When I think of Slovenia, my first thought is of the famous Lake Bled or skiing in the Alps. But there's so much more to this magical country and we wanted to find out what treasures we could uncover.
When Airbnb kindly picked up the tab on our recent trip to this wonderful place, we knew we needed to make the most of our stay and we wanted to explore the capital city of Ljubljana as much as possible, but also go off the beaten track a bit and see what other hidden gems we could find.
It really is a mesmerising land with so much to do whether you're an adrenaline junkie to a foodie - there's something for everyone.
As a family with 2 older kids, we wanted to explore the country but also have a relaxed break where we spent valuable time with one another and reconnect. With the kids busy with school and friends and Jim and I stressed out with work, this was a chance to come together and just relax in each others company again.
The kids are 13 and 10 so we needed to plan some activities to spike their interest, although we needn't have worried as Slovenia has so much to offer.
We based ourselves in Ljubljana, the capital which is a picturesque vibrant city full of gorgeous restaurants, amazing sights and above all generous and hospitable people. We stayed in a lovely central Airbnb and our host was one of the most warm hearted and helpful people i've met. Nothing was too much trouble, she was a total dream. The property was perfect for our family of 4. Located just below the castle in the old town near to everything but still quiet at night, it was well equipped, spotlessly clean and had a beautiful outlook over the market and the river beyond.
For our first night in this city, we explored Ljubljana and went out for a traditional Slovenian meal where we sampled some of the most unusual but delicious dishes that we all loved. After a walk around the old town and over the Dragon Bridge, we returned to our Airbnb for a lovely comfortable nights sleep.
For our first full day, we got up and walked along the river to where we were meeting our SUP guide booked through Bananaway. None of us had been paddle boarding before, but we were all so excited to start our tour up the river. Ljubljana is currently the only European capital that offers stand up paddle boarding through the heart of the town and the experience was relaxed and friendly and gave us the most amazing views of the castle, architecture and hustle and bustle of the streets.
Both the kids were able to have their own board and we were a bit concerned that the 2 hour round trip would be too much for them, but all of us were surprised at how easy the activity was (once we got our initial balance)! Under the Dragon bridge, our instructor tested us with some yoga moves and of course, I went a bit too far and fell in! Luckily it was a hot day so the cool water was a welcome relief!
Paddle boarding is the perfect activity for older kids. They loved having their own paddle and board and were really proud of themselves when they realised they could easily do it on their own. Plus they really enjoyed the sights of the city from the peaceful river.
After our paddle boarding adventure, we spent the rest of the day exploring more of Ljubljana. We enjoyed a yummy gelato by the river, people watched at Prešeren Square and took the funicular railway up to the incredible Ljubljana castle that sits high on the hill overlooking the city below. The castle's outlook tower offers spectacular views over the city plus there's a wonderful puppet museum where the kids can practice their puppeteering and see some of the fantastic traditional puppets that Slovenia is known for. There's also a cafe, 2 restaurants and even a nightclub on the site. Plus there are regular entertainment events and open air screenings held under the stars during the summer months.
For our evening meal the kids wanted... you guessed it BURGERS!!! Slovenia isn't just about goulash, cheese and dumplings. No, Ljubljana has a host of restaurants serving all sorts of international food including delicious Pizza (we had that for our final night), simple toasties and even ribs and chicken. The burgers we had at a gorgeous riverside burger bar called Pops Place were seriously the best i'd ever eaten! For pudding we ventured down the road to Romeo - an eatery on the river selling the best Crepes in town - by recommendation from our Airbnb host.
The next day we wanted to see a bit more of Slovenia, so we caught a train from the central train station all the way across the country to Postojna Caves. The journey took just over an hour and was a fabulous way to sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery. The train took us through pretty towns, around mountains and through low clouds. When we arrived in Postojna it was a 15 minute walk through the town to the cave.
Postojna cave is a subterranean world full of stalactites and stalagmites with passages and galleries abundant with incredible speleothem cave formations. These formations take centuries to grow just 1cm, so growth is measured in millions of years. A ride aboard a cave train took us deep into the caves through narrow slits between dripstones, past secret cave paths and rock layers. A web of passages awaited us when we disembarked the train revealing millions of years in the history of our planet - an incredible experience.
After taking the train back up to the surface, we got a bus to take us 9km down the road to Predjama Castle. Situated in the middle of a towering cliff, this magnificent castle is what fairytales are made of and took our breath away at first sight.
We each picked up a free audio guide at the entrance (available in 14 different languages) and wandered through the castle while the audio guide explained the history, how it was built, the weaponry and armoury and the renovation. It was incredible to see how the natural cave and man-made walls are interwoven so seamlessly and how the terrain around the castle acted as a great defence back in its day.
After our tour we sat overlooking the castle discussing the history and beauty of the site before the heavens opened and we ran to the safety of the bus and back to the train station. Our train journey back to Ljubljana took us through such low clouds that we felt like we were flying and we were once more astounded by the sheer beauty of this wonderful country.
Our last day in the city revolved around shopping and eating. We wanted to gather some souvenirs from our stay, so we ambled around the array of pretty boutiques and gift shops picking up a few wares on the way. We also tasted our first ice-cream rolls which are a new street food phenomenon using a blend of sweet milk and different toppings poured onto an extremely cold (-35ºc) steel surface - a yummy treat for a hot day!
After a light lunch we said our final goodbyes to this vibrant and exciting city with it's cobbled streets and beautiful architecture, and headed to the airport. Slovenia is one place we will never forget. Friendly, incredibly clean, accessible and exciting, there is so much more to explore and we hope to return very soon. And when we do, we'll be booking another Airbnb to stay in, the vast choice that they have on their site is amazing and suits every budget too.