A recent poll on GTspirit showed us that you, our readers, find Slovenia the least popular destination for a road trip. Discussing the results of this poll in our team we found out that we knew very little about this small European country and decided it was time for change! Together with photographer Philipp, Balkan-specialist Matthew and our Finnish bodyguard Hece we set off on a road trip to the unknown.
Our team assembled at Munich Airport, Germany. Here our wheels for the road trip were also waiting for us: a 2014 Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG. The ML 63 AMG offers plenty of space for four adults with luggage and should have enough on-road and off-road capabilities to handle everything Slovenia throws at us, we hope!
From Munich we set of in Southern direction following the German A8 autobahn to Salzburg. From Salzburg we head South via the Austrian A10 highway, also called the Tauern Autobahn. It crosses the Hohe Tauern mountain range and provides scenic mountain views most of the journey. It also features 12 tunnels where the ML 63 AMG’s V8 was more than capable of keeping the passengers awake!
At the end of the Tauern Autobahn near Villach you have a choice to continue to Italy, Slovenia or the Wörthersee. Worthy of a detour the Wörthersee is host to many automotive events in Summer including the GTI treffen and the annual Sportwagen festival. Today however we don’t have time for a detour this side of the border as we have work to do in Slovenia!
Close to the Slovenian border we stop to buy an autobahn vignet or toll sticker. Like Switzerland, Austria and many Eastern European countries a toll sticker is mandatory for driving on the highways and not buying one brings hefty fines. The small toll ticket sales office next to the parking also houses a small cafe and toilets but it looks like we traveled back to the ’70s! Lets hope this is not a preview of what is to come!
The border between Austria and Slovenia runs through a mountain range and the Austrian A10 highway and the Slovenian A2 highway are connected with a single tube tunnel. It is low season so there is no wait at the border. Once we come out on the other side there is a smooth highway that leads us through the mountains towards Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana.
The scenery changed a bit with some large flats and Sovjet style factories that remind us of Slovenias Socialist past. However this image was soon reversed as we pulled in to a modern petrol station for some fuel and a coffee. We looked at the map and decided to make a small detour to the town of Bled.
Bled is located at Lake Bled, a beautiful glacial lake surrounded by mountains and nature. Bled became a health resort in the second half of the 19th century and hosted aristocratic guests from all over the world. On a small island in the middle of the lake you find the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church and towering out above the lake is Bled Castle, both are worth a visit while you are there.
We didn’t have time to sit around though and continued to Ljubljana after a brief stroll through the town. Slovenia only has about 2 million inhabitants and around 300,000 of them live in the capital Ljubljana. The country became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991 after a ten day war. Since 2004 Slovenia is a member of the European Union and you can pay with Euro which is rather convenient.
Ljubljana knows a long history, its roots date back to as early as 3600 BC. And although the outskirts of town mostly show the socialist style expansion during the second half of the 20th century, the old town shows a wealth of Habsburger and Austrian influence. The Ljubljanica flows through Ljubljana and in the city center flows through the Gruber Canal. The canal was built in 1782 and the banks of the canal are the epicenter of restaurants, bars and terraces today.
In the old town you will find dozens good restaurants and stylish bars along with trendy shops. Worth mentioning is the castle that towers out above the old town and hosts a very good restaurant for lunch and dinner. The nearby university gives the old town a vibrant feel and Ljubljana has become one of our favorite cities in Europe. The nearby airport makes it suitable for a weekend break as well.
After our pleasant stay in Ljubljana we head further South to the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Stuck between Italy in the North and Croatia to the South, Slovenia has about 47 kilometers of coastline. It is home to the countries main port: Koper and several holiday destinations like Izola, Portoroz and Piran.
Our next stop is the Kempinski Hotel in Portoroz. This majestic hotel overlooks the bay of Portoroz and sports views of Croatia on the other side of the bay. In Summer the town attracts thousands of visitors from Slovenia, Austria and Germany. We are there in low season, and although temperatures are still very pleasant, we have to build our own party. Luckily our Balkan expert brought a bottle of homemade Pálinka, traditional brandy, for a fun night.
The next day with a little headache we drive out to Piran, located on a peninsula ten minutes away from Portoroz. Piran is a medieval town in Venetian style with colorful houses and marble streets. From various points in Piran you have panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea. You can get fresh sea food on every corner and the locals are very friendly. So far Piran is the highlight of our trip, we simply didn’t expect to find something this interesting, beautiful and clean.
We take the rest of the day to check out the marinas in Izola and Portoroz where many (German) tourists harbor their yachts. It is not quite St Tropez or Monaco but we can imagine it is a very pleasant place to spend a Summer holiday. Not far from Portoroz is a new open-air Spa in the Sečovlje Salina Nature Park which offers thalassotherapy and a place to relax in the salt plains. A surreal location surrounded by salt flats that are still used for local salt and brine production.
