Slovenia 2019 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on Jun 04, 2019

I have one word to describe my recent experience to Slovenia….Wow! What a picture-postcard country. As a young teenager I spent a summer living with a family in Switzerland and my exposure to the alps and alpine architecture left a lifelong impression on me. Although my adventure was many years ago, Slovenia reignited the feelings and memories of my time in Switzerland.  Small villages, countless churches, and alpine mountains and forests all combined to remind me that this place has the same feel and look of the Swiss alps and countryside. Slovenia is rich with photographic opportunities and, as Joe Van Os declared after his first visit to the country last year, I must say that Slovenia is now one of my favorite European destinations, too.
Our first stop in this tiny country was to the village of Selo, near the Julian Alps and within walking distance to Lake Bled.  Set in the countryside our views from the lodge overlooked a small village with centuries-old buildings surrounded by small agricultural farms, forests and meadows.  The nearby town of Bled is known for the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary, a 17th-century church located on a tiny Island in the middle of Lake Bled and accessible  only by small wooden vessels called pletna boats. These boats have been used for transportation since at least 1150 AD and the permits for running the crafts have been in families for many generations and are passed down as tradition.  One afternoon we walked down the road to a nearby farmhouse for lunch.  The house was built around 1020 AD and the barn was added around 250 years ago.   Everything we ate was raised or produced on the farm. Cheese, smoked meats,  walnuts, berries, jellies, honey, beer and wine.  It was a real culinary and cultural experience.  The same afternoon we visited a local beekeeper who raises Carniolan bees. He gave us a comprehensive tour and told us about the beekeeping culture in Slovenia.  One out of 200 people in the country raise bees, typically in colorfully painted apiaries (beehives) and many of these apiaries have been used for centuries.  The bees in Slovenia are not exposed to any of the pesticides that are decimating bee populations in the US. And, because the honey in Slovenia is a product of the bees’ access to wildflower pollen—rather than agricultural plants, as is the case in the US—the result is some of the best tasting honey I have ever had. In fact, I filled my suitcase with jars of honey and bee pollen to take back with me!

While the weather was still favorable in Bled, we ventured out to photograph some iconic hilltop churches set against the backdrop of the Kamnik Alps. Our blue hour sessions required us to leave at 3:30am. That extra effort resulted in some incredible images of these churches lit up at blue hour. Our shooting session lasted well past sunrise. The Church of St. Thomas was especially memorable with fog covering the valley floor, the alps backlit and rose-colored from the morning light, and the European cuckoo birds’ calls echoing throughout the nearby forest.  For me it was a bucolic scene that will forever be burned into my memory.
A short distance from Bled we visited the Vintgar Gorge where the scenic Radovna River cuts through for approximately 1.6 kilometers.  The gorge was impassible until around the turn of the 20th century when a suspended walkway was built by cutting a path into rock walls. Visitors can walk the entire length enjoying emerald green cascading water and  beautifully vegetated canyon walls.  Although we were soaked with rain showers, the overcast light provided ideal photographic opportunities that would not otherwise be available with harsh contrast from clear skies.
The next morning our group of hearty travelers arrived at Logarska, an incredible mountain valley surrounded by the Kamnik-Savomja Alps. Inclement weather seemed to follow us from Croatia and we experienced rain, snow and fog at many locations, including our time in the Alps. Initially, two feet of snow prevented us from visiting many area locations, but shortly after the Solcava Panoramic Road was plowed we ventured to see breathtaking views of the Kamnik-Solcava Alps, passing one of the highest farms in Slovenia, the Bukovnik Farm.  
Following our stay in Logarska Valley we headed to the seaside port of Piran. Piran is the birthplace of composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini who played an important role in shaping its cultural heritage. A statue in his honor sits in Tartini Square in the center of the medieval town. Our hotel overlooked Tartini Square on one side and the harbor bordered the front street. It was an ideal location to photograph all the cultural sites of the Old Town while having  access to all the amenities of the city.  The city was especially good for blue hour photography since all we had to do was walk out the front door to view Tartini Square and the Church of Saint George with the Franciscan monastery as a backdrop.  
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and it was our final stop on the tour. Our hotel was within the Old Town and parallel to the Ljubjanica River.  The area is a hub of activity in modern times and is a blend of Old and New World with centuries-old cultural buildings dotted with restaurants and stores selling their wares along the waterways and side streets.  Our blue hour sessions covered the Fountain in New Square as well as several of the bridges that cross over the Ljubjanica River.  
Ljubljana SloveniaOur stay was relatively short in Ljubljana and, like many places we visited, I would like to have spent a week or more in each location. So much to see, photograph and experience! The landscapes, architecture and culinary experience was beyond my expectations and I would not hesitate return just for the food and wine. The cuisine was exceptional and the country has some of the finest food Europe has to offer. Special thanks go out to our local guides who helped both in terms of logistics and photographic assistance to our clients. I am sure we will offer another similar trip in the future and I would not want to miss returning to this incredible country. In the meantime, for those hearty travelers who are looking for a different experience in this country, Joe is offering a Slovenia in Winter trip January 24–February 3, 2020. In any season, Slovenia is the place to visit!

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