I woke up early, thanks to jet lag, and hit the road at 7:30am for Slovenia. The distance between Budapest and the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana is approximately 463 km, or 4.5 hours. It’s not for the faint of heart. However, whenever I need to drive long distances I always look to see if there are any attractive stops along the way. Luckily, there are. Fortunately, I was able to hit two very cool and interesting castles. Unfortunately, I was a bit overzealous with my planning and was hoping to hit a cave and a Roman Necropolis, which didn’t quite work out as well as I had hoped.
The first stretch was the 3.5 hours starting in Budapest going to a town in Slovenia called Ptuj. I took the highway south west along the south side of Lake Balaton, all the way to Slovenia. My biggest concern in this whole trip has been figuring out the toll situation in Slovenia, which uses a little tool called a vignette. This is common in other countries as well (Hungary and Austria come to mind) but i had never had to buy one before so it was all new to me. The issue here is that if you get pulled over without a vignette, then you have to pay a massive fine (several hundred bucks) on the spot to the police. But you can only really get vignettes inside the country. They say that you can buy the vignette at the first petrol station in Slovenia. I didn’t want to risk a fine for even a minute in the country, so once I got close to the border I got off the highway and drove along back roads until I found a petrol station where I could by the vignette before getting back on the highway (I know, I’m a little overly cautious). Otherwise, it was a fairly easy albeit long drive.
The first stop in Slovenia was Ptuj, the oldest city in Slovenia dating back to medieval times. The main attraction is the Ptuj Castle, but there are several other interesting sites including the Town Tower, the Town Hall, the central square, the Church of St. George, the Minorite Monastery, and Orpheus Monument (among others). The Ptuj Castle, sits high on a hill with a lovely view of the city, and houses several different collections of artworks and artifacts.
After a quick lunch in Ptuj, I continued toward Ljubljana and made another stop along the way at Slovenska Bistrica, another town with an important castle. The Slovenska Bistrica castle is a Renaissance-Baroque castle that has now become a Cultural Center housing exhibits on various different aspects of Slovenian history. The Castle also features gorgeous frescoes painted in the early 18th century by F. I. Flurer in the Knights Hall as well as the Chapel. The frescoes in the Knights Hall are particularly well preserved and quite exceptionally executed.
After a quick tour of Slovenska Bistrica Castle, I rushed to see if I could try and fit in two more sites before I arrived in Ljubljana. The first was a Roman Necropolis in Sempeter, and the second a cave nearby called Hell’s Cave. Unfortunately both were technically “closed” when I arrived – because it’s still June, the sites have somewhat irregular and slightly inconvenient visiting hours.
At Hell Cave (so named because some believe the rock above the entrance looks like the image of a devil) there was a hiking trail that goes past the cave that I heard was nice for a hike. Even though I wasn’t able to enter the cave, I did decide to do the hike, which was slightly more complicated than I had anticipated. Lacking a real map and the trail markers being somewhat inconsistent, I found myself going off trail a few times. In the end it was a more tiring hike than I had planned, but I needed to walk around after so many hours in a car.
I went over to the town of Sempeter to see the Roman Necropolis, which had also closed somewhat early. Well, technically the Necropolis was closed but it’s in an open area fenced off by some hedges so you could look in over the fence and still see several of the tomb stones and markers. This necropolis features reconstructed marble tombs of wealthy families from Roman Celeia dating from the 1st to the 3rd centuries A.D. It’s considered an important archeological site and Roman memorial in Slovenia.
I also read there was an old Roman Road nearby that ran through the area. For some reason that fence wasn’t locked so I wandered into the closed off area to take a look. There isn’t much to see but it made for a peaceful afternoon stroll.
At that point it was evening and time to make my way to Ljubljana. I arrived and settled into my hotel, and then headed out for dinner in the city center. I took some okay photos at sunset around the city center, but I’ll wait to post better photos in daytime tomorrow (assuming it doesn’t rain…). I will say that the town is absolutely adorable with it’s bridges and lovely architecture and the castle looking down on the town from the hill above. It’s a gem. I really like here.