Until recently, if you'd asked me to find Slovenia on a map, I couldn't do it. That was until I saw a friend's travel photos, and from that point, it quickly became the next destination I planned for myself in summer 2019. It would be my 8th solo trip and second time in Europe, so I needed some kind of novel appeal. There were two: multiple countries in one trip (adding Croatia), and being able to drive around Europe. Unlike densely populated countries like Italy, Slovenia is very well suited to a road trip. I did need an international driver’s permit, which I got at AAA for $20.
While I could cover a lot of ground within Slovenia, I would only get to a very small portion of Croatia. But in five days I packed in lots of variety: the riviera, hill towns, and cities. I attempted to learn the basics of Slovenian and Croatian, knowing I’d be able to get by with English. I spent more time on how to pronounce the names of cities and foods, which are definitely not intuitive. There would also be two different currencies to deal with. Slovenia uses euros, Croatia uses kuna.
My priorities in my travels are food, scenery, and relaxation. You won't find a lot of historical sites or high-octane outdoor activities in my writeup, just so you know before jumping in. :)
Day 1 – Dragons, Bears, Porcupines
I flew out of Newark on United, operated by Austrian Air, connecting in Vienna, then taking Adria Airways to Ljubljana, where I would spend my first three days. I planned my itinerary as a loop so I would also end my trip here.
I would not need a car in Ljubljana, so I took a shuttle from the airport to my hotel. After checking into City Hotel Ljubljana, I spent Day 1 acclimating and exploring the city center. I wasted no time in getting my first taste of štruklji for lunch: melt-in-your-mouth cheese and mushroom dumplings, the perfect antidote to a long travel day. I needed a SIM card for my phone, but unfortunately I had to wait until Monday when the stores would be open. I wandered the city and its various bridges on foot, finding dragon statues everywhere, bears in windows, and porcupines advertising an arts fest. Dinner was the tasting menu at Monstera. The deer heart was tasty. After dark, the streets were alive with crowds and colorful lights.
Day 2 - Njam
Early in the morning I visited Metelkova, then went looking for other street art. In the afternoon I had a food tour with Ljubljana Nyam. We made several stops around the city center, for more štruklji, sausage, pumpkin seed oil, wine, and coffee. It was a small group, under 10 people. I had the rest of the day to myself, taking the steep hike up to Ljubljana Castle, then having dinner at Manna.
Day 3 – Find Your SEAT
I picked up my rental car, a SEAT Arona crossover SUV. I’m not an SUV driver, but this turned out to be a nice ride, fully capable of handling the twisty mountain roads. It was a stop-start engine, meaning it would restart at every green light, which was curious but didn’t impact my driving. ATET was a very easy rental company to deal with. If you plan to rent a car in Slovenia, make sure it comes with a vignette for toll payments (although I don't remember any), and also that you're allowed to drive across borders if you plan to. I also finally got my phone SIM card.
My first drive was to the Škocjan Caves, often called the underground Grand Canyon. The tour groups are quite large and no photos are allowed, but it was a memorable experience. We filed around a dimly lit path of ramps and stairs, with the occasional water droplet from overhead. The cavern grew expansive at times, seemingly bottomless. Back in the city, I returned to the castle for dinner at Gostilna na Gradu, which was rather disappointing.