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Lake Bled with the Julian Alps in the background in Slovenia
_jure | Adobe Stock

Slovenia: A Land of Legends and Love

SmarterTravel
Editor’s note: Exodus Travels hosted the author on its Lakes & Mountains of Slovenia Walking Tour.

The candy-like sweetness of a wild strawberry plucked from a mountainside trail. The bracing sensation of a shot of homemade pine schnapps as it warms you from the inside atop a breezy summit. The syrupy redolence of honey crafted by the bees buzzing gently around you.

Slovenia’s national tourism slogan is “I feel sLOVEnia,” but it should be “I taste Slovenia,” because the tastes of the country will linger with you long after you leave.

Images from the mountains of Slovenia
Caroline Morse-Teel

“Slovenia is a country full of legends,” says Bugy (who prefers to go only by his nickname.) Bugy is my Exodus Travels guide on this week-long walking tour, and he’s a bit of a legend himself. In the distance, he points out where the jagged white peaks of Mount Triglav slice through the bright blue sky. Triglav, he tells us, is Slovenia’s tallest mountain. Most people hike it over two days, but he’s climbed it in under six hours.

Bugy’s energy is boundless. An experienced mountain climber who’s spent his life in the high peaks of Slovenia, he is the person you want leading the way as you make your way along the winding trails here.

Triglav is part of Slovenia’s imposing Juilan Alps range. Pictured on Slovenia’s flag, the over 9,000 feet mountain is the pride of the country. Legend has it, says Bugy, that you are not a true Slovenian until you climb Triglav. With stories like this, you might think you need to be a serious mountaineer like Bugy to hike in Slovenia, but the trails here are suprisingly accessible. Gentle switchbacks offer ascents to stunning views without stealing your breath (except with gasps of awe at the scenery.) You might not have the time or skills to hike Triglav, but a steady walk up a gentle path will get you to a viewpoint that seems almost within touching distance of the giant. 

Caroline Morse-Teel

Walking at a leisurely pace for just a few hours, we quickly summited Mount Brda. At the top, I asked Bugy what the name Brda meant. Appropriately, the name of this 6,500 foot mountain translates to “hill”—humbling us hikers as we gazed at the nearly 10,000 foot peaks dwarfing us nearby.

In Slovenia, there are diversity of hikes to keep even the most jaded walker from getting bored. On another day of the tour, we followed a trail winding through overgrown grass and untamed wildflowers until we emerged along a rideline offering views for miles. It was only as I stumbled across a small white marker that I realized we were strolling along the dividing line between Austria and Slovenia, a delinitation that seems absurdly random and unnecessary from this high up. This is the most peaceful border crossing you’ll ever see. 

I’ve been on other organized trips where the guides seem bored. I get it—if you visit the same places over and over again, eventually, even the most stunning background becomes just another day at the office. So on this trip, I was surprised to see our guides, Bugy and Rok Teul, snapping their own photos at some of the most scenic stops, like they too were eager tourists. 

“I like the mountains because they are never the same,” Bugy explains. Even if I go to the mountain two days in a row I take photos because every day, every hour it looks different.” Bugy is right. As we sit on the plateau and have our lunch, it’s tempting to snap a photo every few minutes as the light changes, shifting the perspective and making the scene before us look brand new.

Europeans know how to do hiking correctly, and Slovenia is no exception. You can leave your sad packed lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix back in the hotel, as trails here will lead you to cozy mountain huts serving up warm meals to hungry hikers. There’s no better reward than a stop at one of these, where you’ll be offered a warming stew, a refreshing radler (a delightful mix of beer and grapefruit juice), and fresh baked bread served alongside incredible scenery and the easy camaraderie and trailside stories that hikers share only up in the mountain air. 

These weren’t panormas that I’d seen captured hundreds of times before on social media. It’s no secret that Slovenia’s bordering neighbors Italy and Croatia have suffered from overtourism in recent years. Yet, Slovenia doesn’t face the same affilication—so visitors can experience something that’s rare these days, the ability to be feel like an explorer and be surprised and delighted by unexpected beauty around every turn. 

Tourism numbers are relatively low in Slovenia, and the country actively works to prevent overdevelopment. Unlike neighboring countries in the Alps (where it seems like every mountain is covered in ski lifts, cable cars, or lodges) in Slovenia you’ll find what is an increasingly scarce luxury—untouched places where you can sit in solitude, surrounded only by nature.

Love is literally in the name of Slovenia, as the tourism slogan reminds you, and the country capitalizes on this. Wooden heart-shaped carvings set in front of idyllic backdrops provide a charming framing for photo ops. Green fields are punctuated by a heart-shaped ponds. Slovenia is not just about romantic love (although it is a sweet destination for a honeymoon or couple’s getaway.) Love for nature is all around here. 

As a visitor, you’ll notice this in small ways—hiking trails without a single piece of litter. Tap water proudly served at restaurants alongside a boast about the country’s pristine waster quality. An emphasis on recycling and reusable materials. 

Slovenians prioritize keeping nature wild. “Nature is in our blood,” Teul says. “It’s told to us in lessons woven into our fairytales from a young age so we understand the neccesity of preserving nature even as children.” 

Speaking of fairytales, almost every article or guidebook about Slovenia falls into the cliché of calling the country a “fairytale.” When you hike high above the shores of Lake Bled to glimpse a church that seems to float on an island above bright blue waters, it’s easy to see why.

Fairytales might not be real, but you can see the old legends come to life here as you watch a groom carry his bride up Bled’s Church of Mary the Queen. (The story has it that if a couple wants to get married at the church, the groom must carry his bride up the island church’s 99 stone steps to ensure a happy marriage.)

Caroline Morse-Teel

Here, it’s said you can make your own fairytale come true by whispering your most secret desires and ringing the church’s wishing bell, which is said to make dreams become reality. 

I can’t promise that your deepest wishes will come true with a simple ring of a bell, but I can tell you this—a trip to Slovenia will change you. The taste of the country will linger with you long after you return, and infuse your life with a passion for nature. The whiff of pine will bring you right back to a morning spent atop a pristine mountain vista, and you’ll soon find yourself plotting your return to this small country that’s taken a big hold on your heart. 

How to Book

Exodus Travels’ eight day Lakes & Mountains of Slovenia Walking Tour is priced from $2,179. The trip includes seven nights’ accommodation, daily breakfast, three dinners, and guided activities.

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