I have an announcement to make!
I've fallen head over heels in love. It was unexpected and it happened so quickly it took my breath away. With its beauty and charm, it seduced me. Let me introduce you to the new love of my life - Slovenia. As it's marketing slogan says "the only country with the word LOVE in its name!" Last year I spent a week travelling around this beautiful country doing research for my spa holidays with Fleewinter.
Tucked in between Italy, Croatia and Austria, Slovenia is a fairytale come to life. Apart from some iconic pictures of Lake Bled, I didn't really know that much about the country but my research into spas in Europe led me to this "land of healthy water". Still slightly unknown outside of central Europe for its spa traditions and thermal waters, Slovenia seemed to offer what I was looking for, an authentic and undiscovered spa experience. When you search for spa holidays there is a number of places that always come up. These are perfectly fine but I wanted to be able to offer my guests something a bit different. A wellness journey that incorporates the beauty of nature, the health benefits of thermal water and treatments, wrapped up to create a new experience. And this is what Slovenia seemed to offer so of course, I had to go see it for myself.
For such a small country Slovenia has more than fifteen thermal resorts, all offering different types of thermal water and benefits. With way too many to visit in a week. I narrowed it down to Lake Bled, Portoroz and Rogaska Slatina with a quick stop in Ljubljana.
Already in Hungary, I got the train (the best way to travel in Europe) to Ljubljana. And what a beautiful journey it was. Winding through the woods and following along the river, seeing the changing colours of the trees.
I got into Ljubljana late afternoon and after a quick check in at my hotel, I was ready to set off and explore. Ljubljana is such a charming and romantic city with pastel-painted townhouses running along the river. The sun had just set and the street lights were starting to come on giving the city an ethereal glow. I took a stroll through the old town, along the river crisscrossing over the historic stone bridges, each side filled with restaurants and shops. I was cursing the lack of space in my suitcase with the number of interesting shops.
I found a tiny (about 4 tables) restaurant, hidden on one of the back streets and enjoyed some scampi and chips and had my first of many tastes of Slovenian white wine. I spent the rest of the evening at one of the bars that lined up beside the river, sampling more Slovenian wine and people watching. I was struck by how warm and friendly the Slovenian people are. Being Irish I'm always up for having the chats and this works in some countries, in others you're looked at as if your slightly mad (which I suppose is true..) But here every smile was returned, various conversations were had and many recommendations made. I returned to my hotel feeling all fuzy as I began to fall in love with this country (not from all the Slovenian wine I swear...).
Crossing one the many bridges in the Old Town
The next day, unfortunately, my plans for sightseeing were cancelled due to torrential rain. I had been planning on seeing the castle and was looking forward to the famous view of the city. But the rain meant I could hardly see a few feet in front of me so I went for the next best thing. Ice cream! I didn’t know this but Ljubljana is often referred to as the ice cream capital of the world.
In 2015 SoolNua created the World Ice Cream Index. They collected over 25 000 votes to find the best ice cream in the world. And Lolita in Ljubljana won! Now I didn’t make it to Lolita as I got distracted by another famous ice cream shop Vigo. Vigo takes ice cream to another level, I had rose petal, white chocolate and shortcake… also, the chocolate sauce comes out from a tap that is always open. Incredible! A must if you visit Ljubljana.
As my sightseeing was cut short, I hopped on my bus to Lake Bled a bit earlier than planned. Taking just over an hour to get there, I had to walk through the Alpine-style town to get to my hotel. It was an still raining, although not as bad as earlier and autumn was in full swing with leaves everywhere. As I walked down the hill, dragging my suitcase (and collecting leaves as I went) the famous view of the castle on the cliff overlooking the lake came into sight. With the rain and clouds, it was rather ominous and mysterious looking.
I arrived at my hotel for the night, The Grand Hotel Toplice, which is situated right on the edge of the lake. Such a beautiful hotel, with a feeling real old-school glamour. Just walking in I felt like I was walking back in time. Decorated with rich dark wood finishing, I felt like I had been transported 80 years into the past (when the hotel first opened). Even the room keys were still an actual key with a dark wooden key ring.
I had just enough time to check out the spa before grabbing a bite to eat. Bled was originally a spa town, with its waters reportingly having healing properties. The Grand Hotel Toplice has it's own thermal water source, which it uses to fill its swimming pool. The water has a temperature of 22 degrees and it isn't heated in order to preserve the natural purity of the water, so it's VERY refreshing. And helps to build up an appetite.
The next morning at breakfast I got to experience the full fairytale Bled view. Sitting there munching on my numerous pastries gazing at the emerald blue of the lake and the picture perfect castle, it was hard to believe it was real and not just a painting on the window. But as I walked outside the view didn’t change, if anything it became even more beautiful! I took a stroll along the deck and veranda of the hotel, it really has the best location right on the lake, and had to stop myself from jumping into the water.
Unfortunately, I had limited time so I was unable to take a rowboat over to the island, I thought I would save that for my next visit. (Where I'll hopefully be joined with someone who can row better than I can…) I was also disappointed to miss seeing the church and "wishing bell" on the island. The 16th-century chime consecrated by the Pope himself that is believed to grant the wishes of all who ring it.
