Slovenia. I knew little about this small, young country beyond its geographical importance during WWI and subsequent service as Hemingway’s canvas in A Farewell to Arms. Ever since the breakup of Yugoslavia and Slovenia’s formation as an independent state, I have wanted to visit. Indeed, anyone who has ever been raves about its natural beauty. So earlier this summer during a work trip to Germany, I decided I would bring my bike along and head to Slovenia after the trade show was finished.
I had no concrete plans, other than to loosely follow the Slovenia route on Bikepacking.com that heads up into the Julian Alps. After catching a cheap EasyJet flight from Berlin to Ljubljana, I found a local cafe and set about researching all the places I wanted to visit. Similar to my Eurovelo trip through Germany, my plan was to use Ride with GPS each night to map out my route for the next day, and then figure out accommodation depending on where I would end up. I had six days to explore before my return flight to Berlin, with one day reserved for cruising around Ljubljana and prepping the bike.
But the first order of business was to actually fix my bike. EasyJet baggage handlers did a number on my trusty adventure partner, severely bending the rear derailleur hanger and one of the rotors. Thankfully through the help of some local cyclists, I found Veb Company a few miles outside of the city center. They kept my bike for the afternoon and returned it to me as good as new. All for the price of €7. When I seemed a bit surprised at the low price, one of the mechanics replied, “Welcome to Eastern Europe.”
While bike repairs might be extremely affordable, I found everything else to be somewhat expensive, especially accommodation. That may have something to do with my visit during the high summer season. And while there are more than enough opportunities to camp in order to cut down on costs, I didn’t want to drag my full camping setup along on a work trip to Europe.
Slovenia is an extremely easy country to bike around as a solo female, not only because it’s one of the safest countries in the world, but also because pretty much everyone speaks English. The EU-funded roads are in great shape, and you can choose from a bunch of bike paths, small back roads, trails, and endless gravel roads for riding. And did I mention the scenery is perpetually stunning?
Slovenia is a mountainous country so get ready to climb. But it’s also one of the most forested countries in Europe so that means shady trees giving way to alpine lakes, rushing rivers that create deep gorges, and tumbling waterfalls to distract you from your suffering.
The first destination on my list was Lake Bled — an almost fairytale-like aqua-blue lake complete with medieval castle perched on the side of a cliff and a Baroque church floating on a small island in the center. I left Ljubljana early so as to have the afternoon to hike and ride around the lake and even go for a quick swim in its cold but inviting waters. While quite touristy downtown, I stayed further along the shores of the lake from Bled and fell asleep to the sound of nothing but church bells and wind blowing in off the water — #lakelife at its finest.
My next destination was Bovec, in the heart of the Soča Valley and on the other side of the infamous 1611-meter-high Vršič Pass. On the ride into Kranjska Gora on the northern side of the pass, I followed the D-2 bike path for a dozen or so miles as it wound its way along the Sava River valley floor, flanked by mountains on either side. The path was filled with bike riders of all abilities, leaving me longing once again for something similar back in the US. After a quick double espresso and sandwich stop in the bustling alpine-resort town, I set off to tackle the dreaded Vršič. With an almost consistent grade of 14% and 24 cobblestone switchbacks to the top, the climb is no easy feat, especially with a loaded bike.
After a tiny Coke celebration at the official summit sign, it was all downhill to Bovec through some of the most stunning scenery found anywhere in Europe. The striking emerald waters of the Soča River carve their way through the jagged peaks of the Julian Alps, the mountains gently escorting the river on all sides along its journey to the Adriatic. Sadly, all this beauty hides a violent past. Between 1915 and 1917, millions of soldiers met their deaths on the Isonzo Front, a living hell illuminated through Hemingway’s words. I pulled into the mini-Chamonix town of Bovec just before a late afternoon thunderstorm opened up the skies, a ritual repeated over a century to slowly wash away the memories of the blood-soaked ground below.
Day three’s destination was Gorizia, just over the border into Italy, and where the Soča River widens dramatically before reaching its final destination. This was not my favorite day as much of the route followed a well-traveled road, but a small detour up into the Goriška Brda wine region before crossing the border settled my somewhat frazzled nerves. Unlike Germany where everything is shut on Sunday, I found out the hard way that Monday serves as the day of rest in Italy. I pulled into town late in the afternoon to find no one around, nothing open, and even the hotel I had booked the night before completely boarded up. After a frantic ride around the city, I finally found a random Best Western to lay my head for the night with a receptionist who told me about a pizza place/bar that would be open later. Evening saved.
With that surreal night in Italy behind me, I crossed back into Slovenia to spend the day exploring the gravel roads that wind through the mountains of Trnovo Forest. Think tiny alpine villages, rows of colorful honey bee hives, and vast wildflower fields. And while I didn’t partake in any spelunking myself, there are plenty of limestone caves to explore in this region as well, the most famous being Postojna.
On my final day, I made quick work back to Ljubljana, where I packed up my bike, before celebrating with a glass of Slovenian sparkling wine at my favorite wine bar along the river Ljubljanica. During my week-long solo bike adventure, I only covered a small slice of the country. But I already know I will be back to explore more. And if anyone wants to join me this time around, the first Laško is on me.
If you Go
Getting there: EasyJet offers cheap flights from almost anywhere in Europe.
Airport pickup: As I had my bike bag with me, I wrote to Airtrail Slovenia to arrange pickup service in an appropriate size car. My driver on the ride back to the airport at the end of my trip was an avid cyclist and told me all the great riding places I missed on my tour. Typical. So needless to say, I am already planning my return.
Where to stay and eat: Check out my guide to Ljubljana over on Everyday Voyager for ideas on where to stay and what to do in the capital. Other noteworthy places I stayed along the route were Vila Bled (I could move in here permanently) and Hotel Dobra Vila in Bovec.