Travelling up through Slovenia and Italy

Slovenia came next on our itinerary after Croatia and was particularly exciting for the simple fact that we’d never been there before. It did not disappoint. We spent a few days each in the capital Ljubljana, the seaside town of Piran, and the famously beautiful Bled, ducking into Italy to see Trieste in between the last two.

Ljubljana

Everyone I knew that had been to Ljubljana said it was lovely but one or two days would be enough. It probably is if you just want to whip around the main sights, but we were enjoying our accommodation so much we could easily have spent more than the 3 nights that we did. I really do find that your accommodation plays a big part in your enjoyment of a particular place. Our accommodation in Ljubljana was our second airbnb venture and we were once again delighted. We stayed with a lovely person called Katja who has a beautiful flat walking distance from the train station and the centre of the old town and it was just nice hanging out and chatting about life. We did get around to some sightseeing as well though – nice things to do in Ljubljana are:

  • Wander around the old town, near the river. Particularly explore the cobbled backstreets which are almost pedestrian-only (i.e. watch out for bikes!).
  • Hike up to the castle (or take the funicular if you’ve run out of energy). You can get a pretty good view of the city but for the best view it will cost €6 to climb the castle’s tower. That ticket also gives you entry to a short film about the castle’s history and an exhibition about Slovenian history. If you don’t want to spend any money you can still wander around the rest of the castle complex which includes a few free art exhibitions.
  • Visit Metelkova, particularly during the day so you can take some good photos of the cool street art and sculptures.
  • Check out the Ethnographic Museum. This was recommended to us by a guy we met on the train from Zagreb to Ljubljana and it really is excellent – we spent several hours there and still didn’t see everything. (If you’re limited on time start on the top floor and skip the middle floor.)
  • Good places to eat: Julija’s is in a picturesque street and serves authentic Slovenian cuisine (some of the best goulash I’ve ever eaten – also try the zlikrofi). Svetilnik does huge, delicious pizzas – one between two is plenty.

Along the Ljubljanica River

Piran

It’s well worth the effort to visit the incredible Skocjan Caves on the way from Ljubljana to Piran!

Piran is a popular summer holiday destination for Slovenians and Italians but apart from that it’s not particularly touristy. It’s a beautiful seaside town on a finger of land that extends into the Adriatic. It’s just nice to wander the narrow, pedestrian-only streets lined with warm-coloured houses covered in wooden shutters, to stroll along the seaside promenade at dusk, or to climb the hill that leads up to the Church of Saint George at night.

We stayed at Miracolo di Mare, a B&B which was out of our normally very tight accommodation budget for this trip but there weren’t any cheaper alternatives available at the time. It turned out to be well worth it though for the friendly staff, excellent breakfast and perfect location. When we weren’t wandering around town we grabbed a spot on the concrete near the water’s edge and alternated between sunbathing and swimming in what is a contender for the best water we’ve swum in… ever. Super clear and full of fish and other interesting things to look at, plus you can swim out quite far and get some decent laps in.

If while in Piran you get tired of Italian-esque food you can get some cheap and filling Bosnian eats from Sarajevo 84.

Piran's harbour

Trieste

Normally you can get to Trieste from Piran by taking a bus to Koper and then a second bus to Trieste. But not on Sundays. Which is when we were trying to get there. We ended up with no choice but to take a taxi which we haggled down to €30 (the final price was €38 on the meter so we did pretty well). We later discovered that we could have gone by boat for only €7… ah well!

At first Trieste was a little disappointing after Piran, but it had grown on us by the end of our 2 night stay. Also, we found that a lot of the eateries are a cut above your standard Italian food. We had some excellent salads at a cafe near Piazza della Borsa (possibly the end of Via San Carlo) but unfortunately I can’t remember its name, which isn’t very helpful. Another place which I do remember the name of is Super Bar Stella, who serve generous toasted piadini and focaccie, but equally unhelpfully I can’t seem to find their address. Okay, but I can give you the website of a great place for dinner: it’s called Un Bacio Sul Canale (“a kiss on the canal”). They served us complimentary sparkling drinks (possibly Prosecco) to start as well as digestifs to finish, their menu was quite unique, and the food delicious (especially the homemade melon semifreddo ahh!).

Piazza della Borsa, Trieste

A nice thing to do in Trieste is to go for a ride on the Opicina Tramway, a unique combination of tram and funicular railway. (A similar experience to riding the #28 tram in Lisbon – but this one is even steeper!) Get off at the stop Obelisk (indicated by the big obelisk right near the stop – if you miss it you can easily get off at the less interesting Opicina terminus and walk back) for a great view of Trieste. If you have time and it’s not overbearingly hot (like it was when we were there), there are some lovely walking and cycling paths starting from Obelisk – one of them will take you to Prosecco in about an hour. If you want to ride, you can hitch your bike to the front of the tram and it will carry it up to the start of the trails with you.

