Day 14: Vintgar Gorge, Lake Bled, Hisa Franco

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Vintgar Gorge

SMS and I headed for the Slovenian countryside for our second full day in the country.  We had heard so much about how beautiful it was and we were really excited to check it out.  The weather was overcast and misty, which was quite beautiful, although I’m sure a sunny, blue-sky day would be stunning.

We got to Vintgar Gorge around 9 a.m.  There is plenty of parking near the entrance and a ticket booth to buy a trail pass (5€).  The 1.6 km trail is rather level and mainly on wooden platforms attached to the rocky hillside or crossing the Radovna River. It is beautiful.  The water is a jewel-like green-blue that changes in intensity and depth along its course.  Due to the contrast of bright sky and darker gorge, my pictures are a bit blown out and don’t do it justice.

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Vintgar Gorge- see the hiker near the platform bend?

We walked to the Sum waterfall.  It looks as if the trail connects to other hiking trails but we turned around to head back.  While it was equally pretty on the way back, the trail had gotten much more crowded since some tour buses had arrived.  It was much more pleasant when the trail was near-empty so I recommend arriving early!

Next stop: Lake Bled.  This was where the weather affected us the most since the classic island-chapel-on-the-lake view was nearly obscured by the mist.  We decided not to pay the castle entrance fee since it was 20€ and we were really only going for the view.  We walked around the castle to the right and found an open gate that led up to a side entrance of the castle.  We couldn’t get into the castle but the view was quite good.  I suspect that the gate isn’t always open but we lucked out that day to get a cheap-y view!

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Foggy view of Lake Bled and the island chapel. This was the view from the side of the castle.

We ate lunch at Pizza Rustic.  It was an early lunch and it hit the spot.  Afterwards, we drove to Lake Bohinj.  This is the lake that in-the-know travelers recommend, sometimes over Lake Bled.  I’m going to be diplomatic and say that I like both!  I would like to return more to Bohinj than Bled in the future because it seemed that there were more outdoors-y things to do.  It was a bit quiet since it was a cloudy mid-weekday during the shoulder season.

 

We grabbed a coffee at the Lakeside hotel and then headed over to Staro Selo to check into our AirBnB before our dinner at Hiša Franko.  The apartment was a fantastic. It was walking distance to the restaurant and would be a good base for the regional outdoors-y activities.  It is also the only lodging in Staro Selo apart from the few rooms at Hisa, which were already booked when I wrote.

I had discovered the restaurant during my internet research for Slovenia.  When I say discovered, I mean for myself since the foodie world has known about Hiša Franko for the last several years.  They got a particularly big boost when Ana Roš was featured on season two of Netflix’s Mind of a Chef.

We headed out almost straight away for our 5:30 reservations.  I know, so early but it was that or nothing!  I had made the reservations by email, which was very easy.  The hostess wrote back at the time of reservation (about three months early but then a switch on our part at the two month mark).  She asked for any dietary restrictions/preferences.  She also wrote back the day prior to confirm our arrival.

We had been given some tips from our food tour companions the day before: go hungry, but not starving since the food is plentiful but not overly so and ask for the multi-herb digestif at the end of the meal made by the old man in the mountain.  Got it!

The restaurant was quite nice.  The tables were far apart enough that we had our own experience but not so far that we couldn’t exchange pleasantries with people nearby.  Our waiter was funny and spoke excellent English.  Our sommelier was a super cute Slovenian woman who had studied Slovenian wines extensively but now lived in Asheville, NC but was working at Hisa for two months.

The food was delicious.  We enjoyed the aged local cheese in the cheese lollipop and grated in another dish.  Many of the courses were quite savory.  Unfortunately, writing this several months after the fact leaves a little shaky on the details (or was it the wine flight?) but I’ll try to find my menu.  Regardless of the level of detail I remember, it was an exquisite experience.

We ended a meal with the recommended digestif and little cookies.  I had two glasses of the digestif because it was delicious and only available there- no bottles are sold and it really is made in a local man’s mountain hut.  It was bracing and deliciously herbaceous/aromatic.  I highly recommend!

