Slovenia: A Camper Van Adventure

Words by Ben Walker
Photos by Ben Walker

One of my favorite ways to explore a new place is by traveling its roads. There’s something wonderful about flying high above the land in a plane or watching landscapes zoom by from your train seat, but the experience of driving a country’s roads is unparalleled. You get a real feel for the area because you’re the one in control of the vehicle. You choose when and where you want to go and you stop anywhere you’d like along the way.

We arrived to Slovenia by bus, coming from the Italian border city of Trieste. Before planning this trip, I probably didn’t even know Italy and Slovenia bordered each other, but I sure do now.

When crossing borders between states or countries, it’s rare to notice any real difference in the general landscape because it just wouldn’t make sense for there to be that abrupt of a change. However, once we entered Slovenia it was almost like there was a palpable difference. Our excitement built as we gazed out the windows at the rolling hills and beautiful landscapes.

Everything was so green!

 

Planning for Slovenia

Ever since the addition of Slovenia and Croatia to our itinerary, I knew I wanted to make the attempt of trying to get some kind of rental for us to drive around in. I was really hoping we could set something up with a camper van, but we would have also been more than happy to just go around in a rental car.

We ended up deciding to do the vehicle in Slovenia instead of Croatia because we were mainly planning on city-hopping from Zagreb to Split to Dubrovnik and having a vehicle inside those cities didn’t make a lot of sense. You can easily walk around them and there’s not a lot of room for automobiles anyway.

Slovenia also seemed like a great option for a vehicle because of how many outdoors activities we were interested in. Also, it’s not a huge country, so it’s actually quite easy to get around and see lots of things in a relatively short amount of time. For comparison, the state we live in (Utah) is about 11 times larger than the country of Slovenia. Of course, you have to take into account the mountain passes and backroads making your travel longer, but it still seemed more than doable.

 

Balkan Campers

Just about a month before we were scheduled to arrive in Slovenia, I got into contact with a local group called Balkan Campers. After researching multiple different companies I ended up reaching out to them because they were one of the only options with a camper van that came in automatic. If you didn’t know, Europe is the land of manual transmissions and it’s a great benefit if you happen to have that skill up your sleeve. Unfortunately for us, neither my wife or I can drive a stick.

Fortunately for us, though, Balkan Campers has a huge fleet of vans to choose from and just ONE of them happens to be an automatic! We ended up with a classic 1981 Volkswagen T3 with a pop-top roof. His name was Rožle, which I’m still not sure how to pronounce even though I heard it many times from the Balkan Campers crew (who were fantastic, by the way).

With our yellow VW camper van ready for action, we hit the road.

 

Our Itinerary

Slovenia is bordered by Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north. The capital city of Ljubljana is located close to the center of the country and the popular lake and town of Bled is about an hour northwest, near the Austrian border.

Most of what we researched about Slovenia is situated in the northwestern pocket of the country, in and around the Triglav National Park. Here, you’ll find Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge, Soča River, and Lake Bohinj. This is where we decided to journey for the next five nights after picking up our van in the nearby town of Tržič.

 

Lake Bled

Arguably the most popular attraction in the whole country of Slovenia, Lake Bled is definitely not to be missed. If you’ve spent any time at all looking at travel accounts on social media you’ll surely have stumbled across photos of the iconic island (Bled Island) in the middle of this turquoise blue lake. It’s even more stunning seeing it in person.

As our van rumbled down the main street of Bled our necks started to crane and our breath was being held. We were just about to get our first glimpse of the lake, the island, and the castle on the hill! The excitement was real.

The excitement continued as we drove around the lake, headed to our first camping spot at the Camping Bled campground, located on the western shores. We chose this location because of its proximity to the lake (walking distance), Vintgar Gorge (about a 10-minute drive), and numerous hiking trails (walking distance). Also, it was super easy to book a reservation online for a vehicle spot with electrical hook-ups. And, there were hot showers, washers and dryers, and plenty of fresh water. It was great.

There were quite a few people camping there when we arrived in late May, but I imagine those numbers would swell much more over the summer months.

Right around the lake we enjoyed walking along the boardwalk, driving over to see the castle, and checking out one of the trails. I would highly recommend hiking up to the Ojstrica viewpoint if you have the chance because the views are phenomenal overlooking the lake and surrounding countryside. The trail starts right next to the Camping Bled campgrounds and eventually splits into other trails, but it’s all labeled and easy to follow. It’s probably about 15-20 minutes of rigorous uphill walking to reach the viewpoint. More so if you’re taking your time. It’s not paved and was a bit muddy when we went, but it was well worth it. Funny enough, we could also see our camper van down in the campgrounds once we got to the top.

 

Vintgar Gorge

If you’re in the Lake Bled area you should definitely check out the Vintgar Gorge. Located just about a 10-minute drive from the Camping Bled campground, we found it very easy to get here. Also, driving anywhere in Slovenia for any amount of time will provide you with picturesque views, so that’s an added bonus of driving places.

