Once upon a time there was a magical land named Slovenia filled with castles, lakes, mountains, forests and the friendliest people in all the kingdom. Best of all the country with cute flower-boxed houses and immaculate farms is no fairy tale. To cycle Slovenia if to ride through a fairy tale.
Exploring this natural wonderland by bicycle with Nichols Expeditions was as if pedaling through a series of picture perfect postcards. With medieval castles, alpine peaks, sweeping valleys, crystal clear lakes, forests and vineyards, this cycling trip is our top recommendation for those wanting to try an international trip on two wheels.
You may be asking “Where is Slovenia?” I certainly did. This wee country sits on the sunny side of the Alps hugged by Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia.
Why haven’t more people traveled to Slovenia? Perhaps they just don’t realize what this quiet location has to offer. We are about to let the secrets out. Our suggestion is to get packing before everyone else arrives.
26 Magical Reasons to Cycle Slovenia
A romantic mountain escape where surely Mother Goose herself must be swimming with the swans and ducks. An island with an exquisite, tiny church, perhaps the most recognizable scene of Slovenia.
Couples are still married on Bled Island. It is considered good luck for the marriage if the groom carries the bride up the 99 steps to the church entrance. Perhaps not so much good luck for the groom’s back.
Beautiful jagged peaks of the Julian Alps and the country’s highest peak Mount Triglav provide a postcard inspired setting while you cycle Slovenia.
Unique to Slovenia, toplars (double sided hay racks) are often used to store farming equipment. Seen predominantly in the northwest corner of Slovenia, the single rack design keeps hay off the ground and protected by the roof. How many hay racks can you see in the photo above?
Slovenes are friendly and not just in the service industries. We asked a local why everyone seemed so happy. With a smiling but puzzled look the answer came, ” Why wouldn’t we be?”
No traffic jams
When you cycle Slovenia, it will be more likely to face a traffic jam with livestock than with vehicles.
Slovenian history speaks of the accordion ‘driving out’ other folk instruments like the pan pipes and flutes. In a musical mutiny the accordion became the most common instrument in the land.
This beautiful city holds the title of European Green Capital 2016. On a personal note I lost my passport and purse in this city and all were returned due to the kindness of strangers willing to help.
The official symbol of the dragon can be found proudly standing on guard most everywhere in Ljubljana. According to legend the original dragon of the marshes in the area was slayed by the ancient Greek hero Jason and his band of not so merry men the Argonauts. Apparently the dragon ended up with all the glory.
Where are the tourists?
Unlike it’s neighbor Italy, Slovenia remains largely undiscovered by tourists. Those who live in Slovenia seem quite content with a sprinkling of visitors. Those of us choosing to cycle Slovenia could not believe we had the paradise to ourselves.
English is widely spoken and locals joked with us, “In a country of only around a million, how much of the rest of the world can speak Slovene?” This makes travel to Slovenia very easy and we never had an issue with communication.
We arrived a few days ahead of our cycling tour to explore what scientific circles describe as one of the most treasured cave systems on the planet and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986.
No litterbugs here
Only in such a magical country could litter be swooped up before it ever lands on the ground. Without doubt Slovenia is the cleanest country we have ever visited. Questioning our local guide why there was no litter. His response, ” Why would you put it there in the first place?”
Helpful would be a word that first comes to mind describing the people of Slovenia. Staff in hotels and restaurants and frankly anywhere we went went our of their way to lend a hand. Slovenia travel became comfortable travel.
Over 216 square kilometers of Slovenian land is covered in vineyards. Good news for end of the day refreshments. Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city, is home to the oldest vine in the world at over 400 years. The trusty vine still produces grapes for 25 liters of wine per year.
Step back in time
Slovenia is a modern country however in rural areas one you still see people working on small farms giving more of a family run feel than agricultural monopolies. When the hay rack remains an iconic symbol of a country you know some of the best traditions have been preserved.
In the 19th century Slovenian farmers developed ‘frontboards’ (called panjske koncnice) for their hives. These elaborate murals were felt to help the bees find their way back home. Colorful beehives still dot the land.
Well maintained roads
The roads and infrastructure of the country are in good shape providing a smooth ride. Quiet back roads, where in most countries one would expect gravel or dirt, are fully paved in Slovenia.
Small family run hotels and inns
Throughout our cycling tour we stayed in quaint lodgings that were immaculately clean. (Let’s face it everything is Slovenia is clean so no surprise.)
Accounting for less than 0.004% of the planet’s surface, Slovenia is home to more than 24,000 animal species. Over one third of the country’s land is protected sustaining it’s biodiversity.
Slovenian cuisine is a mixture of central European cuisine (especially Austrian and Hungarian), the Mediterranean and Balkan. Due to the variety of Slovenian cultural and natural landscapes, there are more than 40 distinct regional cuisines. No issues with getting enough to eat when you cycle Slovenia!
The famous Cremeschnitte cream slices of Bled are shown above. Over 10 million have been made in the pastry workshop of Hotel Park.
With almost 3,000 churches, religious monuments and chapels in this small country, Slovenia ranks as one of the countries with the largest number of religious buildings per capita in Europe.
Diversity of Landscape
Slovenia is the only country in Europe that combines the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pannonian Plain and the Karst. Rivers, lakes, gorges, meadows and mountains await.
60% of the country covered in green makes Slovenia Europe’s third most forested country. Each year Slovenia plants over one million trees and this are one of the only countries in the world where the forests are increasing in size.
Slovenia has many fascinating festivals including the Cabbage Festival and Bean Day. During our cycle Slovenia tour came upon a festival in the town of Kamnik. While awaiting the accordion competition, local vendors offered up their wares.
Farming antiques, war memorabilia, baskets, cheese wheels the size of my bike and for those feeling they would like an extra challenge while cycling, wood chip furnaces were available.
Slovenia is one of Europe’s richest countries in Europe in terms of water. The country boasts almost 27,000 kilometers of streams, and rivers along with multiple thermal springs.
We began to joke that it must be law in Slovenia that every single window of every single building have a flower box in full bloom. My lack of green thumb would be a serious problem in this quaint and charming land.
When is the best time to cycle Slovenia?
With August comes dry weather and sunny days which make any visitor happy, especially if you are cycling. With harvest underway expect fresh produce to be widely served. Chuck and Judy always lead this tour and they tell me the reasons is they can’t imagine a year without visiting Slovenia.
When we receive requests from those looking to do their first international bike tour, Slovenia is the country we recommend. A support vehicle is close by for any challenging climbs and the majority of the riding happens on quiet flat roads or gently rolling hills in the midst of sensational scenery.
The country itself is like walking through a fairy tale. Safe, clean, quiet and if you watch very closely Rapunzel may throw her hair out a castle window.
More information on cycling Slovenia with Judy and Chuck of Nichols Expeditions is here.
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Our cycling tour in Slovenia was not sponsored by Nichols Expeditions. We paid for the trip in full. We will will be working with Nichols in the fall of 2016 on a sea kayaking trip off the coast of Baja Mexico for which we have received a discount. Photo#1 and map courtesy Nichols Expeditions.