TAKE A PLETNA TO BLED CASTLE
The traditional wooden boats known as pletnas have been plying the waters of magical Lake Bled for more than 400 years. Jump aboard one of these flat-bottomed vessels, inspired by Venetian gondolas, for a serene voyage through some of Slovenia’s most beautiful scenery. Drink in the views of tiny – and much-photographed – Bled Island, complete with its romantic little church, before mooring at the foot of the lakeside castle. This majestic clifftop stronghold can trace its history back a thousand years or more, and the current structure reflects that history with Romanesque defensive walls, Gothic and Renaissance towers and a Baroque chapel. Around its cobbled courtyards, you’ll find a fascinating small museum, a printworks with a replica wooden press and a wine cellar where tastings and bottling demonstrations are held. On a clear day, the views from the castle terrace – and the adjoining restaurant with its menu of updated regional dishes – seem to stretch to eternity.
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ENJOY WINE TASTING IN THE KARST REGION
The Celts first cultivated vines in Slovenia 2,400 years ago, and the local wines have been appreciated by everyone from the Roman author Pliny to generations of Austro-Hungarian emperors. Discover that long history, along with world-class vintages that rarely find their way abroad, with a visit to a boutique winery (or several) in one of the country’s three main wine regions. In Karst, close to the Adriatic coastline, the Vipava Valley is part of the Primorska wine region, known for its superb Italian-influenced dining scene. Here you’ll find crisp whites and rich reds made with local varieties of grapes such as Zelen, Rebula and Refosco, along with more familiar names: Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc among them. Spend a day meeting some of the area’s winemakers, strolling through vineyards and wine cellars, and rounding off the experience with tastings paired with homemade local specialities.
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EXPLORE TRIGLAV NATIONAL PARK
Immerse yourself in nature in Slovenia’s only national park. This protected area in the Julian Alps, named after the mountain at its heart, is not just about soaring peaks; there are wetlands, lakes, rivers and gorges that provide breathtaking adventures at lower altitudes, too. Walk along the forested Mostnica Gorge in the Voje Valley, where the crystal-clear water has carved out a series of dramatic pools, falls and rock formations such as the ‘Little Elephant’. At one end of the trail, you’ll find the single-arch stone Devil’s Bridge, from where there are dizzying views of the fast-flowing river below. Elsewhere, other marked paths follow the course of emerald-coloured rivers, loop through peat bogs rich in flora and fauna, or take in remote valleys carved out by long-vanished ice. Take the weight off your feet at the country’s largest glacial lake, Bohinj, where you can swim, kayak, paddleboard or fish in spectacular surroundings.
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GO WHITEWATER RAFTING ON THE SOČA RIVER
Embark on an adrenaline-fuelled adventure on Slovenia’s most famous river. The tumbling emerald waters of the Soča are perfect for whitewater rafting, with quieter sections for young families and challenging rapids for hardcore thrill seekers. Under the supervision of licenced guides based in the small alpine town of Bovec, you’ll head out dressed for action in neoprene suits, helmets, life jackets and water shoes. Working as a team, you’ll learn to navigate rapids, rocks and waves, with pauses to rest up and admire your epic surroundings. It’s important to remember that conditions vary depending on the time of year. Come in spring for white-knuckle rides along a river swollen to a torrent by melted snow, when you need to be over 14 to handle the challenge. Or opt for the summer, when you will discover stretches that are quiet enough for bracing swims between relatively gentle paddles that children as young as seven can enjoy.
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HIT THE HEIGHTS IN THE JULIAN ALPS
Part of UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the spectacular Julian Alps is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts, particularly in the warmer summer months. The region is covered by a network of walking trails of varying degrees of length or difficulty, from steep routes up into the higher reaches to gentle rambles through wildlife-rich forests, wetlands and valleys. Catch the cable car from Lake Bohinj to Vogel, which operates as a ski resort in winter; from here, you can savour panoramic views of snow-dusted peaks including Mount Triglav as you follow one of several local circular walks. Enthusiastic ramblers will relish the opportunity to check out the long-distance Juliana Trail, which loops its way for 270 km around the foot of the mountains. For those who don’t have the time or inclination to tackle the whole thing, there are shorter options along its route, from leafy strolls beside the Sava River to paths linking picturesque alpine hamlets.
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EXPLORE THE ŠKOCJAN CAVES IN KARST
Formed over millions of years, the Škocjan Caves are widely acknowledged as a global natural treasure, richly deserving of the Word Heritage Site status they were granted in 1986. This vast underground system of sinkholes, chambers and tunnels cut by the Reka River from the limestone bedrock of the Classic Karst region stretches for several kilometres. Discover it in the company of an experienced guide, who will explain how the caves were created and how they’ve changed over time. During the full visit, which takes up to three hours and includes something like 1,000 steps, you’ll learn about the people who lived here in prehistoric times and the rare plants, bats and insects that still thrive in this unique environmen. Highlights of the tour include the Great Hall with its giant stalagmite and the Murmuring Cave, a vast and impressive canyon through which the river roars.
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GET A FLAVOUR OF THE SALT PANS IN PIRAN
Discover the story of what was once one of the world’s most valuable commodities at the historic Sečovlje Salt Pans in Slovenia’s far southwest. The tradition of making salt from seawater in the Piran area dates back at least 700 years, and it’s still made here in the time-honoured – and back-breaking – way by evaporation and crystallisation. As you walk among the pools, you’ll learn about everything from the history of the trade and its importance to Piran to the wooden tools still in use today – and there’s more information in the award-winning museum. Keep an eye out for rare plants that thrive in the saline conditions, including rock samphire, glasswort and sea purslane. This wetlands area is also a haven for birds; around 300 species have been recorded here, from egrets and avocets to oystercatchers and yellow-legged gulls. Stop at the onsite shop for a suitably salty souvenir, from organic ‘fleur de sel’ to health-giving body scrubs.