I am sitting in a high-rise condo in Bangkok, Thailand today. It is 98 degrees Fahrenheit and the city skyline is robed in a dense, dreamlike haze. As much as I love Southeast Asia, my mind keeps wandering to my favorite fall spent exploring Slovenia. In 2013, my husband and I sold all of our belongings and hit the road with three young children and 5 carry-on bags. Slovenia was 20 countries ago but time does nothing to diminish its beauty. As a matter of fact, the more I toss and turn over the autumnal flavors, colors, and landscapes we experienced in Slovenia, the more I “fall” in love yet again.
Mid-march through October, the Open Kitchen Food Market is the best place to eat in Slovenia’s glittering capital city of Ljubliana. I feasted on steaming Asian noodle bowls, Egyptian kebabs, and the kids even had a turn at stirring the Slovenian pancake dish called smorn. The sturdy, carved benches, and colorful umbrellas provided the perfect perch for taking in the ambiance created by a mix of hip and traditional music and people!
The outdoor cafe culture is also thriving in Ljubliana. A table at Karvarna Cacao near the meandering Ljubljanica River, is the perfect place for ice cream on a hot summer day. The generous scoops and efficient service motivated me to make the trip even on the busiest days. As the crowds receded in September, my husband and I indulged (almost daily) in a scoop of wild strawberry ice cream, while the kids played near the river.
While there is no shortage of neighborhood watering holes, why limit yourself to just one bar. The craft beer walks and harvest wine tours will quench anyone’s thirst for an authentic Slovenian experience. Although Slovenia is becoming more well known on the global wine scene, we visited many wineries where we were welcomed like royalty. The family at the historic Bjana Winery honored us with a private tour, and indulged our children in tasty appetizers and the art of grape picking and tasting.
I am originally from Seattle so coffee is a part of my culture. There is an artisan coffee scene in Ljubliana that is creative, technical, unique, and delicious! My morning stop was Coki, because of the passion of the baristas and wait staff. They can’t wait to give lectures on where beans come from, serve pour over samples, and demonstrate the latest and greatest brewing techniques. It’s addicting!
Although there are plenty of mainstream places to shop in Slovenian cities, I spent my time and money appreciating timeless crafts made by Slovenes from various villages. From felted handbags, handmade lace napkins and golden pumpkin oil, to flasks of Piran salt, the arts and crafts movement is alive and well. The artisan goods were somehow traditional and forward thinking as well as precious and affordable. I loved to peruse Krasevka in Ljubliana, or the ARTish market on the last Saturday of the month. The new Gift Shop, in the Old Ljubliana Castle, won my heart as my all time favorite shop in Slovenia!
The time I spent exploring Slovenia’s natural countryside is what truly elevated the experience in my memory. Hiking on pristine trails, the smell of olive wood perfuming the gentle air, as the harvest sunshine warmed my path, were unforgettable.
Lake Bled: Take a Pletna Boat Ride to Bled Island to ring the wishing bell. The crisp air, mixed with legendary stories, and historic structures make for the perfect fall trip. When you return to the “mainland” look for Drive-through Bled Cream Cake sign and drive through, reverse, and drive through again! My kids proclaim “there is no better treat in all the land!”
Vintgar Gorge and Tolmin Gorge: An ongoing debate for which is more beautiful can be heard at any cafe, on any given day, in the capital city. I see the colors of Vintgar Gorge in my dreams; the ruddy, handmade wooden path that follows the curves of the river and the rainbow trout struggling upstream through crystal clear rapids. It is my favorite fall walk to date because of it’s stunning, preserved, natural landscape that rushed with life in every direction.
Lake Bohinj: Something else Slovenes and tourists love to debate is if Lake Bled or Lake Bohinj is more beautiful. I happen to think no one loses when it comes to these arguments so why not experience them both for all their majesty. Lake Bohinj felt like the Adirondacks before anyone really put them on the map. The path around the lake promises tranquility in the fall and the reflections are truly otherworldly. The church bells resonate a little longer on the still lake and it is highly possible that after the summer months, you will have the path all to yourself.
While you can find all the usual accommodation in Slovenia, from farm-stays to luxury boutique hotels like the Antiq Palace and historic seaside escapes such as the Piran Hotel, I opted for something that gave my family all of the above. I booked a homestay in the hills above Lake Bled. It was a historic property, with a homemade welcome basket full of goodies, a host that was dedicated to respecting guest privacy, while ensuring I had the best of what Slovenia offered. My family was able to experience the rhythms of home-life, the glamour of Lake Bled, and the trails that go on forever beckoning even the weariest traveler to keep on walking.
One of my favorite things about my wandering life, is that just as I am now reflecting on autumn in Slovenia, someday in the not too distant future, the sticky heat of Thai street-food will become the subject of my dreams. So, the secret is to love this new dream unfolding today, while appreciating all that has come before, with excited anticipation for all that is yet to be.
What will I “fall” for next