Similar to Lake Bled, the water running through this gorge has a beautiful, turquoise-like color. The difference here is that this is a rushing river instead of a lake and you can walk right along the sides of the gorge along a man-made path.

It may be wise to time your visit carefully since it can get very busy here. We showed up around midday and there were a lot of people. Since most everyone is looking to take photos and there is only one path, expect some holdups every now and then, especially if people are headed back to the entrance while others are just entering.

There isn’t much in the way of attractions along the way, so don’t expect any actual activities. The real attraction is the wonderful walk along this beautiful piece of nature. Along the way you’ll see some rapids and eventually end up at a waterfall and then an exit. You can exit here and check out another waterfall and then re-enter with your ticket. There is also a small cafe at this exit/entrance.

I believe the part of the gorge closer to the main entrance is much better for photo opportunities, but I’d still recommend going through the whole thing because it’s not very long and it’s still an enjoyable stroll.

 

Soča River

From Camping Bled we headed straight through the Triglav National Park and to our next camping spot at Kamp Lazar, which is situated right on the Soča River. Sometimes this route isn’t open because of snow, but it worked out for us this time, although we did see plenty of snow up in the mountains. Normally, if using Google Maps, you would be routed around the majority of the park, but we decided to go straight through so we could enjoy the epic scenery along the way.

Once you’re about halfway through the park you’ll wind up next to the river and you’ll basically follow it the rest of the way to the next camp. Our brave, yellow van struggled a bit going up the mountainous roads, but it never seemed like we were in any real trouble. Once we started our descent and then exited the park, it was very smooth sailing.

The views driving along the river are insane. Honestly, I think we could spend so much time in Slovenia just driving around and stopping every 100 feet to enjoy the view. It’s a true paradise.

Kamp Lazar wasn’t quite as fancy as Camping Bled, but it was more than adequate, especially since we don’t mind boondocking (free camping) in Utah in areas with zero to no facilities. Heck, there were still bathrooms and showers. There was even a restaurant, actually. The best part, though, was being able to walk just a few minutes down to the beautiful, blue-green Soča River. You could go down multiple ways and there were plenty of hiking trails around for your enjoyment. My favorite spot was the nearby pedestrian bridge that spanned the river and allowed access to trails on the other side.

 

Lake Bohinj

From Kamp Lazar we headed to our final camping spot at Camp Zlatorog Bohinj, located on Lake Bohinj, which is just about 30 minutes southwest of Lake Bled. This area was recommended to us because a lot of the tourists just passing through don’t know about it or will opt to visit Bled instead.

This was perhaps the first body of water we encountered in Slovenia that didn’t have that turquoise tint. Rather, it was more of a green color, but that was probably because of the reflection of the green mountains and trees. Regardless, it’s still a beautiful area.

The camp was decently filled when we arrived, with all the prime spots along the shore taken. Even if there aren’t as many tourists here as in Bled, people definitely still know about it.

Since we had been constantly traveling and looking for video and photo opportunities, this was the spot where we wound down and relaxed a lot more. Most of all, we just enjoyed our time in the idyllic surroundings, occasionally taking strolls along the lake.

 

The Minutiae of Camping

I think camping should be all about the experience of being outdoors, especially in a wonderland like Slovenia. However, you also can’t forget about the little details.

Our van came equipped with a fridge, a sink, dishes, a bed, etc. Before ever heading to our first campsite we made sure to stop at a grocery store (we specifically went to Lesce instead of Bled because we heard and assumed it would be cheaper than that tourist hotspot) and get what we needed at least for the next couple of days. Bread, sausages, drinks, cheese, etc. We couldn’t rely too heavily on refrigerated products because we could only power the fridge while we were hooked up to electrical at a campsite. While we were traveling between campsites we would try to leave the fridge closed to retain as much coldness as possible.

We ate a lot of hot dogs in Slovenia. We did also have PB&J sandwiches and pasta at some point. We probably could have had some better meals, but we were just fine for less than a weeks amount of time.

If you’re thinking of doing something similar just make sure to check what actually comes with the camper van so you don’t have any surprises. For example, we knew we would have a fridge and plates and silverware. There were also some spices and cooking oil already inside for us to use.

Also, it would be wise to have reservations set up at different camping spots ahead of time. There is no free camping in Slovenia, so don’t expect to just pull off anywhere and set up shop.

 

I Already Want to Go Back

It’s only been a few months since we were there, but I feel like if the opportunity presented itself, I’d go back in a heartbeat. Slovenia is such a beautiful country and everyone we met was extremely nice. Well, except for one guy that scolded us when we were parked in a handicapped spot. As much as I like driving in the countryside, I hate driving in cities, especially with a big ol’ camper van. There’s just no space and nowhere to park!

Back to how beautiful Slovenia is, though. It was honestly one of our most anticipated destinations of our entire trip and it really exceeded expectations! Having a camper van really made it that much more enjoyable, too.

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