Picturesque villages, medieval castles, hundreds of hills, a spot of caving, new friends and even a beer fountain – never a dull moment as I cycled my way to beautiful Ljubljana. The morning I set off I was in Austria and just 30km from the border with Slovenia, and about 180km north of it’s capital city – Ljubljana. However, I wasn’t planning on cycling directly there and would be taking the scenic route.
The village that I had camped the night before was Bairisch Kolldorf and they had what must be the best fire station in the worldIs that not just brilliant.
As normal, I tried to avoid using the main road to get to the border and instead stuck to side roads and tracksUp on the hill to my right was a beautiful looking hill town but to be honest I had seen a fair few during my time in Austria and was looking forward to a change of scenery once I crossed the border into Slovenia !!!
The landscape to the border was totally flat and I was cycling through crops and farming communities
One of the villages had the best pondI think that one of the villager’s hobby must have been boat building.The border with Slovenia in this part of the country is the River MurOnce I found the river I stopped for lunch at the next village I passed with a café
This would be my last meal in Austria and I asked them to make me something ‘traditional’A bit random – sausage with baked potato and sour cream. Still, it was very tasty.
After lunch I followed the river west through an area of forest as I went in search of a bridge to cross it.
Instead of a bridge I found a funky lookout tower over the River Mur
The view from the top was lovelyAlthough it looked like there would be a couple of hills to cross once I found a bridge.
I was effectively stuck to this side of the river as I continued my search for a bridge
The tracks became very rough but eventually led me to a crossing pointAgain, as both countries are part of the ‘Schengen’ agreement there were no border controls.
As soon as I crossed the border it was time to climb over the ridge line that I had seen earlier from the viewing tower
It was one steep little puppy and by the time I reached the top I had a great view back down over AustriaOnce over the top of the climb it was like being in a different world – where the ride to the border had been completely flat this part of Slovenia was one hill after anotherI was soon into what I will call a classic Slovenian climb – very very steep and fairly long
With a long rolling descent on the other sideFor the rest of the afternoon I climbed, then descended, then climbed again. All the time my constant ‘companions’ on the road were cows and the sound of cow bellsIn New Zealand, the cows had ‘chased’ me whenever I passed their field. Slovenian cows in comparison were on Prozac – I was lucky if I got a couple of ‘dongs’ on the bell around their necks as I cycled past.
As the sun was setting I arrived in to the city of Maribor.
If this was the standard of Slovenian cities my time here was going to be fantastic.
In one of the plaza’s there was a Jazz band playing so I went and sat with the locals and enjoyed a beer.I never know what a village/town/city is going to be like until I get there as I never read reviews (often I have no idea that I will actually be cycling through them before I arrive!!!). Maribor had a great feel to it, so I decided that I would stick around for a couple of nights.
After enjoying the concert I cycled out of the city and into the forest to find a place to sleep. As I did so the weather looked like I was going to get very wet.Luckily, the storm pushed through without giving me too much of a drenching.
The next morning the sky was blue and the sun was shiningAs I was staying in Maribor for another night I decided that I would take a hotel room so that I could leave my bike and kit somewhere and go for a wander around the city.
On my cycle back into the city centre I passed a sign for a place to stay which was over the top of a bathroom showroom.Now, I thought that it shouldn’t be that expensive and when I called in and asked they said it would be 20 Euros (16 GBP). If this had been in Austria I would have probably paid 60 or 70 GBP.
Once I had put my kit in the room I cycled the couple of Kilometers into the historic centre of the city which lined the north side of the River Drava.
First job though was to find a SIM card as I was in a new country. When I asked people (in Slovenia the second language that kids learn at school is English) they all said that the carrier with the best mobile coverage was Telecom Slovenije, and that I should visit a place called ‘Europark’ where there was an office
Europark turned out to be a huge shopping centre and I soon found the officeI didn’t need to change any money as, like Austria, Slovenia was in the Euro.
It was now time to be a tourist for the day
The city of Maribor sure was beautiful.
In the afternoon, I called at a hair dressers to get a haircut and trim of the beard but it was going to be 10 euro. A bit steep so I cycled to a supermarket to see how much a set of clippers was – just 9 euro.
It was time to cycle back to my hotel to be my own barberOnce I had trimmed, showered and changed it was time for a Saturday night out.
