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Visiting Bled, Postojna Caves, and Stanjel Slovenia

Ljubljana is an enchanting city, but the countryside of Slovenia is dotted with charming towns and attractions that visitors will love. Historic Bled, delightful Stanjel, and the caves of Postojna are perfect day (or even overnight) trips.

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Sitting atop a mountain with 360 degree views of the distant valley and fields, the medieval town of Stanjel is a photographer’s dream. Stroll through the ancient stone streets, buy some honey, stop into a gallery, or just wander up and down the narrow lanes, and see a town rebuilding itself. In a few years there will likely be a small inn or B&B and Stanjel will have completed the journey from medieval city, to a delightful town. It’s also located in one of Slovenia’s wine regions. And visitors can enjoy winery tastings.

Caves at Postojna

The caves at Postojna are easily one of the most impressive I’ve visited anywhere. Slovenia has an extensive belt of karst – the limestone stratum that produces the spectacular caves, and the Postojna system is the largest in Slovenia.

A visit to the cave lasts an hour and a half. The first part of the tour actually begins with a tiny train ride – more like the kind found in an amusement park. In fact, that’s what it felt like as we were whisked through the dark tunnel, with flashes of stalagmites and stalactites and other-worldly formations. It was both fun, and easily accessible.

After the 10 minute trip, the real tour starts along a well-paved trail. The guide explains the history of the caves, and their formations. Caves, halls, passages, huge stalagmites created other-worldly visions. It was impressive both for the sheer size as well as the great beauty. The lighting was superbly done, creating compelling tableaux.

Although we didn’t see any, the karst underworld was once home to uniquely adapted life – 84 species of specialized subterranean life forms (36 land-dwelling species and 48 aquatic species). For their protection they don’t live in the parts of the cave system open to tourists, but the Proteus Vivarium, located by the entrance is open for visitors with informative exhibits.

For those who want more excitement and adventure, there are also special tours for small groups. These must be booked in advance, but the tours take visitors to those parts of the caves not open to the general public. Special equipment is required.

Cavers take note – although Postojna is the largest, there are almost 7,500 known and explored Karst caves, and more than 20 caves open or partially opened to tourists.

Dress warmly, the caves are cold all year round, however, should you arrive in summer without packing a warm jacket, capes are available for rent.

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Often prefaced with the words "fairy-tale" Bled easily offers one of the most gorgeous vistas in Slovenia, and indeed looks like something from a fantasy -- a clear blue lake reflecting the town, the woods, and the castle on the mountain. Set into one end of the lake (the only glacial lake in Slovenia) is a tiny island complete with a tiny chapel, a steeple, and ringing bell. The whole tableau is surrounded by mountains.

The island, with its chapel and long history, is a popular tourist spot, but the boats that take visitors to the island shut down in October for the winter. However, the castle on the hill offers its own unique history and gorgeous views. Perfectly located to watch over the lake, this is one of the oldest medieval fortresses in Slovenia and dates back to at least 1011 AD if not earlier. The castle has a museum with signs in English describing its history and evolution.

As with most historic structures, the castle, reach via a steep paved path (with handrails), is a bit of a pastiche with a Roman nucleus Renaissance defense walls. Even the walk seems historic, with access across a wooden drawbridge and several fortified walls to reach the lower courtyard then up another ancient path to the upper courtyard.Sit in the courtyard of Bled castle and soak up feel the medieval atmosphere.

There’s a tiny print shop located one floor down in a former prison, jammed with printing apparatus, and drawings, posters, and cards. We were greeted by the apprentice printer who was happy to answer (many) questions, but he also showed me the photo of the owner -- complete with full beard, voted best beard in Slovenia.

There’s also a lovely restored chapel and a wine shop in which you can bottle your own red or white wine. Touristy but fun.

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Lake Bled is surrounded by parkland and hiking trails going into the mountains. Depending on season and weather, swim in the lake from any of the swimming docks, take a ride around the lake and to tiny island in an open wooden boat (called a pletna), or sit in a waterside cafe enjoying an ice cream or coffee and one of their delicious signature cream cakes. This is a resort town and popular and crowded in summer. In the off season, it’s still beautiful. No motor boats allowed on the lake, just swimmers and row boats. Being a glacial lake, a dip in the water will refresh on hot days.

The lake is small enough that visitors and residents often take a stroll around the entire lake. The nearby town of Milno has Pension Milno with a small cafe and is a perfect spot to take a break from walking.

What else is there to do in Slovenia? Visit I Love Slovenia -- and find out.

Slovenia has got to be one of those “best kept secret” destinations.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

July 19, 2016

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