Mountain high, river deep: 10 days in Slovenia

There aren't many countries on earth where you could start your day with breakfast in a buzzing city cafe, and be enjoying the serenity of a remote mountaintop lake less than two hours later. But in Slovenia, this is all doable – here's how to get the most out of 10-days in this fascinating country...

Photograph by Juan Trujillo Andrades
Read Caption
From mountain ranges to twisting river bends, indulge, discover and reset on a revitalizing ten-day tour through Slovenia.
Photograph by Juan Trujillo Andrades

Ljubljana

Day 1: Much like the country itself, Slovenia's capital city is refreshingly compact. At its heart is Prešeren Square, where the Slovenian Romantic poet, France Prešeren, immortalized as a massive brass statue, casts a watchful eye over the network of streets leading off in various directions, and the Ljubljanica river as it flows gently past.

For a truly refreshing view of the city, book yourself a paddleboarding session on the river. A qualified guide will demonstrate the basics, before you spend the morning gliding gently past riverside cafes, with passers-by on the bridges above waving as you pass them.

View Images
Take in the serenity around you while paddleboarding along the Ljubljanica River.

Fill your water bottle at one of the street-corner fountains – there’s drinking water available at designated fountains throughout Ljubljana – then head up the hill to the eponymous castle, to be rewarded with a breathtaking view out over the city. After soaking up the history of this medieval fortress –which dates to around the 12th century – treat yourself to lunch at Strelec Restaurant in the castle grounds, which blends history with contemporary fine dining

Alpine Slovenia

Day 2: After grabbing a delicious espresso at Črno Zrno – a tiny coffee shop just five minutes from Ljubljana Castle, jump in the car for a scenic two-hour drive to Bovec, in the Soča Valley. You could go rafting on the Soča River, but how about spending the morning leaping off rocks, sliding down mini waterfalls and abseiling down rock-faces into turquoise pools in the Sušec canyon instead? A guide will kit you out with a wetsuit and safety briefing before leading you off the beaten path and into pristine nature.

After a morning of rough and rugged adventure, treat yourself to some culinary pampering with lunch at Hiša Franko restaurant. Located in Kobarid, half an hour from Bovec, it’s owned and run by world-renowned chef, Ana Roš. Almost all ingredients used at the restaurant are grown locally, many of them in Roš’ own garden. People come to eat here from all over the world, so you’ll definitely need to book a table in advance.

Day 3: Check out from your Ljubljana hotel and head east to Maribor – Slovenia's second-largest city – famous for its vineyards and medieval architecture. In the city centre you'll find car-free streets where you can happily get lost wandering the cobbled streets and admiring the historic buildings. Stop at one of the many outdoor cafes; sit back, sip the froth off a latte and watch the world go about its day. Like many places in Slovenia, water is a big feature here, with the Drava River flowing through the city. Head to the district of Lent, the oldest part of the city, to find ancient red-roofed houses huddled around the waterfront along with the oldest vine in the world - 400 years old and still bearing grapes. Make sure you visit the Old Vine House to sample delicious local wines.

View Images
Walk the side-streets and alleyways of the disarmingly charming medieval town of Maribor.

If you're feeling peckish, there's a bunch of great restaurants to check out here. One that should definitely be on your list is Mak, where super-creative chef, David Vračko, whips up a menu of constantly-changing locally inspired meals and treats. By the end of the fifth course you’ll be ready for bed at the nearby Chateau Ramšak – a stylish 'glampsite' where luxurious safari-style tents are situated among 15 hectares of meadows and vineyards.

Day 4: After waking to the sound of twittering birds in the trees above your tent, head two hours west to Rinka Falls in the Logar valley. Have your camera ready; the views as you make your way there are Instagram gold. Mighty peaks surround the valley on all sides, laced with hiking trails where you can pause and soak up the silence while breathing in the scent of pine and damp earth. At the far end of the valley whitewater cascades down the mountain to form the impressive falls. Stand and watch, feeling the spray on your skin.

From here, book a room at the Hotel Plesnik, which recently won the Global Luxury Travel Guide Award for Luxury Boutique Hotel. Sit back in one of the relaxation rooms and look out through floor-to-ceiling windows at the spectacular views across the valley.

Pannonian Slovenia

Day 5: Following a day of hiking, you'll be ready for some relaxation, so after a home-cooked breakfast at the hotel head over to Terme Olimia, a wellness center and spa just a couple of hours' drive away. Located in the region of Podčetrtek, where the Sotla River meanders between orchards, this area of Slovenia is famous for its thermal waters – naturally heated and packed with nutrients. Take a quick dip then round off the day with a full-body massage, which uses a blend of Olimian honey and local herbs to ease away aches and pains.

Day 6: Continue east to Lendava and ascend the Vinarium Tower. Perched close to the Hungarian border, it looks a little like a giant salt-cellar made from a nest of metal poles and stretches 125 feet into the sky. From the viewing platform at the top you can see four different countries: Slovenia, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary.

The whole area of Lendava is famous for its wines, so give yourself a few hours to sample some local tipples – before spending the night in Prekmurska vas Ajda, about half an hour's drive away.

Day 7: Now you're only a stone's throw from Moravske Toplice – home to the famous 'black' thermal waters. Discovered by chance in the 1960s, the 'black gold' as locals call it emanates from the Mura-Zala basin deep underground. Loaded with nutrients – and naturally-occurring minerals incuding manganese – the water here is renowned for easing joint pain and other ailments. Book yourself an appointment with one of the in-house therapists, who can recommend a treatment program of bathing sessions and relaxing mud treatments.

Mediterranean & Karst regions

View Images
Window shop and admire the stunning Venetian architecture around the resort town of Piran on the Adriatic coast.

Day 8: After enjoying the rolling hills of the east, and jagged peaks of the Julian Alps, spend the last few days of your trip along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. With around 30 miles of beaches and hidden coves to explore, Slovenia’s coast is small but perfectly formed. In Portorož you'll find an array of beaches and bustling backstreets, where family-run restaurants serve freshly-caught seafood.

Meanwhile, just a couple of miles down the road you’ll find Piran – a beautiful old fishing town where white-walled, orange-roofed Italianate houses are huddled around the old harbor. Piran has a rich cultural history, too; aside from being the birthplace of the 18th century Italian composer, Giuseppe Tartini, the town hosts various art and music events throughout the year. Another thing you should definitely do while you’re here is head up to the Church of St. George, which has amazing views across the town and out over the sea.

View Images
Venture deep and explore the vast, UNESCO listed limestone Škocjan caves.

Day 9: From huge skies and the open sea, it’s time to dip beneath Slovenia’s surface. Less than an hour from Piran lie the UNESCO-listed Škocjan Caves – a vast network of spectacular limestone caverns that stalactites and stalagmites have transformed into a natural sculpture park. Various guided tours allow you to follow in the footsteps of the first cave explorers, who stumbled upon the cave system in the 19th century.

Day 10: After a day of venturing deep underground, round off your trip with a relaxing morning spent exploring the salt pans of the Sečovlje Salina Nature Park. A network of quiet paths wind around glassy waters that are teeming with fish and tiny red brine shrimp. From here, spend the afternoon at nearby Thalasso Spa Lepa Vida, where inviting turquoise salt pools are laid out long boardwalks – each pool full of healthy minerals believed to relieve a range of complaints and soothe aching muscles - the perfect way to prepare yourself for heading home.

This content is brought to you by our partner. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic or its editorial staff.