I fell in love with Slovenia after my first trip there and couldn’t wait to return with my son. We had booked an Abercrombie & Kent small group departure in Croatia and based on its proximity, and this was a perfect opportunity to share this Adriatic gem with my son. We both enjoy hiking, fly fishing and experiencing the local culture and history firsthand, and I knew he would love it as much as my first experience.
With just three days set aside to explore Slovenia, we collected our rental car in Zagreb and headed for the border. I consider myself more of a passenger, but this was my trip to take the driver seat! An international driver’s license is required as well as a vignette, which is a toll sticker you place on your windshield. We stopped at the first petrol station to purchase this and we were on our way with passports in hand. Crossing the border was a breeze and I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of driving and finding my way, with the help of my co-pilot of course!
We had downloaded the directions and made our way to Kendov Dvorec. This little gem is set upon a hill overlooking the classic village of Idrija with its iconic European church steeple. As you approach the drive, you feel like you are a local pulling into a residence rather than a hotel. We were greeted at the door and our bags were whisked upstairs to our rooms.
We had just enough time to take a quick stroll through town before settling into cocktails and dinner. Being Relais and Châteaux dining at Kendov Dvorec is something special. We made our selections from the tasting menu making sure to sample some of their specialties such as the local dumplings, zlikrofi, a crescent-shaped Slovenian ravioli generally filled with a savory mixture of bacon, potatoes and chives. With little knowledge of Slovenian wines, we opted for the tasting menu with wine pairings and were impressed with the options presented with each course. I should not have been surprised with the quality given the terroir and the wines produced by their Italian neighbors just a few hours away. The Goriska Brda wine region is sometimes referred to as the “Tuscany of Slovenia.” This was a perfect way to end our first day in Slovenia.
The area around Idrija is well known for mercury mining and its lacemaking. The craft of bobbin lace-making in Idrija dates back more than 300 years and you will find many samples throughout the property or you can visit the local museum to learn more.
The following day, we made our way to the site of the 1917 Battle of Caporetto (today is known as Kobarid). The valley of Soča (Isonzo) was the stage of 12 battles between Italians and the Austro-Hungarian empire between May 1915 and November 1917, in what was a battlefield of extraordinary proportions even for WWI. There is a WWI museum in town well worth the visit documenting the battle in the area.
This area also allows access to the Walk of Peace, a UNESCO heritage historical hiking trail from the Alps to the Adriatic. We hiked a seven-mile section that takes you through the Kobarid National Park looping back around to the town. As we crossed the swing bridge over the Soča river, we could not wait for the fishing day ahead of us.
The town of Kobarid is ideally located for anglers wishing to fish the Soča. The hotel in town, Hotel Hvala, caters to fishermen and even has a dedicated drying room for your gear. Besides the restaurant attached to the hotel, there are a few other casual dining establishments within walking distance. Not too far from town, however, is Hisa Franko. The Slovenian chef, Ana Ros was recently named World’s Best Female Chef 2017 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Not too bad for a country with its world-renowned culinary neighbors!
We were up early to meet our guide, Rok, to gear up and get out on the river. The Soca River is probably the most famous alpine river in Slovenia, and rightly so, with its very different tributaries. Set in breathtaking scenery overlooking the Julian Alps, it is home to the most fascinating and elusive fish species in the world – the marble trout – as well as Adriatic grayling and rainbow trout. Marble trout, which originally evolved from the brown trout, is only indigenous species of trout in the Adriatic (western) part of the river system in Slovenia.
It was a thrill to see Jeremy and his guide stalking and finally landing a beautiful marble, and certainly the highlight of the trip.
The Soča is also a popular river for other water sports and we saw a number of kayakers paddle past us throughout the day. Being an alpine stream, the water temperatures were cool and the locals were enjoying a refreshing swim in one area. As they lined up to take the plunge, it looked like a dare or lost bet as they jumped in and quickly made their way back to shore! Me, I was glad that I was in waders!
Our last night was spent in Bled, a picturesque little town within the Julian Alps set upon the glacial Lake Bled. The island with St. Mary’s Church in the middle of the lake is probably one of the most iconic images when you picture Slovenia. It is possible to take a gondola-like boat called a Pletna over to the island to ring the wishing bell in the church. Also be sure to try the vanilla-and-cream pastry called kremna rezina or kremšnita.
As we made our way back to Zagreb, we made a quick detour to stroll through the capital city of Ljubljana. Most of the core of the downtown area is pedestrianized along the Ljubljanica River with its tree-lined riverside walks. There are a number of bridges spanning the river built by native architect Jože Plečnik including the notable Triple Bridge and Dragon Bridge. After a walk along the river, we enjoyed a light lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes by the river. I could’ve spent the afternoon taking in the beautiful city, but we had just a few hours before meeting our group this evening for the welcome reception.
In addition to the great fishing, the incredible scenery and the amazing history, it’s one of the best values for travel in Europe.
By: Kristene Fitzgerald