Select Page

Slovenia By Motorhome

by Ruth Murdoch  |  July 2019  |  Slovenia

Exploring Slovenia by motorhome must be the best way to really discover how this small country packs a punch.

If you are also planning on exploring Slovenia by motorhome then there are several things you will want to know.  The complete summary which explains Slovenia’s somewhat complicated toll system can be found here.  If you’ve never heard of Slovenia (and I wouldn’t be surprised as it’s just tiny) then you might want to find out all the facts and data to give you a sense of Slovenia before your explorations begin.  In this blog you will find information about the location, the currency, the tolls, the population, driving tips, grocery shopping, and what it cost us to visit.

From Tarvisio (Italy) on the left through to Lenti (Hungary) on the right, you can drive through Slovenia in no time.

Exploring Slovenia by Motorhome

On 4th July 2019 we crossed over into Slovenia from the Italian Dolomites following the dramatic mountain range.  Skiing is obviously a national pastime and big tourism earner in this region and later in our journey we met a local man whom represented his country in downhill skiing before starting a winery!

 

Lake Bled

Our first stopping point was at the famous Lake Bled.  We opted for a camper parking spot (GPS 46.3703, 14.11844) for €25, rather than the camping ground in an effort to conserve the ever important dollaroos (is that a word?) (€8).  There was also a waiting list to get into the camping ground and a minimum three night stay.  You can see why we typically avoid staying in them – rules, restrictions, costs…… why would you????

Off came the bikes and in less than two kilometres, all downhill, we found ourselves, jaws dropped and facing the stunning lake before us.  It was not at all what I had imagined.

The Famous Lake Bled

Lake Bled is a glacial lake fed by hot springs and is watched over by a cliff-side medieval castle.  The foreshore at the town of Bled is highly built up with hotels, shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants.  Tourists fill every available spot.  Families, lovers, and friends are walking, cycling, swimming on or around the lake.  Others meanwhile were trying their hand at the many water sports on offer; from a rowboat, stand-up paddleboard or canoe the lake is well utilised and enjoyed.

We cycled further around the foreshore leaving the built-up town of Bled behind us and exploring a far less crowded, tree lined path around the lake.  Fantastic views of the iconic and much photographed island and church accompanied us as we looked for the perfect place to enjoy our picnic of delicious Italian cold cut meats, cheeses, olives (yes I now eat them!) and fresh bread.  Finding the ideal spot we sat, ate, enjoyed the view and snapped a few (hundred) photos while chatting to a friendly Hungarian couple.

The Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary,
also known as The Church of Mary the Queen or Our Lady Of The Lake

Once was not enough and the morning had us up early to circumnavigate the six kilometre path, (a mixture between concrete, gravel, and tarmac roads), around the lake and to take yet more photos of the beautiful church-topped island.

But today we had bigger fish to fry so we didn’t linger long at the lake.  The northern shores were mainly either privately owned or developed into paid amusement/swimming parks so you can’t actually get down to the water in most places.  The southern slopes were frequented by ever hopeful fishermen and woman trying their luck.

After a quick picnic breakfast, we cycled up to the Bled Castle to visit the fortress and soak up the views from on high.  The restaurant was setting up for a wedding (someone from the UK), and wow, what a fabulous spot for their special day.

We popped our nose into the wine cellar and were greeted by a man dressed as a monk.  He spoke very good English and offered to swap some of our coastline for 700 unwanted bears!  Apparently this small country can happily tolerate 300 protected bears but not the 1,000 the numbers have grown to and he wants to do his bit to help rid the country of the extras, while gaining some additional coastline.  We assured him that as authorised representatives of New Zealand, we would gladly swap the bears for the coastline.  We don’t know how the swap will be made but as far as we are concerned, the deal is done.

Bled Castle

Bled Castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia, dating back to 1011.  Like most castles in Europe this one was used to protect the local population from threat of war.  It is now the most visited tourist destination in the country.  Here we came across the oldest printed book in Slovenia as well as a replica of the original Gutenberg press used to print religious tracts during the reformation era.

Have you ever seen an original…

Gutenberg press?

A very interesting museum in the castle shows how the terrain of Slovenia was moulded by the advance and retreat of glaciers over millions of years.  A photo we had taken soon after entering this tiny country showed a perfect example of what we had learnt.

