Slovenia in Winter 2020 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Feb 11, 2020

On almost every day of our winter photo tour, the temperature in Ljubljana—Slovenia’s capital city—hovered around 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon.  Slovenia in Winter, indeed! This unseasonably warm weather extended over much of Europe throughout January. Yet this heatwave did not deter us from experiencing a great photo shoot and creating lots of snowy images. But, to do so, we had to head for the mountains and gain some altitude.

At the start of our trip, our group was exclusively accommodated in a comfy guest house near the shores of iconic Lake Bled. Photo shoots during the first half of our tour were split between “balmy” locations around glacially carved Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park, and the snowy realm of Slovenia’s Julian Alps that we reached with our vans and a ski resort cable car.

Lake Bled is one of the most popular places to visit in Slovenia. As a “nature lover” if you come to visit friends for the first time in Slovenia, chances are they will take you there on a day trip. The iconic baroque church on Bled Island is a photogenic highlight of the lake, as is the medieval Bled Castle that looms over the island atop a 425-foot high (130 meter) rocky cliff. It is the oldest castle in the country. For me, the castle shoot was a special treat since this was the first time I have seen it when it wasn’t surrounded by scaffolding and a giant boom crane.

Snow in the Julian Alps SloveniaBut what about the snow?  In general, the European Alps are far more developed than most mountainous areas of North America. Over the region’s long human history, many roads have been punched through these mountains to allow access to remote villages, areas for cattle grazing and, more recently, abundant ski resorts. Virtually all of the ski resorts and major highland passes have web cams that conveniently provided us with a great way to visually assess weather conditions in the mountains. A couple of days into our trip we could see a wet weather pattern coming our way off the Adriatic Sea. After checking a web cam very early in the morning we hightailed it up to a mountain pass where, much to our delight, we found ourselves in a raging blizzard!

While a “raging blizzard” may not sound like it would produce great photo ops, it was really among the best winter photo shoots we could have hoped for! The snow was getting deep and the wind was howling.  Nevertheless, we experienced a monochromatic world of stark, needleless, European larch trees plastered with the blowing wet snow. We created graphic images of these dark skeletal trees against the pristine white mountain slopes.

Capitalizing on the fresh snow, we spent another day “getting high” thanks to the use of a ski resort cable car. We shot the spectacular mountain ridge across the valley that includes Mount Triglav—Slovenia’s highest mountain at 9,395 feet (2,864 meters). Baroque church SloveniaWe photographed throughout the afternoon  at that lofty altitude and were the last people to descend the mountain after the “blue hour”—long after most of the skiers had headed home.

It seems you can’t drive a mile in Slovenia without seeing a charming baroque church perched atop a hill and set against a spectacularly photogenic background. In some places you can see five churches from one spot. The architecture of many of the churches was so similar—white façade, red tiled roof and a weathered copper-clad steeple—that it became a group joke that we had moved one church by helicopter to a new place to shoot it every day. I find photographing Slovenian churches is a bit like eating potato chips—it’s very hard to stop!

There are not a ton of tourists wandering around the streets of Ljubljana in the winter. The city has a robust outdoor café culture that is normally dead in the winter. But with this year’s mild weather, the locals were taking advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures and having lunch outdoors at riverside cafés in Ljubljana’s Old Town. Slovenia waterfrontAnd so did we. Midway through our trip we moved from Lake Bled to Old Town Ljubljana and into a boutique hotel where we were virtually the only guests.  From there it was just a short walk to most of the attractive features of the city. We were also in walking distance of many excellent restaurants and cafés. There is no shortage of great places to eat here!

Even in the winter there is a bustling outdoor market on Saturdays and a riverside flea market on Sundays. Of the souvenirs members of our trip bought to take home to friends and family, by far the most popular item was pumpkinseed oil. This oil is a dark, savory component of many tasty Slovenian salads and, oddly, a delicious topping for vanilla ice cream.

From the city we ventured to the seaport city of Piran on Slovenia’s tiny Adriatic coastline. Unfortunately, we scheduled our day trip on what turned out to be a somewhat dreary day. But the relatively gloomy weather, coupled with the winter lull in tourism, left us with the city’s photogenic medieval central square and waterfront almost to ourselves. Art Deco spiral staircase Ljubljana SloveniaDuring the tourist season you might have to wait a long time for the throng of tourists to be out of your shot—not a problem for us at this time of year.

A last day stroll around Ljubljana brought us to the country’s parliament building, and the Nebotičnik (skyscraper in English). We photographed its spectacular Art Deco spiral stairway, and then visited the National Museum of Slovenia where we enjoyed its exceptional art collection.

On a personal note, it’s not hard for me to express how much I enjoy traveling in Slovenia.  The country is beautiful, the photography is wonderful, the people are super friendly, and English is spoken by almost everyone.  Since the country is tiny, nearly everyplace in Slovenia seems accessible in a couple of hours.  The national cuisine is amazing on its own, but it also has strong culinary influences from its European neighbors—namely Italy, Austria, France and the Balkans.  Slovenia really is one of those places that I will look forward to visiting again and again!
Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris group in Julian Alps Slovenia