Luka Esenko is a landscape and travel photographer based in Slovenia. He leads tours and workshops over at Adriatic2Alps. In this feature, Luka would like to take you on a visual tour around Slovenia, a country that most people overlook as a travel destination.

Scroll down to visit Slovenia through the lens of this up-and-coming photographer!

Surprising Slovenia

by Luka Esenko

“Where?” is a common response I get when I tell people I’m a photographer from Slovenia. We go through the fact that it’s not Czech Republic nor Slovakia. Finally, in a moment of clarity, “Ahh yes, former Yugoslavia!” And bingo—we’ve pinpointed my tiny homeland, bordered by Austria, Italy, Hungary, and the more widely-known Croatia.

As much as it saddens me that Slovenia is relatively unknown to the rest of the world, I take a secret delight in the fact that our gem of a country is slightly hidden and remains unspoiled, yet still has much to offer on many levels. We are barely featured on the “heatmap” of the most photographed places in the world, with the exception of Lake Bled. This is a mystery to me, as a professional photographer who finds everyday inspiration in the the Adriatic region I’ve gotten to know so intimately through the lens.

Clients who join me on my photography tours are frequently surprised to discover that we have a little bit of everything here—and all within easy reach.

If the weather and light work in my favor, I start my day with a sunrise shoot in the heart of the Triglav National Park at 2600m in the Julian Alps. Then, I end my day with a spectacular sunset on the Istrian coast at Piran.

On the way, I could take in the vibrant reds, greens, and yellows of the Karst region with its many vineyards, make my way past a couple of glacial lakes or waterfalls, and perhaps pass a few Medieval towns, as well as the Saltpans at Secovlje for good measure.

Geographical and cultural diversity go hand in hand. One good thing about Slovenia’s checkered history and complex relationship with shifting borders is the heady mix of cultural influences that it brings.

My grandmother has lived in four different countries, and experienced seven different currencies—yet she has never moved from her home in Litija, Central Slovenia.

Slovenian cuisine is also influenced by the diverse geography, culture, climate and history, with elements of Austrian, Hungarian, French and Italian specialities. We also love our wine here. Of the 80–90 million liters produced each year in Slovenia, we only export 6 million liters so you might have to come here to try it. In Maribor, Slovenia’s second city, you can even visit the world’s oldest grape vine. It is 400 years old and still produces approximately 60 kilos of grapes a year! Unfortunately wine produced from this vine is bottled specially for official gifts, so unless you’re Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or a visiting Japanese emperor, you’re not likely going to be able to taste it!

Few cities in the world can boast of being guarded by dragons, but ours is!

The range of photographic opportunities that Slovenia offers is quite diverse. Let’s start with the laidback yet energetic capital, Ljubljana.

Life centers along the Ljubljana River running through it—along with a thriving “café culture”. A series of very unique bridges cross back and forth, linking the left and right bank, making this an easy and compact city to get around as a photographer.

Thirty minutes from the capital lies the majestic Lake Bled with its iconic island and fairy tale-like 16th Century church. It’s our most famous landmark—and with good reason.

Each visit to Lake Bled brings new experiences. You can never get tired of the beauty of this place, or take it for granted. You never know how the play of light, weather, and reflections will come together in one fleeting moment—and often with surprising results!

Lesser-known but equally beautiful is Vintgar Gorge, a 1.6km-long ravine graced by the Radovna river with its many waterfalls, rapids, and pools. The wooden boardwalks can be a challenge with a tripod, but as we photographers tend to favor earlier and later light, it is possible to find a tranquil spot. Once, I stumbled across a film crew and a team of actors using this as a backdrop for a Bollywood movie, so expect the unexpected in this magical place.

I’m often asked if the vibrant turquoise blues and greens in my photos of the Soca Valley are “real” or achieved through post-processing. Clients often remark that it looks too good to be true, until they go there and see it for themselves, that is. Known as the “Emerald Beauty”, the River Soca is one of the rare rivers in the world that retain an intensity of color throughout its course. It is truly a joy to photograph.

More surprises await below ground in the Karst region of Slovenia. Every year, cavers discover more caves in this incredible underworld. To date, there are approximately 9,000 caves. Of the 20 caves you can visit, Križna Jama is my favorite to photograph. You might need to be patient with the weather, and make sure that the water levels and conditions are suitable. There are 20 underground lakes to navigate. When they are accessible, the results are incredible.

This curious, little-known and staggeringly beautiful underground world populated with unexpected characters, shapes and colors could almost be the perfect metaphor for Slovenia itself.

I hope I’ve given you a taste of some of the surprises Slovenia has to offer the inquisitive traveller and photographer. There are many more to discover—you’ll have to take my word for it. Or even better, come visit Slovenia, and experience it for yourself. Thanks for reading!

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