Category Archives: Slovenia

Everything you will ever need to know about Garden Village Bled

Garden Village Bled provided the backdrop for our first time “glamping” experience this past week. It falls somewhere in between hotels and camping, with wooden treehouse living and large “glamping” tents at its core.  Garden Village Bled is located a mere 5 minute walk to Lake Bled and the Pletna boat landing that takes you to Bled Island, making it a prime location.  I would consider it an eco-tourism resort and you will see why.

The receptionist welcomed us with a free drink in the restaurant.  The tables have square plots of grass planted into them.  The restaurant has a series of bridges crossing over small streams.  Every morning a bountiful all you can eat breakfast was served to include eggs or omelets made to order, croissants, Italian meats and cheeses, bread, cereal, coffee and juices.  This is included in the price of your stay.  Dinner is not included, but they cook traditional Slovenian cuisine.  If you catch fish in their stream, they will cook it for you.

Grass anyone?

Grass anyone?

The receptionist guided us through the outdoor area adjacent to the restaurant which included an infinity pool that looked like a pond, a play area for small children and a fire pit surrounded by a cushioned bench as well as largeglamping tents (6 total).

Infinity pool/pond with a treehouse in the background.

Infinity pool/pond with a treehouse in the background.

 

The fire pit was enjoyed by all when the temperatures dropped during our stay.  From there, she led us down to the pier with its rushing stream of water (quite pleasant at night) where you could see various smaller tents (9 total). And up above, six wooden tree houses filled the sky.

Stairway to Heaven

Each treehouse has either a staircase or ramp that takes you up to the house.  A large wooden key opens up your castle in the sky. A balcony encircles the treehouse with a table and chairs for you to enjoy the outdoor environment.

IMG_5666

Inside is a small two-story living area.  The first level includes a bed situated within what I would call a cubby.  It was large enough for two adults.  There is a TV, a table surrounded by wooden benches, a small bathroom with a shower, and a small “kitchenette” (more on that later). WiFi was available and there were many plugs concentrated in certain areas in case you needed to charge your phone or other electronics.

1st Floor - Bed within a cubby. The bar is removable.

1st Floor – Bed within a cubby. The bar is removable.

A ladder leads you to the second level of the treehouse where a hammock/net stretches out above the first floor.  Our children were more than thrilled and I have never seen them read so much in their lives.  I attribute it to that nook created by the net. A bean bag chair sits adjacent to the net and another bed for two people is found around the corner from the net.  There are plenty of shelves available for storage.

Very happy kids in their loft area

Very happy kids in their loft area.

The kids marveled that many aspects of the house were made using the science of simple machines.  The windows open and close via pulleys.  The lock on the bathroom is not on the door, but rather it is a wooden lever that you pull down from the wall creating a wedge that keeps the door closed.

IMG_5660

Even happier kids on their hammock/net.

The treehouse was clean, towels and basic kitchen/dining supplies were provided.  Natural light was abundant from all the different windows with shades provided for privacy.  Village staff was friendly and helpful.

Wow, that sounds great!  Was there any downside to staying there?

Highway to Hell

Not exactly, but for some, it may seem that way. While a unique experience, it may not be “heaven” for everyone.  If you do not like living among bugs or cramped spaces, you may not enjoy this experience.

Smaller glamping tents on the pier have a bed within the tent, but not much else.

Smaller tents on the pier have a bed, but not much else.

The treehouse does have two stories, but it is cramped.  We brought two duffel bags with us and had to place them on the benches around the table because there was no space on the first level to hold our bags without creating movement barriers.  The kids had plenty of space in their loft area, but for adults it was not much space.  If I had to do it again, I would have packed several small bags and kept them in the car, swapping them out daily to create more space.

The “kitchenette” had a small sink and a hot plate that we could not figure out despite trying all kinds of button combinations.  It was not that big a deal since we had coffee provided at breakfast and did not plan to cook any meals while there. There is a small refrigerator typical of most hotel rooms.

The bathroom is very small without much storage space for your toiletries.  The shower is standard, but being the eco-friendly place that this is, the hot water runs out quickly and you must wait about 15 minutes between showers for the water heater to get back to normal. The staff was up front about this when we arrived and by doing so helped manage our expectations.

