Cycling in Slovenia, REALLY??
Sandwiched between Italy, Austria, Hungary and the hippest spot on the Adriatic coast, Croatia, it's easy to see how Slovenia can be overlooked on the tourist map. Even from a cyclists perspective, where countries like France and Italy who's cycling battlegrounds play host to numerous mythic climbs like Mont Ventoux and the Stelvio, Slovenia is still easily overshadowed. So what is it about this place? And why is it even worth the trip?
For starters Slovenia packs a major punch when it comes to natural beauty. Boasting numerous verdant green valleys, dramatic, spiring mountain peaks, emerald green rivers and glacial looking lakes Slovenia makes up an entire nature lovers wish list. Add to that flying into Slovenia's main airport makes Burbank's, Bob Hope, look like trying to leave a Dodger game during the 7th inning stretch. Not to mention it's impeccably clean and its incredibly easy to navigate using English; a major plus for an inept linguist like myself. And all this without the major tourist hordes. To be sure Summer is prime travel season in Slovenia and with all the other nature lovers around you don't exactly feel alone. But its not the throngs you see flocking to the south of France, or the masses overrunning Florence and Venice. There's still a sense that you're onto something new and special here that the rest of the discount-holiday package swarms haven't quite found yet.
"This is great" you say, "but what about the cyclist in me, where do I ride if I were to go?" Glad you asked!
Where to ride:
After flying into Ljubljana and renting a car, drive a scenic 30 minutes to Lake Bled. With its medieval castle dangling high on a cliff keeping guard of the town and small church squarely nestled atop the island in the middle of the lake, you'll swear to yourself this is where Disney stole all its fairytale imagery from. Lake Bled makes a perfect place to base yourself for a couple days of riding. Not to mention its idillic for sightseeing off the bike as well!
After Lake Bled, migrate on to the mountain town of Kranjska Gora. Sitting at the base of the towering Julian Alps, Kranjska Gora also makes an ideal position to jump straight into Slovenia's most majestic climbs, including the Vršič Pass and the Mangart, the latter of which leads the highest road in the country and rivals any of the more notable climbs out of France, Italy, etc. in terms of toughness and sheer beauty!
Where to stay:
While in Lake Bled, stay at Guesthouse Pr' Jožef , what it may lack in interior design it easily makes up for in its no-frills, comfortable approach and central location. The B&B style inn is family run and the hosts couldn't be more welcoming. In fact they were graciously willing to prepare breakfast for me at 7am, rather than their normal starting time of 8am.
In Kranjska Gora, visit Hotel Vitranc located just outside of town in the sleepy hamlet of Podkoren for a more authentic feel. With its large sun-drenched terrace serving up local fare and dark Czech lagers it makes for the perfect place to crash after a monster ride and pack back on those calories (code for extra lbs) that just hours earlier I cursed myself for having when I could feel myself slipping backwards on the climbs.
For solid road bike rentals visit Cycling United Ljubljana. Not only do they offer bikes for hire, but they bring immense hospitality too in the form of beer! As if this wasn't enough, considering I had a very early departure once leaving Slovenia they also arranged to have a gentleman pick up the bike at 6am from me at the airport. NOTE: Be sure to ask for Vlado and you just may find yourself being roped into a proper ride accompanied by a pro or two! WARNING: Incredibly fun, but will rip your legs off.