breath-taking, awesome – and all the other superlatives you can think of. Real ‘Sound of Music’ views. And yes, I burst into song more than once along the way.
The only other time I’d seen such massive mountains was in Sri Lanka and I remember genuinely feeling awe-struck – I think I might have even burst out laughing at the sheer scale of them.
Here, in the Soča Valley, wild flower grassy meadows were shouldered by these huge Julian Alps which seemed snow-capped their rock was so white. The turquoise water running in the river below us looked even more amazing in real life than it did on the Instagram pictures we’d seen, colours I’d never seen before in a river.
It was so clear and so greeny-blue that if you cropped a photo of the banks of white pebbles with the turquoise river, it could be mistaken for the shores of a secluded island in the Philippines – if you swapped pines for palms, too.
Optimistically, we’d brought our swim stuff but there was no chance of using them. The water was – no joke – about 2 degrees. It was freezing. That didn’t stop Lucas stripping off and having a very refreshing cool down though. He came out pink!
A toe dip was all I could manage.
The good thing about it being so cold was that when we refilled our bottles at least it was extra chilled. So not only was the river stunning, but it was also great to drink as well as look at. It was what was coming out of the taps at our campsite but drinking it straight from the source was even better.
Many hours later, and a little bambi-legged, we had been spoilt by the beauty of it all and had enjoyed the hike so much that we decided to do it all again – well, part of it. And after a deserved rest day in between.
We were a little crazy, yes.
Picking the best length of the hike, two days later we took the early morning bus back to Trenta to do the stretch down to Soča again – it was too nice not to, just look at the pictures!
Knowing we weren’t on so much of a time limit – and with about 15km less to do – we took it far more leisurely and were able to stop for scenic breaks much more often. We’d also taken all the photos the first-time round, so it was nice to be able to stop and really look outside the lens.
The whole area was so beautiful and we said we wished we could stay for longer and do it all again, and again, and again.
Plus, we hadn’t even done what people go to Soča and Bovec for, which was the kayaking, rafting, and rock climbing.
Alas we had to return briefly to ‘civilization’ and dust off our laptops for a few days in Bohijnska Bela, a small mountain village outside Bled. But that was ok, because we’d already planned to go back to the National Park for more epic mountain views, where we’d booked into a (very off season) old ski chalet at the top of Vogel cable car.
At 1535m up, the cable car itself was an experience looking down the sheer drop and onto the lake and huge Julian Alps in front.
But, as Sod’s law goes, the weather forecast was bleak. Typical: we’d been so lucky for weeks. Rain, fog, thunderstorms… the whole lot was predicted while we were marooned up a mountain. Even a bit of snow!
We weren’t prepared for this inclement weather (or rather I wasn’t and I’m slightly phobic of the cold) having acclimatised to the 25-30 degree heat we were used to.
Arriving at the summit to howling winds and clouds that skated across the sky, brewing a beast of a storm, we seized the short but sweet weather window (optimism is key!) and headed straight out to make the most of it.
Picking the Sija trek, we chose the second to highest peak after Vogel to accomplish at least something before being stuck inside for the next few days.
For anyone who has ever been to a ski centre, nearly off-season, at the end of summer before a storm – isn’t it eerie? At least I thought it was. The chair lifts were hanging, empty and unmoving but swaying in the wind, as if abandoned before some apocalypse that we knew nothing about…
Scrambling across the loose pebbly stones, headlong into the gales, we fought our way up against the elements to the top.
And what a view.
In front were the huge Julian Alps we’d seen from our time in Soča and from behind you could see the clouds streaming up and over from the valley below. It was really quite something.
We could have stayed up there for hours, taking in the amazing panorama but we surrendered to the weather and retreated when we saw a blanket of grey approaching ominously, happy to settle into our wooden cabin ready to hibernate with home cooked (not by us) goulash and Slovenian sausage.
The only other times we ventured out into the smothering fog – in between the rain- we were accompanied by a herd of goats (seemingly we were the only people up the mountain).
Finally, on our last day, the rain stopped and the fog cleared up (we could see again!) so we took the cable car down and walked around Lake Bohijn where we’d planned to do all manner of fun things like rowing, or SUPing, if we’d had the time… You can’t win them all.
Three fun-filled weeks later, our time in Slovenia had flown by and we’d certainly had a good dose of nature and forest baths, so to speak.
Slovenia is definitely up there on one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. For anyone planning a holiday or trip to Europe – if you get the chance to visit, GO!
The landscape is just stunning; its vast mountains and crazy clear rivers and lakes are so hard to describe even though I’ve tried! And I don’t even think the photos do them justice.
But onwards into our next country where we were swapping Alps for the Adriatic, making our way down the coast into Croatia for a few weeks of island hopping to catch the end of the summer sun in September.
I’m hoping that by the time I write the next post I’ll have that tan back…