A Deep and Cavernous Country
If you need a reason to visit Slovenia, here is one big one I discovered after my visit this past October: Postojna Caves (or Postojnska Jama in Slovenian). Cave lovers, spelunkers and other people interested in the “underworld” should definitely put this magnificent place on your list. Even if you don’t have a strong passion for caves, (I’ll be honest, I didn’t before my visit here) you will when you leave this cave system.
The Postojna Caves are the second longest system in Slovenia and the second longest publicly accessible cave in the world. That there are two long cave systems in Slovenia shouldn’t come as a surprise since the country boasts over 10,000 caves and 100 more are discovered each year. But it did come as a surprise to me because what American has ever heard much about Slovenia except that one of our former First Ladies was born here? Our lack of geographical knowledge of this beautiful country is no reason to continue to remain ignorant of it considering its history and its natural beauty.
The Postojna Cave system was discovered 200 years ago and has been open for visitors since 1818. When it opened in 1818 the trains were operated with coal engines, so a section of the cave has the dark remnants of the locomotive fumes. As I zoomed through the cave system in the dark last fall with stone walls close enough I felt like I should duck at some points, I tried to imagine what it was like 200 years ago when it was first discovered. It now has electric trains for tours and has had over 40 million people visit its amazing subterranean halls of stalagmites and stalactites. How did I never hear of it until I moved to Europe?
Postonja is not even the only famous cave system in Slovenia. According to the I Feel SLovenia website, Škocjan, a cave system chosen as a UNESCO world site in 1986, is also open for visitors to explore. It boasts incredible scenery as well, and some say it’s even more beautiful than Postojna.
Since I’ve never been to the other one and have only read several articles comparing the two it sounds as if Postojna is more accessible for people with children, disabilities; in other words, it’s a little easier to navigate. The other requires a little more walking and effort to get around as there is no train to take you deep into the system. I plan to visit Škocjan at some point, so I will let you know my opinion, but at this point I can’t imagine experiencing a cave system to top Postojna. So if people say that they prefer the other system, then wow, it must be amazing. Because look at these incredible, jaw-dropping formations in the following photos that you can find at Postojna:
Getting to Postojna: Heading from Croatia or Italy to Postojna, you get to pass through the beautiful hills and pastures of the charming country of Slovenia with its fairytale steeples that pierce the sky in every village. It is short scenic 2 hour drive from Pula or 2 hours from Zagreb and 45 minutes from Trieste, Italy. It’s also only 50 minutes from the capitol of Slovenia, Llublijana.
Tour Details: The regular tour of Postojna Cave lasts 90 minutes, and it allows you to explore 5 kilometers of the cave passages with its gargantuan halls and smaller rooms and includes a 3.5 km train ride and another 1.5 km of walking. There is also a handicapped accessible tour.
The train ride is amazing and a little unnerving as you whiz through room after room, hall after hall, and sometimes you feel like you should duck as the rock walls seem so to close in on you. I thought about how deep we were going into the cave as we whizzed by stalagmites and cave curtains and spaghetti formations and stalactites. As we drove through, I tried not to think about what would happen if the train broke down when you were deep inside the system or even worse, an earthquake hit. But I guess you could just walk out or dig out if you managed to survive. Why do I think about these things? That’s another whole blog post.
Back to the cave tour: Each tour is guided, with guides available in Slovenian, English, German and Italian. The great news is that the cave is open year round so it’s perfect for people who like to visit places outside of the main tourist season. The hours are limited and tours are less frequent in the off season, but we went in October and they had a healthy crowd, so I would imagine summers are a little hectic. It was fall break for schools in Europe when we went so that may have accounted for the nice size crowd.
I have to say this cave experience blew the other caves I’ve been to out of the water by the mere quantity and quality of the cave formations. I’ve been to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and to another huge cave system in France, both impressive, and many other smaller ones but they don’t really come close to the magnitude of the experience here.
So if you were looking for a reason to visit Slovenia, this is a great one. But there’s another one just 9 km away. It’s an actual castle built into a cave wall. It has been there for centuries and you can visit it after purchasing a joint ticket at Postojna.
Read about it in an upcoming blog post, “Once Upon a Time in Prednjam Castle,” the largest cave castle in the world.