Winter photography in Slovenia
Heavy snowfall in February drew us to Slovenia, which was the perfect choice for a short winter photography trip while cruising through a snow covered mountain landscape and getting my exercise deficient body moving again on the ski slopes.
As Slovenia is situated on the Balkan Peninsula and sits on the verge between West and Eastern Europe (although there is no consensus on where the borders between those parts of Europe actually lie), it can be classified in several different regions, but is most often listed as part of central Europe or South-Central Europe. Located at a geographical and cultural crossroads, it enjoys influences from different cultures and feels like a pleasant mix between West and East. Bordered by Italy and Austria (in Western Europe, if you will), and on the other hand Hungary and Croatia (in ‘Eastern Europe’), it maintains a balance between the Slavic culture and language and western influences (such as Art Nouveau and Italian Baroque style architecture for example). Slovenia was part of the Yugoslavia republic and has since its independence grown to a highly developed country, in contrast to some of the other former socialist countries.
Our trip starts in the capital, Ljubljana, a very agreeable little city. The wide cobblestone streets and remarkably clean city centre breathe a very calm and safe atmosphere. Despite the cold, many people gather on the numerous terraces that are dotted along the riverbanks of the Ljubljanica river to soak up some sunshine. The river flows right through the centre of town and can be crossed by several different bridges that in itself form an important visual feature of the city’s characteristic appearance. The 1901 Dragon Bridge is, surprisingly, decorated with statues of dragons, the symbol of Ljubljana. Continuing from there through the Central Market, passing the stalls that sell fresh Slovenian fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers and dry-cured meat products, we cross the river over to the Petkovšek embankment on the Butcher’s bridge. A far more modern bridge decorated with mythological, ancient bronze sculptures and love padlocks on the steel wires like the Ponte des Arts bridge in Paris used to have. One of the terraces here provides us with an excellent opportunity to do some people watching while sipping on a craft beer and the sun making an effort to drive out the winter cold. Strolling along the river we find ourselves at the main square in town, Prešeren Square, connected by the famous triple bridge which is one of the many buildings in the city that was designed by the acclaimed Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik. The most notable building on the square is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation with the striking red-coloured façade. From the square we see Ljubljanski grad, the castle on top of the hill, another one of the main attractions of the city. A nice walk up to the castle provides long, stretching views over the city and surroundings, while the castle itself from the inside is rather commercially exploited so that we did not visit it.
Now that the sun has set and the temperature dropped, it is time for an authentic Slovenian meal. Though there are also plenty of trendy restaurants and bars where they serve craft beer and delicious wine, keeping their excellent wine production largely unknown for the greater audience. For dessert we went to the coffee shop ‘Cacao’, that serves delicious cakes and is a place where lots of people seem to gather in the evening.
After a full day in the capital we are leaving the next morning in heavy snowfall with our rental car towards famous Lake Bled. This is probably the most iconic attraction of Slovenia, well-known for its picture perfect scenery due to the little Island (Blejski otok) located in the lake with several buildings on it, most notably the Assumption of Mary church. As soon as the island gets into view when driving into Bled you can understand why it is an famous tourist attraction; it is an extremely picturesque and eye appealing scene. The low hanging, snow loaded clouds and mist-topped trees in the background form a somewhat mystical backdrop to this photogenic and serene place.
Well at least in winter it is, ‘in summer it gets too busy here’, a dark-browed waiter wearing a broad smile tells us, while he puts hot chocolate on the table. ‘The small town with almost no parking space is overcrowded in high season’. Today, however, there are only a handful of tourists, so we can enjoy the lake surroundings in serenity.
Suddenly, the snow starts coming down heavily again. The island and church are now shrouded in thick snowflakes and a heavy fog. We drive out of town around the lake for some different perspectives, nearly every angle provides a beautiful view, and I get out of the car to get closer to the edge of the lake. I’m almost knee-deep in the snow and it is dead silent, whilst the flakes are increasing in size and in velocity of coming down. I always find the silence that heavy snowfall brings very soothing. Partly because you sort of expect precipitation to make sound when you see it coming down, like rain does. But snow doesn’t, and somehow that is very comforting and calming.
Now that I photographed the lake from numerous angles, we are leaving beautiful Bled behind and let the snowy, winding, empty roads take us to Vintgar gorge. Unfortunately, the whole pathway leading into this gorge is closed until spring, but the cabling brook with vibrant blue and green colours, piercing through the snowy bright-white landscape is quite impressive anyways.
We arrive at our accommodation just inside Triglav national park, where a parking space needs to be created for us with the bulldozer due to the heavy amount of snow. We are the only guests here. Down the road is a cluster of houses and one restaurant, hardly eligible to be called a ‘village’. There is a guy walking up the hill for thirty minutes with his ski’s to zoom down later through fresh powder snow. A few cars pass. A bulldozer hovers some snow around. And that is all that’s going on here today. The branches of the pine trees are bent heavily and sighing under the weight of the thick layer of snow on top of it.
As we are the only guests in our accommodation, we try the other eating establishment in ‘town’, so not to sit alone. Of course we are the only guests in this restaurant as well. Slovenian cuisine is diverse but features a lot of meat, like steak, swine and deer. The deer medallions accompanied with local red wine are delicious, for dessert we have homemade pine schnapps offered to us by our friendly host, happy to have customers at all. There is nothing quite like being outdoors in the snow all day and topping it off with a hearty meal next to a crackling fire; a guaranteed recipe for getting delightfully drowsy.
Fuelled by a big breakfast, we resume our drive towards Bovec, a wintersport town in the Kanin – Sella Nevea ski resort, close to the border with Italy in the Julian Alps. We take the northern route over the highway as we are not too sure about the snow situation on the roads through the Triglav national park. Luckily, the highway zooms through a rather nice landscape with snow toppled trees on rolling hills and soon our exit takes us on regional roads through little towns. Along the way we pass another ski village, Kranskja Gora. The little dots going down the hill in the distance are starting to get me excited, as an avid skier that hasn’t been on the slopes in 6 years. We drive through Italy as the other small road crossing south through the national park from Kranskja Gora towards Bovec is closed due to snow. Upon arriving in Bovec we find out, to our dismay, that the ski rental places are closed and additionally this side of the ski area is closed as well due to heavy winds. Luckily, we manage to catch an employee still present in the shop and are able to rent some gear. We have to drive back for 45 minutes to go skiing from the Italian side of the mountain in Selle Nevea. The ski resorts are small and in a few hours you’ll have done all slopes several times which is why you’ll find mostly Slovenian/Italian day trippers here. This results in quiet slopes, unlike popular ski areas in Austria for example.
We spend about 2 days in Bovec, an extremely quiet town this time of year, eventually being able to ski on the Slovenian slopes as well. With 2200 meter Kanin is the highest ski centre of Slovenia and susceptible to strong winds, resulting in unforeseen closures. On average it was about minus 13 degrees on the mountain, but very pleasant when the sun was out. It was such a great feeling to be back on the ski’s again, carving through the fresh powder snow, cold wind striking your face and legs burning from a lack of exercise the past year. It’s a great alternative to more expensive skiing in Austria, Switzerland etc. if you are only looking to ski for a couple of days.
We conclude our trip with a pleasant drive on winding mountain roads, going partly through the Triglav national park, where the landscape is completely wrapped in a thick, white blanket of snow. Slovenia provided some nice opportunities for some winter photography and outdoor activity