Finding the familial in Slovenia

Lake Bled

You have a list somewhere, I’m sure you do. Some people call it a “bucket list” (although that has always felt too end-focused for me). Some simply have a list of destinations. Whatever you call it, stop what you are doing right now, and go get it. Write “Visit Slovenia” on it. Make sure your arrow inserts it at the top.

Slovenia truly has it all. Within the few hours it takes to drive across, you’ll travel through mountains and grassy fields and farmland, find beaches, meet wonderful people, breath in the cleanest air, hear some funky music, and be made to feel the most welcome. The tour buses are far enough apart to get through. The locals will mostly go about their business, always being sure to give you a smile.

Ljubljana’s town square

I chose Slovenia as a part of my travels as a way of finding out a little more about where I come from. I don’t know much about my ancestors, but I have this one wonderful little piece of information that my great-grandparents, my mother’s mother’s parents, were from two tiny farming villages outside Lake Bled, and were married there in the picturesque church on the tiny lake island.

Church of the Assumption, Lake Bled

If you are to have one piece of information on your ancestors, something like this is the information to have. It was an incredible feeling being able to walk up the 99 stairs to the church, looking around, wondering about who they were, what they were seeing, and how they felt that day. After my visit to Lake Bled, my tour guide offered to take us on a 5-minute detour to see the two farm villages where my great grandparents were from. It did take all of five minutes to see these tiny places, surrounded by farmland and the Julian Alps. I wondered how they adjusted to Cleveland, Ohio after this. (Side note: Cleveland has the highest population of Slovenians outside of Slovenia. Most immigrated there between 1880 and 1923, seeking economic opportunity.)

My great grandparents are from the tiny neighboring farm villages of Koritno and Bodesce. View through the car window.

This experience reinforced something I often think of under the Trump presidency. We are a nation of immigrants. I am here because America welcomed my ancestors from Slovenia, Hungary and Germany. Perhaps the “America First” philosophy would be reconsidered if more people visited the countries from which their ancestors came.

But I digress, and enough about me. Let’s get back to Slovenia, and it’s cozy capital, Ljubljana.


Ljubljana is quite small for a capital city, making it easy to navigate by foot. It was also voted the the European Green Capital in 2016, for many reasons such as it’s pedestrianization of the city center, move from car-focus to focusing on pedestrians, cycling, and public transit, and move towards a zero waste objective. Slovenia was also declared the world’s first “green country” by a Netherlands-based organization called Green Destinations.

Ljubljana castle, perched above the city

Slovenia apparently has about 100 castles, and as much as I feel like if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all, Ljubljana castle is worth visiting. A climb up the tower allows you to see the entire city, and the countryside beyond. And the museum does an excellent job of capturing Slovenia’s history, all the way to 1991’s move to independence from Yugoslavia.

Street musicians / cyclists

If you visit Ljubljana, it will take you no time at all to discover the quirky creative side of Slovenians. Street art and street musicians are everywhere. I also often had the feeling Slovenians weren’t focusing on art for art’s sake, but just a natural disposition towards finding beauty and expression in their everyday lives.

Slovenians love more than their art and music. They have a great love for sport and the outdoors. When I go back, which I most certainly will, I’ll be sure to take advantage of the river rafting, hiking, kayaking and other outdoor adventures offered throughout the region.

Škocjan caves: photo credit

If cave exploring is of interest to you, the Skocjan caves and Postojna caves are popular tourist attractions definitely worth while. I chose the Skocjan caves for the sole reason that they are less-crowded than the Postojna caves, and that you hike through them rather than being taken on a tram ride. The Postojna caves are better suited for those unable to hike, and perhaps those that want to be able to take photos (no pictures allowed in Skocjan, which helps keep the visitors moving through and focused on their path). Although I didn’t visit the Postojna caves, I did make a stop to see the Predjama castle which sits at the mouth of the cave. Truly stunning.

Predjama castle, Postojna cave

And finally, as a part of an all-day tour I did for the caves and Predjama castle, we also stopped for a few hours in the sea-side village of Piran. On that next trip to Slovenia I mentioned, where I’ll hike and kayak and raft, I’ll also be sure to take a few days to relax in Piran. Not a ton to do there other than swim and sunbathe and eat and relax. Active vacations always require a little downtime.


For more photos of Slovenia, see the photo gallery. And if you’ve been to Slovenia, let me know what you thought!

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