We departed from Stuttgart Germany and decided to break up the estimated six-hour drive into two days.
After traveling to so many big cities through Europe and entertaining family members and friends over the past year, I was craving an escape into nature. This is easy to do living in Germany since so much of the land is preserved, but I was looking for something unique, epic, and awesomely outdoorsy. Slovenia, being one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world and the third most forested country in Europe, was the winner.
Slovenia is a small country, but packed with gorgeous natural beauty of mountains, rivers, forests, and the seaside. Austria and Italy border to the west while Hungary and Croatia border the east and south. We only had a week to experience a small portion of the country, so we chose the Gorenjska region. This area is home to some bucket list landmarks including Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj, the Julian Alps, and the Triglav National Park which contains Slovenia’s highest mountain peak at 2,864 metres (9,396 ft). The people were friendly and the scenery kept us oooing and aching from its spectacular rock formations and greenness.
The region is known as an outdoor lovers paradise with hiking, rock climbing, canyoning, rafting, biking, kayaking and paragliding. Driving through these areas it’s quite common to see backpackers and hitchhikers along the roads thumbing for a lift to their next adventure. We would have gladly picked them up, but our small rental was packed to the brim with me, my husband, toddler son, and the babysitter. The babysitter was a necessary addition since we planned on doing some outdoor experiences that were not suitable for small children…canyoning!!!
Slow Roll Through Austria
Hallstatt is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains in the UNESCO World Heritage Dachstein-Salzkammergut area. We only spent two hours here as a pitstop and lunch break while admiring the lake views, which I think was plenty of time.
The town is small and quite touristy with overpriced snacks and lunch choices. We did enjoy strolling through the half timbered streets while admiring the houses and flower arrangements. Above the lake there a large salt mine which offers entertaining tours with fast, fun underground wooden slides. Having done a salt mine tour in the Salzburg region before, we opted for the 50 min boat tour around the lake which provided some interesting information about the area and landmarks.
For 9 Euro, I recommend the boat tour for both kids and adults. Tickets can be purchased near the TI (tourist info center), boat dock, and main bus station. Paddle boats and kayaks can also be rented. Parking is quite difficult (even on a Tuesday morning) so be prepared to park a little ways off and do some walking.
Leaving Hallstatt, we drove into Gmünd, Austria. We had found a last minute accommodation on Airbnb called Pension Sonnenheim in a small, quirky, artist town. The owners Nicole, Ron, and their sweet dog Magic are from the Netherlands and had moved to the area a year ago. They are doing a fabulous job upgrading and customizing the grounds which consist of an outdoor pool area, playground, indoor playroom, sauna, and a cozy breakfast nook/meal room with excellent mountain views and fast, free wifi.
They recommended that we have dinner at the local castle, Alte Burg, which was a 5-10 minute walk with our toddler, and it did not disappoint. Not only was the castle fun for our son to bike around in (playground on-site!), the wine, beer, and food selection was well priced, local, and flavorful. They specialize in Spätzle (local homemade egg noodles) and the Gemüsespätzle (vegetable noodles) was absolutely delicious and loaded with fresh veggies and gooey, savory mountain cheese.
The artistic theme of the city was apparent in the castle with international artists displaying paintings, sculptures, and other mediums for purchase. As someone who went to art school and still considers herself an artist (on hiatus), I especially enjoyed walking through the castle and seeing the wide variety unique art.
In the morning, Nicole and Ron suggested we swing by the Fallbach waterfall in nearby Malta before driving into Slovenia. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the waterfall, and was well worth the detour.
Stunning scenery, ample hiking trails, and a playground that includes a log raft, zip line, sand boxes, slides, swings, and obstacle courses. I have yet to meet a playground in Germany or Austria that doesn’t astound me with the use of natural materials and precarious play elements. Helicopter parents be warned, there’s no “safety first” theme, here.
- Erlebnispark Fallbach: May – Sept daily 9:00am – 6:00pm and Oct daily 10:00am – 5:00pm Dogs are not allowed. Entrance is 5 Euro for kids and adults 3 and older. You can also rent a grill station to have a bbq or party, outstanding scenery at no extra cost.
I highly suggest staying at Sonnenheim Gmünd for a stopover to the Balkans. It’s right off the A10 for easy access on and off the freeway. We stayed in the Apartment Gmeineck which has two bedrooms, kitchenette, large balcony with a beautiful view, and a separate shower and bathroom. We loved it! To use my discount for this or other accommodations, click here to connect to AirBnB!