Spellbound by a boutique hotel with a pretty name, in awe of a dreamy island church and enough cake and chocolate to satisfy her seriously sweet tooth.
There have been a few ‘firsts’ for me this year. Some were hard lessons, some were exciting, some were just damp squibs and some I hope never to repeat. I won’t bore you with the non travel related ones but suffice to say, it’s been a challenging year all round but there’s always something sure to relight my fire. Can you guess? A plane ticket and the prospect of heading off to somewhere for the first time.
My love of travel has been well documented and I’ve been privileged to see some of the most beautiful and fascinating places on earth - and write about them. Perhaps less well known is my deep passion for the tourism and hospitality sector and how I have worked behind the scenes in various guises over the years, supporting destinations, hotels and restaurants, raising their profile to both consumers and in the media.
There’s no feeling like it when I am able to share my experience of a country, a city or a superstar hotel. Putting it into words, thinking how best to take the reader on the journey with me and hoping that I’ve given them a good read and a little escape from reality for a few minutes.
Business or pleasure?
In a way, travel is about escape. Albeit when we travel for business it’s simply logistics and how to get from A to B. When we travel for leisure, we look for something a bit less functional, at least I do. Yes, I want efficiency and good standards but when I don’t have a tight schedule to follow, I prefer a dreamier and less rigid approach. My most recent voyage took me to Slovenia on a mix of business and pleasure. Are you familiar with the term ‘bleisure’...it’s a trend that is set to continue in the travel industry.
What does it mean? Well, as the name suggests it combines business and leisure - going on a work trip and adding on a few days’ downtime, exploring a destination that otherwise might only have consisted of views of a conference room. In short, part work, part holiday. It makes sense.
My trip to Slovenia fell into this category and I was able to see that this isn’t just a buzzword - it totally worked for me and I lucked out on being able to visit places I might not have had the chance to. My primary reason for being there was business but not having had a proper holiday this year, a few days sightseeing and chilling out slipped into my work plans perfectly. Boy, am I glad they did. I’ve just been to Slovenia, and despite knowing a lot about the country, its traditions and its tourist offerings, it still blew me away when we came face to face for the first time. I mean, there was always going to be something special about a country that has the world ‘love’ in its name, right?
Coffee, cakes and castles
The first stop was the capital city Ljubljana. Isn’t that also such a pretty name? It conjures up images of the fictional, fairytale places we see as the setting for many a Christmas movie. It’s not often I get to spend a morning strolling around such a charming and laid back city. What a treat to have my first coffee of the day in lovely Ljubljana - this was sure to chase away the Monday morning blues. That was something I noticed actually. I was out and about during ‘rush hour' at the start of a new week but this didn’t feel like the Monday mornings I’m used to - this was more Sunday in the park and the vibe was suiting me down to the ground. Anyone who knows me will testify that I'm not a power walker. I’m a dawdler and although I am super efficient, I do things at my pace. Leisurely is my default setting but hey, slow and steady wins the race.
Being so compact and super easy to get around all the key attractions, there was no need for speed and I felt this was an experience to be savoured. Besides, I was in no hurry. Meandering around Ljubljana old town on a bright but chilly autumn morning, I had made no exact plan or tick list. I just wanted to see where the day would take me.
Throwing caution to the wind, I switched off Google maps on my phone and moved forward on instinct. Although I have to say I was maybe being guided by my sense of smell as the tempting aroma of delicious chocolate and cake shops sent me their signal like a siren call. I have a very sweet tooth and find dainty, handmade goodies irresistible - especially in Europe. My first stop was the gorgeous La Chocolate - a divine chocolate shop in the heart of the old town - a dazzling experience not only for the array of beautiful cocoa creations but the overall vibe was enchanting. I could have easily lost the rest of the day there (and every euro in my purse!)
Staying on the sweetmeat trail, I had been told about a patisserie that would satisfy my sugar cravings. Fetiche Patisserie. There’s a name that will stay on my lips forever. Thankfully the guilt of scoffing a mouth-watering hazelnut cream-filled pastry and part of a famous Dragon Roll was short lived as a trip to the magnificent Ljubljana Castle to climb the steps to the tower soon worked off the extra calories.
Due to my business commitments, I only had a short time in Ljubljana but it was better than not seeing it all. Even for a few hours, I was able to cover a fair chunk of this compact, walkable city and it was the perfect gateway for the next leg of my journey.
Saying goodbye to Ljubljana, I headed to a region that has been a huge part of my working life yet I had never been. Time to say hello to the Julian Alps.
For the next few days, my base was the town of Bohinjska Bistrica in the heart of Bohinj.
I was going to have the pleasure of not one but two hotels in the area - the award-winning boutique hotel Sunrose 7 and its sister property (literally across the road), Bohinj ECO Hotel.
