Alps and alpine meadows, coastal areas, beautiful lakes, Slovenia has a lot of nature to see, never mind its interesting cities. But what are the quirky highlights of this Central European country?
What to See
The Legend of Zlatorog
Let’s start with a story.
Goldhorn is a mythical chamois (an antelope-like creature) who called his home the mountains around Triglav, Slovenia’s national and highest mountain. He wandered the mountains in the company of the White Ladies – fairies. However Goldhorn became the target of a young hunter who, to match the jewels given to his lover by a rich merchant, planned to retrieve Zlatorog’s (Goldhorn’s) gold from his lair under Mount Bogatin (urged on by his girlfriend’s mother).
The hunter pursued Zlatorog and shot him (presumably necessary to retrieve the riches) but the blood that poured from the creature gave birth to magical flowers (the Triglav rose), one of which Goldhorn/Zlatorog ate and gave new life to him. The hunter is lured further up the mountain in pursuit of the chamois but is blinded by its horns and falls from a ledge. Angered by the cheek of this hunter, Zlatorog gores his way through the mountains and creates the Triglav lakes area.
These days Zlatorog is still remembered – in the statue that stands looking over Lake Bohinj (see the picture above). You can also partake of a Laško Zlatorog beer, stay at Hotel Zlatorog, Camp Zlatorog …
On my visit to the Radovljica Apicultural Museum (beekeeping), myself and partner were the only visitors. A real shame as it deserves lots of interest, but it also provided a child-free, peaceful museum to wander round in lovely surroundings (it’s in a 17th century mansion) and provided a really fascinating insight into the life of the humble bumblebee.
There’s a live beehive where you can watch the goings on of these hard-working creatures (have a look at the video first to give you an idea of what they’re up to – there’s some interesting bum-wiggling going on that serves a particular purpose, for example).
There are also examples of wooden painted or carved panels used on beehives from the 18th century – these started as religious images but soon moved on. A hunter’s funeral was a popular image (animals carry the hunter’s body), and there’s one where a fox shaves a hunter (apparently illustrating the proverb “to shave (pull) someone’s leg” according to this informative web page You’ll also see very elaborate beehives in the shapes of people, castles and churches.
There’s a myth going round Slovenia that Jason and his argonauts killed a dragon in the Ljubljana marshes, and as a result of this you’ll come across more than one of these fabulous creatures on your trip to Slovenia.
A green one features on the Ljubljana coat of arms – sitting on top of a white castle in a red shield. There’s also a football team called the Green Dragons.
One of the most famous sites in the capital city is the Dragon Bridge over the Ljubljanica which features four photogenic bronze versions of the mythical beasts at each corner. They’re said to wag their tails when a virgin crosses … It’s also known as the mother-in-law bridge – I guess those mother-in-law jokes comparing the poor ladies to dragons isn’t just a 1970s British bad joke thing.
Also, the local beer, Union, does a Dragon export version. (Interestingly, Union is big in Ljubljana and Laško is favoured in the rest of the country according to this post by Hops Magazine)
A former army barracks during the country’s communist period, this area is now an alternative hangout place for artists, musicians and hippy types. It’s a great place for an evening drink, party or gig and there are some great photographic opportunities with lots of colourful art on the walls of the slightly decrepit buildings.
As expected in a country where over 50% of the land is covered in trees, there are fire stations to be found in even the smallest villages. In fact, while there are only around 500 career firefighters in this country around the same size as Wales, there are 60,000 volunteers available to douse a conflagration. One thing that unites these often quite small buildings is an image of St Florian, patron saint of firemen, pouring water over a burning town.
You’ll see posters for Postojna Caves around the place. It’s the most visited tourist attraction in Slovenia.
However, not far away are the less visited (still popular though) Škocjan Caves. These ones don’t have a primary-coloured train to take you round the enormous chambers however they’re on the UNESCO heritage list alongside the Grand Canyon.
You’ll be taken up 500 steps apparently, though not all at the same time, around enormous chambers – one of which at 100metres high should really have been in an Indiana Jones film. (It isn’t even the highest – there’s one 140m high although the public don’t get to see it.) The stalagmites and stalactites – some of them huge – look like something Giger drew, and you’ll even see bats.
Where to Stay
Eco Camp Canyon
Situated in Triglav National Park, the aim of this camp is to be an “open-air hostel.” The funny thing about this place is that each year it’s reconstructed all anew. A team of artists descends in April and a brand new camp is rebuilt.
It features natural showers, a “Nature Bar”, solar-powered lighting and there’s no need to bring tents. Mattresses, blankets, linen and pillows are all supplied in their lean-tos that accommodate 2-3 people. And there’s a lot of outdoorsy adventure-type options available as it’s situated on the extremely clean Soca river.
This hip hostel is actually a converted military prison in the arty area of Ljubljana, Metelkova. Each room is decorated in its own unique way, from traditional Slovenian to modern Finnish and obligatory prison bars on the doors.
There’s a very sociable vibe about the place with a good cafe/bar, beer terrace and chill-out room. And apparently you can join the locals in the car park on a Friday night for an al fresco drink … Probably for party-lovers only.
Address: Hostel Celica, Metelkova 8, SI – 1000 Ljubljana
Where to eat
Great international food if you’re a bit tired of the traditional Slovenian grub which can be a bit heavy and pork and cheese-oriented. Tables outside on an unusually interesting and atmospheric shopping street. Inside the restaurant is decorated with 1920 prints and blue and white ceramic tiles.
The service and food are both excellent – highly recommended.
Address: 9 Stari Trg, Ljubljana, Slovenia
The food is good in the restaurant and it’s popular with the locals, however the interesting thing about this place is that it’s placed right on the Schengen border between Slovenia and Croatia. There’s a yellow line that marks this in the restaurant itself so you’ll know which country you’re in when you visit the toilet or go to the bar.
Address: Obrežje 6 8261 Jesenice na Dolenjskem
The family-owned Skaručna serves only seasonal and local food, and you don’t get a choice – you’ll take what you’re given. However, the food is excellent traditional fare and the restaurant is well worth tracking down (it’s in a house just outside the town of Skaručna).
Lunch or brunch are the meals available – they’re closed for dinner. And don’t plan anything for afterwards – there are many courses and lunch goes on for hours …
They have a marvellous website which advises you will be treated to “… evergreen melodies supplied by Slavko Junior, whose extensive vinyl collection features a number of rare and unusual albums. ”
Address: Skaručna 20, Skarucna 1217, Slovenia