For many, tiny (similar in size to New Jersey) Slovenia is way under the travel radar, often overlooked in favor of its more popular neighbors Italy and Croatia. Its tiny stretch of Adriatic coast which is picturesque and historic, and the interior boasts scenic landscapes ranging from rolling hills to river valleys to majestic jagged peaks. Add to that the centuries-old cultural heritage and great food and wine, and you should have more than enough reasons to be going to Slovenia for your next European vacation.
Ljubljana was voted the 2016 European Green Capital
In the last decade, Slovenia’s miniature capital city (population 300,000) has transformed its historic Old Town from a traffic-clogged nightmare to a paradise for pedestrians and cyclists with free electric-powered public transportation. Adding over 2,000 trees, five new parks, bike lanes, and the redevelopment of the river banks, three quarters of the city center are now occupied by lush green spaces.
You can spend a few days on a pristine alpine lake
Still relatively unknown to mass tourism, Bled is the country’s top destination and a reason for going to Slovenia in itself! It has it all – a postcard-perfect lake surrounded by forested slopes, a fairytale island topped by a church, a cliff-hugging medieval castle, a scenic lakeside promenade, and crisp mountain air. Oh, did I also mention that it is less than an hour’s drive from Ljubljana?
Where else can you explore a castle in a cave?
An ingenious masterpiece of medieval military architecture, the Predjama castle is a must-see when going to Slovenia. It was built under a natural rock arch high up a limestone cliff overlooking a valley to make it more inaccessible and easily defended. Because of its unique location, it was called Predjama, meaning ‘in front of the cave’ and the network of secret passages behind it served the castle’s inhabitants well in times of siege. Nowadays, the castle is open to visitors and you can even tour the cave beneath, except when its colony of bats is hibernating.
…and discover fairytale underground labyrinths?
In Slovenia’s south-western corner, the Karst region occupies a plateau of porous limestone which is known for its medieval villages, red wine, cured ham, and amazing cave systems resplendent with huge stalactites and stalagmites forming some extraordinary formations. The Postojna Cave Park has over 12 miles of underground tunnels and chambers parts of which are accessible by mini-train, while the Skocjan Caves feature the largest subterranean canyon in Europe and a roaring river running through its cavernous rooms.
Spending time outdoors is a must when going to Slovenia
Slovenes are passionate about outdoor adventure and, with the country’s variety of gorgeous landscapes, the options are abundant. In places like the Triglav National Park, Kranjska Gora, and around the Bled and Bohinj lakes, an extensive network of walking, hiking, and biking trails connects small villages, historic and natural sites, and family wineries. Water sports (kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and canyoning) on the country’s scenic rivers, lakes, and gorges are also extremely popular and suitable for all levels.
Going to Slovenia to walk in the footsteps of Hemingway?
Did you know that ‘A Farewell to Arms’ is based on Ernest Hemingway’s personal experience in and around Kobarid (then Caporetto) during WW1? In 1918, still a teenager, he traveled to the northern part of Italy and volunteered as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross on the Isonzo Front, located in the Soca River valley in what is today Slovenia. Hemingway describes Caporetto as ‘a little white town with a campanile in a valley’ and this is what you will still find once you get there.
Admire the snow-white Lipizzaner horses…
The breed of horses made famous by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace traces its origins to a farm in Slovenia (back then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) which is now open to visitors. The Lipica Farm was founded in the 16th century to supply horses for the Habsburg army and court and nowadays continues the tradition of breeding and training the Lipizzaner white stallions. You can see them in the surrounding fields, walk through their stables, and even take a carriage ride around the property.
…and the snow-capped peaks of the majestic Mt. Triglav
Did you know that the Julian Alps were named after Julius Caesar who founded a Roman town at the foot of the mountains in 50 BC? A large part of the Julian Alps is now included in the Triglav National Park which, close to the borders with Italy and Austria, is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts, military history buffs, and foodies. Named after the country’s highest peak – Triglav (meaning “three heads”), it makes for a great day-trip from Bled or Ljubljana, ideally with a local guide to take you around, show you some shortcuts, and give you the kind of insider information no guidebook can offer.
You better be going to Slovenia for the food…!
Tiny Slovenia boasts an incredibly diverse cuisine, influenced by its own and its neighbors’ culinary traditions – sausages, schnitzel, and strudel from Austria; pasta, prosciutto, and risotto from Italy; grilled meats from the Balkans; and hearty soups and goulash-type stews from Hungary. A great place to sample local and international dishes is the Open Kitchen – an open-air food market which takes place in one of Ljubljana’s central squares every (sunny) Friday from mid-March to October.
Lately, Slovenian restaurants and chefs have been ranking among the best in the world, including Hisa Franko in Kobarid, the restaurant run by Ana Ros – named the world’s best female chef in 2017 and featured in Netflix’s documentary ‘Chef’s Table’.
…and the surprisingly good wine!
Wine has been made in these lands since the time of the Celts and Illyrians – long before the Romans introduced wine-making to France, Germany, and Spain. Today, Slovenia has over 28,000 wineries, but these are often small family-run enterprises producing limited quantities for the local market, which means that very little of the great Slovenian wine is being exported.
So, if you want to sample it, consider going to Slovenia. There are three main wine-growing regions and the differences in soil, climate, and production methods means that each has its own wine varieties – like the heavy red Teran wine from the Primorska region, the light red Cvicek from the Posavska region, and the Rhein Riesling and Traminec white wines from the Podravska region. If you do not have much time to scout the countryside, you can sample a variety of local wines from different producers at events like the Ljubljana Wine Route, Slovenian Wine Festival, and Days of Poetry and Wine.
Now that you are in the know, start planning on going to Slovenia before everyone else does…