Photo by: B. Kladnik
Taking a leaf out of a fairytale book, Slovenia is dotted with medieval villages, grandiose churches and romantic castles. Amidst the culturally rich setting is its equally diverse and abundant landscape of rolling hills, soaring mountains, lush green plains and expansive woodlands.
Flanked by the Alps and the Carpathian Basin, with parts meeting the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia is a visual feast of varied landscapes.
Home to over 500 castles, fortresses and manors – some of which have been converted into museums and hotels – Slovenia’s architecture reflects the heritage that cloaks this historically-rich city.
Each castle has its distinctive feature, with the more popular ones being Bled, Ljubljana and Predjamski.
Bled Castle (Slovenia’s oldest castle), perched atop a 130m-high cliff, rests on Slovenia’s national symbol, Lake Bled (a glacial lake famous for its natural springs). With a backdrop of the mountain ranges of the Karavanke and the Julian Alps, Bled Castle is the perfect location to get the birds-eye view of Slovenia’s versatile scenery.
Lying on a hill overlooking the bustling city of Ljubljana (and a symbol of the city’s coat-of-arms), the Ljubljana Castle is more than just a Slovenia icon – it’s a great spot to get a view of the city against the backdrop of majestic Alps. Guided tours give access to its medieval dungeons, Gothic-styled chapels and frescoes that adorn the walls of this castle.
Built into the side of a towering cliff and surrounded by woodlands, Predjamski Castle features dungeons and secret passages to rocky cliffs and secret tunnels. Below the castle is an underground stream and cave, the walls of which are scribbled with signatures of 15th-century visitors.
Slovenia’s backdrop is a mosaic of terrains, which makes the country a great setting for outdoor fun. The Kravec Summer Park, located in the capital Ljubljana, is packed with a myriad of activities – from whitewater rafting and canyoning in the Socca River (140km) to cycling through Ptuj (a wine region 138km from Ljubljana) and bungee jumping, this park is a great jumping-off point to get acquainted with Slovenia’s nature.
Ranging from short walks around gentle sloping valleys to challenging marked trails in soaring mountains and highlands, Slovenia is ideal for any level of hiker.
The 7,000km-long network of well-marked trails across Slovenia’s hills and mountains include part of the European Long-Distance Trails (E6 & E7) and Via Alpina (a trail connecting Monaco to Slovenia). Those preferring a bit of culture and attraction along the way can opt for Themed Trails, which range from the Heritage Trail to the Wine Roads and everything in between.
Some of the most frequented hiking regions include the rugged Julian Alps (a mountain range that stretches across northern Italy and Slovenia), a region of glacial lakes and looming mountains. The trails here are interspersed with traditional alpine villages and castles.
For more experienced hikers, the iconic Mt. Triglav (2,864m) is anchored in the centre of Slovenia’s only national park and equipped with marked trails and base camps. After completing the hike you can take in nearby natural attractions, including the largest lake in Slovenia, Lake Bohinj (1,200m) and the Savica Waterfall (78m).
For a more multi-faceted experience, you can opt for a hiking tour organized by the European Ramblers Association. In addition to treks through designated nature trails, you get to explore some of the cultural landmarks located along the way. For example, the Gordic trail (29km from Ljubljana) takes trekkers through marked trails of green meadows and forests dotted with logger huts, bee houses and a wildlife feeding point before reaching an underground cave that is an archaeological site for Roman bronze and silver.
With Slovenia’s diverse landscape, the country is crisscrossed by plenty of cycling trails that range from easy to demanding. Some biking destinations include the Notranjska Bike Park, with 500kms of waymarked cycleways (averaging 45km each trail) offering options of visiting landmarks like Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle; as well as Maribor, a mountain biking region renowned for its winery cycle trails and as an MTB World Cup venue.
Slovenia’s expansive underworld has over 10,000 caves, including the UNESCO-listed Skocjanske Jame (Skocjan Caves). Made up of a system of limestone grottos and covered with stalagmites and stalactites, it’s the largest underground canyon in the world.
The cave can be explored 3 ways; a guided tour through an underground canyon past a suspension bridge and waterfall, along the underground Reka River past a waterfall and several caves, or via an above-ground marked trail.
Further south, the 8km-long Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) boasts plenty of stalactites and 50 underground lakes (and a rich deposit of extinct cave bear skeletons) – exploring the cave fully involves taking a boat ride through 13 of its emerald lakes.
Then there are caves like Snezna, a beautiful highland cave adorned with icy lakes and ice stalactites and stalagmites (accessible in summer when snow around the sinkhole melts), as well as the Planinska, a huge watery tunnel that is the largest confluence of subterranean rivers in Europe.
While there are no direct flights, Slovenia is easily accessible from many cities within Europe by air or rail. For more on Slovenia, visit www.slovenia.info.