This Stunning Mountain Range Extends From Italy’s Dolomites

After the castle visit, we coasted our cycles downhill (yay!), rushed back to Betsy, our home on wheels, and headed for Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana.

For a list of the 10 best things to do in Bled, click here.

Ljubljana

We had heard about a special event that happens only on Fridays and only over the summer months.

It’s called “Open Kitchen” and is where the local chefs from the nearby restaurants set up stalls in the capital’s square to showcase not only their delicious food but also foods from all around the world.

There was even NZ lamb on offer!

We were like kids in a giant candy shop and had to walk around a couple of times before deciding on what delicacies to try first.

We started off with a tasty Egyptian dish consisting of two different styles of spicy chicken stuffed into a pita pocket and topped with salad.  Next were Slovenian beef dumplings, then a dessert dumpling filled with apple.  Both were served with an unusual soft, melt-in-your-mouth pork crackling.  Next was barbequed and sliced beef fillet from Argentina with crispy potato wedges.  All washed down with a delicious local Chardonnay from the Lipoglav region (more on this to come).

The Delicious Food In The Summer Open Kitchens

Unfortunately we had left Lake Bled before trying their signature cream cakes.  I was disappointed to think we’d missed our opportunity but how wrong was I?  Ljubljana also has the famous Bled Cream Cake on offer!  The recipe is apparently a closely held secret and only known in Lake Bled – at least that is what the locals would have you believe.

Let me show you the photo of this gorgeous cake/dessert as a picture is worth a thousand words.  This photo can describe the look better than I can.  The taste, however, was surprisingly fresh and light, not too sweet or heavy, with a crunchy pastry topping that sandwiched the Bled deliciousness between the top fresh cream and smooth melt-in-your-mouth custard below.

The Famous Bled Cream Cake

 

The city was alive with people out in droves enjoying the warmth, the food, and the atmosphere while catching up with friends.

We found a reasonably cheap (€12 including power) camper parking area a couple of kilometres from the city centre (GPS coordinates 46.06452, 14.50207) and settled in there for three nights.

My birthday (the day after tomorrow) was forecast to be stinking hot with temperatures of 34C, 80% plus humidity and thunderstorms.  Having agreed that the forecast wasn’t conducive to being out and about, we decided to celebrate my birthday one day early.  Although it would still be hot, we could find somewhere cool to plant ourselves during the hottest time and enjoy the day.  Another added and unexpected bonus was that we soon discovered not much is open on Sundays, so an early celebration was fortuitous.

I undertook a little bit of research to find a recommended place for lunch, only to be treated poorly and have the waiter argue with us before we were even seated.  That left a bad taste and without placing an order, we opted to find a friendlier environment to while away some hours.

We were in luck.  We came across Tokyo Piknik, an unexpectedly delightful Japanese Tapas bar, in Slovenia.  Who would have thought?

The menu was filled with delicious sounding morsels from which it was difficult to pick just a few.  Hang on, we could order as many as we wanted, because it was my birthday!  So two rounds of dumplings it was, plus crispy fried chicken, pork belly and a delicious Ramen Tonkotsu.  Our last dish was crumbed chicken with egg – very tasty.

After our bellies were full we continued to explore this vibrant city on bikes and had our names drawn in Japanese (for no charge) by a man who had committed to drawing 10,000 peoples names in an inordinate short period of time.

After our bellies were full we continued to explore this vibrant city on bikes and had our names drawn in Japanese (for no charge) by a man who had committed to drawing 10,000 peoples names in an inordinate short period of time. 

We are often drawn to the cathedrals and in particular I like to look at the organs that adorn these places.  The Cathedral of St. Nicholas didn’t disappoint.  Not only was the organ impressive but the frescos, the sculptures, the marble, the paintings, and not forgetting the gold, all made for stunning viewing.  The upkeep must cost a small fortune, let alone the initial construction costs.  If you ever find yourself in Ljubljana make sure the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is on your list of things to see.   You will be in good company as even Pope Francis has visited here.

How impressive is this organ?

The city is said to be protected by dragons and these sculptures are seen strategically placed around the city, plus at the entrance and exit of bridges.  Speaking of bridges, there are three famous bridges within a stones throw of each other within the city limits, with the first aptly named Triple Bridge because, strangely it consists of three bridges.

