Destinations / JOURNEY
THEY SAY THAT every village in Slovenia has three things: a church, a bar and a linden tree, but it’s nearly impossible to spot the trifecta from the window of the rental car. One moment, we’re ntering a red-roofed hamlet with slight roads
and an impossible-to-pronounce name (Selišče, Tomišelj),
but seconds later it’s over, like some trick of light, and we’re
back winding through rich farmland and massive limestone
formations, a steeple just visible in the rearview. The towns
are so tiny they make the country — which in reality is about
the same size as the state of Massachusetts — seem immense.
For a diminutive country, Slovenia is full of such contrasts.
An artful European ambience is juxtaposed with the sulky
cement remains of former Yugoslavia, from which Slovenia
gained independence in 1991. The country went on to join the
European Union in 2004, giving up the tolar in favor of the
euro in 2007. From an outside perspective this is a happy development, but the shift is one that many citizens — accustomed
to socialist sameness and faced with a struggling capitalist
economy — are still aspiring to celebrate. The country’s confident beauty belies its uncertainty, and the tourism industry
takes full advantage: I FEEL SLOVE NIA (emphasis on the letters that spell “love”) is the region’s ubiquitous slogan.
After a few days in Ljubljana — Slovenia’s lively, candy-colored capital — and group tours of Postojna Cave and the
nearby Predjama Castle, my boyfriend and I were ready for
some peace, quiet and independence, so we rented a car. The
prospect of riding buses, trains and shuttles seemed draining,
and we congratulated ourselves on the frivolous decision as we
retreated from town, liberated from the public transportation
hassle, the GPS barking incoherent directions to point the way.
Of Tourists and Tranquility
We were bound for Lake Bled, the country’s signature scenery and our most highly anticipated destination. Back in the
States, a precursory Google search of “Slovenia” brought
up hundreds of images of the fantastic landscape: the lake
itself surrounds Bled Island, home to several architectural
feats, including the Church of the Assumption, built in the
17th century, and a Baroque 99-step staircase to which visitors can ferry, row or even swim. The picturesque display
is overseen by Bled Castle, which sits on a towering cliff. I
mean, come on. Aside from Slovenia’s outdoorsy allure (the
country is one of Europe’s lushest, with plenty of opportunities for hiking, kayaking and biking — especially with the
pleasant weather we encountered during our August visit),
and general obscurity (“You’re going where?”), the fairy-tale factor was a major draw.
As such, our disappointment upon arrival at Lake Bled
was palpable. The would-be dreamy scene was teeming
with tourists of all shapes and sizes, our campground over-
booked, crammed with recreational vehicles and electric
grills. Reality had put the kibosh on our idyll. Fifteen min-
utes, a canceled reservation and one blurry photograph later
we were back on the road in search of Lake Bohinj, a lesser-
known alpine basin highly lauded by locals, who were easy
to communicate with — nearly everyone spoke English.
Given the miles of forested, undeveloped land along with
a national park to boot, it came as a surprise to learn that
in Slovenia, “camping” is a relative term. Those who wish
to sleep under the stars must do so in designated camping
Opener: Lake Bohinj.
This page, from top:
Church of St. John the
Baptist on the east bank
of Lake Bohinj; pitched
tents at Camp Zlatorog;
a hidden oasis at the
base of the Julian Alps.