If you’ve ever wanted to visit a place that few people even know exists (and fewer still can point out on a map), then come with us to Slovenia; it won’t be long before this smart central European country is setting the tone for fashionable travel.
With less than two million inhabitants, and a few tourists attracted by tales of its idyllic beauty, Slovenia is very tranquil and sophisticated. 25 years after gently wresting itself from former Yugoslavia, there’s an exuberance of spirit here suggesting a nation still enjoying its independence. Its beauty has drawn comparisons with Switzerland, a country half its size but with some similarities. Slovenia is imbued with fantastic, scraggy mountains, turquoise rivers and silver lakes, vast subterranean caves and just enough medieval castles to conjure up a fairy-tale or two!
To top all of this it has some of the most stunningly scenic rail journeys in the whole of Europe with many comfortable locomotive hauled trains, quaint stations and welcoming staff.
This is now one of our most popular and longest running tours.
Tour Manager: Marion
Friday 8 September (D) We leave London Stansted at 13.15 for our two hour flight to Ljubljana. It is also possible to fly from Birmingham or Manchester (via Zurich) or go overland via the Eurostar. Landing at Ljubljana airport you are immediately struck by the natural beauty of Slovenia. The airport has spectacular views of mountains and appears to be built in a clearing in the woods; Slovenia has very extensive forests. Our coach will meet us and transfer us to the 4-star Hotel Grand Union right in the centre of one of Europe’s smallest capital cities for the first night of our five night’s stay. The rest of the day is free for your own relaxation and we meet up at 19.00 for our welcome dinner. This is in a fine restaurant just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel and which dates back to the 15th century.
Saturday 9 September (B, L) This morning we take the train to the Karst Region to visit the Lipica stud farm the original birth place of the white Lipizzaner horses. These horses are born black or brown and turn white around the age of seven. They were originally bred from the Berber horses and crossed with Arabian and local Karst horses. They are gentle, beautiful agile, horses with powerful backs and strong muscular necks. We will see them perform intricate dressage steps during our visit. Later we’ll visit the fortified hill town of Stabjel, one of the oldest settlements in the Karst region. There will be time for lunch in the grey stone Castle before we explore this lovely town and visit the 17th century church.
Sunday 10 September (B, L) Today we will explore Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It is a fascinating little city. First we will visit the castle, via the funicular, that overlooks Ljubljana and the River Ljubljanica which flows through this picturesque city of beautiful bridges and Baroque townhouses. Meet in reception at 09.30 for a guided walk of Ljubljana. Our tour will end at the quayside to catch our boat for our river cruise of the Ljubljanica. Lunch will be on board our boat. The rest of the day is free for your own relaxation or perhaps a visit to the railway museum.
Monday 11 September (B) A short walk will take us to the main railway station where we catch our train (09.32) to Postojna. This is a fine stretch of railway line which passes through the mountains en-route. On arrival we have a short road transfer to the Postojna Cave which is a network of 20 kilometres of passages, galleries and chambers into which experienced guides have accompanied more than 31 million visitors in the last 188 years. It is Slovenia’s largest cave in the “classic karst” and the most visited show cave in Slovenia. In 1872 railway lines were laid in the cave; electricity arrived in 1884. Today we begin our visit aboard the cave train; the electric lighting allows you to admire the size and splendor of the underground world, where the geological past is recorded in a unique manner. The underground train journey is an amazing 4 km ride. We will also see the largest collection of different cave dwelling creatures in Slovenia including the “Human Fish”. This is one of the most mysterious creatures in the world. A kind of Salamander, but related to no other amphibian, it is the largest known permanent cave-dwelling vertebrate. After a break, with time for some lunch, we visit the nearby Predjama Castle – just 10 kilometres from Postojna Cave. For more than 700 years it has perched proudly on its 123 metre cliff: powerful, defiant and impregnable. Evening return by train to Ljubljana.
Tuesday 12 September (B, L) Another superbly scenic railway journey today as we head east along the Sava river valley to Dobova. The railway hugs the river pretty much all of the way as we weave our way through the mountains. Dobova is near the border with Croatia and we alight here and take our road coach to the nearby wine cellars of Najger’s Repnice. Repnice are caves, dug in the flint-stone, which was washed up by the Pannonian Sea millions of years ago. They got their name after turnip (repa), because the locals stored turnip and other vegetable produce in them. The sand caves are a part of the cultural heritage in this region. They are one of the most interesting sights on the Bizeljsko-sremiska wine route. At the top of Graben Valley, Jozica and Martin Najger open for us their remarkable repnice. Martin’s great-grandfather dug this cave in the 19th century. In the first room is a natural fresco formed in the sand walls and ceiling. We have wine tasting in the main room of the cave and can visit the third room where the wine is aged. We will sample these wines and some savoury specialties of the house, followed by lunch served in the outer farm building. In late afternoon we return by rail to Ljubljana.
Wednesday 13 September (B) We meet in reception for our coach transfer to the station for our train to Bled. The town of Bled is over a thousand years old and is by far the country’s most popular destination, because of the fairytale lake and island, dramatically sited castle and snow tipped mountains. At Bled we will be staying in a central 4 star hotel. The rest of the day is free for your own relaxation and to enjoy Bled at your own pace. Perhaps visit the castle and have lunch in the castle restaurant overlooking the lake. Or take a walk around the lake stopping to take photos as you go along.
Thursday 14 September (B) Lake Bled is extremely picturesque and one of the most romantic places to visit. On the small island in the middle of the lake many people travel by boat to get married. So today we will make the same journey (but not to get married) to visit the church and tower. You may even ring the bell in the church and make a wish. Later, after lunch we have an optional visit to the spectacular Vintgar Gorge. Where we take a walk and feel as if we are in another world. Don’t forget your cameras and walking shoes.
Friday 15 September (B, L) Today we take the local train to Most na Soci. It is located on a rocky crest above the confluence of Soča (you will be amazed by beautiful colour of the river) and Idrijca rivers. In the past these two riverbeds, deeply carved into the rocky slopes, historically provided the settlement with excellent protection from intruders. Due to the nearby Doblar Hydro Plant, the basins of the river were entirely inundated and below the settlement the vast accumulation lake was formed, which now attracts both fishermen and visitors. We will go on two hour cruise on the river. Time to relax, have lunch and enjoy the views from the boat. Mid-afternoon return by rail to Bled.
Saturday 16 September (B,L) A short walk to the railway station for our rail journey by steam train complete with restored vintage carriages. Today we will partly re-trace yesterday’s journey. Two hour ride along the historic Bohinj Railway is an unforgettable experience through stunning scenery. During our journey we will follow the river ‘Sava Bohinjka’ until we reach the 6,372 metre long railway tunnel at Bohinjska Bistrica. We will be accompanied by Bohinj Railway staff who will inform us about the train, the Bohinj Railway itself and the regions we will be travelling through. We alight at Kanal and drive along the river Soca past the villages Anhovo and Plave to the wine growing region at the Slovene-Italian border, Goriska Brda. We will also stop in the village Gonjace on the way to Dobrovo where we can climb up a 23 m belvedere tower, from where the whole Goriska Brda region can be seen. At Dobrovo we will have time for lunch, before our return to the Soca Valley, where we also visit the largest wine cellar in the region. Here we are able to taste and purchase some of the prominent wines of Gorisda Brda. Return to Bled on the steam train.
Sunday 17 September (B) Morning is free before our coach takes us back to Ljubljana airport (approx 45 minutes) for our flight back to the UK.
This is a moderately active tour. To fully enjoy this program, participants should be able to climb a flight of stairs and walk at least a half-mile on uneven ground during several of the sightseeing trips.