Getting Global: MacKenzie’s Slovenian Sabbatical

As an avid travel enthusiast, one of the benefits I was most excited about when I started at Granular was the 1 month-paid sabbatical earned after 3 years with the company. I was so excited to finally earn my sabbatical in early 2020, so you can imagine my disappointment when traveling had almost completely stopped. Luckily, Granular allowed me to prolong the start date, and, this last May, I was finally able to begin the first part.

As the world changed, my travel plans changed as well. Instead of the multi-country trip I initially envisioned, I decided on a week-long trip with my mother in an off-the-beaten-path country where we could be outside. Slovenia immediately stood out as a small, less-touristy country with plenty of outdoor activities and a small coastline. This last detail was crucial for us, as what vacation is complete without putting your feet in the water?

Now, what’s in Slovenia you might be asking? Beautiful Alpine hiking, gorgeous trails along blue-green rivers, and a few miles of stunning coastline. We filled our itinerary with as much as we could on our week-long trip and saw some amazing sights along the way.

Day 1 – Traveling and Ljubljana

The first day of our trip was mainly logistical, with the stress of flying to Europe, landing in a new country, and renting a car weighing on us. Once we started flying over Slovenia, however, our worries disappeared, and we were so happy with our choice. The country’s landscape is covered with forests, which is absolutely stunning to view from 30,000ft.

When we landed, we decided to rent a car. Typically I don’t recommend renting a car in a foreign country, especially if they have decent public transportation, but we found it incredibly useful driving from city-to-city. Much to our surprise, most of the available cars were manual, which I didn’t know how to drive so thankfully my mom was up to it. Additionally, manual cars have a slightly different shifting pattern than they do in the US, which led to some interesting moments of trying to figure out how to reverse the car.

Once we conquered the manual transmission and other logistics, we spent our first day in the capital city, Ljubljana. It’s a small city but very cute and walkable. Since we landed a bit later in the day and were tired, we didn’t do much our first day, but we did get to walk around the old city center and enjoyed looking at the canals.

Day 2 – Lake Bled and Vintar Gorge

This was our most active day. We got up as early as we could and drove to Lake Bled, a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains that have a castle, with a small island with a church in the center. The church is also famous for having a wishing bell, though you do have to pay extra to see and ring it. This was a pretty big tourist attraction, but we went on a Monday, so it wasn’t too busy. The lake was stunning, but we spent most of our time touring the small island in the center, which we hired a gondola-like boat to take us to. This town is also famous for its Bled Cream cake, which was delicious and we looked for it in every restaurant afterward.

After a few hours at Lake Bled, we went to Vintar Gorge, which was my favorite attraction. It’s a river trail in Triglav National Park, the only National Park in the country. It was absolutely stunning, and there was not a single spot that wasn’t picturesque. It’s a one-way hike though, and on the way back there is an option between a 55-minute green trail and a 45-minute red trail. We didn’t take the hint of the colors of the trail corresponding to their difficulty and took the red trail up through the mountains back to the starting point. Instead of an easy, flat hike, we took a winding path that took us higher and higher into the mountains. While beautiful, that part of the hike was a lot less fun for me. Still, this still ended up being one of my favorite things we did.

Day 3 – Lake Bohinj, Postojna Caves, and Predjama Castle

On our third day, we woke up early to walk around Lake Bohinj. After our hiking the day before, we wanted to keep this day lighter, so we didn’t explore here as much as we should have. It was an absolutely stunning lake, and I wish we could have done some of the nearby hikes.

After a short walk around the lake, we drove to Postojna Cave which included a 3.5 kilometer underground, in-cave train ride to the 1.5 kilometer cave tour. This was one of the more touristy attractions we went to, but it was well worth it as the cave was huge and gorgeous.

For the final attraction of the day, we went to Predjama Castle. We rushed this one, which was okay as the audio tour of it took less than an hour, and it was only a short drive from the cave (in the summers they actually offer shuttles between the two). The castle was very interesting to see, especially when comparing the outside beauty and imagining the day-to-day life of the people who once lived there, which was harsh in a cold, damp cave-castle.

Day 4 – Piran

On day 4 we headed to what ended up being our favorite city, Piran. It’s a small coastal town on the Adriatic Sea, which has been preserved to have as much history as possible. It’s a very small town and could easily be walked around in an hour or so. We had so much fun strolling along the coastline, wandering the cobblestone streets, and climbing up the bell tower to get fantastic views of the city. Also, being along the coast meant there was some amazing seafood, which we enjoyed as much as possible. We enjoyed fresh shrimp, scallops, and bream. I also enjoyed some octopus, though my mom was not up for it. Be prepared though, the seafood is often served with heads, scales, and all. From the city you can also see Italy and Croatia, both of which would’ve made for a fun day trip. Maybe next time!

Day 5 and 6 – Portorose

After so many days of traveling and sightseeing, we took these two days easy in Portorose, which is also a seaside city just a few kilometers from Piran. Unlike Piran, Portorose is a resort town with a lot of hotels, casinos, child-friendly areas, and just being more modern in general. It also is nestled in the hills, making for some steep walks. We definitely enjoyed our time here, as it had our two favorite restaurants and allowed us to take it easy for two days. We would have explored more, but I was pregnant at the time, and after many days of exploring, I had no energy left to climb up the steep hills in the hot sun again.

Day 7 – Ljubljana

For our final day, we headed back to Ljubljana planning to do more sightseeing but rain, unfortunately, derailed those plans. We did still manage to do some before heading back to avoid the rain and turning in early for our early flight. One really interesting place we visited was the Metelkova art district, where we got to see some interesting art, and lots of graffiti.

Overall, I really enjoyed my trip to Slovenia: getting to research a country that isn’t super popular, plan our own itinerary, be outside as much as possible, and get to spend a week with my mom. While it wasn’t the initial trip I had envisioned years ago when I started planning, I was very grateful to Granular for helping make this trip possible, and for getting the opportunity and encouragement to take the time off for this trip.