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Day 13: Ljubjlana

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Slovenska Hisa

We woke up and walked towards the river for breakfast.  We picked Slovenska Hisa where SMS ordered eggs and I ordered the “Slovenian breakfast,” which consisted of hearty bread and two soft spreads, a kind of quark I think.  We were trying to eat on the light side since we were booked for a food tour that we thought we should be hungry for.  Note, not all food tours actually feed you all that much but I had a good feeling about this one!

The food tour was AMAZING!  We booked through Ljubjlanajamjam, a cute local business owned by Iva.  She was so enthusiastic over email that I really, really hoped that she would be our tour guide.  She was!  Yes, so lucky!

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The tour consisted of us and a German/Swiss-German couple.  We went to six different places.  I’ve included the overview in a screenshot above.  I don’t want to make it too searchable since this is Iva’s special itinerary.  It was an excellent tour.

Highlights include my newfound food love, štruklji (rolled dumplings); walking through the different markets and sampling things since Iva smoothed the way; having an incredible gnocchi dish at Biro; and stopping in a cool coffee house where you pay based on how long you stay, not based on coffee, WiFi usage, etc.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t get the business model concept on the coffee house but apparently there are several throughout Europe.

Afterwards, I was a bit antsy so we left to walk towards Ljubljana castle.  I don’t know what my problem was since it would have been fun to chill out at the coffee shop.  But, the castle was very cool.

We walked up the hill towards it and then bought our tickets.  The views from the walls were awesome and we explored several of the rooms, including the dungeon (spooky!).

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Altroke

For dinner, we walked back downtown and chose Altroke.  It was on the quiet side but had good food.  I slightly preferred the restaurant from the night before but it was still a nice choice.

Then it was off to bed to get ready for our big day of countryside exploring and dinner at Hisa Franko.

Day 12: Umria to Ljubjlana

I woke up early to get a final run.  There was mist in the valley and the sunrise was really pretty.  Then, it was time to shower, pack up the car and leave.  We took a family photo that turned out really well.  SMS made fun of me recently because there’s a prelude picture when he was testing out his camera that shows me sitting on a bench with a very serious expression on my face.  I didn’t mean anything by it!  I was just staying out of it since there were a lot of opinions on how the photo should be staged.  SMS took two really nice photos and we were set.  Then, goodbye house!

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I miss you!

 

SMS and I drove to Slovenia.  There isn’t too much to say about the trip although I do have a tip- just eat at the Autogrills on any road trip along Italian highways.  Some are nicer than others but all have good food.  We wasted about a half hour going off the highway for pizza and the place was closed for Sunday.  We ended up with an ok sandwich, but really, we would have done better time and food-wise if we had just gone to an Autogrill.

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SMS drinking a fancy, chocolate dessert espresso drink. The poster is visible behind him, next to the whipped cream topping.

We actually did stop at two along the way (one for coffee, one for snacks) and they are pretty cool.  They are almost on par with Japanese highway stops.  I don’t mean to make this a big deal- just consider stopping at Autogrills, especially on Sundays!

There was heavy traffic once we crossed into Slovenia.  We made it to Ljubjlana where we met up with the host for our AirBnB.  The apartment was awesome and I highly recommend it.  It was spacious, clean, nice bathrooms and comfy bed.  Perfect.  There was also a garage spot that we accessed through a covered arch next to the building staircase that opened into a courtyard.  It was very tight but we made it work.  (It turns out that there was a scratch on a wheel at the end of the trip which SMS thinks happened there but it’s hard to know for sure.  It may have happened one of the times we had to pull off the pavement on country backroads but he’s probably right).

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SMS at Robba.  Super cool restaurant.

We walked through the downtown and came upon Robba.  It is very trendy with an amazingly cool interior.  Although it was crowded, there were still tables available in the back.  Lucky us!  I can’t quite recall what we had but it was delicious.  I had a nice glass of Slovenian wine recommended by the waiter.  So, unfortunately, no specific meal recs but I definitely recommend the restaurant. We would have gone again if we were there longer.