The Ljubljanica river, that runs through the city centre, is of archaeological importance to the locals.  In 2003 it was declared a site of cultural importance in an effort to stop its treasures from being plundered further by divers.  This was due to an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 objects having been removed from the river by treasure hunters over the years. 

Exactly why the Ljubljanica became a dumping ground for so many treasures is unknown.  Most historians believe that it is related to how local tradition has always held the river as a sacred place.  These treasures may have been offered “to the river during rites of passage, in mourning, or as thanksgiving for battles won.”

I had delaying restocking our honey supplies, locally known as med, until we reached Slovenia as I knew it was a famous product in this region.   The bees here are particularly busy and are fiercely protected little creatures.  I particularly love it when we can taste the product before buying an entire jar and the winner was a cvetlicni (floral), light coloured, runny honey.

Celje

Up the road, and northwest just over 80 kilometres, we reached the small settlement of Celje.  Our stopping point tonight was near a sports ground (GPS coordinates 46.22549, 15.261420) costing just €2.50 for one night.  All services were available except electricity.

This town is historically famous for the largest fortification on Slovenian territory – called The Old Castle Celje.   Although now in ruins, the castle is slowly being restored and attracts some sixty thousand people annually.

Of particular interest, to this winemaker’s daughter at least, is the protected old vine that is reportedly a descendent of the oldest grapevine in the world.

A Descendent of the Oldest Grapevine in the World!!!

The castle historians have packed the ruins full with lots of attention-grabbing displays for young and old.

To be explored here is the information centre, the inner ward, Frederick’s tower, the central courtyard with a Well, a defensive trench and drawbridge, the tower above Pelikan’s trail, the gothic Palatium, the Torture Museum, Romanesque Palatium and the viewing platform.

Inside Frederick’s tower is home to an interactive hologram of Frederick II, the son of Count Hermann II of Cilli (another spelling) as well as his newly married ill-fated wife.   Here the hologram of Frederick talks to you and shares his story.

Legend has it that Frederick had his first and legal wife, Elizabeth, assassinated and then secretly married Veronika of Desenice against his father’s wishes.  As a result, Count Hermann II of Cilli had his son imprisoned in the main tower of the castle and had Veronika drowned.  Frederick was heading towards certain death but was spared by a loyal shield bearer who excavated a subterranean passage through which he brought Frederick food.  It is said that this passage could still be seen during the previous century and was sufficiently wide enough to be used by an adult man.

We spent a good hour and a half wandering around and found ourselves intrigued and gobsmacked by the torture devices on display in the Torture Museum.  Can I say how grateful I am to be born in this century with today’s modern laws and general respect for humanity!

Just a Small Sample of The Torture Devices (Click to Enlarge, or not)

After such a strenuous outing it was now time to sample the Slovenia honey cake in the castle cafe.  We’ve tried this before in Perth and it’s to die for.  This was not a bad rendition of it also.

Lipoglav & Sanctum Winery

I mentioned earlier that while in Ljubljana we sampled some of the delicious local Chardonnay from the Lipoglav region.  The stall owner wrote the name down for us and suggested we pay them a visit, so off to Lipoglav we went in search of the vineyard.  Or a wild goose chase.

Finding the winery’s address was something that Sherlock Holmes himself would have been proud of.  Thanks to Google we eventually found Sanctum, however there were no reviews, no open times, and only one photo.  Something didn’t feel right to us.  However, we kept driving and came across a very small village.  Having taken a turnoff from the motorway the roads became narrower with each kilometre we drove, until it felt like we were just too big a vehicle to be going any further.

I spied a tavern and thought that asking for directions or help might be a good idea.  The local people speak very little English but with the help of Google Translate, which isn’t that flash with the Slovenian language, I managed.  I asked if they could please phone the winery to ensure it was open.  A lovely man sitting at the bar, and who spoke no English, offered that we could follow him on his motorbike.  We reluctantly agreed and he led us along a one-lane pathway up into the hills.  Had we not followed him, we would have flagged it away especially as our GPS would have taken us up the wrong road anyway (or should I say the wrong goat track).

We eventually arrived at a house with an elderly gentleman standing on his driveway.  That was Sanctum winery!!!

