On our first visit to this far eastern region of Europe we spent most of our time exploring Croatia and then finally worked our way into Slovenia at the end of the journey. While we greatly enjoyed Croatia with its fantastic rocky coastline and emerald-blue sea, Slovenia was a real eye opener and wonderful surprise for us as photographers.
Where is Slovenia? Asking an American this question would most likely render an answer along the lines of “You know something? I am really not sure where Slovenia is. Is it part of the former Czechoslovakia or a region of eastern Croatia? Somewhere in the former eastern bloc?”
The answer is . . . none of the above. Slovenia is a compact country bordered by Austria to the north, Italy to the west, Hungary to the northeast and Croatia to the south. It also has a small section of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. It feels much more like alpine Austria than the mostly arid and rocky Croatia.
Initially we had planned to put together one of our Photography Travel Tours with the main emphasis on Croatia and a brief visit to Slovenia. For 2016 we’ll be doing exactly the opposite, spending most of our time in Slovenia.
We’ll begin in Ljubljana, pretty much in the center of the country and its capital. Ljubljana is like a mini Prague. While not as grand, it is more intimate and has its own hilltop castle and emerald-green river and plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops along its narrow lanes to keep any traveler happy. Adria Airways offers direct flights from Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Vienna. EasyJet flies from London and there are also direct trains from many European cities.
Photographically, Ljubljana has much to offer but the real draw for us is getting out into the smaller towns and villages and Slovenia’s majestic alpine countryside. There is no better place to base out of than pristine and proud town of Bled. One hour north of Ljubljana, this gem of a small town sits on the shores of Lake Bled with the Julian Alps rising from its shores. Add to that the medieval Bled Castle and an island in the middle of the lake with a 17th century church . . . both of which can be captured in one photographic frame. With the changing weather and lighting conditions there are many variations of this attractive scene to be photographed, especially when strolling along the path that circumnavigates the lake.
Bled is not without its warts. Central Bled is dominated by unsightly large, communist-era convention hotels. Luckily, just a few meters behind these eye sores is a wonderful and quaint neighborhood featuring lovely alpine-style pensions (B&Bs). Picture wonderful hand-carved wood interiors and cozy beds with lofty down comforters, great breakfasts and charming restaurants, often part of the pension, with flavorful local cuisine. After experiencing it once, I couldn’t resist ordering the hearty venison stew with tasty polenta for dinner three days in a row.
From Bled you can visit many photogenic locations on day trips. Not to be missed and one of my all time favorite vistas to photograph anywhere is the Church of St. Primoz. One of the best times to photograph this spectacular scene is during the evening blue hour, about 45 minutes after sunset. Two flood lights illuminate the church and we time our exposures to get a great balance between the warm artificial light and the ambient blue light of the sky and the majestic mountain peaks in the distance. Magical! I get goose bumps writing about it . . . can’t wait to return.
A long day trip to the NE will bring us to the hidden valley of Logarska Dolina. This place is really off the beaten path but is so worth the effort. A panoramic road takes us above the valleys to an eye level view of the mountains and a welcome stop at an alpine farm that serves only its own products. Having lunch here will give you a new understanding of fresh food!
Also close to Bled, Vintgar Gorge is a great location for photography. You can walk for a mile on boardwalks and bridges along the river. This is a good time to get out the tripod and to use a slow shutter speed to get that pleasant silky look in the moving water. Makes you feel like you’re a “Rock Star Photographer.”
To the NW of Bled, another worthwhile day trip is the drive over the Vrsic Pass from north to south, dropping down into the Soca River Valley. This is also a remote area with small towns and little population, a location of WWII battles featuring gorges and rivers with amazing emerald-green water. To shorten the return journey and to not have to back-track, drive your car onto a train for a ride through a long tunnel to the town of Bohinjska Bistrica. From there it is a short drive back to Bled.
These are a few of the places that we will visit on our 2016 photo tour to Slovenia and northern Croatia. I will write more about the Croatian locations of Rovinj and Plitvice Lakes National Park in a later blog.
If you are interested in learning more about this or any of our other photo tours, please visit us at:
Happy New Year from Jim & Magrit.