Slovenia – From Lake Bled through to Skocjan Caves and the Mediterranean Coast.
After less than 24 hours in Austria we were over the Slovenian border and into the small lakeside town of Bled. A quick enquiry with ‘Camping Bled’ showed that they were closed and the nearest open site was 20 Km away at Bohinjska Bistrica. Seemingly a long way south west from Bled we were greeted by another fantastic lake, sparsely populated and beautifully situated at the head of the valley in Triglav National Park within the Julian Alps.
On arriving there was nobody around so we pulled up next to a German camper van and went out for a walk. On our return we were warmly greeted by Warren and Vicki from Western Australia, who had hired the camper van in Frankfurt and were out driving around Europe for a few months. After a few ‘tinnies’ we were invited to join them in eating a seafood feast which they had bought that morning in Italy. As we had very little to bring to the table I offered to cook it all outside on our portable wood-burning stove (Warren was so impressed by this he took some photos and is getting one made up when back in Aus!). So that night we got to dine on excellent food AND eat it under cover in the motorhome, delicious. Thanks again for the feed guys!
The following morning we headed back north to Bled for a look around. It was still very quiet as we were there in the off season and there was still three to four feet of snow on the ground. The weather was misty with low cloud and low visibility, which made getting the photos I wanted difficult. A little disappointed with the drab town of Bled we headed back to camp and up into the Julian Alps to visit some waterfalls… which turned out to be closed off due to a small landslide and snow coverage.
Probably the most notable thing of our time in this region was the auto-train from Bohinjska Bistrica. Thanks to the enthusiastic Tourist Information man who gave us the heads up on this as having spent hours in this place and driven through it and around it several times never even saw a train station! The auto-train was just that: a train you drive onto and then get transported through a huge tunnel to the other side of the Julian Alps. We waited for a while until we saw it. An old diesel powered unit pulling some flat carts that looked decisively Soviet. The ticket man asked for 13 Euros and told us which station we would be getting off at, we had no choice. We didn’t mind, it saved us ½ a days driving and much more than 13 Euros in fuel. We drove on first due to the trailer and pulled up to the cart behind the train. Handbrake on, engine off and in gear…just in case. With no straps the train pulled away and quickly got up to 70 KPH descending through the darkness of the tunnel. The Land Rover would bounce and bob every now and again (exacerbated by the transmission hand-brake well known by Land Rover aficionados which was hugely unnerving when your sat holding the steering wheel in the dark and completely stationary. The tendency to put your foot on the brakes was hard to resist. Out the other side we weaved our way down the valley through a warm and snow less landscape heading south west towards the Mediterranean.
We got off the train (with some relief) at Most-na-Soci and followed the Soca River north to Koberid for a brief look around the historic town which still has a number of Howitzer field guns from the fierce fighting there during WWI. From here we wound our way along the Soca River through countless vineyards to the Karst region of Slovenia where we visited Skocjan Caves.
We found a nice farm-stay which let us camp for free on their grounds as they were technically closed for winter. Only 3 km east of the caves it is a good choice for an overnight stop. We got to the caves (just) for the 10am tour and tagged on with another group. Entering the vast cave system we walked for 1.5km underground viewing the many rock formations created. From typical Stalegtites and Stalegmites through to differing erosion patterns, collapsed Dolines and onto the final cave where the river still flows and the walkway complete with bridge hover 50m above the waterline. The caves here also keep a fairly constant temperature of 12 degrees C which sustains a diverse ecosystem underground. Again we were not allowed to take photos which was a huge annoyance as some of the features were spectacular. You can probably get some over on Google Images used to promote the caves, but sadly I could not get my own. The tour lasted about 2 hours and is quite enjoyable, I would recommend it if you’re in the area. The walkways are easy to walk on as there is no ‘caving’ involved, so it is really suitable for everyone. After the tour we drove on to Izola on the small section of Slovenian coast next to Italy. On our way we passed through Lipica, which is the origin, breeding and training ground for the famous white Lipizzaner ‘dancing’ horses. We had a brief look around but there wasn’t much to see on the day we visited. Most of the horses were in the paddock and looked like they lived a pampered life. The stables were decked out in more lavish décor than our roof tent!
Enjoying the warmth of the Mediterranean sun, it was the first time we had seen temperatures above 0°C since leaving the UK 4 weeks prior. We stayed for 3 nights relaxing, fishing and having a general tidy-up (drying out) of the rig. We visited the old fishing port of Piran which was nice enough but completely over-run by tourists, it didn’t really have anything more to offer than Izola, where we were staying, which was much more relaxed and less populated. On our last night we ventured out to a local eatery for a fish platter which was a nice treat (considering I can’t seem to catch anything).
Slovenia was one of the countries on my list that I really wanted to visit. Having enjoyed Croatia so much in 2006 I was looking forward to seeing what Slovenia had to offer. Out of season we managed to avoid the crowds but as we found out elsewhere many things close down for some time after the winter period which can make things difficult. Nevertheless, Slovenia didn’t disappoint and I really enjoyed the changing landscape, great roads, old towns and villages, relaxed atmosphere and friendly people.
Next up was our old stomping ground, Croatia and to visit the places we missed on our trip here back in 2006.