Discovering Green Slovenia

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DISCOVERING GREEN SLOVENIA: NATURAL BEAUTY, HISTORY & SUSTAINABILITY
By Sharon K. Kurtz

 

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: From national parks and forests to horses and e-biking, travel writer and photographer Sharon K. Kurtz talks about her adventures in Slovenia. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the episode on Podbean.

 

Located in Central Europe, Slovenia offers breathtaking natural landscapes, a rich history, and a solid commitment to eco-friendly practices. Over half of its terrain is covered in pristine forests, making it a leader in forest conservation and green initiatives. This compact country, slightly smaller than New Jersey and home to approximately 2.1 million people, boasts numerous protected areas, including the majestic Triglav National Park.

History:
Slovenia was part of the Austrian Empire for centuries, remaining under Habsburg rule until the collapse of Austria-Hungary after World War I. In 1945, after WWII, Slovenia became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under communist rule. On June 25, 1991, Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia, leading to a brief conflict before solidifying its status as an independent nation.

A Haven of Greenery – Exploring Slovenia’s Lush Forests and Protected Areas
We visited both Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj – Slovenian Gems.

Lake Bled is renowned for its postcard-perfect scenery. The lake’s turquoise waters are crowned by a small island, home to the Church of the Assumption, accessible by traditional pletna boats. The medieval Bled Castle is perched on a steep cliff overlooking the lake. This picturesque setting and the lake’s warm thermal springs make Bled a popular destination. After a challenging hike up to the panoramic spot overlooking the Island and castle, my reward was a piece of Kremna Rizina, the famous Lake Bled dessert.

Just 16 miles from Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj offers a more tranquil and unspoiled experience. It is the largest permanent lake in Slovenia, set within the heart of Triglav National Park. Surrounded by high mountains, Bohinj is perfect for nature lovers seeking peace and adventure, with opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and exploring the nearby Savica Waterfall.

Triglav National Park is Slovenia’s only national park, covering approximately 323 square miles. It encompasses the entire Julian Alps, including the country’s highest peak, Mount Triglav, which stands at 9,396 feet. The park is a haven for biodiversity, offering numerous trails for hiking, mountaineering, and witnessing breathtaking alpine landscapes. Named after the iconic mountain, Triglav National Park represents the heart of Slovenia’s natural heritage and commitment to conservation.

Preserving Heritage: The Story of Lipica Stud Farm and the Lipizzaner Stallions
We spent two nights at Hotel Maestoso at the Lipica Stud Farm in the Karst Region, where we experienced the historic farm’s daily activities up close. We also took day trips to the surrounding area. The Lipica Stud Farm spans over a square mile of pastures and training facilities, providing a serene environment for the horses and visitors alike.

Founded in 1580, the Lipica Stud Farm is one of the world’s oldest continuously operating stud farms and the birthplace of the Lipizzaner horses. The Habsburg Archduke Charles II established the farm to breed horses for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, combining Spanish, Italian, and Arabian bloodlines to create the renowned Lipizzaner breed.

The Lipizzaner horses, famous for their strength, agility, and distinctive white coats, are meticulously bred and trained in classical dressage at Lipica. We watched the horses being put out to pasture for the day from the stable. The mares and their foals followed. The foals are born dark and turn light within the first 7 years. Visitors can explore the farm’s rich history through guided tours, watch dressage performances, and enjoy carriage rides. The farm also features a museum dedicated to the Lipizzaner horses and offers riding lessons and equestrian events.

Medieval Mystique: Discovering Štanjel in the Karst Region
We explored the hilltop medieval village of Štanjel in the Karst Region, which is rich in history and architecture. Dating back to Roman times, Štanjel flourished during the medieval period due to its strategic hilltop location.

Characterized by narrow, winding streets and stone houses, Štanjel features an impressive castle first mentioned in the 15th century. St. Daniel’s Church, with its cylindrical bell tower, showcases a blend of Gothic and Baroque styles.

The village suffered damage during WWII bombings and is still being restored today. Despite this, Štanjel maintains its medieval charm. Today, it has 17 full-time residents and serves as a living museum with historical sites, art galleries, and cultural events, welcoming visitors to experience its unique atmosphere.

 


Savoring Slovenia: E-Biking through Goriška Brda and its Vineyards
We explored the picturesque vineyards and rolling hills of Goriška Brda, Slovenia’s Tuscany, on an exhilarating 10-mile e-bike journey. Departing from the hilltop village of Smartno,  Cyclists can traverse scenic routes through vineyards, olive groves, and picturesque villages, stopping at local farms and wineries. The e-bikes make it easy to navigate the hilly terrain while enjoying breathtaking views.

Nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, Goriška Brda benefits from a unique microclimate ideal for viticulture. The area reflects a blend of Slovenian and Italian Influences. It is next to Italy, only 2 hours from the Venice airport. Warm, sunny days and cool nights create perfect conditions for growing a variety of grapevines. The region is renowned for its family-run wineries, producing acclaimed wines like Rebula, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Visitors can tour these wineries, sample exquisite wines, and learn about traditional winemaking methods.

Goriška Brda is also famous for its cherry orchards. It celebrates an annual Cherry Festival featuring fresh cherries and cherry-based products. The fertile soil supports the cultivation of other fruits and olives, contributing to the region’s diverse agricultural output.

Ljubljana: Charming Capital City.
We spent three days in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s vibrant capital city, which blends historic charm with modernity. A highlight is the iconic Prešeren Square, featuring the famous Triple Bridge designed by architect Jože Plečnik. The picturesque old town has cobbled streets, baroque buildings, and the scenic hilltop Ljubljana Castle, offering stunning views.

The Ljubljanica River, adorned with the Triple Bridge and Dragon Bridge, is perfect for leisurely strolls. Ljubljana’s culinary scene combines traditional Slovenian dishes with international cuisine, and the bustling Central Market showcases the city’s rich culinary heritage with local delicacies.

As a cultural hub, Ljubljana is home to numerous museums, galleries, and theaters, including the National Museum of Slovenia and the Museum of Modern Art. The city’s thriving music scene features frequent concerts and festivals.

Recognized for its sustainable practices, Ljubljana was named European Green Capital in 2016. With fewer than 300,000 residents, the city boasts extensive bike lanes, pedestrian zones, and green spaces like Tivoli Park, exemplifying urban sustainability.

Adriatic Serenity: Exploring Slovenia’s Coastline
Slovenia’s Adriatic coastline stretches about 29 miles, offering stunning seaside views and historic charm. We stayed two nights in Portorož at the former winter palace of the Habsburgs, now the luxurious Kempinski Palace.

On a day trip, we visited the ancient port city of Piran, known for its Venetian-inspired architecture, narrow streets, and panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea. We also explored the Sečovlje Salt Pans, where traditional salt-making practices have been preserved for centuries. The salt pans in the Secovlje Salina Nature Park are a vital part of the region’s heritage and a unique natural habitat for various bird species.

Plan your visit:
https://www.slovenia.info/en
https://activitybreaks.com/


Sharon Kurtz is an Austin-based freelance travel writer and award-winning photographer. She is passionate about exploring the world and sharing her experiences through captivating storytelling, and Big Blend Radio podcast, “Wander the World with Sharon.” She is an active member of The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and The International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Follow her travels on https://sharonkkurtz.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/shar_kurtz

 

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About the Author:

Sharon Kurtz is an Austin-based freelance travel writer and award-winning photographer.

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