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Slovenia Road Trip – Lake Bled and Triglav NP

by Grant
Slovenia Road Trip - Triglav National Park and Lake Bled

After a glorious couple of nights in Ljubljana, it was time to hit the road. For the first time in two trips to Europe, we actually rented a car! Normally, we would just take a train, but researching both Triglav National Park and Lake Bled, we quickly determined a Slovenia road trip made more sense. 

Triglav National Park is located at the north end of the Soča River Valley in the northwest corner of Slovenia, near the corner of Italy, Austria and Slovenia and encompasses the Julian Alps. 

Soča River Valley on a Slovenia Road Trip
Soča River Valley

So, we picked up our rental from the Hertz office and off we went. A note about renting a car in Europe: get the smallest car you can. The roads are narrow and being small is useful!

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Updated January 2018

Slovenia Road Trip Through the Soča River Valley

Driving from Ljubljana to Bovec, which lies just south of the park, takes about three hours through some truly amazing scenery.

The Soča River Valley has beautiful mountains on both sides and the Soča River is perfectly turquoise blue water. We saw paragliders galore and folks rafting in the river. This area looks to be a great place for outdoor adventure. 

Paragliding in the Soča River Valley on a Slovenia road trip
Paragliding in the Soča River Valley

On our drive up the valley, we stopped briefly in the small town of Kobarid at the World War I museum. This area all the way up into the mountains was home to some of the most brutal fighting of the war. 

The museum was very informative and had exhibits in English, which made it easy to follow. 

The waters of the Soca River are so clear and inviting.
The waters of the Soca River are so clear and inviting.

Amazingly, Kobarid is home to several world-class restaurants, including one of top restaurants in the world, Hiša Franko. (Ironically, we didn’t discover this until years later when we saw a special on it on Netflix’s Chef’s Table). 

When we go back to Slovenia, we are coming back to Kobarid to eat here and spend more time in the beautiful Soča River Valley.

Bovec

We stayed in Bovec before heading into the park. Bovec is a charming mountain town with a few restaurants, a handful of restaurants and a cheap but not great place for us to stay.

Bovec is nestled at the base of the Julian Alps.
Bovec is nestled at the base of the Julian Alps.

While the Aparments Skok was cheap, we didn’t feel we got our money’s worth and can’t recommend it.

Still, Bovec made for a great jumping off point into Triglav National Park.

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Triglav National Park

Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park, reminds me quite a bit of Glacier National Park in the US with plenty of gorgeous mountain views and some butt-kicking hikes.

Julian Alps
Julian Alps

The drive through the mountains has around 50 switchbacks, some more terrifying than others. I’m more than used to driving mountain roads. Indeed, I pretty much grew up driving the mountains of Western North Carolina. I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong.

The Slovenes are fricking nuts, especially in the mountains. They pass on blind curves, take the whole road on other curves and generally drive too damn fast in the mountains. The rest of the country we drove through was fine, but the mountains were nuts.

Russian Chapel
Russian Chapel

Still, it was gorgeous and more than worth it. We got out and hiked several times, including a trail which required steel safety cables to get up. 

One of the other cool things along the road is a Russian Orthodox chapel erected by the World War I prisoners of war who built the road in honor of those who died in an avalanche.

Shadow selfie on one of the suspension bridges
Shadow selfie on one of the suspension bridges

Note on Driving in Europe

I had read up on European road signs and they are not that difficult to understand. The only catch is speed limits. The countries themselves set the national speed limits for various kinds of roads and you are expected to know them. It will be marked if it is less, but if not, you just need to slow down when you see city limits signs to the speed limit for towns.

On to Lake Bled

Once through the park, we headed south to Bled, a gorgeous resort town located about two hours from Bovec through the park. Obviously, it will take longer to get there if you are enjoying the park but it is not that long of a drive.

We got in on a Sunday afternoon and the traffic out of the town indicated this town is more of a weekend destination. Thankfully, we saw much smaller crowds in town on Monday and Tuesday.

View from our hotel in Bled
View from our hotel in Bled

We spent our that afternoon working on laundry and relaxing. One of the biggest difficulties on this trip compared to Italy was finding places to do laundry. Normally, we would just hunker down at a laundromat and read but there was no laundromat near and the hotel laundry was incredibly cost-prohibitive ($100… yikes!) 

So we spent the afternoon doing laundry reading on the balcony. We paid extra for a lake view room and it was worth it! The hotel, the Best Western Premier Hotel Lovec, was great and we enjoyed our stay. 

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Exploring Lake Bled

Despite threatening skies, we decided to walk around the lake. We started out heading to the castle, which sits on a cliff overlooking the lake. There are some great views of the lake and town from the castle. The castle also has a museum, which we enjoyed. It was well done, with plenty in English. 

The view from Bled Castle
The view from Bled Castle

The loop around the lake is about 3.5 miles long and has a ton of great views along the way. It was peaceful and quite scenic. Lake Bled is also famous for rowing events and you will pass right by the rowing center on your way around the lake. 

We got in for lunch just as the rain rolled in, so we sat at the bar and enjoyed the view before heading back to the hotel. 

Bled Castle
Bled Castle

The next morning, we decided to take a Pletna boat out to Bled Island, a small island in the middle of the lake with the gorgeous Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church. 

The cruise out on the boat was an experience in itself. The Pletna boats are flat-bottom, handmade, hand-powered and hand-steered. There are only 25 boats on the lake, and it is passed from father to son. 

Bled Island
Bled Island

The church was an eighth-century Slavic pagan temple before becoming an Orthodox church. The altar was one of the prettiest we’ve seen! Tourists take turns ringing the bell…superstition is that if you can get the bell to ring three times with one pull of the rope your wish will come true.

It was seriously cool.

Cruising on a pletna boat on Lake Bled
Cruising on a pletna boat on Lake Bled

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge is located about a 10-minute drive from Bled and is actually part of Triglav National Park. 

Walking the boardwalk of Vingtar Gorge
Walking the boardwalk of Vingtar Gorge

Parking can be a little crowded, so expect to walk a little ways to get to the gorge itself.

Once there, the trail takes you on a boardwalk through a tight gorge over a beautiful river. It is shaded, cool and so pretty. The trail ends with spectacular waterfall.

The waterfall at the end of Vingtar Gorge
The waterfall at the end of Vingtar Gorge

Final Thoughts on Our Slovenia Road Trip

WOW! This area is so beautiful. We truly fell in love with Slovenia on this trip. 

The people are great. The food is delicious. The beer is tasty. 

Selfie in Triglav National Park
Selfie in Triglav National Park

Add in the proximity to the capital city, Ljubljana, and the proximity to the Slovene Rivera on the Adriatic Sea, this country is just about heaven. 

We can’t wait to go back.

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