- Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Selo, Skocjan Caves
- 25,107 miles flown + a lot of windy roads driven
- Temp: 50 deg
- 4 books read, 8 massages + 2 hot stone baths in the books
- Days 25-27
We flew in over the great sprawling snow-capped Alps with a clear view of charming little Alpine towns down in the valley. In fact, we could see Lake Bled from above with its storybook chapel perched on a tiny island in the middle of the famed flat mirrored lake. Welcome to the north, a far land from Southeast Asia.
We dropped our bags off at the hotel and immediately set out for a stroll along the nearby river and famed Triple Bridge. All along the river are charming little cafes with outdoor tables kept warm with heat lamps and sheepskin covered seats so the locals can enjoy the view year-round. Winter doesn’t stop anyone from dining al Fresco. We plopped down at cafe with a long list of local beers and what looked like a delicious juicy burger to split for an afternoon snack. Maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten a single morsel of western food in four weeks, but that stacked burger with melty cheddar cheese and some sort of “special sauce” was calling my name. The tasting flight of local Slovene beers hit the spot after drinking what basically amounted to water in a beer bottle in SE Asia.
After recharging we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling along the river, popping into churches and markets and small local shops. Turns out they’re obsessed with dragons here. The dragon has been the symbol of Ljubljana ever since Jason of the Argonauts supposedly slew one in a nearby swamp. Favorite find of the stroll? The milk-o-mat where you can fill a glass jug with fresh milk for 1 euro.
The next day we headed to Lake Bled for a day trip and proceeded to take 1,000 photos of the most charming lake. Lord knows I love a good water reflection and this place did not disappoint.
We made our way around the lake and up to the castle perched high above town for a different view.
No disappointment here either. We parked the car and strolled around the lake to breathe in the fresh alpine air, take 1,000 more photos, and seek out Tito’s summer home, which was converted to a hotel and promised a charming cafe with famed Bavarian desserts and hot coffee while taking in the views. We found said home, but unfortunately it was closed until Feb for renovations (one of the downsides of traveling in the off-season.) So we continued along the path until we found a charming, empty little restaurant that promised local food — sausages! Strudel!
To cap off our afternoon at Lake Bled we hired one of the famed Pletna Boats to row us out to the chapel. Each of these boats is built by hand and passed on through the family from father to son like the gondolas of Venice. Could this place get anymore charming? The legend of the church is if you can pull the rope attached to the bell a single time and get it to ring three times all your wishes will come true. Success.
On our way back to Ljubljana we decided to stop in a very small, single-road town, Selo, to visit their famous beekeeping operation. Slovenia is known for their honey and takes beekeeping very seriously — there are 65 beekeepers who manage 5,000 hives, the most bees per capita of any place in Europe (quite a claim to fame.) Because it was the off season the hives were closed to visitors, but Daniella invited us into her home to sample the liquid gold.
She showed us not only the award-winning spruce honeys, but also the bee pollen pellets that she sells for nutritional and medicinal purposes. Only after popping 3-4 tiny pollen pellets in our mouths to sample did she tell us that some people have an allergic reaction to bee pollen and warned if we start to break out in a rash we should guzzle water. Turns out I’m allergic to bee pollen. As we left her home and started driving I could feel my skin getting itchy and red. My tongue swelled slightly and I could feel warmth come over my entire body. Shit. We pulled over to a local bakery where I proceeded to buy two large bottles of water and guzzle like I’ve never guzzled water before. Sarah put peddle to metal and we high-tailed it back to our hotel and supply of Benadryl. Crisis averted. Also, Benadryl is a miracle drug. Also, don’t try bee pollen if you’re not near some.
Since that didn’t amount to enough of an adventure, we made another day trip the next day to the Skocjan Caves, a massive underground cave system recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. They restrict you from taking pictures and I followed the rules like a good Girl Scout, but Sarah managed to sneak some contraband photos. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of the massive stalactites and stalagmites that are over 300,000 years old. One of those memories you just have to keep in your mind. One of the most fascinating aspects of this site is not only the stunning formations that grow only 1 cm every 100 years and taller than a building, but also the fact that the Reka river begins running underground at the mouth of these caves and stays underground all the way to Italy. If you visit Slovenia, I highly recommend making the trek to Skocjan — it will take your breath away, even if you can’t capture it on a camera.
On our way back to Ljubljana we got a recommendation from our cave guide for a good local lunch spot in a small town on the way. The first place she recommended was closed, but the owner of the restaurant suggested another place down the street called Gombac. We pulled into the empty parking lot, walked through the front door, saw four more doors to choose from and picked the first one to the love. When we walked in a cute little nonna (or whatever the Slovene word for nonna is) was sitting at a table and perked up with a smile. She handed us a menu, we scrolled through and saw only delicious options calling our name — weinerschnitzel, gnocchi, etc. This was one of those lessons that you can’t go wrong in a small country town, no matter how many people are there.
We both ordered the wiener schnitzel and I ordered a starter of Gorgonzola gnocchi to start. As we sat there waiting we could hear her pounding out the veal back in the kitchen — boom boom boom. Pots were clanking, delicious smells started emanating from the back and we got excited. I never know if meals like this taste so good simple because of the atmosphere and element of surprise, but I’m pretty certain it was just that damn good. The gnocchi were massive, but lighter than air (grandma would approve) and the sauce, while full of that aged cheese flavor was thin and light from a generous amount of wine added. The schnitzel was the crispiest, CRISPIEST, schnitzel I’ve ever had and served with a delightful horseradish, carrot slaw and a slice of lemon that I’m convinced came from the backyard it was so lemony. Random factor lunch was a hit.
Slovenia gets two thumbs up. It’s charming at every turn, the food was out of this world and you can scoot around to all corners of the country to cover a lot of ground with minimal driving time (even shorter if you’re speeding in search of life-saving Benadryl.) If it’s not on your travel list, add it now. And I’d highly recommend January when you get the benefit of snow-capped mountains, relatively warm-ish weather and no tourists.