I left the bike at the hotel and walked through beautiful parks back into the city centre
All around town café’s and bars were setting up bug screensI asked the waiter at one of the bars what was going on, and he looked at me confused, as though I was slightly crazy, and said “It’s the Champions League, don’t you know”, shook his head at me and walked off.
Well, that’s tonight’s entertainment sorted.At halftime, I left the main square and went in search of food. It was great being back in a city !!!!
The football turned out to be a bit of a one sided affair, but what I loved was that everybody seemed to be supporting Juventus.
The locals that I spoke to said that this was because Italy was their nearest neighbours. Quite refreshing as being English I am used to Welsh, Scotiish and Irish friends (and my Irish wife !!!) always seeming to support the opposition when England play any form of sport.
It was a great night and the next day I needed a few black coffee’s to get going in the morning. As I wasn’t in the forest I was back to making coffee in the toilet with the fan on hoping that I wouldn’t set off the fire alarmsMy only real plan in Slovenia was that I didn’t have one. Ljubljana was only 130km from Mirabor, and if I wanted to go directly there I could have easily of arrived that night. However, as I was now in holiday mode my route through Slovenia would probably look a bit like a drunken sailor who had made port after 6 months at sea.
On my way out of the city I needed to till up on petrol and for 50 cents I would have enough fuel to cook and make coffee for another couple of weeks.
It was then time to get out of the city and back into the tranquility of the countrysideI was soon back onto the tracks that I like
It was another beautiful morning to be on the bike
At lunchtime I stopped a bakery in one of the villages that I passed through
Before continuing my ride south without any real route planIt was a glorious day to be on the bike
As the evening beckoned I arrived at the village of Slovenska BistricaI stopped at a café for a beer. For the first time that day I pulled out the map to try to find somewhere to sleep for the night.
On the map there was a lake about 10km away through the forest and that looked like an ideal spot for the night.
After enjoying a lovely cold beer and a quick stop for an ice cream I set off through the forest in search of the lake
Worryingly, when I got to near to the lake I was back on sealed roads
And could hear music being carried on the wind over the hill I was now cycling.My fantastic night on the banks of the lake wasn’t looking so ‘isolated’.
As I arrived at the lake I was met by this:
It seemed that the area surrounding the lake was a kind of community area and that it was being used for the weekend.
As it was the weekend I abandoned the idea of camping by the lake and decided that the forest wood offer me a quieter solution.
As there was a restaurant nearby I cycled there to get something to eat
Before cycling out into the forest for the night, which thankfully I had to myselfThe next morning I didn’t fancy cold porridge for breakfast so I packed up the tent and stopped at the first village I passed
Breakfast that day was breads with a selection of cold meats, fruit juice and strong black coffee.All for 4 GBP – I was loving cycling through Slovenia.
It was now time to get on with cycling south and I kind of had a plan – the staff at the restaurant had said that 20km away in the town of Celje there was a beautiful castle that I should visit.
The road there had been like my previous couple of days cycling in Slovenia – a veritable hillfest.
At the bottom of one of the climbs I met up with Atilla, Ayse and Alev, 2 cyclists from Turkey, that were having difficulty with a kitten. They had made friends with a kitten and now that they had begun another steep climb it was following them up the hill.They were on their way to Croatia, and as the kitten could run faster than they could cycle uphill it seemed like it was going to follow them all the way there.
The only way lose the kitten was to send the girls up the hill while Atilla and I waited with the kitten.I then gently threw the kitten down the bank of the hill, don’t worry cats always land on their feet, and we cycled up and met the girls at the top.The road continued in its usual roller coaster fashion as we cycled together down through open valleys and up over forested hills
Around lunchtime we stopped by the side of the road for a coffee and a bite to eat
It was then time to finish the ride to Celje
At Celje I said goodbye to my cycling buddies as they continued onwards towards Ljubljana and I cycled up to the castle that I had been told was worth seeingAs it was on top of a hill this involved a fairly steep climb on a fully loaded touring bike, but the views when I reached the castle were worth it:
In case you couldn’t be bothered watching me struggle up the climb here a few pics of the castle I found at the top
Perhaps more impressive, sorry castle lovers, were the 360 degree views from the top of the tower
Entry to the castle was 4 euro, and with this you get a 1 euro voucher to spend at the café.Coffee was 1 Euro 10 cents and so effectively I got a coffee for 10 cents (again much cheaper than the 3 or 4 euro a coffee costs in Austria)
While in the café I got talking to the waiter about what I should visit in the area and he said that I should definitely go and see Hells Cave (Jama Pekel) which was about 20km away in Krajinski National Park. Well that was tomorrow’s adventure sorted !!!!
