SLOVENIA

The great thing about Slovenia is its size – it’s so small that you can easily see all of it in a short period of time! I still spent a few days in each place to fully experience the culture. By not rushing from place to place I was able to get to know the locals, get a little lost and search out the hidden gems that some people miss, thinking they’ve seen everything there is to see.

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You must visit the capital city of Ljubljana – befriend a local and learn how to pronounce it properly. Try to plan your trip over a Saturday so you get to experience the wild farmers market and the live music and attractions in the town square and around the three bridges. This city is particularly great to get lost in; on my second day I just walked in and out of streets to see what I could find. The amount of market stalls scattered around the streets, hidden from the main street view, was astonishing. They were filled with jewellery, art and other bits and pieces and I ended up finding a student vintage market set up in a tiny park on a Thursday afternoon and gorgeous handmade rings a few streets back from the main square.

I was told by many different people to stay at Celica Art Hostel, but as a solo traveller it was a lot harder to meet people at this extremely large hostel. They have many different common rooms on the ground floor as well as a bar and restaurant and there is a small kitchen right up on the top level, though it is very poorly equipped. The building itself is pretty awesome though as it has been artistically transformed from an old military prison into a great youth hostel. The staff members are friendly and they will organise different events each night giving you the chance to meet people and socialise, such as barbecue nights, live concerts, cocktail nights and themed parties. You can be expected to pay between $AUD30-$38 (€20-€26) during the peak season because of its location and popularity.

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If you have a spare afternoon and feel like working up a sweat, climb up to the Ljubljana castle. The walk to the top is a bit steep and in the heat it really pushes you, but the view of the city up the top will take what’s left of your breath away. There are viewpoints everywhere in the world, and someone always telling you to climb the four hundred stairs of some tower. However, I can say that this particular walk is a standout; not only is the view astounding, but the scenery on the walk up is also stunning.

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You can’t leave Ljubljana without a drink or two in the alternative, Metelkova, full of bars, cafés and art galleries. The whole area looks like a run down playground covered in graffiti and trash, but when you look closer you can see sculptures and artwork that come alive during the day and transform into a party at night. If you’re staying at Celica Art Hostel, Metelkova is just behind it. The drinks are cheap, the people are so friendly – climb up onto the platforms to nestle yourself among the locals. It’s great to visit during the day as well to see all the artwork in the sunlight, better for seeing the intricate details.

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The next stop on your Slovenian journey should be Bled. Bled is the tiny town with a huge lake and in the centre of that lake there is a small island with a church. The lake provides much of the entertainment in Bled. You can walk or cycle around it, jumping in from different spots and grabbing ice creams along the way, spend hours tanning on the green grass and even hire a paddle boat for 8€ and paddle yourself out to the island – if you’re feeling daring you could try swimming there! Though there isn’t much to do on the church island, it’s still worth going to explore and take a walk around the church and gift shop.

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I bought a blow up ring in town and it was the smartest investment of my whole trip! I could float along the lake for as long as I liked. Here’s a tip if you’re planning to go to Croatia after Slovenia: buy the ring or any other water toys in Bled as it will be a fraction of any price in Croatia! We spent hours by the lake eating ice cream, climbing trees and floating in the cool water. Bled is a very small town, so it’s easy to socialise with the locals and find your own quiet space by the lake to be left undisturbed. Bled is also a very good base if you want to explore more of Slovenia because there are many hiking tracks, bicycle trails, lakes and gorges to discover around the country.

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I ended up falling in love with Bled and spent almost two weeks at the incredible Travellers Haven Hostel, where I met fabulous people keen to explore more of the country with me. The great thing about the Travellers Haven Hostel is that it’s very small with only 27 guests, so it’s easy to meet fellow travellers. Mirjam will go out of her way to make sure you’re comfortable and satisfied with your stay. There is only a small number of hostels to choose from when staying in Bled and I highly recommend this one because it was the reason I stayed so long in Bled. Booking a bed in one of the small dorms will cost $AUD30-$32 (€20-€22) per night and you have the added bonus of having a mini tourist office and supermarket at your front door.

My addiction to red wine started in Slovenia and we spent hours getting to know each other over bottles and bottles of wine. With the help of my new found friends we went on many of the hiking tracks by the lake and spent a whole morning at the Vintgar Gorge. If you’re planning to explore the Vintgar Gorge during summer, either leave early in the morning or late in the afternoon because the walk to the gorge itself is long, and in the burning heat it’s more exhausting than the actual gorge. If you’re feeling daring, cool off in the twelve degree water at the bottom of the waterfall before you head home.

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Take the short walk up to the Cliff Top Castle to watch the sunset over the lake. You don’t have to enter the castle – there is an entry fee – but you can still hang in the courtyard to watch over the beautiful town as it gets dark.

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A guy at the hostel who had been driving through Slovenia invited a few of us to explore some other parts of the country for the day. We drove to Bovec for lunch and from Bovec we found the Great Soca Gorge. As we continued to drive through the alpine roads we found many isolated swim spots where you can float in the water and take in the incredible view of snowy mountains in the distance. Lastly we drove to Boka Waterfall and had an intense hike over the large white boulders to discover that the water was basically non existent in the hotter months.

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If you have an extra day or an afternoon spare, you can either drive or take the 40 minute local bus to Lake Bohinj. Lake Bohinj is four times the size of Lake Bled. Go for a long kayak ride on the lake or take on some of the hiking trails nearby. We packed a picnic and spent the day by the water enjoying a change of scenery and the privacy as less tourists venture there.

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Slovenia is the tiny country bordered by Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria, so transport is particularly easy. Venice, Italy to Ljubljana: €35 with Floernta Bus or, if you’re wanting to save some money, take the local train from Venice to Mestre and from Mestre take a bus to Ljubljana for €25 with DRD bus services. Zagreb, Croatia to Ljubljana: 10€ with Eurolines. Budapest, Hungary to Ljubljana: €19 with Orangeways Bus Services. Salzburg, Austria to Bled: take a train and get off at Lesce-Bled then take a very short public bus to the city of Bled. The train will cost €34 and unfortunately any other route besides driving from Austria is difficult. Slovenia is a convenient stopover on the way to Croatia. Those doing a Croatia Sail will know that entry into Croatia is normally difficult and expensive, so travel via Slovenia will save the savvy traveller lots of money.

Slovenia is absolutely magical and one of my favourite countries. The hostels I stayed at and the people I met along the way really enhanced my experience and made it worthwhile. Slovenia is the outdoorsy traveller’s dream and is best explored in summer so that you can take advantage of the kayaking, canyoning, rafting, swimming and cycling on offer. However, if you’re nearby in the winter, seeing Lake Bled frozen and all the trees covered in snow is beautiful and I hope to one day return so I can see it that way.

by Chanel Sudarski