There’s a sense of anticipation when you visit Slovenia with kids, as if around every turn in the road there might be something yet more wondrous. From castles to caves (even castles within caves!), from white horses that leap to rugged, rocky shores jutting into the sea, Slovenia feels like a fairy tale come to life.
Having fallen under the rule of many, from Italians to Austrians to the Communism of the last century, the influence of all who passed here is unmistakable in the art, the architecture, and the food. Today, Slovenians are proudly independent, while still embracing much of their heritage.
The country encompasses just under eight thousand square miles, making it about the size of New Jersey. The short, twenty-seven-mile coastline and the area just beyond it known as “the Karst” are easily accessible via flights into Koper and are a great region to begin your acquaintance with Slovenia. As you plan your travels, here are 4 adventurous activities, 1 great place to stay, and 1 great place to eat while exploring coastal Slovenia with kids.
Activity 1: Descend into Skocjan Cave
The Karst region is named for the geological terrain made of grey limestone pitted by the percolation of water over the ages. As cracks form, the water works deeper into the ground, often leaving massive caverns in its wake. Two cave parks in the region are open to the public; Postojna is perhaps the most popular with tourists, but Skocjan comes with the opportunity to experience something found in few caves anywhere in the world.
Your first awareness of the river comes as a distant rumble about a third of the way through your guided tour of the cave. The roar then builds as you continue along the trail until you can barely hear your guide as she points out the crumbling trails left by early explorers. The river rushes through the cave with such fierceness that the air surrounds you with the heavy mist it creates crashing over rocks as it makes its way deep into the darkness. As step carefully across a bridge suspended high above the rushing water you can only imagine what those first explorers must have experienced.
Travel Notes: Photography is not allowed inside the cave except at the exit and the river portion of the tour is far too wet for most cameras anyway. The ideal plan is to take a camera along for photos at the end and on the trails beyond the exit, but pack it inside a backpack that will protect it from the moisture while keeping your hands free for using the handrails as you traverse the trail. The temperature is a chilly fifty degrees, so bring a jacket. There are multiple areas with stairs (all with handrails), and of course, the bridge, so keep in mind that this could be at the edge of your comfort zone. Website: http://www.park-skocjanske-jame.si/en/read/the-skocjan-caves/explore-the-caves
Activity 2: Prance Through Lipica Horse Park
If ever there was a place where fairy tale horses live in an idyllic place, this would be it. The breed of horses known as Lipizzaner sprang to life on this farm in the hills of Slovenia. The Archduke Charles purchased the estate from the Bishop of Trieste in 1580 with the sole purpose of creating a royal stud farm.
Today a visit to the farm can include watching special events in dressage and carriage driving, leisurely walks through the grounds, an educational hands-on and surprisingly high-tech museum, and even a ride in a carriage pulled by two of the beautiful white horses. Visits in the summer come with the added joy of seeing the spring babies with their mothers in the pastures. Website: http://www.lipica.org/en/
Activity 3: Hike, Hike, and Hike Some More
Outdoor activities are a way of life in Slovenia, with hiking leading the list. The coastal and Karst regions have trails for all abilities, including trails that connect coastal towns, trails that pass historic sites, and trails that simply bring you closer to nature.
A good start is a route called “Donkey’s Trail Along the Seca Ridge” with views of the sea. Complete details about the donkey trail and others in the region are at Enjoy the Hinterland. Website: https://www.slovenia.info/en/things-to-do/active-holidays/hiking
Tip: The PDF option on the website allows you to save the details of the trail on your smartphone before you leave home.
Activity 4: Splash in the Adriatic
Slovenia may have only a bit coastline, but its ties to the sea are strong, and residents love spending time in the water. But don’t imagine long stretches of beach lined with palm trees here. As one resident put it, “Those tropical beaches all look the same. Here we have beaches with character.”
“Beaches with character” means pebbly beaches beneath rocky cliffs or beaches that aren’t beaches at all, but merely wide concrete seawalls from which to enter the clear waters of the Adriatic. The water temperature in the summer averages in the lower seventy-degree range, making it quite comfortable for splashing around. And don’t forget to bring masks and snorkels, particularly along the shore of the Strunjan Nature Preserve and at the Lighthouse Park in Izola, where there are plenty of fish to see . Website: https://www.slovenia.info/en/places-to-go/regions/mediterranean-slovenia
1 Great Place to Stay: Hotel Maestoso
“Maestoso” means in a majestic manner. It is also appropriately the name of one of the breeding lines of the Lipizzaner horses. The Hotel Maestoso at the Lipica farm is centrally located for exploring the region. Its calming country atmosphere makes an ideal base to return to after a day of exploring. Packages that include admission to the interior of the park, allowing you access to the museum and the stables can be arranged in conjunction with your stay.
Perhaps the biggest bonus for staying at the farm itself is the ability to experience the thundering return of the mares each evening. As their dinner hour approaches, the mares run as a herd to the gates to the barn from the fields where they graze during the day. You can ask at the entrance of the park the approximate time and where to await the spectacle. Website: http://www.lipica.org/si/kje-bivati/hotel-maestoso
1 Great Place to Eat: The Sidewalk Cafes of Izola
Izola is a tiny fishing village that retained a stronger Italian heritage than much of the region. You may even encounter locals speaking Italian here rather than Slovenian. The sidewalk cafes of Izola are the perfect way to explore new foods and enjoy a few favorites, all in one afternoon. Lunch can be a leisurely, multicourse affair as you wander from one café to the next, or find one with a selection everyone can agree on and spend time sampling shared portions. From meat and cheese starters, you can progress to briny anchovies in olive oil, or perhaps squid, then on to the pasta before a main course of fried or grilled fish. Most of these eateries will be family owned and operated so feel free to ask questions about unfamiliar foods.
Seafood primer: Small fish are a staple of the locals. They have many names and many methods of preparation. They may be served filleted or whole. Tiny fish like anchovies or sardines would be eaten whole, including the bones. For anything much larger than a sardine it would be perfectly acceptable to scrape the meat from the bones on your plate.