Ljubljana, Lake Bled and the Julian Alps: A Slovenia Road Trip
This nine-day Slovenia road trip takes in the Istrian coastline, Goriska Brda wine region, Otocec castle, capital Ljubljana and picture-perfect Lake Bled and the Julian Alps. En route enjoy hiking and biking, explore cave systems, stay in a castle and taste Slovenia's under-rated wines.
Itinerary at a glance
- Explore the Istrian coastline known as the Slovene Riviera
- Taste excellent wines in the Goriska Brda wine region
- Visit Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle
- Sample some of Slovenia's finest wines and cheeses
- Take a boat ride to the island on Lake Bled
- Walk the trails of the beautiful Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps
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Day 1: Arrive in Slovenia and to the Slovenian Riviera
Your Slovenia road trip starts today with a direct flight to Ljubljana from London at around lunchtime. The flight takes just two-and-a-quarter-hours.
On arrival, collect your hire car, and drive to your first destination: a luxurious hotel on the shores of the Adriatic in Slovenian Istria, just an hour-and-a-half away.
Slovenia is perfect road trip territory thanks to the relatively short distances between highlights, but despite its diminutive size the country is home to a remarkable range of landscapes, from Mediterranean riviera to some of Europe's most impressive mountains. This evening you can appreciate the former as you enjoy a sundowner cocktail overlooking the sea on the so-called Slovene Riviera.
- After your travel day, make the most of the hotel spa and outdoor pool for a quick dip before heading for an evening meal.
Day 2: Explore Slovenian Istria
After breakfast this morning you will have the chance to explore the Slovene Riviera, tucked in a the top of the Istrian Peninsula that is mostly part of Croatia. The Slovenian stretch of coastline only measures ten miles as the crow flies, but there are plenty of points of interest along this pretty stretch. First stop today on your Slovenia road trip is the Secovlje Salina Nature Park, the 'Salina' a reference to the many salts pans that were created centuries ago to harvest the salt. This 1500-acre site still features some traditional salt harvesting but is also home to over 270 species of birds.
After lunch (we will recommend the best local eateries for delicious fresh seafood) drive to nearby Piran where you will be met by your guide for a private tour of the charming coastal village of Piran. Wander the shaded streets, with your guide explaining Piran's history and Venetian architecture, and end up in the picturesque Tartini Square before walking along the pier past boats bobbing in the harbour. Piran is a lovely spot for an afternoon coffee, early evening cocktail or supper before you head home to your hotel, just ten minutes up the road.
- The Slovene Riviera is a lovely place to explore on land, but for a different and thoroughly luxurious alternative, explore the Slovenian coasts more secretive spots from the water aboard a crewed traditional Istrian wooden sailboat.
- Lounge in the sun being served delicious local white wine, enjoy a tasty picnic lunch on board, moor up in secluded coves and go a swim in the beautiful clear water.
Day 3: To the Goriska Brda Wine Region
After your soujourn on the coast, the next stop on your Slovenia road trip is Goriska Brda wine region to sample some of Slovenia's finest (and under-rated) vintages. After breakfast it's another hour-and-a-half's drive along the coast to Goriska Brda, and in another geographically anomaly, most of the journey is through Italy. Your first stop in Goriska Brda is the walled village of Smartno, which sits pretty, perched on a rocky outcrop with gorgeous panoramic views. Wander the intact walls connecting the village's seven towers and visit the lovely Baroque church, famed for its three marble altars.
Then drive on to your next hotel, just ten minutes away, where you can enjoy a relaxed lunch. After lunch you will picked up by your guide and driven to the vineyards of a local wine producer. There you will have a guided tour of the vines and the cellar, learning about the winemaking process and this wine region's history, before the main event, a wine tasting with the sommelier or winemaker of some of the finest red, white and sparkling wines in Slovenia.
After the tasting, you will be transferred back to your hotel for dinner, studying the wine list with new-found expertise.
Day 4: Caves and Castles in Postojna and Predjama
After breakfast this morning it's time to hit the road again on your Slovenia road trip, as you head east across the country. First stop, around an hour (as ever) away, is the famous Postojna Cave, in fact an entire cave system carved out of soluble karst rock and stretching some 14 miles. Follow the well-lit wooden walkways deep into the system, and you can also visit the world's only underground post office en route.
Back above ground and just 15-minutes' drive away is Predjama Castle, built in an extraordinary position in the mouth of a vast cave, and surrounded by wild flowers in spring and summer. Have lunch in the vicinity (we will recommend a good local restaurant) and then drive on an hour-and-a-half (surprise!) to another of Slovenia's finest castles, Otocec. This castle is also in a lovely setting, this time on an island in the middle of the Krka River. Even better, the castle is now a hotel, and your home for the next two nights. Stretch your legs on a walk along the banks of the river before a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Day 5: Visit Kostanjevica na Krki and a Cheesemaker
Your Slovenia road trip has been busy so far so this morning you can relax at the hotel and maybe enjoy a massage or a long lie-in. After lunch, drive to Kostanjevica na Krki. This tiny town, about 20 minutes away from the hotel, is famously beautiful, and built on another island downstream on the Krka River. Wander around the charming streets, and then make sure to visit the Bodizar Jakac Art Museum, just down the road and housing a remarkable collection of Slovenian art from the last two centuries. You will be met at the museum by your guide who can put the collection firmly into the context of Central European art.
