From Venice, we headed to Slovenia in our Benz (we enjoyed the comfort of our new ride that came with heated seats that felt very good in the cool mornings :)). Slovenia gained its independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991 and is today a modern country and a member of the EU. We stopped in Gorizia, Italy to purchase a Slovenian autobahn vignette BEFORE crossing the border. To our surprise, unlike Austria, there was ample vignette signage informing/warning you to get a vignette in very clear English. We couldn’t have missed that one!!
To our surprise, Slovenia was very clean and green. In fact, 56% of the country is forested.
Our goal was to make it to Bled- a small picturesque town in the NW corner of the country-driving the scenic backroads that border the southern Julian Alps. Not terribly surprising, we were soon lost and by the time we figured out on the map where we were, it was too late to backtrack and it was starting to get dark. When we got to the small town of Idrija, known for lace and mercury mining, we found the tourist information center with its light still on and the door open. By dumb luck, they were just finishing up some sort of display in an adjoining room and a woman directed us to a B&B just down the road. While the room at the B&B was clean and of decent size, the breakfast was pathetic (for 60 eur). It consisted of 5 slices of stale thick bread with an array of fruit and meat jellies, along with a “cappuccino” (so bad we couldn’t help ourselves writing them up on Tripadvisor!). After breakfast, we found the main autobahn and it wasn’t much longer before we finally wandered into the beautiful town of Bled with its swan-patrolled lake that has a church in the middle of an island and a castle perched on a cliff. We stayed in an nice apartment on a farm just outside of town that had two horses (much to Sylvie’s delight!).
We hiked around the lake taking too many pictures of its castle and church. Bled is also known for its creme cakes and the uniquely fashioned handmade boats called Pletna, which are wooden flat-bottom boats propelled with the special »stehrudder« technique where the oarsman is standing and rowing with two oars, to take you to the island.
The next day, we visited the small village of Radovljica and visited its old town center and bee museum. Slovenia is the only European Union Member to have protected its native bee, the Carniolan bee. Another special feature of Slovenian beekeeping that has gained international recognition is in the area of folk art – this being the art of painting beehive panels, something not known anywhere else in the world. The beginnings of this folk art can be traced back to the middle of the 18th century. We bought honey from one of the local beekeepers and later visited the village of Kropa (last picture of the series below) known for its iron forging history.
On day two, we headed south to Lipica and visited the famous Lippizaner stud farm. It was established in 1580 and breeds Lippizan horses, which are a crossbreed of Karst, Arabian, Spanish, and Italian horses. They were originally bred for military and civil purposes and are known for their intelligence, strength, and flexibility. Today they are used for the high school of horse dressage and belong to the State and royal members of various countries.
We then headed over to the incredible Skocjan caves (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) just in time for their last tour of the day. We gawked for an hour and a half 170 meters below the earth. The pictures below don’t do it justice but we wanted to include a few anyway.
On our last day, we drove through Triglav National Park over the Vršič Pass, the highest pass in Slovenia, and into the beautiful Soca valley. There are 50 hairpin turns on the road that was built by Russian POWs in WWI where hundreds died during construction due to exposure and avalanches. A Russian Orthodox chapel was also built by the POWs to commemorate their dead comrades during the road construction. Although very windy, it was very scenic with fall colors starting to appear.