Slovenia is an amazing country, and if it’s not part of your future travel plans, it should be. It is probably no coincidence that Slovenia has the word love in it. This small boutique country, in the heart of Europe, no pun intended exudes love in so many ways. To begin with, Slovenia is the first country in the world to be declared a green destination based on the Green Destinations Criteria. Caring for the environment is a priority of every Slovenian. In fact, one in every two hundred people, and growing, in Slovenia is involved in beekeeping. What a great way to help the planet!
We decided to visit the east side of Slovenia. Given Slovenia’s small size, it is easy to drive to most places for a visit in a day. In Slovenia, there are many diverse things to see and do. There’s something for everyone’s taste.
We have a recommendation for a complete, full day of amazing touring in Slovenia. We suggest visiting Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, climb Gonjace Lookout Tower and finish the day with a wine tasting at Edi Simcic Winery. Because getting to all of three places can be difficult, we recommend a private tour with Ride Around Tours. They customized this tour just for us when we were in Slovenia. We had the full attention of our guide, and we could decide on how much time we spent at each place. In addition, while our guide drove, she would discuss the wonders of Slovenia. One of our favorite things to do when we travel is to talk to a local so when we drove, there was never silence. The advantages of a local guide. Here is some insight into our recommendations:
We visited the Postojna Cave, otherwise known as the “Queen of the Underground World.” Let me tell you this 2 million-year-old cave system is jaw-dropping. Postojna is the largest cave we have ever toured. When you enter, they give you the opportunity to rent a coat. They warn you just how cold it is in the cave. The temperature is a constant 50 degrees F with a humidity of 95%. We had our own warm coats, so we were prepared.
The huge caverns are some distance from the entrance, but they have a small electric train system that transports you back to the walking area. We traveled on the train for about 15 minutes before entering the huge open cavern. We disembarked the train and joined the group for the tour.
Tiny droplets of heavy mineral water shaped the fascinating subterranean paradise that is now Postojna Cave for over a million years. There are many cave formations and diverse fauna. Postojna Cave boasts towering mountains, murmuring rivers and vast subterranean halls. The cave is home to the famous magnificent five-meter-tall bright-white stalagmite called Brilliant.
The cave first opened as a tourist destination in 1819. In 1884, they added electric lights. The rails came in 1872. At first, the guides pushed the cars along the rails. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that they introduced a gas locomotive to take tourist back into the caverns. Then in 1945, the locomotive became electric.
Used in World War 2
During World War 2, German-occupied forces used the cave to store aircraft fuel. At one point, the Slovenian resistors destroyed the depot resulting in a fire that burned for seven days. Another interesting fact is that the world’s first “cave” post office resides in Postojna Cave.
There are 15 miles of underground passages, galleries, and halls in this relatively young discovery of only 200 years ago. The cave is open 365 days a year but their hours vary by month so check there site before making your plans to visit. One cavern is large enough to hold a concert, which they have throughout the year. There is a fee for this 1.5 hours guided tour.
In the Postojna Cave lives, a very unusual animal called an Olm. Olms are unusual even in their appearance: they have long snake-like bodies, with a length of 10-12 inches. Their length makes them one of the largest cave predators. Their skin is pale and pink in color and looks almost translucent. They have small short legs with three digits on their forelimbs and two on their hind feet. The Olms move around the water by snake-like twisting of their bodies, assisted by the legs. They breathe with external gills and rudimentary lungs. They have no eyes, but they can “see” with the help of skin receptors. These creatures are very good at sensing their prey and their skin very sensitive to light. They can go without food for up to twelve years and have a lifespan of up to 100 years.
The cave has some of these beautiful creatures in an aquarium type enclosure allowing you to see them easily. For the olm’s comfort and safety, they do not allow flash photography.
A few miles from Postojna Cave is the Predjama Castle. This dramatic castle is an impregnable medieval marvel perched in the middle of a 5000-foot high cliff for more than 800 years. Behind the largest cave castle in the world, there is a network of secret tunnels, from where the knight Erasmus of Predjama would set out on his plundering expeditions. The tunnels included a vertical shaft that leads to the outside of the castle, which they built to supply food to the castle during times of enemy siege.
The castle is an amazing piece of gothic architecture that they built specifically to make access difficult. They featured the castle in a Jackie Chan movie and a Ghost Hunters International episode because of its paranormal activity.
The Legend of Erasmus
Erasmus was a 15th-century robber-baron who, like Robin Hood, stole from the rich to give to the poor. The cave below the castle is part of the 14km Predjama cave system. Erasmus carried out his plundering with the help of a secret passage that led out from behind the rock wall. During the wars between the Hungarians and the Austrians, Erasmus supported the Hungarians. The Austrians did not forget this. The Austrians killed Erasmus after a very long siege. According to legend, one of his men betrayed him. They got word to the enemy when he would use the bathroom. The bathroom located in the small-detached building to the left of the castle is where the enemy decided they would get Erasmus. The bathroom was a very vulnerable location. While Erasmus was using the toilet, the enemy shot a canon at the latrine, and that was the demise of Erasmus.