Sunrose 7 is one of the loveliest places I have stayed in my life and I’ve been to some of the world’s finest hotels in my time. It actually feels less like a hotel and more like being a guest in a beautiful alpine home. As you open the door, a calm, cosy vibe immediately takes over you, almost like a warm embrace from a dear old friend. That’s exactly how I was greeted by the staff here - like an old friend. A warmer welcome I could not have received and I immediately felt at home in my new digs for the night. Stylish yet authentic decor has been thoughtfully put together in the rooms and the lounge area. It’s small but perfectly formed. There’s such a nice atmosphere at Sunrose 7 - complemented by a sublime playlist, adding to the overall ambience. I won't lie, I secretly saved some of the tracks on Shazam to add to my own music library but also because these songs will forever remind me of this special place. Another takeaway from this hotel stay was the pillows. I struggle to find the right pillows at home and usually wake up with a stiff neck. Not here. I fell into a deep sleep on pillows that felt like clouds and not one ache or pain as I skipped down the stairs to breakfast. Result.
Even the hotel name spoke to my heart - Sunrose 7 - it’s just gorgeous, isn't it? But do you know why it’s called that? The sunrose is a flower and 7 (also my lucky number), was added because number 7 represents the story of the circle of life in this beautiful alpine place - from Bohinjska Bistrica to the alpine botanical garden on the south slopes of Črna prst mountain, where the Sunrose flower grows. From there onwards there are seven major peaks of the ridge and heading further into the Valley of the Triglav Seven Lakes to the summit of Triglav, where the route ends at restaurant Kavarna pod kostanji under the chestnuts trees at Triglavska cesta 7.
You can read the full story and history of how Sunrose 7 came to life here. It’s a fascinating read.
Time to disconnect
As well as being an elegant yet cosy place to stay, Sunrose 7 offers guests the chance to go a little deeper in their relaxation at the hotel. Visitors are strongly encouraged to ditch the tech and go back to a simpler way of life.
The hotel’s digital detox concept means there’s no television or multimedia entertainment in guest rooms - no distractions, just space and peace to chill for a few days, drowning out the noise of everyday life. Wifi is available if you really need to stay connected to the outside world but I recommend you don’t bother. Besides, immersing yourself in the surrounding natural beauty will make you forget all about social media and the constant ping of emails.
Switch off the phone, stay lost in the moment and appreciate the peace and tranquillity. You’ll be back in the hustle and bustle of your busy life soon enough - take time out and just be. If ever there was a place to do that, it’s here at Sunrose 7.
To further boost your wellbeing, Sunrose 7 also has a gorgeous wellness area. Inspired by the legend of the Golden Fairies that, according to folklore, lived in the rock walls above Lake Bohinj, Sunrose 7’s Zlata Vila (or ‘Golden Fairy’) is a calming and dreamy retreat. It offers seven elements of relaxation, including a carbonised Finnish sauna, a relaxing hot tub and an ice waterfall for Kneipp treatment. Complete relaxation is the order of the day, and this luxury chill-out zone can also be booked for exclusive, private use.
Did you know Sunrose 7 was an adults only hotel? For the first 18 years of being a parent I had to find suitable accommodation that would fit little people’s needs as well as ticking my own boxes. It was a real treat to stay somewhere that is exclusively for grown ups and only guests over 18 can stay here. I love children but having quiet time without kids around is a big plus.
And just when I thought this hotel couldn't get any better, I had the opportunity to sample the award-winning culinary creations from head chef, Jože Godec.
His signature dishes are made from recipes for Bohinj delicacies that have been passed down through generations. In addition to his secret family recipes, Godec also follows new cuisine trends but his plates are seasoned with local flavours and a stylish, modern day twist. The presentation of the dishes was a thing of beauty. This wasn’t just good food. This was art on a plate. Normally, I wouldn’t eat in the hotel I am staying at, choosing to go exploring the local restaurants instead but trust me, stay in, eat here. You’ll have an unforgettable experience and the memory of which will stay with you forever. I wish I was staying forever, but as we all know good things must come to an end.
This little beauty is one of the longest-running hotels in the Julian Alps and has been established for over 130 years. A shining example of sustainability, Sunrose 7 is also a Green Key certified hotel. Ideal for all you responsible travellers out there that want to see the word but also want to care for our precious planet.
Time for another meeting before getting out and about to see if the guidebooks and pictures do this part of the world justice.
Make a wish
I had a few things on my list for this trip but I couldn't possibly come to Slovenia and not see Lake Bled.
I had seen pictures of the famous lake with its pretty island church in travel brochures and TV documentaries but nothing could prepare me for seeing it in real life. After a pleasant (but chilly) crossing in a traditional Pletna boat, it was time to get up close and personal with this idyllic island and the beautiful place of worship in the middle of the lake.
