Driving due south from Salzburg, Austria surrounded by the Australian Alps, I ask myself, How can the scenery possibly get any better? Enter the country of Slovenia.
Slovenia, a tiny little country of majestic mountains and hills sandwiched between Austria, Croatia, Italy and Hungary has quaint medieval villages tucked into the rolling hillsides as far as the eye can see. Each village is unique in itself and bursting with centuries-old charm. My driving companions, who include my husband and another couple from college, are in awe of the beauty before us.
Our first stop is Lake Bled, nestled in the Julian Alps in the northwestern region of the country. Only stopping long enough to drop off our bags at the Hotel Jadran, we immediately head out to visit the capitol of Slovenia, Ljubljana, a 40-minute drive from Lake Bled.
Originally built in the Romanesque style during the 12th century and located high on a hilltop, the enchanting medieval Ljublijana Castle towers over its namesake. It is quite amazing that the area surrounding the castle has been continuously inhabited since 1200 B.C. To add to the beauty of the medieval castle and centuries-old homes, there are numerous picturesque bridges crossing the River Ljubjana into the old city. Although Ljubjana has only been the capitol of Slovenia since 1991, the city recently celebrated its 2,000th birthday.
Thrilled that we made the detour to Ljubljana, we are anxious to now escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and after a full day of traveling and sightseeing in Slovenia, we are ready to kick back and enjoy the tranquility of the Alpine lake experience of Lake Bled. From our hotel window, we have a perfect view of the Gothic church on the island in the middle of the lake and the Bled Castle, which began in 1104 as a single Romanesque tower protected by walls. By 1011 a true castle was born including a drawbridge and moat that is now filled in with dirt. “Magical” best describes the castle, island, church and people of Lake Bled.
After enjoying a traditional Slovenian dinner at Vila Adja next door to our hotel, we treat ourselves to the famous Bled cream cake. It’s so ridiculously delicious that it would be a sin to leave Bled without tasting this cake…it really is that good! The next morning, we do some hiking around the lake and breathe in the fresh Alpine mountain air before starting our trek through the Triglav National Park toward the Adriatic Sea.
We have a breathtaking road trip through the park. At times we are on narrow, gravel, single-lane roads high in the Alps above the clouds where it is almost impossible to pass an oncoming automobile. Thank goodness we only once come across another car heading toward us. We are so close to the other car that I can easily reach out and touch it as we pass. Soon we are out of the clouds and heading toward Croatia.
Directly west of Venice across the Andriatic Sea lies Rovinj, Croatia. A romantic city built during the 3rd and 5th centuries with pastel-colored houses crowded on steep, narrow streets. The front door of our apartment faces one of these clean cobbled streets while the view from the back overlooks the farmers market and the sea. We easily fill four days with walking, shopping, sightseeing and eating along the beautiful and ancient-looking pathways throughout the historic city.
While having breakfast seaside one morning, we are surprised by scores of singing elementary school children from St. Euphemia Church. As more and more children converge on the main square, we realize that perhaps we are in the midst of something special. In celebration of The Patron Saint Festival, the children sing, dance and draw colored chalk pictures of the church on the walkways in front of the fishing marina, with each class taking their turn performing, yet appearing spontaneous. The children are having the time of their lives and so are we!