After a fantastic visit to the castle it was time to roll back down the hill, which was far easier!!!!
When I reached the bottom of the hill I now had two choices – to cycle back up into the hills in search of a place to camp in the forest or to cycle through the city and out into the valley. Guess which I opted for?
That night I slept at the edge of a crop field on the outskirts of CeljeThe next day I continued my journey south towards Ljubljana. Once I had packed up the tent I cycled back into the centre of Celje.My plan for the day was to try and cycle along the banks of River Savinja, which ran through the town centre, as far as Zalec where I would leave the river and head into the hills in search of the entrance to Jama Pekel Caves.
As I set off to find the river I stopped along the way to do my weekly shopping as I had run out of basics
My food routine was porridge and a yoghurt for breakfast, a cooked meal or picnic lunch that I bought, and then pasta soup for dinner. Having lived on this diet for over 11 months I still wasn’t bored of it.
When I cycled to the river I discovered that there was more to Celje than the industrial side of the city that I had twice cycled through.The old town was on the banks of the river, and if I had known that it was there the day before I probably would have camped on the river.
After a quick coffee stop I followed the river out of the city
The further I got away from Celje the rougher and narrower the tracks became
I had to eventually abandon the river as I cycled through fields towards the town of Zalec.
This part of the valley was hop country, and for as far as I could see there were fields of hops that were used to make beer
As I cycled into the town centre I saw a sign that was definitely the best sign that I had seen on this tripI just had to go and investigate:
Here is a 4 minute video to explain what I found:
A brilliant idea and every town should have one.
Vojko was the ‘guardian’ of the beer fountain and explained how it had come aboutApparently, a local man had won the country lottery and the taxes on his winnings were paid to the local council where he lived in Zalec. The Mayor of Zalec decided that instead of just putting the money towards improving roads or schools the town would ‘invest’ it in the beer fountain.
It is now a tourist attraction and I wasn’t the only one there. Vasia, a local businessman had brought a couple of his colleagues, Andrea and Mizco, who were visiting from Italy, as part of a business lunch.The fountain has apparently paid for itself many times over with the profits being invested back into improving roads and schools. Genius, I say.After enjoying my 6 beers it was time to say goodbye as I cycled back into the hills and went in search of the caves.
On my way out of the town I stopped at a café for lunch, and judging from all of the trucks and vans parked outside it looked like the food was good.It seemed from food cabinet that vegetarians may struggle to eat
A great feed and all for a couple of euros. With a full belly I cycled out to the hills to find the cavesI soon found the sign that I was looking for and cycled up a stream towards the cave entrance.
A sign said that tours of the cave left on the hour, and as I had just missed a tour I left my bike by the ticket booth and walked up to the onsite café to get a beer.
At 4pm I walked back to the cave entrance to buy my ticket, but as I was the only one waiting Monja, who was one of the guides, told me to wait to see if anybody else turned up as they didn’t run the tour for just one person.
While waiting we got talking about my journey around the world on a bike and the countries that I had been to.
After 15 minutes nobody else had turned up, but Monja said that seeing that I had cycled all the way round the world to visit the cave then she would take me round the cave.
Before we went in she explained how the caves had received the nickname of ‘hells cave’. It was from the silhouette of the ‘devil’ that you can see at the cave entrance. In winter, as there is a stream running through the caves, a fog comes out of the entrance and being under the ‘devil’ it looks like it is coming straight out of ‘hell’.
The cave was split into 2 levels with the lower level following a narrow stream
We then climbed up 40m or so and into a second chamber. This was where the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations were:
Monja and I then continued our ascent through narrow passages towards the exit of the cave
Near the exit there was a still intact stalactite and stalagmite that had met in the middle. An amazing thing to see which must have taken hundreds of thousands of years to accomplish.It was then time to climb our way out back into the forest high above where we had started.
We had been underground for nearly an hour, and the time had flown by. I have visited a few caves on this trip and these were not the longest, nor the biggest or the deepest, but they were without doubt the best ones that I had seen.
Here is a video I shot on the way round:
My thanks must go to Monja for taking me round, as she could have so easily said no as there was just me.
