We were glad that we arrived in Slovenia early because there is so much to explore in Ljubljana, the capital city — from the typical church and gelato stands to the unusual archeological ruins and the Dragon Bridge.
Ljubljana has a huge park in the middle of this medium-sized city and a romantic river running through its center. In fact, it was named the European Green Capital in 2016. Given that we were on an adventure to see the natural and historical wonders of Slovenia, a splinter of the once-Yugoslavia, Ljubljana was a great place to start.
But, we were here to bike. Buses, trains and cars are great for getting from one great site to another, but what about all the nooks and crannies in between?
Piran – The Venice of Eastern Europe
A bike tour is slow enough to savior the smells and stop for a photo on a whim, but faster and easier than walking the same 200-mile route.
We had searched for a tour company who supported a moderately-paced adventure, focused on a bit of exercise and plenty of interesting places to stop. We found Macs Adventure. This British-based company had the same mission that we did, sponsoring treks, bikes and other supported jaunts throughout the world.
In this case, Macs Adventure sponsored a Slovenian bike tour company called Helia to supply and guide us through Slovenia. Who else but a company of native cyclists could send us off on a 200-mile journey on our own?
Who else knows how to traverse town and countryside with hardly a kilometer on a highway or busy street? It was such a pleasure to coast along obscure bike paths and connect to quiet back roads, avoiding narrow shoulders and loud vehicles. There is nothing like biking with the smell of hay or coniferous tress in your nose instead of car and truck exhaust.
For a reasonable cost, Helia set us up with bikes, odometers, day packs, a map, and a route including information about places to see along the way. As you might expect, they also booked our hotels for the 7 nights of our bike tour.
But wait! That is not the best part. The best part is that they transported our luggage from one hotel to the next. Oh, heaven! What a wonder it was to ride up to the hotel after a long day of sun and scenery only to see our suitcases waiting next to the reception desk. What a pleasure the bike rides were because we didn’t have to lug our 8 days of clothes, toiletries and accessories on the back of our bikes, up and down every hill.
Nor did we have to think twice about where to park our bikes while we stopped for lunch at a local bistro, a swim in a town lake or a tour of the Karst caves. A light pannier with an extra layer of clothes, drinking water, snacks, passport, a wallet and sunscreen was all we carried.
Slovenia is a perfect size to bike. Although the country is about the size of New Jersey, it is much more diverse, from the Alps in the north to the Adriatic in the South, with rolling hills, small farms, old villages and beautiful lakes dotting the interior.
As is the case for every international adventure, “so much to see and so little time.” We only had 10 days. (The tour package was 8 days and 7 nights. But, as I indicated above, we tacked on a couple days at the beginning and end so we didn’t feel rushed.) How to choose! Helia offered a great route that avoided the lung-popping, leg-burning ride through the Alps. Thus, we did not see the famous Lake Bled either. Instead we toured the southern region.
The accommodations arranged by the bike tour company were quite nice. Sometimes we had a great view in a hotel on the main plaza and other times it was a cozy room in an old inn.
Let me tell you about one hotel in particular. It is a bit of an aside. But, being the nature lover that I am, I was in awe of the very modern Hotel M, adorned with sleek decorations and environmentally-conscious features.
In order to ensure that guests did not leave fossil-fuel-burning utilities on when they were not in the room, we had to leave our room key in a special slot so the light switches and air conditioner gauge would work. Even then, the air conditioner would not turn on unless the window was closed. Hotel guests generally don’t concern themselves with wasting resources while on vacation.
This state-of-the art solution meant the guests could go about their vacations knowing that they were be environmentally responsible automatically. I imagine it reduced the cost of running the hotel as well. Bonus — I can leave my tent behind!
Breakfast was greatly superior to the “complimentary breakfast” one would see in US chain hotels where the cereal is sugared and the hot food is under cooked. In fact, we had to be careful to not eat too much of the Slovenian sausages, pates or pasties for fear that that first hill of the day’s pedal would stop you in your tracks.
Helia knows how to plan a perfectly balanced adventure and Macs Adventures knows how to pick the best to offers.
During our 6 days on the road, we took in the diversity of this little gem of a country, from historical cosmopolitan cities of pre-and post communist rule to the untouched nature in national parks, from Karst caves glittering with mineral sculptures to the famous white dancing horses at the Lipizzaner Farm, from ancient castles full of stories of intrigue to agri-tourismos serving home-made world-class wine, and from the salt flats bordering Croatia to the most charming city in Europe, resting for centuries along the Adriatic Sea.
Wait, what? The most charming city in Europe is in Slovenia? Who knew? I won’t let the cat all the way out of the bag. You will just have to bike to the Slovenian coast to find it for yourself.