“Why Slovenia?” That was the general reaction I got when I told friends and family I’d be going to the Central European country in July of 2018. Nothing against Slovenia, but I get it: not that many Americans settle on this specific country as an international destination.
However, I had a very specific reason for going to Slovenia: I was going to Metaldays, one of the largest annual heavy metal music festivals in the world.
Now, to clarify, I’m not crazy about heavy metal. I like it. I like it much more live than I do just listening to it on Spotify. However, my husband at the time was obsessed with a number of metal bands, so we decided to go to the festival and see a new country while we were at it.
The trip was an amazing experience. Not only did I get to see some of the most famous metal bands play live against the backdrop of the Julian Alps, but I also got to experience the picturesque beauty of Slovenia.
First thing’s first, though: let’s talk metal.
Metaldays Festival (aka ‘Hell Week’)
Metaldays is a festival that takes place in the small town of Tolmen, Slovenia, every year. One local told us that the townspeople call the week of the festival “Hell Week,” because of all the metalheads decked out in their tattoos, leather jackets, and aggressive-looking makeup flooding into the town.
To be clear, everyone I came across at Metaldays was kind and respectful, as most metalheads are. Considering how charming and quaint the Tolmen looks, though, it is funny to see men and women in black eye makeup and chokers in every restaurant and bar in town.
The bands playing at the festival that year can all be found here, but some of my favorites that I got to see were Behemoth, Watain, Alestorm, Cannibal Corpse, Epica, Eluveitie, and Children of Bodom.
Judas Priest also headlined at that year’s festival but I don’t think I made it to see them as they played near the end of the week and I was wiped out from six previous days of drinking all night and hiking all day. (Ah, to be 20-something again.)
The festival was set up with one main stage where the bigger, more well-known bands played, and two smaller stages. It seemed there was constantly at least one band playing at any given time that week.
If you don’t like metal music, I get it. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste. However, metal shows are some of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had at live events. The energy of the crowd is so high, and everyone - despite what you might think by looking at them - is so nice.
In my experience, metalheads are genuinely some of the most respectful people you’ll ever meet and this makes the whole vibe of a metal festival that much better. Everyone’s just there because they like the music, and that makes everyone around you a friend.
However, if you aren’t really into heavy metal, I think it’s worth mentioning to you that Tolmen also has a punk rock week if that’s more your style. Or, if festivals aren’t really your thing, there are loads of other reasons to go to Slovenia, too.
Food, Brews, and Hiking in Slovenia
For the duration of our week in Slovenia, we stayed in a rented room above a pizzeria. It was a similar arrangement to something you might find on Airbnb, though I’m not sure how the friend who booked it for us got it.
What I am sure of is that it was one of the most charming alternatives to a hotel I’ve ever stayed at. Every evening, we’d tipsily stagger up the stairs to our rented room while guests from all over the world ate pizza and drank wine under the string lights of the cafe’s back patio.
We made friends with a little cat who lived outside the pizza cafe, and he would come to visit us some mornings.
Each day, after we somehow managed to rehydrate ourselves from a night of drinking beer and hailing Satan (not really, it’s just a metal festival thing), we’d go to a little cafe in Kobarid, the neighboring town to Tolmen, where we stayed.
We drank espresso and ate the massive ensemble of eggs, fresh bread, cold cuts, and cheeses that is apparently a typical Slovenian breakfast.
That was one thing that really shocked me about Slovenia: everyone there seemed to be so fit, but they would eat a massive breakfast early in the day, and then an entire pizza to themselves in the evenings. I suspect they didn’t eat midday in order to accomplish this, but I was impressed all the same.
And, speaking of the food, everything I ate in Slovenia was delicious. The pizzas, the wine, the beer, the cheese, the gelato. Nothing that passed my lips was disappointing. Then again, maybe I was starving from all the hiking I did, which was - to say the least - an accomplishment.
I think the only day I didn’t go hiking in Slovenia was a day when our friend was feeling under the weather, so we went to the Tolmen Gorge instead. When I say the water in the gorges is blue, I mean it is unnaturally blue. Straight out of a glacier blue (which is likely why it was so cold!)
Aside from that exception, though, we hiked at least several miles up very steep trails through the Alps every day. One day, we hiked through an old World War I bunker that was part of the Slovenian’s defense against the Italians.
On another, we hiked the border of Slovenia and Italy. I didn’t get to spend time in Italy during this trip, but it was neat to say I’d technically been there all the same.
On another day, we hiked up to see a glacial lake, though I think my favorite part of that expedition was seeing all the free-range dairy cows grazing in the fields between mountain peaks.
And the craziest thing about hiking in Slovenia? No matter where you hike, no matter how far into the middle of nowhere it seems you are, you can almost always find a bar at the top of the mountain.
Time after time and hike after hike, we’d wear ourselves out climbing nearly 90-degree hillsides (Slovenians don’t believe in switchbacks, I guess) only to reach the precipice and be greeted by the sight of a hostel and bar, with fellow hikers already having a cold beer in the early afternoon. It always took me by surprise, but I was never not happy about it.
Do Yourself A Favor And Add Slovenia To Your Travel List
From the extreme noise and light shows of Metaldays to the calm wildness of Slovenia’s hiking trails, this trip was both chaos and calmness for me. It was both entertaining and introspective.
I don’t know if I’ll go to Metaldays again, but I would like to go back and explore some more of those mountain-top hostels and have another beer in the Alps.
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