On our last night in Portoroz we enjoy a local night out in a beach bar not far from the hotel. The Slovenian locals seem to love karaoke, and although I’m not really a fan, after a few beers we do pick up the microphone for a few songs!
The next morning it is time to check out and explore two new sides of Slovenia: the best driving road and wine. Wine? Yes, Slovenia produces wine. Especially the Western part of the country is known for its wine production and that’s where we are going.
But before we get to the vineyards we received a tip from a GTspirit reader about a road not far from our route. From Portoroz we take the A1 back in the direction of Ljubljana and Razdrto head West on the H4 expressway. At Ajdovscina we leave the expressway and drive to Lokavec. Between Lokavec and Predmeja lies road 609, apparently the best driving road in Slovenia.
The road winds its way into the forest and up into the mountains. The first part of the road has recently been resurfaced and is really a blast to drive but the closer we get to Predmeja the road narrows to 19th century standards, small rock tunnels and blind bends make the road extremely challenging. Luckily there is virtually no traffic here on this cloudy day in October.
A few photography stops and one near miss with an oncoming local later we make it to Predmeja or the sign of the village at least. Here the navigation system insists we can continue straight on, although my instinct says its better to turn around and continue on the expressway. Still not sure why but we decide to follow the satnav and soon find ourselves in the middle of the woods on a dirt road. The navigation tells us this road has a 100 km/h speed limit but we are not comfortable doing much more than 40 km/h. Which has more to do with the potholes in the road than the car.
After what feels like an eternity we arrive at a open space in the forest with a single house and an intersection of dirt roads. Believe it or not but the dirt road has full signage include a stop sign and directions to not-so-nearby villages. We continue on the 609 road until we reach Lokve where the dirt road makes way for a tarmac road. Via Trnovo and Ravnica we return to civilization.
Close to the Italian border we enter the most Western part of Slovenia. Here you feel like you are actually in Italy. The houses and farms look Italian and the thick forest has made way for flowing hills with vineyards. In the pouring rain we arrive at the Kabaj Morel Guest House and Vineyard in Slovrenc. Kabaj offers a few rooms and authentic Slovenian food and wine tasting. As soon as they open the first bottle it stops raining and the sun shines over the surrounding vineyards.
We experience a real Slovenian wine tasting. Instead of sampling a sip or two per bottle, we won’t get to try a new one until the other bottle is empty. This takes all afternoon and evening and comes with a lot of delicious Slovenian food!
Well rested and with a case of Kabaj wine to take home we leave Sloverenc and head further North. On the route today is the highest pass in Slovenia: Vršič Pass! Built originally for military purposes during the first world war, today it is a popular tourist destination.
The first part of the journey is not that spectacular, the road runs along a river in the valley and we cross several villages. But as soon as we turn right on the 206 road after Bovec the fun begins. The ML 63 AMG feels in its element on the long sweeping bends, the lack of other traffic and police adds to the joy.
At the top of the pass we stop to take in the surrounding 2,000 meter+ peaks and the stunning colors of fall. At the other side of the pass we reach Kransjka Gora, a popular wintersport resort that is home to many FIS Ski events.
Just before the border with Austria we find one last reminder of Slovenia’s rocky past.
The ML 63 AMG has been an excellent companion during our trip. The sound track and tremendous V8 power provided join and smiles all the way and we didn’t find any issues. The ML will soon be a thing of the past with the rebranding to GLE and we are glad we could give the ML a worthy goodbye on this trip.
Overall we have been very pleasantly surprised from Slovenia. The mix of Austrian and Italian influences give it a unique flair. The friendly people make you feel welcome and they do their best to talk to you in English or German. That the Euro is the official currency is very convenient and the prices are much lower than in Austria or Italy. Although the country is quite small, it is not very densely populated and there is nature, trees, lakes and mountains everywhere. Only the coastline is a bit scarce but with Piran they truly have a pearl.
Slovenia might not be established as a true (luxury) destination yet but we can really recommend it! Below is a list with relevant links that can help you plan a visit to Slovenia. If you have any questions feel free to contact us via email or social media!
Philipp enjoyed Slovenia so much that he is still dreaming about it. Besides taking photos of the ML 63 AMG, his eyes caught other things too: “I would love to come back to Portoroz to have another Karaoke night with Tamara!”
When we asked Hece what he thought of Slovenia his answer was simply: “I like”. In the end taking Hece along as bodyguard was quite unnecessary as Slovenia is a very friendly and hospitable country.
Matthew is off on an important assignment somewhere and could not be reached for comments.
- Overview of our entire route
- Portoroz & Piran Official Website
- Lepa Vida Thalasso Spa
- Grand Hotel Toplice Bled
- Antiq Palace Hotel Ljubljana
- Kempinski Palace Portoroz
- Guesthouse Kabaj Morel Slovrenc
- More Slovenia Hotels
Special thanks to Philipp, Hece and Matthew for the support and laughs during this trip!