It did not help that fall (including a thunderstorm in Bled and snow in the Julian Alps) arrived a day after we did.  The treehouse is not insulated and there was no heating system.  Garden Village Bled does provide a space heater on each level which worked well when we slept, but the bathroom had no heat.  It was freezing.  We found creative ways to warm it, like running the hair dryer aimed at the shower to warm ourselves or placing our towels near the heater and having one of us hand the nice and toasty towel to the person in the bath.  In the spring or summer, a cold shower may be welcoming, but definitely not between October and April.

The fire pit was a nice way to warm up in the evening.

The fire pit was a nice way to warm up in the evening.

You may find glamping to be much more tolerable than camping. However, you are in the woods and everything that comes with being in the woods (like bugs and weather related phenomena) will affect your stay here as we learned very quickly.  We had our share of bugs who were trying to find shelter from the changing weather pattern.  Our second night there, a thunderstorm (Bled)/snowstorm (Alps) swept through around 2am.  Lightning was visible through the windows. The windows popped open, the wind howled and we could feel the treehouse sway.  I should also say that the only thing holding the door closed was a small hook.  The treehouse is only truly locked when you leave and take the key with you.  There was a lot of rattling and very little sleep.

Overall, though, the pictures on the website are an accurate representation of what to expect aesthetically, but perhaps not logistically.

Things to Consider

Timing Your Visit

I would strongly suggest waiting until spring or summer to visit.  This tip is not necessarily weather related, but tourist related.  Lake Bled is a summer resort town.  Being there during the off-season, it felt like a ghost town albeit with many busloads of Japanese and Korean tourists who came, saw and clicked their way through before disappearing on their buses.  Restaurants were empty with the exception of a few families.  There is much to do there in season including white water rafting, an adventure tree top park for kids, horseback riding and much more for any outdoor enthusiast.  While we attempted to go rafting, the temperature drop forced us to cancel the trip.

20141022_113504

Reservations

Also of note, when we initially tried to reserve for a three-day weekend last spring, we were told that there were no tree houses available.  We ran into the same this time around, but, when we increased our stay from 2-3 nights, it became available.  It is not a large resort so book in advance.  The staff was very helpful and answered many of our questions via email. You must prepay 40% of your stay via bank transfer prior to arrival and they ask that you pay the balance within 45 days of arrival.  There are no fees for a SEPA credit transfer between Austria and Slovenia because they are on the Euro.

Small Children

Young and school age children will think of this as a dream come true.  However, you may want to wait until they are at least school age.  The net floating above the first floor area is secure, but as with most nets, it has gaps that little feet or arms can slip through.  There is also the ladder they will have to climb to get up and down from the loft which may be a problem for young children and a hassle for parental piece of mind.  Our children, ages 8 and 12, were independent and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Overall, it was a great place to stay and we highly recommend it.

For more on Lake Bled and other parts of Slovenia, please visit Nicole’s post from 2013.

Travel: Road trips to Slovenia

If you have a car and are in need for a “quick” weekend get-away to a new country and explore new culture and food, consider driving South to neighboring Slovenia.

Printpage

Source: worldatlas.com

What to see, you ask? Look no further (and yes, you can also consult travel sites and guides, I won’t be offended).

Ljubljana

Ljubljana (pronounced: loob-yana; it took me about 2 days to figure that out) is the capital of Slovenia and a mere 3.5-hour drive from Vienna. The city has a very small-town feel to it (less than 300,000 inhabitants) with beautiful buildings, a castle on top of a hill, many cafes, museums, communist artifacts, a river and many bridges.

It’s a very pedestrian-friendly city and an easy place to bring small kids as there is ample room for them to run around (and a castle to discover)! The castle is on top of a hill and visitors can either walk up or take a short train ride (we opted to take the train up and walk down to enjoy the view of the city).

Three Bridges in downtown Ljubljana

Three Bridges in downtown Ljubljana

Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle

Pedestrian zone downtown

Pedestrian zone downtown

We spent a bit of time at the Tivoli garden that is home to a large playground and borders the zoo (we didn’t visit). Parents will also be happy to know that the cafe next to the greenhouse at the Tivoli has a playroom plus a small playground outside for the kids to roam while parents enjoy a break and refreshments.

