The best of Slovenia

So, as it is our first time writing a blog for United Europe’s website .. what better way is there than writing an introduction to our “beloved” country Slovenia.

FACT: Slovenia is the only country in the world in which the letters “L-O-V-E” appear in its name.

FACT: The name of our capital city and home town “Ljubljana” pretty much means “beloved”.

Indeed, we do love our country .. the sunny side of the Alps.

A view of town from the castle above

A view of town from the castle above

It is only in recent years that Slovenia has emerged from centuries of winter slumber and relative mystery. A stunningly beautiful country that was previously under communist veil but is now finally being discovered as more than a crossroads on the way to the Croatian coast. For its size, or in fact for any country of any size, Slovenia offers an astounding array of landscapes, cultures, dialects and tradition.

So what is it that has made Slovenia the sudden hot destination in European travel. In this article we’ll try to name some of the highlights for which a growing number of tourists arrive, and give you an impression of what we have to offer.

First and foremost is of course our own city Ljubljana. A charming mid-size town of approximately 270,000 people .. but add 50,000 University students to that (some of which are actually city residents anyways) and you get a young vibrant city of about 300,000 where 1-in-6 persons is a student. That means fun !!! Ljubljana is set in a fertile glacial valley and is designed in typical town-surrounding-castle form and of course that is how it began .. as a castle on a hill and a town growing slowly around it. The town itself is a mix a Baroque and Vienna Secession architecture (a form of Art Nouveau) most of which has been renewed over the past few years. The colors once again adorn building facades, statues and other forms of artwork in every little corner, cobbled old town alleys. In fact the whole old town and much of the city center is now a pedestrian-only walking zone … an ideal layout for walking tours such as the Ljubljana Free Tour. As the hometown of world-renown architect-extraordinaire Jože Plečnik, much of the city center is a showcase of fine architecture and design. From the many bridges that span the Ljubljanica River which runs right through the town center, countless reconstructions of building previously damaged by the 1895 earthquake, to a stunning array of majestic structures worthy of a capital city – the entire town teems with Plečniks vision and designs. A true outdoor gallery of fine architecture by the hands of one great man. For the young at heart Ljubljana also has a huge green lung right in the center of town … Tivoli Park … and numerous entertainment venues including the vibrant riverside cafes/pubs and of course Metelkova .. one of Europe’s most famous alternative culture centers with a host of clubs, pubs, workshops and hostel, all in crazy colorful architecture which has earned the area its global fame.

Boat-down-the-Ljubljanica-river

Boat down the Ljubljanica river

We could go on and on about our town but we must make space for Slovenia’s other attractions so to find out more about Ljubljana, you’ll just have to come and join our Ljubljana Free Tour.

So what else do we have here? Well, one cannot speak of Slovenia without mentioning Lake Bled – Slovenia’s prime tourist attraction for over 100 years. Imagine alpine lake, imagine teardrop island with church on top, imagine medieval cliff-top castle looming high above the waters … that’s Bled. Postcard-perfect alpine beauty, described by some as the most beautiful place on earth! So Bled is not to be missed!

Lake Bohinj lies in the heart of Triglav National Park

Lake Bohinj lies in the heart of Triglav National Park

However, for those who like wilder scenery, Bled’s sister lake – Bohinj – is only 20 minutes drive away. Lake Bohinj, a long narrow lake, presents true alpine wilderness with 1000 meter cliffs dropping straight down to the forests surrounding the lake. Nature at its absolute best. For those who want to immerse deeper into nature and who’s feet are strong enough to carry them, lake Bohinj is a great starting point for multiple alpine treks, the most magnificent of which take you up above the cliffs to the Valley of Seven Lakes at the foothills of Mt. Triglav, the country’s highest peak (2864 meters) which is even illustrated on our nation’s flag. The area is of course open to hikers only as roads are nowhere to be seen.

FACT: Slovenia exports bears !!! Yes, we have too many of them!

Lake Bohinj lies in the heart of Triglav National Park

Lake Bohinj lies in the heart of Triglav National Park

As may be expected, Slovenia’s alpine mountains and valleys offer a host of sporting activities. From summertime activities such as hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking and white water rafting on the famous Soča River (otherwise known as the Land of Narnia as it is there that the film was shot), to challenging winter sports at a fraction of the cost that it would cost you in Western Europe, in fresh alpine snow, right across the border from famous Austrian ski resorts.

