The Julian Alps
Credit: Getty Images

Slovenia, with its vineyards, mountains, alpine lakes, and Adriatic coastline, prides itself on being Europe in miniature. That would make the 40-mile lake-to-lake cycling loop in the Julian Alps from the alpine resort town of Bled to scenic Lake Bohinj a CliffsNotes version of the epic tour from Geneva to Norways Lysefjord. Given the diverse scenery, adrenaline-boosting grades, and winding byways, the comparison is apt.

The road from Lake Bled, presided over by an island with an almost eerily photogenic Gothic church, a cliffside castle, and precipitous 8,000-foot peaks, winds northward through small towns along Road 634 to Spondnje Gorje, a charming farm community. Bikers stop to hydrate with water and red wine – Slovenia, after all, has a vibrant, millennia-long wine culture – before beginning the exhausting climb up Road 905 into the mountains. After eight miles of lung-heaving through damp forest and past the occasional gostilna (inn-like restaurant), pedalers can drift along a flat stretch that opens into rolling meadows and lush mountain pastures.

Around mile 12, a curvy descent begins as distant peaks poke over the southern horizon. Hairpin turns provide views over the valley town of Jereka and its Eastern Orthodox-influenced onion-domed church. Here begins the Bohinj Valley, where village streets are no wider than a U-Haul, tractors log more kilometers than cars, and sacred Mt. Triglav, the massive symbol of this small country, casts the longest shadows.

The ride's half-way point is the haystack-studded hamlet of Studor. Two miles farther is the glacier-carved cirque around Lake Bohinj, hemmed in by 3,000-foot limestone walls. The medieval Church of St. John the Baptist on the eastern shore is among the most beautiful in a country long on stunning houses of worship.

The flat 17-mile return trip to Bled follows Road 209 eastbound along the Sava Bohinjka River. This is an adventure of a different stripe thanks to the speeding Germans, weaving Italians, and left-lane-favoring Brits buzzing by on the narrow shoulder. Little Europe even packs the hazards of the continent into a smaller space.

More Information: The seven-room, 24-suite Hotel Villa Bled, once the private residence of former Yugoslav leader Josep Broz Tito, reopened in June after an extensive renovation. Waterfront rooms look out onto Bled Island, which can be accessed using gondolas from the property's private beach.