Getting an early start (0900) on our first full day allowed us to get out of Ljubljana and on the road towards the Predjama Castle and Postojna Caves in the northwest area of Slovenia with time to make it to Kobarid by nightfall. Our plan was to spend a few hours in each place, and then make it for our big 11 course meal at Hisa Franko at 715PM without feeling rushed. The plan worked, and here was our route for the day.
But first, we had to pick up the car at the local Sixt office near the Ljubljana railway station. Luckily we had already scoped it out the night before and found the way passable by foot – so we spent about 15 minutes after breakfast rolling our suitcases towards the train station. Other than a little excess noise which we didn’t expect over lightly pebbled streets, the plan went flawlessly. It was such a quiet, green city, we felt bad about our noise pollution contribution.
The Sixt office was a little difficult to locate, on the railway side of the station, but we found it after asking for help. We only had to wait a short while (5 minutes) for one of the agents to help check us in. Check in went smoothly with no issues around not having an International Driver’s Permit. All the fees were as expected, with the additional fee for picking up in Ljubljana and dropping off in Zagreb. Our plan was to make a 9/10 circle starting in Ljubljana, through the northern part of Slovenia, then south to Croatia via Split and Dubrovnik, then to Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, back to Croatia in to Dubrovnik, to Kotor in Montenegro, back to Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzengovenia, and then up to Zagreb, Croatia to fly home.
We picked up the car and noted a few scratches, and registered them with the Sixt app before driving away (thank you technology!). Pretty soon we were on our way to the Predjama Castle, which would be our first official stop in Slovenia outside of Ljubljana.
It took us about an hour to arrive, going first past the Postojna Caves and noting that parking looking full. On the way we started to get used to Slovenian road sides and traffic conditions. The roads were excellent and the signage was clear even for foreign drivers. We made a few wrong turns coming out of Ljubljana, but mostly because we weren’t sure to which cities we were headed and how to translate what we saw on Google Maps in to the signs we were seeing. We also learned that daytime running lights were mandatory, and you are not allowed to turn right on red. Most people went 20-30 km/h faster than the speed limit, but we tried not to press it too much.
Additionally, it may be useful for you to know that the red and blue traffic sign with the “x” means “no stopping”. We literally thought it meant “do not go this way” and stopped for a few minutes while we Googled that it meant “no stopping”. Ha!
Finally, we wanted to remind our readers about a road tax sticker that must be purchased prior to driving in Slovenia – it get affixed to your front window under your rear-view mirror and allows you to drive in Slovenia. Again, without it, you would face a fine. Sixt provided this to us as part of the rental.
There were many pastoral scenes along the way in this very verdant but rainy country.
On the road towards Predjama, driving in Slovenia is as as green as Ireland
In Predjama, we parked at the free Predjama Castle parking lot and took a walk around, also partaking in the free and clean restrooms (free restrooms were a common feature along Slovenian highways, and even showing up as port-o-potties in some of the smaller towns and nature sites).
The Predjama Castle was break-taking, a true medieval castle with an extremely fortified defensive position built directly in to the stone cliff and accessing the cave system below (which is the largest in the world). It was built in the 1100s and was continuously fortified over its 800 year life.
We paid the combination entrance fee for both Predjama Castle and Postojna Caves around 40 Euros per person. It came with an audio guide in English where you pressed the number and then it provided the associated narration (this system was very common at self-guided tourist sites in Slovenia). The tour took about an hour, and provided a comprehensive look in to Medieval castle life – including how people lived, cooked, worshiped, defended themselves, and of course how they were tortured.
It was pretty much a typical castle, but of course was remarkable in that it was built in to the stone mountain and the cave system underneath. This defensive position allowed it to withstand a year long siege by a robber-baron/robin-hood figure called Erasmus of Lueg in the 15th century, fleeing the vengeance of the Holy Roman Empire. The cave system below played an important role in the siege as well, allowing Erasmus to resupply the castle in secret. He was eventually killed when a weak spot in Prejama Castle’s defenses was discovered by the enemy after bribing a servant. Erasmus unceremoniously died by cannon while going to lavatory (which was the weak spot that was revealed).
Our next stop after Predjama Castle was the Postojna Caves, which were also not to miss. After checking out Luray Caverns in September in Virginia, we already had a pretty good scientific understanding of caves and stalactites and stalagmites and how they were formed. Since we already bought our ticket and scheduled the entry time (1300), we were able to skip some steps at the cave itself. We did have to figure out parking, which wasn’t straightforward, but we did eventually find the paid lot for cars (which was separate from the more obvious parking area which was closed off in the very front). Parking was 5 Euro or so, and the walk to the entrance took about 10 minutes.
The tours were guided and included a 2 km train ride in to the cave system, toward the end of the “old” cave (the original discovery) where we picked up by foot to the “new” cave system, taking us 3.7 km inside, and about 100 meters underground.
The cave was in use since the 12th century, the mouth “discovered” in the 18th, and the current “old” cave passageway “discovered” by Luka Cec in 1818. The POstojna Cave was formed by the Pivka River, and this river switched position above ground and below ground many times throughout the cave system due to the porous limestone of the Slovenian countryside. At one point, the Pivka River was 50 meters below our feet within the cave.
The Postojna Cave has been is used since the 19th century continuously offering tours, except through the period of occupation during World War 2, when the Germans used it for barracks and weapons storage. You can see the damage they left by munitions towards the cave exit, leaving black explosion marks all over one of the mouths of the cave.
After Postojna, we continued our drive for about two hours to Kobarid, where we would be spending the night and enjoying an 11 course meal at the famed Hisa Franko. More about that in the next blog! The drive started to turn more mountainous and gained some elevation as we moved north and west. The scenic beauty was unparalleled despite the bad weather.
Roads were navigable and easy to find. There were two routes we had the choice of taking from Postojna to Kobarid – a route that was slightly shorter that went through Italy, and a route that stuck to Slovenia. We decided to stick to Slovenia to eliminate additional border crossings (we didn’t know what to expect) and found ourselves discovering more Slovenian countryside via Nova Gorica and Tolmin. We had no problems at all with this route.