Slovenia: Cycling, Cuisine and Culture - Skipping About the Continent - CycleBlaze

July 15, 2022

Slovenia: Cycling, Cuisine and Culture

Cycling

I highly recommend cycling in Slovenia, with the caveat that it may not be for everyone. It is a small country, slightly larger than the US state of New Jersey, with diverse terrains and landscapes – ranging from the high peaks of the Julian Alps to the Pannonian plain in the east/northeast regions bordering Croatia and Hungary. However, the vast majority of the country is hilly or mountainous, and I found myself often lamenting that “there is no flat in Slovenia.”

The highest elevations are in the north, along the Austrian border, where you find both the Julian and Kamnik-Savinja Alps as well as the Karawank chain and the Pohorje massif. I did some riding in the Julian Alps the first week and was sorry that my broken derailleur hanger caused me to shorten my time there. This region has the highest number of tourists, and for good reason – soaring peaks, Alpine lakes, high meadows and, for the touring cyclist, many small roads and some dedicated cycle paths. Highlights included a ride through the Radovna Valley and along the Soča River between Tomlin to Kobarid.

 Slovenia has several wine regions that are well worth visiting. The Vipava valley is tucked between the Trnovo Forest and Karst Plateaus, not far from the Italian border. It has a more Mediterranean feel, whereas the wine region of the Jeruzalem Hills in eastern Slovenia is lush and green, at least in late June. I spent three nights in each region had wonderful day rides on the extensive network of small roads that wind up and along the vineyards, past the small wineries and settlements that populate the hillsides. Both regions are highly recommended – and stay for the day rides!

 Before I began the trip, I felt that Slovenia might be at the edge of my comfort zone as a solo cyclist – a little outside the more familiar and popular routes of France, Germany and Italy that I’d previously done. And this proved to be the case. There were several long stretches on unpaved roads through forests where I was essentially alone in the wilderness, or so it seemed. Sometimes this was unnerving (i.e. the Soča River Trail south of Most Na Soči), while sometimes it was exhilarating (the ride to Kočevje was one of my favorite of the tour).

 I really enjoyed the second half of the trip in eastern Slovenia, although it was perhaps the most challenging, due in part to the ongoing heat wave. I had some initial trouble finding good cycling routes, but local advice/maps at bike shops and Tourist information centers proved to be very helpful. The regions of Lower Carniola (Dolenjska), Styria and Prekmurje are the less populated areas of Slovenia, with several low-traffic regional highways as well as smaller paved roads that are ideal for cycling. I passed through a number of small, interesting towns, ate at some great restaurants, and met some very welcoming people. But what I loved most was the landscape – narrow river basins flanked by a near-continuous succession of hills, each draped with small red-roofed settlements and covered with alternating patterns of crops and forest. There were few tourists and, as far as I could tell, almost no other Americans. It felt like I was discovering something, both in my surroundings and in myself. And that’s what great journeys are all about.

Map of Slovenia showing location of historical regions and terrain features. By en:User:Andrei nacu - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6337041
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Peaks of the Julian Alps
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Lake Bled
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Lake Bohinj
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The Radovna Valley
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On the road to Kobarid
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Vipava Valley
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Vineyards of the Jeruzalem Hills
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On the Soča River Trail, through the gorge south of Most Na Soči
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On the way to Kovečje
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Southeastern Slovenia
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Southeastern Slovenia
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Southeastern Slovenia
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Cuisine

Slovenian cuisine ranges from the simple dumpling (štruklji) to the inspired creations of Ana Rös in the hills of the Soča River Valley. Breakfasts almost always included sausages and grilled vegetables while evening meals often put a modern spin on traditional foods. In most every town I visited there was a small restaurant serving high-end meals at very reasonable prices. Regional specialities I sampled included cottage cheese štruklji, vanilla ice cream with pumpkin oil and pumpkin seeds, Tolmin cheese, Bled cream cakes, buckwheat mousse and a large variety of locally procured meats and fish, including prosciutto, lamb, and pikeperch. I ate well, sometimes extraordinarily well.

Traditional cottage cheese štruklji with pesto
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First course at Hiša Franko - celeriac, truffle, milk skin and butter milk powder
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Culture

I didn’t go to many museums, churches, or castles and so am not going to comment too much on the historic, religious, artistic, or political culture of Slovenia. But I did spend some time talking to Slovenes of all ages and from several walks of life. In general, Slovenes seem to be proud of their country, land, and heritage. Slovenia was the first country to declare independence from Yugoslavia, and though some still yearn for the days under Tito, most are excited for the future. They take pride in hard work and seem undaunted by challenges. The natural beauty of Slovenia is also a point of pride - they love the outdoors and many are avid participants in outdoor activities. Cycling is very popular, starts at an early age, and is clearly a family activity.

Slovenes don’t necessarily meet you with a smile - they might seem a bit wary at first, at the very least non-committal. But once engaged, I found them to be friendly and generous. Many went out of their way to help me and/or offer valuable advice; others just pointed me in the right direction with a smile and a wish for a good day. Their the good humor and generous spirit greatly enhanced my time in Slovenia.

The Bike Shop Cerknica crew - Tine, Polona, and Nejc
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Anita, Tourist Information Center, Kostanjevica na Krki
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Aljez, a huge sports fan
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Woman farmer near Jeruzalem
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Cycling, a big part of Slovenian culture
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Mary Lou BellWonderful description of the country, the people, the scenery and biking. I continue to be amazed at all Susan does with such charm and courage. An amazing person and great chronicler of her journey.
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