Not sure what was ahead of us we were warmly greeted by Marko Podkubovsek – the owner of Sanctum Winery.  He seated us at an outside table and opened a bottle(!) of chardonnay to taste.  Full glasses were poured, accompanied with cheese and bread as we sat and listened to Marko relive his younger years.  Born in Communist Yugoslavia, at the age of 18 he travelled through East Germany.  Almost shot at the newly constructed Berlin Wall, Marko lied his way into the country and out again thanks to the official passport he held due to representing his country in downhill snow skiing.  Listening to Marko makes us appreciate what sheltered and easy lives we have enjoyed growing up in the wealthy democratic country that is New Zealand.

Like a cat with nine lives Marko continued his tales of how he narrowly escaped death again. While on holiday in New Zealand, what would a national ski champion do other than heli-skiing?  Dropped into the South Island of New Zealand’s high-country from a helicopter Marko and friends were warned about possible avalanche dangers from days and days of heavy snow.  Nevertheless they ventured into the unknown to test man against nature. They traversed the high snows forever on the lookout for pending dangers.  All of a sudden they skied across the front of an unstable patch of snow and started to get carried down with it.  Being experienced alpine skiers they knew that in order to survive they had to out-ski the falling wall of snow and reach the other side.

Did they make it?

Marko’s voice and demeanor changes all of a sudden to one of sober remembrance.  He went back into his memories and the fear that was lurking just underneath came shooting out unexpectedly.

He continued…

“Having just escaped the jaws of death we all sat in stunned shock looking at where the snow finished its torturous journey just feet from our decent.   We sat, for two hours, all of us in shock and frozen with the fear of what we had so narrowly escaped.  No one spoke, no one moved.  We sat quietly alone with our thoughts pondering life.  We had been warned but we thought we were better than Mother Nature.  And we were – just!”

Isn’t it those tales that travel stories are made of?  Thankfully it ended well this time and being a skier myself I can attest to the extreme hazardous nature, especially in the South Island mountains.

Back to Sanctum Wineries.  Marco’s winemaker is from New Zealand and is married to a Slovenian.  Marko was in awe of the skills his winemaker brought with him and the next day we were introduced to this famous Kiwi from Cambridge.

Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris are the three white wine varieties that Sanctum specialise in.  From our seat on the deck we looked out upon the very same Chardonnay vineyards the produced the wine we were drinking.  They also make wine from Syrah, Pinot Noir and a lesser-known Traminec grape variety.

Chardonnay Grapevines

Look How Healthy These Grapes Are

Marko kindly invited us to stay for dinner, free of charge, and served us up a turkey and vegetable soup and risotto, followed with the famous Bled Cream Cake (again).  A second bottle of chardonnay was offered, their premium Sanctum Chardonnay Prestige that sells for €60 in restaurants.  For a mere €17 we couldn’t refuse such a bargain and sipped away on this full-bodied nectar.

The majority of the Sanctum wines are exported into the US market and what’s not exported is sold only through high-class restaurants.  We considered ourselves fortunate to be having this experience.

How Lucky Are We Receiving All This For Free?

Later that evening the wine maker’s assistant, from the UK, who lives on the property treated us to a cellar tour (and more tasting).  It took me back to the days of Dad’s wine cellar with the somehow comforting and familiar smell and taste in my mouth of damp and dusty clay.  Have you ever experienced it when a smell takes you back to a memory?

We went from barrel to barrel with a wine thief (the name given to the glass device that extracts wine from the top of the barrels).  The education was sublime and the tasting delicious.

I’ve been to several wine tours over the years and to be given this, free of charge, became the tour that will stick in my memory banks forever.  Upon leaving we were handed yet another bottle of Sanctum Chardonnay for our ‘cellar’.

Alan Enjoying The Wine Tour

Inside Sanctum Wine Cellar

Fortunately Marko had given us permission to park Betsy outside his house and sleep the night as we couldn’t safely drive after the volume of samples consumed.

Slovenia in Conclusion

Seven days flew past quickly even in such a small country. We had intentions of trying the famous beef and potato soup that Slovenia culinary experts rave about. However we didn’t get an opportunity, so with unfinished business and still more food (and wine) to explore, we will be back.

Feel Free To PIN For Later.  Please share this post and leave us a comment.  Comments keep us motivated to keep writing to bring you useful information about our travels.  Thanks.