The Julian Alps
This is the Slovenia of tourist posters: mountain peaks, postcard-perfect lakes and blue-green rivers. Prepare to be charmed by Lake Bled (with an island and a castle!) and surprised by Lake Bohinj (how does Bled score all that attention when down the road is Bohinj?). The lofty peak of Mt Triglav, at the centre of a national park of the same name, may dazzle you enough to prompt an ascent.
On the other side of the breathtaking Vršič Pass, but still within the confines of Triglav National Park, rivers don't come much more scenic than the Soča (so-cha). This aquamarine-coloured watercourse threads through the Soča Valley (Dolina Soče) from its source in the Julian Alps and gives rise to a smorgasbord of gorges, waterfalls and rapids of blue-green water washing over white rock. Loads of activities get travellers up close to the natural splendour from busy centres such as Bovec and Kobarid.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Julian Alps.
Sitting at a view-enhanced elevation of 1611m, this mountain pass is about 13km southwest of Kranjska Gora, via a storied road that zigzags madly and passes numerous sites of interest as it climbs. From the pass itself, the peak-tastic views take in Mojstrovka (2332m) to the west and Prisojnik/Prisank (2547m) to the east; to the south the valley of the Soča River points the way to western Slovenia. From Kranjska Gora, as the road reaches just over 1100m you come to the beautiful wooden Russian Chapel, erected on the site where more than 300 Russian POWs were buried in an avalanche in March 1916. From here the climb begins in earnest as the road meanders past a couple of huts and corkscrews up the next few kilometers to the pass itself. From here, a hair-raising descent of about 10km ends just short of a monument to Dr Julius Kugy (1858–1944), a pioneer climber and writer whose books eulogize the beauty of the Julian Alps. The road continues to the settlements of Trenta and Soča, 8km downstream. The activity hub of Bovec is 12km west of Soča. En route, the narrow Lepena Valley is well worth a detour, for accommodation, splendid vistas and a range of walks. Photo credit: Nino Marcutti
One of the easiest and most satisfying half-day trips from Bled is to Vintgar Gorge, some 4km to the northwest of Bled village. The highlight is a 1600m wooden walkway through the gorge, built in 1893 and continually rebuilt since. It criss-crosses the swirling Radovna River four times over rapids, waterfalls and pools before reaching 16m-high Šum Waterfall.
The town's premier sight is the commanding Loka castle, overlooking the settlement from a grassy hill west of Mestni trg. It dates from the 13th century and was extensively renovated after an earthquake in 1511. Today the castle houses the Loka Museum, which boasts an excellent ethnographic collection spread over two-dozen galleries on two floors. Exhibits run the gamut from taxidermied animals to church frescoes by way of local painters, lace-making traditions and WWII partisans; English labelling can be patchy for some exhibits.
Perched atop a steep cliff more than 100m above the lake, Bled Castle is how most people imagine a medieval fortress to be, with towers, ramparts, moats and a terrace offering magnificent views. The castle houses a museum collection that traces the lake’s history from earliest times to the development of Bled as a resort in the 19th century.
This postcard-worthy church and bell tower, at the head of the lake and beside the stone bridge, dates back at least 700 years and is what every medieval church should be: small, surrounded by natural beauty and full of exquisite frescoes. The nave is Romanesque, but the Gothic presbytery dates from about 1440. Many walls and ceilings are covered with 15th- and 16th-century frescoes.
More interesting than it sounds, this apiculture museum takes a closer look at the long tradition of beekeeping in Slovenia. The museum's collection of illustrated beehive panels from the 18th and 19th centuries, a folk art unique to Slovenia, is the largest in the country, and there are some rather astounding beehives in improbable shapes: (life-sized) people, a miniature mansion, even a lion. You can also observe a live beehive in action, filled with a family of indigenous Carniolan bees.
Radovljica's colourful main square is the town’s leading attraction, lined with houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. Look especially for Thurn Manor, a baroque palace that is home to museums and a school of music, and Koman House, identified by a baroque painting of St Florian on its facade. Mali House has a barely visible picture of St George slaying the dragon. Vidič House has a corner projection and is painted in red, yellow, green and blue.
Tiny, tear-shaped Bled Island beckons from the shore. There’s the Church of the Assumption and a small museum, the Provost's House, but the real thrill is the ride out by pletna (gondola). The pletna will set you down on the south side at the monumental South Staircase (Južno Stopnišče), built in 1655. The staircase comprises 99 steps – a local tradition is for the husband to carry his new bride up them.
The group of pastel-hued 16th-century burghers' houses on this main square have earned the town the nickname 'Colourful Loka'. Almost every one is of historical and architectural importance, but arguably the most impressive is Homan House, dating from 1511 with graffiti and bits of frescoes of St Christopher and of a soldier.