There’s a long “beach” (concreate shelf next to the sea) a short bus ride from the centre of Trieste called Barcola but the water is quite rough and rocky. The same bus (#36) will also take you to Miramare Castle.

Bled

As far as Bled is concerned, this says it all!

Bled Island and Castle

It surpassed all my (actually rather high after so many recommendations from friends) expectations. It is such a beautiful place, and there is so much to do there and in the surrounding area. For a perfect summer’s day in Bled I highly recommend hiring bikes and riding up to Vintgar Gorge. Walk along the trail and back then ride back down into Bled and head for the lake. Ride around to the rowing club (Veslaški Klub Bled) and grab a spot on the grass to spend the afternoon. Whenever you need to cool off jump from the wooden decks into the clean, clear, fresh water. You could even try swimming out to Bled Island. Have a traditional Slovenian meal for dinner at Gostilna Murka then walk up to Bled Castle after 8pm when you can wander in for free and admire Bled’s twinkling evening lights.

[more photos]

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Visiting Škocjan Caves on the way from Ljubljana to Piran

After a random guy on the train, our host in Ljubljana and a friend from Melbourne all raved about Škocjan Caves we decided we’d have to go there. Since the caves are situated roughly between Ljubljana and Piran, and Piran was our next destination after Ljubljana, they seemed like the perfect stop over on the way.

The actual logistics of achieving this by public transport turned out to be surprisingly complicated. In case you want to replicate our journey, here is the only combination of public transport I could work out where it was possible to make all the necessary connections:

08:12 - 09:49 train from Ljubljana to Divača
10:00 - 10:07 free shuttle bus from Divača station to the caves
11:00 ~ 12:30 guided tour through the underground canyon
12:30 ~ 14:00 self-guided walk following the Reka River through two more caves
14:00 - 15:15 kill some time at the info centre
15:23 - 15:30 last free shuttle bus back to Divača station
15:30 - 17:15 kill some time at Divača
17:19 - 18:08 train from Divača to Koper
18:30 - 19:16 bus from Koper to Piran

Divača station

Some things to bear in mind

  • Buy both train tickets in Ljubljana – the ticket window at Divača was closed when we got back to the station after the caves and I didn’t notice if it was open when we first arrived.
  • A train ticket for Ljubljana to Koper “via Divača” doesn’t seem to mean you can stop off at Divača and resume your journey later, you have to buy two separate tickets.
  • You don’t need to buy the bus ticket in advance.
  • The whole journey (2 trains and 1 bus) will cost you a bit less than €15 in total.

We looked at taking a bus direct from Divača to Piran, or taking a train back to Ljubljana then a direct bus to Piran, all to avoid the 2 hour wait at Divača station but the timing just didn’t work out. If you want to investigate it yourself or see if the timetables have changed here are the links you’ll need:

Slovenian train timetables
Free shuttle bus between Divača station and Škocjan Caves
Slovenian bus timetables

Luggage lockers

Once you arrive at Divača there’s just enough time to grab one of the only 3 luggage lockers on the station platform before you hop on the shuttle bus. (Only 2 of the lockers were functioning when we were there.) It costs €3 for the day but it only accepts €1 and €0.50 coins and there isn’t anywhere to get change. The lockers are not very tall but they are deep: we were able to fit 2 large travel packs and 2 normal backpacks inside without difficultly.

Lockers at Divača Station

If you can’t get one of the lockers at the station, lockers are available at Škocjan Caves – they’re not mentioned on their website but they confirmed it by email when I asked and I saw the lockers when we were there.

At the caves

When you get the info centre buy your tickets for the 11am tour (you’ll just miss the 10am). You might as well buy a 1 + 2 combined ticket because it’s only €5 more, you get to see more more cool sights, and you’ll need to kill the extra time anyway. (You can’t get to Piran any earlier than shown above!) To pass the time before your tour starts there’s a fantastic view of the collapsed doline a few minutes walk from the info centre (follow the signs).

The info centre has lots of tables and chairs, toilets, a cafe, a souvenir shop and free wifi. The food at the cafe is not cheap but it’s not overly expensive either. The food’s pretty good but the beer is very good. ;)

The canyon tour and additional walk afterwards are AMAZING… you can’t take any photos until the very end of the canyon tour (with or without flash) but here is a little teaser…

Exiting the underground canyon

I won’t say anything else, you have to experience it for yourself!