The best way to navigate your way around Slovenia is by church! Every village has at least one and considering the religion here is pretty much the same, the varied design and different ages of these distinctive buildings are a real feature of the countryside. Everywhere you go, just look up and you will see a little church on top of a hill or a steeple peeping out from the trees on the side of a mountain. Respecting the religious tradition of positioning the church overlooking the village, there is actually another reason why churches dominate Slovenia's skyline, which becomes very apparent when you think about what was happening here during the middle ages?
This was a dangerous time to live in central Europe as Slovenia was the front line for raids from the Ottoman empire. The Turkish troops attacked very quickly with no warning and killed everyone or burnt eveything that got in their way. For example, the town of Metlika on Slovenia's south eastern border was burnt down 17 times, so it is no surprise to find out it got the first Fire Brigade in Slovenia! OK, so the best place to run for cover during a raid was up and up. Churches in Slovenia became like fortresses of salvation for the villagers. Once inside the defensive walls, the villagers would be safe. But there was another advantage of having a church so visible. When the raiders came, warning fires could be lit from high up to alert neighbouring villages and these proved very effective.
There is a very good example of a "defended" church at Hrastovlje (40 mins), where the church is encircled by a well preserved defensive wall and looks more like a castle than a religious building.
Another bonus to visiting this church is the well preserved fresco of "the Dance of Death", a "must see" part of your holiday in Slovenia. The other 3 internal walls are painted with medieval versions of the old and new Testaments and are also really worth seeing. Would we still be able to see this treasure if the church had not been protected by the big walls and towers around it?
An excellent vista is always your reward when you climb up a hill, mountain or just some steps to visit a church in Slovenia. There is a fabulous view from the church at the top of the village of Skocjan (25 mins), site of one of Slovenia's most popular caves. You get a great view down to the valley and the river and if you walk another 20 minutes down from the church to the next village, you get an incredible reverse vista back to this church on top of the cliff, with the caves and the torrential river at the base of another "must see" vista.
We mentioned the unlucky town of Metlika (1 hr 40), above, but apart from being in the middle of a beautiful wine region you should also visit this town to see the very rare site of the mysterious "Three Churches", where 3 separate churches are located inside the same walls.. maybe this was also for defence, maybe not, when you see the height of the wall?
There are plenty of churches to admire on the "Green Heart Walk", starting at Lož, (40mins), which has a 6 hour heart shaped hike through the valley with the most churches per head in all Slovenia! One of these churches sits at the top of a village that becomes an island when the disappearing lakes fill with winter water and another church has a tall bell tower, separated from the church, which is pretty rare and of course has its own historical "defensive" meaning as this was the tower that the villagers escaped up when under attack.
And from our pretty village of Landol we have a recommended walk called the "Ten Church" walk, where you navigate your way around by looking for the church spires!
The pretty church of St George which you can see under Nanos from Lipizzaner Lodge was built well away from our neighbouring village of St Michel to bury the dead from the cholera epidemics in history. This church is passed on several biking and hiking routes from the Lodge and is directly on the old Roman road.
On Nanos mountain itself, local legend explains why there are the 3 Brother's Churches on this huge rock plateau, but you cannot see one from another. Well, the legend states there were 3 sons who were always arguing and so their dad ordered them to build these churches and stay there so they didn't have to look at each other! You can check for yourself if this legend is true!
Probably Slovenia's most famous church, located at the top of some steep steps on a beautiful little island on lake Bled (60 mins), at the gateway to the Slovenian Alps. The only way to get to this island is by gondola and if you make it up the steps, there is a bell in the chuch tower that you can ring to make a wish!
Plenty of wows already, but for the ultimate Slovenian wow you really need to take the adventurous road and path to a church perched off the side of a mountain with absolutely stunning views in Alpine tranquility. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we introduce the amazing Maple Hill Church, (Javorca), (75 mins). You really have to see this place with your own eyes and get here with your own sweat to appreciate the stunning location.. no photo can do it justice. (This church is the main photo at the top).
The church was built by Austro-Hungarian troops following the slaughter of the WW1 battle here in these beautiful mountains to commemorate the fallen and inside there are numerous names carved into the wood. The interior of the church is beautiful and there are stained glass windows. The soldiers painted the coats of arms, (badges) for all the Austro-Hungarian provinces onto the exterior.
It is not so far from the amazing Tolmin Gorge (70 mins) and you can hear the river water gushing down at the base of the valley from high up on the church steps. You can drive up here from Tolmin to the start of the forest road and then follow a snaking one vehicle road, high up over the river and scratched into the side of the mountain for about 7kms.. but rest assured, it feels much longer! Alternatively you could walk the 7km forest road or cycle it, but whichever way you get here, just get here and from the natural car park it is a 20 min hike up a steep tarmac track to the church in surely one of the best locations in Europe.
When you visit Ljubljana (30 mins) then don't forget to poke your nose inside the big pink building in the centre by the three bridges.. it is very beautiful inside and another of our favourite churches in Slovenia is the "Norwegian-like" wooden church, perched up on top of the 1,666m Big Meadow Mountain (70 mins) in a lovely place we call "Heaven on Earth".
If you make the effort to get here then you should also know there is an approx hour long hike from the end car park to the source of the Tolmin river. Shame to miss this one as the mountain vistas are overpowering. (This extra walk to the source is still on our list to do).