But Slovenia is not all Alps. In fact, the country’s no. 2 attraction lies in the heart of an area called the Karst region. You may have heard of the word “karst”, a type of porous limestone found in many countries, but which is most common in Slovenia and aptly named after the Karst region. In fact, “Karst” has become Slovenia’s single only contribution to international linguistic terminology. So what is it about this Karst that makes it so special .. well, I guess it has to do with Slovenia’s 7000 caves – including Europe’s largest cave “Postojna Jama” where one rides a small train INSIDE the mountain just to get to the starting point of the tour … or The Škocjan Caves – a stunning river cave with waterfalls, recently earning UNESCO Heritage sight stature. Do not miss it!! In addition to the many caves, Karst also causes phenomenons such as sink holes and intermittent lakes. In fact, Europe’s largest intermittent lake – Lake Cerknica – is also in Slovenia .. not so far from the caves.

Underground rivers and bridges at  Škocjan Caves

Underground rivers and bridges at Škocjan Caves

Had enough of mountains and lakes? … maybe its time to head down to the coast. So its true, Slovenia doesn’t have much of a coastline – a mere 47 km – and it has no beaches worthy of mention, but it does have majestic coastal towns of Venetian architecture, a remnant of the old Venetian empire that once spanned the Adriatic sea. While larger venetian towns such as Dubrovnik in southern Croatia had made fame many years ago and are currently as authentic as the closest gift shop, Slovenia’s Piran or Isola still retain much of that magical feel about them. A maze of narrow alleys, nooks and crannies which together form a backdrop that takes you back in time. Don’t forget you camera !!!

FACT: Slovenia has more churches, tractors , candles and private vineyards per capita than any other country on earth.

Hilltop view of Piran

Hilltop view of Piran

When driving on your way to the coast, don’t forget to make one or two stops in Slovenia prime wine country in the Vipava valley. Slovenian wines are slowly gaining fame as top quality boutique wines. Regretfully, in such a small country we do not have large-scale producers of wine which can then become world renown. We simply don’t have the open spaces of Tuscanny or the Nappa valley, and so Slovenia remains “unknown” in the world of wine … but quality is superb and those who know are in the know.

For animal lovers there is one more worthy stop on the way to the coast. The famous Lipica stud farm where the fabulous white “lipizzaner” horses which have dominated royal stables across Europe over the centuries were born and bred. The farm includes live shows, a riding school, and also plays host to a wide array of activities.

Maybe its older history and archeology that interests you? In that case you may want to pop in for a visit at Novo Mesto’s Dolenjski Museum where much archeological finds from the Hallstatt and other periods are on display. If you’re into ancient graves .. this is one of the best places you can go. If Roman culture is more your thing … don’t miss out on the Roman necropolis archaeological park in Šempeter which includes graves of over 100 families and a host of other artifacts.

Piran's habor

Piran’s habor

Enough of nature? Mountains? Caves? Lakes? Sea side villages? … well, there’s Slovenia’s LARGEST and fastest growing tourist sector that we have not even mentioned .. the Spas !!! Come out and relax in one of several dozen spa resorts scattered throughout the country. Swim in naturally warm spring water, oil mixed water , or simply lounge off at the sauna centers or get a massage. Slovenia’s spa industry is exploding through the roof with top quality resorts at a fraction of the price it would cost you in similar resorts of its European neighbours.

And then of course there is the matter of food. So Slovenia is not that famous for its fine array of spices, but rather for its fine offering of superior quality produce. Rather than rely on a myriad of spices that overcome the true flavor of food (or lack of flavor), Slovenian food relies on fresh, organic, home grown produce that is typically grown in private little fields and backyards. In fact, Slovenia’s most common type of restaurant is what is known as Gostilna .. typically a family-run restaurant, often in the country side, where local produce is lovingly prepared and served. So while Slovenian supermarkets typically sell artificially grown tasteless vegetables of the type that are so common throughout Europe, not many Slovenians actually run off to buy it as everyone has family on a farm with their own private fields. We eat well!

The truth is that we could go on and on. Every time I think of another place I want to write about it but that would not be right. You need to come explore the beauty of Slovenia on your own. A true European destination, as yet unexploited and naturally beautiful. Come visit the sunny side of the Alps.

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