My reward for climbing the steps to the top was to ring the famous Wishing Bell inside the church. If any of you have read any of my previous travel articles, you’ll know I have a strange fascination for church bells and I love nothing better than to hear them ringing out - especially on foreign shores. This was the first time I have actually got to ring one - and you’ll never believe this - being so excited about it, I forgot to make a wish - as is the tradition (and the whole point!). It didn’t matter, I was so besotted with the dreamy island and the magical lake that perhaps my wish had already come true. With a heavy heart I had to get back on the boat but a little piece of my soul will live forever on that island.
My next trip took me to the quaint little town of Radovljica where there were more treats in store - as I had anticipated having learned that there is an annual chocolate festival held here as well as a year round Gingerbread museum - it’s not called the sweet town for nothing!
Radovljica is a unique experience. The main hub centres around Linhart Square which you can cover in minutes but dig deep into the stories of the town and you’ll find you spend more time here than you imagined. I had the pleasure of a wonderful guide, Lovro, who simply wowed me with his local knowledge and the fascinating stories of the town’s history. I saw how gingerbread is made, I visited the local church, I learned about the frescoes on the buildings and houses of Linhart Square, and I visited the Museum of Apiculture inside the glorious old town hall.
Do make the effort and take a bus ride to Radovljica - it’s super cute and proper storybook stuff and you will thank me when you try the locally made chocolate.
Saying a reluctant goodbye to Lovro and Radovljica it was time to go back to Bohinjska Bistrica on the now familiar local bus and check in to Bohinj ECO.
This hotel is suitable for families and a very different experience from Sunrose 7 but it offers so much for visitors to this heavenly part of the world if the kids are in tow.
Family fun and a room with a view
Bohinj ECO Hotel is the place to make lots of happy memories together. Little ones (and big ones) can make a splash in the indoor swimming pools and water slides - a great way to spend family time and get some exercise too.
The stunning location is ideal for outdoor fun, family walks and enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors. A range of activities is available such as cycling - either take a guided tour or set off on your own. Or, explore the surrounding beauty spots such as Bohinj lake, Savica waterfall and Mostnica Gorge. Bohinj ECO Hotel is also a haven for pamper addicts. The wellness facilities offer a tempting choice of spa treatments, a panoramic pool, steam bath, Finnish sauna and massage area. I had the luxury of spending a morning in the exclusive wellness area which I had to myself. The first proper downtime I had on this trip and it was a far cry from my usual hectic life and busy job. Lying on a lounger, cup of tea in hand, I enjoyed the peace and solitude of the calm space. I had taken a magazine with me to read while I waited for my massage appointment but I didn't even open the first page. I was so engrossed in the view from the window that time flew by without reading a single word. Outside, a low mist had formed but it added to the ambience, shrouding the hillside and the peaks of the alps in a light haze with the steeple of the neighbouring church peeking through. It was so picturesque I felt like it wasnt a window at all but a massive oil painting that had been fixed to the glass. Was it a fake? Absolutely not - what I was looking out onto was real and I couldn't help thinking about the locals and how lucky they were to live in this fairytale village. By the time I was on the treatment table, I was already in a zen-like state and I’m surprised I didn't fall asleep and miss the soothing sweeps from the masseuse's healing hands.
Bohinj ECO Hotel is perfect for groups of friends and families needing a good base for hiking, ski-ing and cycling trips. This hotel hosts large scale conferences and again meets the needs of the ‘bleisure’ traveller. There’s also a pretty terrace to sit and have a quiet meeting or a cup of coffee with a client away from the comings and goings of the lobby.
The hotel offers a convenient buffet dining option, a well-stocked bar and some of the friendliest serving staff I’ve ever met. Not being familiar with Slovenian wines, I was guided through some of the local produce and eventually found one that hit the spot - obviously I had to try a few, right?
All too soon, it was time for me to head back to the UK, my head swirling with the Julian Alps experience and how I could share the beauty and vibe of this special place to my colleagues, friends and family. I can’t do it justice, you simply need to see it for yourself.
So, in between the work related things I had to do and meetings with professional connections, I was able to experience some of what Slovenia had to offer to holidaymakers. The term ‘bleisure’ sort of bugs me in the same way ‘staycation’ does but I get the point. They say never mix business with pleasure but if it’s the only way you’ll get a break or the chance to visit a wishlist destination, why not give in to the trend. It worked for me. It might have been my first foray into bleisure travel and my first time in Slovenia but hopefully not my last.
Does a late bell wish still count?
How to get there:
I flew to Ljubljana from London Heathrow with British Airways and returned via Amsterdam to Glasgow with Transavia and KLM.
Taking the train and local public transport buses will take you to many of the key towns in the Julian Alps. It’s also much better for the environment. Find out more here
Where to stay:
For a dreamy adults only experience and digital detox, stay at Sunrose 7 Hotel
For business conferences, family and groups stay at Bohinj ECO Hotel