Finally, move from visual art to the art of cheese making, with a visit to an award-winning local farm to see how they produce sensational local cheeses using traditional methods. Then return to Otocec, and maybe go easy on the supper tonight.
Day 6: To Ljubljana
You can take it easy again this morning before a gentle 45-minute drive back to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana in time to check in at your city centre hotel and go out for lunch. We can recommend some of the best places to eat in town.
After lunch you can wander around this eminently pleasing pocket-sized city, which is a beguiling blend of Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. Don't delve too deep, mind, because tomorrow you have an in-depth privately guided tour of the city.
Day 7: Explore Ljubljana
Today will be one of the highlights of your Slovenia road trip, even though it involves absolutely zero driving. You will be met at your hotel after breakfast by your guide for your private tour of Ljubljana.
Your guide will elaborate on Ljubljana's history at the crossroads of Europe and show you some of the more secret corners of Slovenia's capital. Visit the Town Hall, learn about the city's architectural evolution up to and including the input from national hero Joze Plecnik, famed for his idiosyncratically Slovenian adaptations of Art Nouveau. He has been called 'Ljubljana's Gaudi' in acknowledgement of his influence on the city's architecture (as Gaudi had on Barcelona), and your guide will show you Plecnik's architectural masterpieces such as the Napoleon monument and the Triple Bridge.
Then take to the water of the Ljubljanica River which loops around the Old Town making this technically another of Slovenia's river islands. The one-hour cruise along the river and offers you another perspective on the city, this time from the comfort of your flat-bottomed wooden boat.
Back on dry land, it's time to tackle the focal point of the entire the city: Ljubljana Castle, perched on a wooded hilltop with spectacular views out over the city and beyond. Take the funicular ride and then wander around the castle with your guide, learning about its interesting history and unusual quirks, such as the 19th century well crane that hoists water as well today as when it was installed. Soak up the superb views back across the city before returning to your hotel and out on the town for one last dinner in the Slovene capital.
- We can reserve a table for lunch at Ljubljana Castle Restaurant. Ljubljana castle's new restaurants overlooks the city from a grand position. The menu, created with the help of top ethnology professor Dr Janez Bogataj, borrows from popular recipes across the centuries and the dishes are created using ingredients from Ljubljana's famed market.
Day 8: Lake Bled and the Julian Alps
Today is the penultimate day of your Slovenia road trip but contains two of the highlights of any trip to the country: the serenely beautiful Lake Bled, and the chance to hike in the Julian Alps, some of the most picturesque peaks in Europe. First stop is Lake Bled, just 45 minutes from Ljubljana and somewhere almost impossibly pretty, with a church-topped island the perfect focal point for the inevitable photo call. Once you've taken your fill of photos, we've arranged for you to have a boat ride out to the island in a charming pletna, a traditional (they've been plying the waters of Lake Bled since the 16th century) wooden boat with a colourful awning and paddled by an expert oarsman. Explore the charming 17th century church and sample a cream cake - the local speciality - before paddling back to shore.
From one lake to another, now, as you hit the road for the half hour drive to your final hotel, located near Lake Bohinj. Enjoy lunch, and then pull on your walking boots because this is the perfect staging post for hiking in the Triglav National Park, which encompasses much of Julian Alps. Walk along a network of well-maintained and well-marked trails while taking in the views of soaring mountains, lush forests and beautiful mountain pastures. We can recommend the best walks in the vicinity, but one particularly good option is taking the Vogel cable car up to 4,200ft and then hiking the trail from there to the summit of Vogel (6,300ft) and back. The round trip is around six miles and should take around three-and-a-half-hours.
Tonight you can enjoy a summit celebratory dinner, tempered by the sad fact that this is the last night of your Slovenia road trip.
- Perched high on a cliff overlooking the lake sits Bled Castle, built in the early 11th century and as such the oldest castle in Slovenia. If you have time, pop up for yet more glorious views of the lake and Julian Alps in the distance.
Day 9: Fly Home
Your flight is not until this afternoon, and as you know by now, the distances involved in Slovenia are never long, which means you have plenty of time today to go for another long walk in the Triglav National Park. Then enjoy one last lunch in Slovenia before driving back to Ljubljana Airport, which is an hour away.
The flight takes two-and-a-quarter-hours, arriving in London in the early evening.
Arran and Kate L are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.