A Sojourn in the Julian Alps, Slovenia
Slovenia is a tiny little Balkan country surrounded by Austria and Hungary in the north, Italy in the West and Croatia in the east and south. One of the best parts of my trip was exploring the Alpine region of the country in the north. Being a small country, it is pretty easy to navigate your way around from the capital city, Ljubljana. I toured the country in June, a perfect summertime to enjoy and get clear pictures. It was a bit hot during the day, but quite cool in the evenings and nights.
The best place to start your Alpine Slovenian exploration is Bled, an hour’s bus ride from Ljubljana. Simply because it has an emerald lake, Lake Bled, a church island (the only natural island in the country) in the middle of it and a medieval castle on its side. The backdrop of the Julian Alps completes a postcard. All make up a perfect background for a fairy tale as well. Also, this is where you may enjoy light to moderate activities without taxing your legs and getting sweaty. Ride a bicycle around the lake which covers 6 kilometres and find different angles to photograph the lake. On your way, you will pass by sunbathing and swimming tourists, anglers and occasional painters and photographers who can’t get enough out of the dream lake. I took a Pletna (traditional wooden boat) on the lake to get to the island and visit the church. Later in the evening, I climbed scores of steps to reach the Bled Castle and occupy a spot at one of the restaurants on top to have a scenic view of the lake. The Bled cream cake is a great sale here. Called the ‘symbol of Bled, it is made of leaves of dough filled with vanilla and sweet cream.
Info: Buses to Bled run every hour from Ljubljana. A one-way ticket costs 6.40 Euros (https://www.ap-ljubljana.si/en/) and it takes just about an hour to reach the Bled Bus Station which is just a few metres walk up the lake.
Pletna ride and church visit: 14 euros (you may get into the pletna straight and pay the boatman)
Bled castle entrance: 10 euros (tickets available just before the entrance, at a booth)
Bled bicycle renting: There are quite a few agents and shops from where you can rent a bicycle for as cheap as 15 euros per day. The official Bled tourism site charges 20 euros per day and 15 for 4 hours (http://www.bled.si/en/what-to-do/summer-sports/cycling/Offers).
Bled cream cake: 4 euros onward, depending on the place. It’s certainly expensive up on the castle. Try one of the restaurants around the lake. All of them sell it.
Base yourself in Bled for your next destinations in Soca Valley and the Triglav National Park.
The most picturesque parts of the Slovenian Alps are dominated by the Soca River Valley in the Triglav National Park. The meandering Soca river is so green in colour that your photos wouldn’t need saturation to enhance the complexion. As you drive along the riverside, you will meet with several bridges, including the most famous Napoleon Bridge where people usually stop to take photos.
My tour of the valley started by driving from Bled to Bohinj. My car mounted an Alpine train and I was taken to a place called Most na Soci in Tolmin in the Littoral region of the country. Once I got out of the train, I was driven to the Tolmin Gorge near Bovec. Here you need to go down hundreds of winding steps after passing along the Devil’s Bridge to get to the gorge. The river Tolminka (part of Soca river) gets wedged in by rocky cliffs at the bottom and it is quite great to spend some time down here.
Then you make your way up again to drive to the Kozjak Waterfall. The trek to the waterfall is quite interesting as you make your way around rocks and pebbles, but the space to watch the waterfall, located in a wide open cave, is a bit narrow and you stand on a wooden bridge to view and photograph it. Unless you have plans to take a dip in the pool beneath the waterfall it would be better to give space for other tourists who might be waiting for their chance to get close to the falls.
Once I satiated my quest to photograph it, I got back in the car and was driven to the source of the Soca river. Getting to the source is not an easy task as it demands a bit of a careful trek up a hill and trudging on a mountain side using fixed ropes. This is not really recommended for children under 10. It can be a bit scary toward the end, but once you make it to the rocky bottom, the sight of the perfectly blue water underneath a cave gives you the feeling of discovery. The water flows out from here and gets naturally filtered by the rocks. Fill your bottle with ice cold clean and pure water and save it for the rest of your journey.
I continued to the Vrsic Pass, the highest mountain pass in Slovenia to get the best views of the mountain ranges of the Julian Alps. The car stopped here and there to admire and take pictures of the landscape, including the mountain with the Pagan Girl myth (https://www.kranjska-gora.si/en/sightseeing/natural-sights/view-points/ajdovska-deklica).
Mt. Triglav is close to this place and many travellers climb this to tick it off from their bucket list.
I stopped at a Russian chapel while going down the Vrsic Pass. The chapel was built to commemorate the Russian soldiers who fought here during the First World War and built the road on the Pass.
My last stop was Lake Jasna from where you get another beautiful view of the Alps. The lakeside is an ideal place to relax in different ways. Take a swim or rent a kayak/paddleboard from one of the shops next to the lake. The uphill village of Kransjka Gora gives a beautiful green view with houses dotted here and there.
Info: I took a day trip from Viator for USD 84. The trip starts from Ljubljana, but you may opt to be picked up from your hotel in Bled.
Accommodation in Bled: there are many hotels and homestays around Lake Bled starting from as cheap as USD 25. I recommend staying near the lake. If you are staying away from the town centre, transport could be a challenge. There is free shuttle bus between Bled and Vintgar Gorge every hour from 8 am till 7 pm, but this may not suit your convenience all the time. My homestay, Rooms Ambrozic (no website, but you can book it on popular hotel booking websites), is cosy and peaceful, but is located 3 km away from the lake, at a village called Spodnje Gorje. A taxi ride to this place will cost 10 euros.
Shopping: The Alpine region, including Bled, is not really a place for shopping, however, there are some boutiques and cosmetic stores around Lake Bled if you need to browse for something.
If you have enough time on your way to the source of the Soca River, ask your driver to drop by one of the village houses in Bovec to buy cheese of different varieties. This is a good opportunity to get into the cool cheese storage and taste cheese of different age length. Buy 1 kilo for 10 euros as I did. Prices might vary depending on houses that sell it.