After retrieving my bike I set off back towards Zalec to find somewhere to sleep
I was soon back cycling through fields of hopsand stopped for quick beer.Even the local art installations were bicyclesAfter a very enjoyable beer I cycled back to the river which I had followed earlier that day and set up my tent for the nightThe next day my plan was to get to Ljubljana which shouldn’t be that difficult as where I had camped for the night was only 60km away.
It was a good job that as I wasn’t in any rush as the day started with a steady downpour. Once it stopped I hadn’t bothered to wait for my tent to dry as I wasn’t going to be sleeping in it that night.
I had already arranged to stay with Peter and Andrei who were warmshower hosts. (think couchsurfing but for cyclists). Once I arrived at their house I would be able to hang my tent out to dry for the night.
Although it was overcast when I set off the day steadily improved as I cycled my way through more hops towards the end of the valley that I had been following for the last couple of days.I once again tried to avoid the main roads and cycled through one small village after another
Here is a short video to give you an idea of how picturesque the valley was.
As with all good things they eventually come to an end and this valley was no different.
Standing between me and Ljubljana was a ridgeline that I would need to cross which formed part of the Slovenske Predalpe’s, and it would take me a good hour to climb my way up and over. I stopped in the village of Ceplje which lay at the foot of the climbThere was no café but in the village there was a shopThe great thing about shops in Slovenia is that most have a meat counter, and if they do they will make you a sandwich.
I sat outside in the local churchyard and had a picnic lunchIt was then time to say goodbye to the fields of hops and start the climbHalf way up the climb it started to rain and so I pulled over at a bus shelter to have a coffee and to finish my picnic lunchIt was a good job I stopped as no sooner had I pulled over than the heavens opened
After 30 minutes the worst of the rain had passed and I set off climbing againIt was still spitting but I didn’t bother putting on my wet weather gear as I would soon be wet from sweating as I ground my way up the hillThe higher I climbed the better the view gotThere is something beautiful about the green colours of hills after it has rained, and this day was no different
Despite the effort it took to get to the top I was glad that I had taken this route as I could have taken a different valley further south and avoided this climb.
Once I reached the top of the ridgeline I could nearly touch the cloudsAs I crested the summit the rain had stopped and as the roads were dry I could ‘fly’ down towards the capitalNext to me in the valley was the A1 motorway which was fantastic
The reason it was fantastic was that all of the traffic was on this road as it headed to Ljubljana leaving the main road pretty much to cyclists like myself.
When I reached the outskirts of Ljubljana I stopped for a coffee as Peter and Andrei would not be home until 6pm and so I had about an hour to killI also did something that I hadn’t had to do for a while – I visited an ATM
Slovenia was so cheap when compared to Hungary, Slovakia, and especially Austria. Even with a couple of coffee’s, the odd beer, and eating out once a day I was only spending about 15 euros per day.
As I set off again to finish the last 5km to Ljubljana I passed what was probably the best thing that I had seen so far in Slovenia – a pole dancing cyclist. This 1 minute video will explain what I mean
Now, that was brilliant.
Apparently, this pole is called mlaj, and are erected to celebrate ’round’ birthdays 30,40,50… So probably the owner of the bike shop was say 50 recently, and the figures usually represent the person that is celebrating their birthday, so they are always different. The pole will be there for 50 days, and then another party will be held when they bring the cyclist down.
As I reached the outskirts of Ljubljana the heavens opened once againThis time I put on the wet weather gear and carried on and by the time I reached Peter and Andrei’s house the rain had pretty much stoppedThat night Peter cooked dinner and we spent a great night chatting about routes through the Julian Alps which was where I was headed after I left Ljubljana.
That is the great thing about staying with people who are warmshower hosts – as they are often cyclists themselves they know the best routes through an area, and the location of those hidden gems of routes that all tour cyclists aim to find.
For dessert, Peter cooked pancakes and served them with homemade redcurrent and ginger jam.The jam was fantastic – Christmas in a jam jar.
A fantastic evening – great company, great food, and the rest of my route through Slovenia as I headed into the Julian Alps and onto the Italian Dolomites was sorted.
The next morning I cycled into the centre of Ljubljana with Andrei as he rode to workIt seemed like most of Ljubljana liked to cycle to work and for the first time in Slovenia there was a proper network of cycle lanes which were full of cyclistsAs it was still very early when I reached the historic centre of the city it seemed that the tourists were still in bed and I had the place pretty much to myself.
