Slovenia 2018 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Jun 04, 2018

WOW!  Slovenia!  To my taste Slovenia is one of the nicest countries I have visited in Europe—and certainly my new favorite. Spectacularly photogenic, this tiny New Jersey-sized country sits at the nexus of Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and a tiny slice of Adriatic coastline. Within a short drive you can sample some of the best of Europe—Slovenia’s Alps and alpine architecture resemble Switzerland, its rolling karst vineyards are reminiscent of Tuscany, and its towns and villages on the Adriatic are like smaller versions of Dubrovnik and other attractive towns on Croatia's Istrian Peninsula. Spectacularly green in springtime, more than 60% of Slovenia is forested.

Because Slovenia is so photographically rich, even with its small size you can't do justice to photographing all of these regions in a few tour days, so we picked two of them—the Alps and the Adriatic Coast—plus a day in the capital city, Ljubljana (lyu-blee-YA-nuh).

Julian Alps SloveniaA wonderful guesthouse in the tiny village of Selo was our hub for photographing the Julian Alps. We had the entire lodging for our group, making for a relaxed atmosphere that was enhanced by our congenial hosts. We were out in the country with cows in wildflower-filled meadows, where honey bees gathered pollen and nectar before returning to elaborately painted apiaries, and where it seemed every other house was festooned with grapevines.

Selo is within walking distance of Lake Bled. In a beautiful setting surrounded by mountain forest and the resort town of Bled, the lake features an iconic 17th-century pilgrimage church perched atop a photogenic island. The Lake Bled area is where Slovenes bring their nature enthusiast guests for a daytrip, just as, in the Seattle area, we take ours to Mount Rainier National Park. The lake is dominated by the 11th-century Bled Castle impressively perched on a 430-foot-high cliff. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was under renovation, partially wrapped in scaffolding and loomed over by a giant boom crane.

Beekeeping is big in SloveniaJust down the street from the guest house was a farm with a serious honey business and we were invited to an up-close-and-personal look at the way beekeeping is done in Slovenia. In Slovenia, beekeeping is practically a religion. There are 90,000 beekeepers in a country with a population of two million. The country has its own strain of honeybees—Carniolan—and a beekeeping museum in the nearby town of Radovljica. Slovenes have a unique construction of their apiaries (beehives), which are built into small sheds and painted with whimsical ornate panels featuring popular motifs like the devil with a grinding wheel sharpening a woman's tongue.

We gained elevation quickly as we drove higher into the mountains near Mojstrana in the Upper Carniola region—and "upper" it was! Beautiful vistas with giant rolling clouds and an isolated hilltop church, one of the highlights of the drive, awaited us. Wildflowers were everywhere. Traversing mile-high Vršič Pass—the highest pass in Slovenia—we made our way to Peričnik Falls, one of the best-known waterfalls in the country.  It flows from a hanging valley in Triglav National Park into the glacial Vrata Valley. We created gorgeous images of the Soča River—the "Emerald River"—one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe and said to be one of the rare rivers in the world that retains its green color throughout its length.

The Soča River Valley was the stage for major military battles in World War I where over 300,000 Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers lost their lives. It is hard to imagine such a lovely place associated with such carnage.

Saint Thomas Church poking through the clouds in SloveniaMy favorite day of the trip started out with a whimper. Fog and mist in Selo did not portend a great morning shoot—especially since our group had gotten up so early to photograph sunrise high in the mountains. We were planning to shoot above the municipality of Škofja Loka where Sveti Tomaž church (Saint Thomas church) would be a major component of our sunrise compositions.  It was cool and damp—a perfect morning to go back to bed!  But off we went, driving higher and higher through foggy villages and countryside.  I was sure this was going nowhere. Then suddenly we broke through the clouds. The hairs on my arms rose as a deep orange glow in the sky complemented blue mountains rising above a sea of clouds below. Fog drifted through dark firs and, in the distance, the spire of Saint Thomas church poked through the clouds. It was glorious!

The Logarska Valley was lush and green and dotted with wildflowers displayed against a rugged mountain backdrop as we arrived at our hotel. From the hotel parking lot a solitary 80-foot-high elm tree, isolated in the middle of a broad meadow, immediately attracted my attention. What landscape shooter doesn't like to shoot isolated trees?  Turns out it is a very well-photographed tree. And it has a name.  Not its species common name, European white elm, but a one-tree specific name, "Plesnik's elm," named after the Plesnik farm it grows on. There are several shots of it in the accompanying slideshow.

Lunch at the nearby Matko farm was a delicious treat of food produced almost exclusively on the farm.  It was also a productive photo shoot of the farm’s floriferous meadows, its beehives, and the photogenic border collie-type dogs that kept us entertained as we explored this secluded mountain homestead.

Ljubljana cobblestone streetOn the homestretch we visited the state-owned Lipizzan horse stud farm en route to Piran—Slovenia's Adriatic Venetian-Gothic town that occupies a small part of the Istrian Peninsula with neighboring Croatia.  Piran is another favorite spot on the trip. Like its Croatian Istrian neighbors, it is off the beaten tourist track in May and its waterfront is not deep enough to accommodate cruise ships—insert "smiley face" emoji here.  Beautiful Venetian architecture (you can actually see Venice from here on a clear day), a vibrant café-lined waterfront, and a maze of narrow streets, cathedrals, commanding city overlooks, and an attractive town square provided hours of enjoyable photography.

Finally, to Ljubljana, the country's largest city and cultural capital. The city is bisected by the river of the same name where, other than photography, the best activity is sitting at one of MANY outdoor riverfront cafes with a cappuccino and watching the world go by. Dominated by Ljubljana Castle, the riverfront is a photographic feast of architecture that is fun to shoot when full of people, as well as in the morning "blue hour" when the streets are virtually vacant. Without a doubt, Slovenia IS my new favorite country in Europe!

Related Tags:  bled, lake, ljubljana, slovenia