Of all the places I’ve seen on this incredible planet of ours, Slovenia is the most magical and fairytale-like. If I hadn’t been there myself this past year, I don’t know if I’d believe it. But I must urge you: If you’re planning one grand adventure this year, make it Slovenia.
A small nation tucked just above Croatia and beneath Austria, it also shares a borders with Italy. The Julian Alps cut through the northwest of the country, the Mediterranean hugs it in the south, vineyards spill across it’s lower plains, while the rugged Triglav National Park holds the high ground.
There is a little bit of everything and everything is a “must see.” Which is why the only way to see this country is to drive it.
Around the time we booked our tickets to Slovenia, I discovered a company called Nest Campers operating in the country. My boyfriend and I are no strangers to the #vanlife, so it was a no-brainer to check them out.
Turns out, the company is run by a young couple who spent years designing their campers for efficiency, before putting them out on the road. They take the international camper van scene to a whole new level and give you the comfort of your own little home while you’re touring.
A few bonuses that made it a no-brainer: unlimited mileage, flexible drop off and pick up points, and at only 55 euros a day we could save some serious cash to splurge elsewhere.
Needless to say, I vibed with them and booked us a van.
We picked the nest Cuckoo Van for a five-day excursion through Triglav National Park and I cannot imagine doing it any other way. The ability to pull off and make lunch next to the river, to take a nap in the middle of the day, to pick a campsite last minute, and to stay at that campsite as long as we liked were huge parts of what made our trip so special. Plus, it felt ultra affordable (aside from plane tickets) this 5-day leg of our eastern Europe adventures rang us up a tab south of 500 euros.
It gave us the freedom of traveling as if we were at home, with the purpose of exploring a country we’d never seen. What follows below is a diary — in words and photos — of our route and the many must-see stops along the way:
Ljubljana to Lake Bled
We started in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and an easy-to-navigate dream. In 2016, they had a huge city revival in which they closed the streets lining the river to cars, and moved all the cafes to the waterfront. It became an eating, drinking, wandering mecca and was named the European Commission’s Green Capital of the year.
There’s an exciting energy in the city due to the University that keeps everyone around, probably because it’s both beloved and free. The city is also small enough that it feels very approachable for a day or two, but unique enough that you’ll want to stay for longer.
We picked up our campervan in Ljubljana and then headed to Lake Bled. It’s a short drive from the city, so we aimed to sleep there our first night.
Lake Bled is where all your fairytale visions come true. There’s a castle upon the hill overlooking the lake, and in the center of the lake is a church that you can you can visit via rowboat. We arrived at sunset and were nearly speechless. I almost fell into the lake while we took photos.
We ate pasta at a cafe on the water and then played cards in our van and snuggled up. We ended up spending two nights at the lake because of rain; one in the Nest and the second in a cabin at Camp Bled, for the sole reason that it came with a wood burning hot tub.
Our extra day in Lake Bled gave us some crucial time to explore more, which led us to Lake Bohinj and Savica Waterfall. It’s a nice twenty-minute walk up some woodsy stairs (which is about as much hiking as I ever do). Luckily, the outcome was worth it times a million.
Epic doesn’t even begin to describe it.
(Quick tip: before leaving Lake Bled hit the grocery store and stock up on food for roadside lunches and fireside dinners while you camp. Super fun and saves you a ton of money!)
Zelenci Springs to the Julian Alps
Our next destination was Zelenci Springs, just outside of Kranjska Gora, the last town you’ll pass through before the park. It’s a bit tough to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for and the directions are something like: “After you leave town there is a forest and then a clearing and then a forest, and a half remodeled old hamburger shop where you pull over to park. Take the trail through the woods and find a pure source of water.”
Seriously, these were our notes from locals. Still, it’s worth it. You can’t swim in the “pure source of water,” so don’t do that. But you can, however, sit and stare and marvel.
The Vršič Pass
From there, we headed east into Italy for a gorgeous drive to link up with the road took us to Vršič pass. There, we saw war ruins scattered along the road before driving the highest mountain pass in the Julian Alps.
If the weather is right, you can continue from there up Mangart Pass — a winding mountain road with some of the best views this area has to offer. We were blocked, however, because the rains meant a bit of snow. Instead, we decided to pull over at a different, unnamed viewpoint and make roadside sandwiches.
This is the glory of the “no plan”-plan, you just adapt to whatever you come across.
Triglav National Park
Finally, we headed back into Triglav National Park and the Soča Valley. The road through the park hugs the Soča river which is truly the main attraction. It’s a color we don’t have words for — some kind of turquoise jelly. A blue that feels as if it might heal you.
We were visiting in late autumn, which has its upside and downside. Upside: The trails and campsites were fairly empty. We could sit on the side of the river, explore, have lunch, hike and see almost no one else. Downside: No kayaking, canyoneering, or swimming (although my partner, Dylan, did jump in… because he’s insane).
At this point we wanted more than anything to keep on living out of the van, but alas the only fault of not having a plan is that sometimes you can’t do everything you want.
Had we continued our trip, we would have mirrored this post we found later on the Nest Campers blog — in which you visit the wine country hugging Italy, explore the salt town of seaside Piran, and then finish in Trieste. Or maybe we would have gone north. Or east. Or…
That’s the joy of exploring, there’s always more to see. But among them all, Slovenia should be on your list. Way up near the top. And when you see it, a van is defintiely the way to go.