Outside one of the fancier hotels there was a line of vintage cars which one of the staff said was part of a ‘rally’ through the country
Probably the most famous plaza in Ljubljana is the Presernov Trg, location of the Preseren Monument, and home to the ‘triple bridge’.
The three bridges are constructed of stone with the middle bridge open to traffic and the two out bridges for pedestrians. In the middle of the day the square is full of hundreds of people bit as I was here so early I took advantage of the emptiness and got a pot of coffee on the go and had breakfast.Not sure if I made the local news that evening but while I was eating breakfast a news crew arrived and they were interviewing tourists who were staying in the city at Air BnB properties rather than at hotels.
One of the cameramen stood infront of me and filmed me making breakfast…
The River Ljubljanica flows through the very centre of the old city
and after breakfast I cycled around the ‘northern’ half of the city as I was once again a tourist for the day.
Ljubljana only has a population of about 300,000 and so the historic centre of the city is not huge, but it is still stunning with beautiful vistas around every corner
Perhaps one of the more bizarre sights was a car whose owner it seemed was a bit of a DIY buffI have no idea why the car was parked on the street.
After enjoying my cycle around the centre of old town there was only one thing to do – cycle up to the castle on the hill over looking the city.To avoid the traffic on the hill I cycled up the walking track which wound itself around the hill up to the top
It certainly was a very steep climb, and by the time I reached the base of the castle I was puffed.I didn’t pass too many people walking up the path as it seemed that most tourists either arrived by bus or took the funicular railway to the topWhen I’m in a city I tend to wear my normal ‘day’ clothes, rather than cycling gear, and as I had left so early that morning my cycling kit was not dry from where I had hand washed them the night before.
So, while I enjoyed the view and made a coffee I hung them out to finish drying.While waiting from below in the city I could hear musicians rehearsing. I asked one of the locals what it was, and they said that in the evening there was a free concert in the main square.
That seemed like a good reason to stay, and so I decided that I may as well have a second night in the city.
As the sun was shining it didn’t take long to finish drying my clothes and once I had packed away it was time to get on with visiting the castle. The castle has undergone many ‘refurbishments’ since it was first constructed in the 11th century. Just inside the entrance way there was a display about what the castle should have looked like after its last ‘rebuild’ at the start of the 15th century.
The first picture below is an aerial photo of what it looks like today and the second is the architects impression of what he originally wanted to build.
It seemed that the plans had to be severely modified when they ran out of money!!!
Entry into the main courtyard is free and today it is home to a couple of fancy cafes and restaurants. To access the main tower I needed to pay, but as I still have a student card it was only a couple of euros.Probably the most impressive thing about the tower was the beautiful iron staircase that wound its way upwardsIf only I could afford a house to have one of these.
Once at the top the view of the city was magnificent
It was then time to visit the rest of the castle. First stop was the church Then it was onto the jail, which was only apparently opened in 1815 to satisfy the demand for a place to house prisoners which emerged after the introduction of a modern criminal justice system a few years earlier. Perhaps the ‘weirdest’ thing on display was a collection of buttons which had been carved out of human bonesThe larger pieces are the bones which the button circles were carved out of, and in the circles are the finished buttons. Why anybody would want to own these is beyond me.
After a great morning at the castle I cycled back down the hill to go and see what delights the ‘southern’ side of the river had to offer
It was then time for lunch, and it wasn’t hard to find a place to stop as there were literally hundreds of cafes.
I chose one which was away from the river as the prices seemed to be much cheaperI still needed to find a place to stay for the night as the only campsite in the city was about 5 or 6km to the north. I asked the waitress if she could recommend somewhere cheap and she said that one of her friends rented out the top of their house.
This sounded ideal and when she phoned them it was free that night.
She gave me directions and I cycled out to the house
It turned out that they had converted their attic into an apartment, and for 25 euros it was all mine
I may just have to give up camping !!!!
That evening I walked back into the city to watch the concertIt was a fairly incredible performance – on stage there was a full orchestra and a 100 member female choir.
Here is a short video to give you an idea of the songs they sang:
Another incredible evening in Slovenia.
The following morning it was time for perhaps my biggest challenge during my time in Europe – I now had 3 weeks left on the bike and I was going to be spending the majority of that time cycling through the Julian Alps and Dolomite Mountains.
What a fabulous way to finish my year on the bike !!!