My main plan for the day was to visit the Vintgar Gorge. I had seen pictures and heard how incredibly beautiful it is. And they weren't wrong if anything they didn't do it justice. A ravine about 4km from Bled, its thought to be one of the most important sights in Slovenia. About 1.6km long it weaves its way through the valley, with waterfalls, pools and rapids and you can follow it with the purposely built wooden walkway (originally built in 1893 - don’t worry it been rebuilt several times since then)
I wish I had the writing ability to accurately describe how incredible the walk is but I'll let the photos do the talking. I was told I would end up taking a lot of photos but I didn’t think I would take so many my phone battery would die after two hours (the time it took me to walk the 3ish km!!!) I had to stop every few metres to take another photo and video!
The colours of autumn made it even more beautiful. Watching the leaves falling then swirling through the emerald pools had an almost spiritual feeling. The beauty of it took my breath away. I dare you to walk along this path and not be amazed by it. Every corner there was a new combination of colours. This was nature at its finest, inspiring and mesmerising, showing you that no Instagram photo could ever capture the pure beauty that was all around me. I did try though.
I had told my car to come back after 2 hours thinking this was way too much time to do such a short walk but I got so caught up with the experience of the Vintgar gorge I was actually late getting back to him.
We had great chats on the way back to Bled, telling me all about the skiing in the area and of course figuring out the Irish connection. He dropped me off at the top of Bled Castle. Carefully organised so I didn’t have to walkup the hill (because of time constraints of course not my laziness)
Inside Bled Castle
Bled castle is where all your medieval fantasies come true. Perched atop a steep cliff more than 100m above the lake, it's exactly what you would imagine a medieval fortress to be. With towers, moats and ramparts I was looking around for my knight in shinning armour. I didn’t find him but on the terrace offers, I found most magnificent views of the lake and island and outwards to the mountain ranges of the Karavanke and the Julian Alps.
Once I had drunk in the incredible view I didn’t hang around for too long, I had an important appointment waiting for me back at the hotel. If you have more time there is a fascinating museum and a lovely restaurant, which apparently is stunning in the summertime. I'll be back! I have a feeling I will be experiencing Bled in all seasons over the next year or so.
Incredible views from Bled Castle
Having a gotten driven up to the castle I had the easier time of walking down the hill and around the lake back to the hotel. My special appointment was waiting for me in the hotel lounge. The most important part of a trip to Bled, the Bled Cream Cake.
Officially called Cremeshnitte and similar to a custard slice, with delicate puff pastry atop layers of light vanilla cream and custard, it’s a little slice of heaven. I'm pretty sure the alpine air and picture perfect view made it taste even better!
Cake and tea makes me happy
I originally wasn't going to go Portorož, I hadn't heard back from a spa resort I was interested in and didn’t really know that much about the town. But I am so glad I ended up going, I was blown away by the beauty of the town and got some sunbathing in!
Portorož or Port of Roses is a small seaside resort by the shore the Adriatic sea in southwestern Slovenia. In the early 20th century Portorož was one of the grandest seaside resorts in the Adriatic and now is one of the major tourist areas in the country. But it is known as a holistic healing centre as far back as the 13th century, when monks from the St. Laurence Monastery were treating rheumatic illnesses, amongst others, with concentrated salt water and saline mud. From the 19th century, the town has been declared a health resort and various hotels have sprung up to accommodate visitors to the thermal health centres.
The finest of these is the Kempinski Palace Hotel and my home for the next night. Originally opened in 1910. The Palace Hotel was the place to been seen for royals, aristocrats, politicians, artists and actors for many decades. Refurbished and reopened in 2008 the hotel manages to combine Viennese elegance and Art Deco architecture with contempory design. (Sorry getting a bit wordy there)
It was latish when I arrived so after a few glasses of wine ( I really do love Slovenia wine) it was off to the most luxuriously comfy bed.
The stunning Palace Hotel
The beautiful modern bedrooms
Having breakfast in luxury in the Crystal Ballroom
The next day, it just kept getting better. Breakfast was held in the stunning crystal ballroom, I had to drag myself away to my meeting with sales manager. After a tour of the hotel, which just had me falling more and more in love with it. It was down to the spa for me. The sun was shinning so I thought I would sit out side in my robe and swimsuit but it was actually so warm that I was able to sunbath and swim in the outdoor pool for most of the day. (This is at the end of October).
Strolls along the beach
Catching the last of the suns heat by the pool
Later that evening walking along the promenade, soaking up the last bit of the sun, looking at the sea, it was so wonderfully relaxing. The town was quiet, the season over, just empty umbrella stands giving a hint of busy it must be during the summer. My strolls lead me to a few glasses of wine as I watched the sunset over this hidden gem of a town.
Slovenia really stole my heart. For a country the size of Wales, it has so much to offer. The stunning scenery, the healing thermal waters, the warmth of the people and of course the wine! I can't wait to go back, again and again! Do you want to join me?
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