The world’s largest cave castle, listed as one of the Guinness World Records, tells a picturesque story about the times when comfort had to give way to safety. It is so special and unique; it ranks among the ten most fascinating castles in the world, and so romantic that many couples choose it for their wedding vows. When in Slovenia, If nothing else visit Predjama Castle for the great pictures. There is a fee to tour the castle.
Italy is so Close
It is strange to us how countries in the Schengen Area don’t have protected borders. Our guide pointed this out to us that while I was standing in Slovenia and Tina was standing in Italy. If you looked carefully, you would see a plaque on the ground that shows the border. If you look closely, you will see some of the old border walls that once stood and separated the two countries. The only way you would know what these were are from the plaques that describe what they used to be.
We were in the town of Nova Gorica. Originally, they split a single town Gorizia/Gorica between Italy and what was then Yugoslavia following World War II. The barrier, which divided relatives and friends for decades made people anxious. The people of each town began to fear the other. The fear was due to the tense atmosphere between the East and West in the 1950s.
Back in 2004, they removed the fence, which was one of Europe’s last symbols of the Cold War-era division. It took more than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall for this barrier that separated families to come down. Since 1947, this barrier separated the Italian town of Gorizia from its Slovenian sister Nova Gorica. Slovenia’s decision to join the EU was the factor that made all of this possible.
Today freewill determines whether Slovenian’s or Italian’s cross the countries border. Many Italians and Slovenians in the towns of Gorizia/Gorica are friends and family. However, I am sure there are still those who are fearful of the open border.
Gonjace Lookout Tower
Gonjace Tower located in the stunning region of Brda Slovenia is a great place to visit for 360-degree views of rural Slovenia. Brda with its rolling hills, vineyards, charming old villages will remind you of Tuscany. The lookout tower Built-in 1961 is 75 feet tall. There are 144 steps to get to the top. The tower located on the hill Mejnik above the village of Gonjace provides amazing views. They dedicated the tower to the 315 victims of World War II who lived in the area.
When the sky is clear, you can enjoy the breathtaking views of all four points of the compass: the Julian and Carnian Alps, as well as the Dolomites to the North, the Friulian plain to the West, the Trieste Gulf and the Karst to the South, and the Trnovo forest and the Vipava Valley to the east. Do not forget to bring binoculars and of course your camera. The winds can be fierce when at the top so be careful.
Slovenia and Wine
Slovenia is home to some fantastic wines. Winemaking in Slovenia existed long before the Romans introduced winemaking to France, Germany, and Spain. Winemaking here dates back to the Celts. Slovenia produces almost 80 million liters of wine a year, and almost all this wine is savored right in Slovenia. There is another reason to visit Slovenia, which is the Slovenian wineries. The wineries set in picturesque locations are all unique.
Edi Simcic Winery
Our guide Matic of Ride Around Tours took us to an area favorite called Edi Simcic. The winery located in Western Slovenia in the Goriška Brda region is charming. The region of Goriška Brda is on the border of Italy and Slovenia. This region is noted most for white wines: Mediterranean exotic, minerally, full-bodied and fresh at the same time, with an aging potential of up to five or six years. The most notable and famous red variety produced here is the Rebula. It accounts for around 25% of all the wine produced in Goriška Brda. Rebula is originally from Greece but has grown in Slovenia for at least 750 years.
The Edi Simcic winery and tasting room are attractive and complete with a friendly dog! The winery setting is magical with views of vines on sloping hills. The laid back, tasting-room setting, and the unpretentious hosts make you feel like you are tasting wine in someone’s home. But, they are not too laid back, they use the best crystal glasses for tastings. Edi began the winery but his son Aleks, who we met while we were there, runs the winery today. The winery began in 1990 with 9 acres and today is 30 acres. Besides wine, Edi Simcic has champagnes and local products like jams, juices, and of course honey.
Traveling to the Goriška Brda region is fascinating because you actually travel through a few kilometers of Italy before emerging on the other side in Slovenia again. Because of the proximity to Italy, this part of Slovenia does have an Italian feel.
We can tell you from experience that visiting Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, climbing Gonjace Lookout Tower for the scenic views and finish the day with a wine tasting at Edi Simcic Winery is the perfect way to spend a day in Slovenia. Moreover, having Ride Around Tours chauffer us around and educate us on the sites was the best way to experience this area. Not to mention we made a new friend.
Be sure and check out our other Slovenia experiences such as The Best Things to See and Do in Ljubljana Slovenia.