Where to stay? We had a wonderful experience at the Alo Hotel, an apartment-hotel about a 10-15 minute walk away from the city center.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled is simply beautiful, there’s no other way to say it. Mind you, I say this after having spent 3 days there in the pouring rain, and I still found it beautiful and very relaxing! The Julian Alps in the background, the clear blue water of the lake, and the surrounding greenery make for a colorful  landscape.

Lake Bled from Bled Castle

Lake Bled from Bled Castle

Gondolas on the way to the island

Gondolas on the way to the island

IMG_1775

Castle Bled in the background

This is the place to come for outdoor recreation (hiking, biking etc) and relaxing. There is a cathedral to visit on the lake’s island (take a gondola there or be brave and row your own boat!) and, of course, Bled Castle on top of the hill (bike, walk, drive, or take a horse carriage to the castle!). From Vienna, Lake Bled is about a 3.75-hour drive and about 45 minutes from Ljubljana.

The small city of Bled is home to just over 5,000 residents and there are plenty of cafes and excellent restaurants to eat your hearts out (do not miss Okarina, a fantastic Indian-inspired Mediterranean restaurant). We greatly enjoyed our stay at the Poldi apartments, about a 5-minute walk away from the lake (the apartment owner also owns the Okarina restaurant).

Oh, and, don’t even think about visiting Bled without devouring a piece of the heavenly cream cake….

Yummy cream cake (Courtesy of wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com)

Yummy cream cake  – courtesy of wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com

Postojna Cave

When in Slovenia, you must stop at the #1 tourist attraction – a visit to the Postojna Caves. The caves are about a 4- hour drive from Vienna, an hour from Bled, and 45 minutes from Ljubljana. To visit the caves, visitors take a train ride into the caves and then walk about 1.5 km on foot throughout the caves before taking the train to the top again. The tour lasts about 1.5 hours which can be a bit long for the younger crowd. Parents should also be aware that tour guides like to have a bit of “fun” by turning off all the lights in the cave.

There are a number of other sites in the area and the cave staff does a nice job of explaining the package offers (see also here). In addition to the main cave, we visited the “Vivarium Proteus” – a small cave that showcases small critters that make their home there such as proteus, an interesting fish cave creature. Kids will like this cave because they can go at their own speed and are given a flashlight to look for the little creatures.

Looking for little cave critters

Looking for little cave critters

Piran

If you are longing for the coast (since Austria is landlocked!), head further South to beautiful Piran. The small coastal city is home to less than 5,000 residents and the small streets make driving a real challenge, which is why cars are generally parked outside of the city in one of the garages or parking lots (priced at 17 Euros/day; hourly rates apply as well). The city provides a free shuttle bus from the parking areas to downtown.

Piran is a little less than a 5-hour drive from Vienna and about 1.25 hours from Ljubljana.We stayed at the nice Piranesi apartments, a block away from the coastal restaurants and next door to the small but nice aquarium.

There is a definite Mediterranean feel here – plenty of outdoor restaurants serving fantastic seafood and coastal views of near-by Italy (if you bring binoculars!). There is also a nice main square lined with restaurants and cafes as well as an old city wall which brings you to a church high above the city and offers an amazing view.

Square in Piran

Square in Piran

View from Piran's coast

View from Piran’s coast

View from the city walls above the city

View from the city walls above the city

Visitors can take the miniature tourist train from Piran to the beaches in Portoroz but note that the beaches here are not sandy. Rather, there are many boulders and rocks and pebbles so beach shoes are highly recommended. Some of the beaches in Portoroz have a very small sandy part popular with kids but all other beach access is generally via boulders or ladders directly into the ocean (this can be a bit scary for kids). Also be aware that this is a European beach so you might be seeing a bit more skin than you’re used to back home (and it’s perfectly normal for kids to skinny-dip!).

And there you have it — that’s all my knowledge on Slovenia (for the time being) – it’s a beautiful country and so close to Vienna so don’t miss to visit while you are living here!

Oh – and two final notes on driving in Slovenia:

  • once you cross the border, be sure to purchase a vignette (weekly 15 Euro; monthly 30 Euro)
  • if you are relying on your smartphone google map app to navigate your way, be forewarned that google maps (in the GPS app) has no knowledge of Slovenia! I kid you not….Slovenia does not yet exist in this application so be prepared and bring paper print-outs of directions or buy a road map!