Planning a holiday to Slovenia

Kieran Meeke / 24 July 2017

With its Adriatic beaches, alpine beauty and tranquil Lake Bled it's no wonder Slovenia is turning into a major European tourist destination.



People

Bordered by Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary – and itself a member of the EU (with the Euro as its currency) – Slovenia considers itself European, while maintaining its Slavic identity.

Historically, early Celtic and Roman settlement gave way to more Slavic influences before the Habsburg Empire took control in the mid-1300s.

Occupied by Germany and Italy during World War II, Slovenia then fell under Communist Yugoslavia in 1945 as part of the Soviet Union.

Since independence in 1991, the country has distanced itself from that Soviet era but a certain reserve perhaps remains as a legacy of those hard times. 

However, you only have to scratch the surface to find a warmth and humour more associated with the Venetian neighbours they share much history with.

Family life is important and hospitality is freely given to visitors. Women enjoy a great deal of equality in government and the workplace, although home life tends to be more traditional.

Majestic mountains iced with snow, wonderful wildflower meadows, emerald green lakes and cliff top castles - Slovenia's ravishing scenery will steal your heart. Find out more here.

Language & culture

The official language of Slovenia is Slovenian (more properly, Slovene) but people pride themselves on speaking at least one other language.

Slovenia-born Melania Trump, noted for speaking English, French, Italian, German, Serbo-Croatian and Slovene, is notable if not unusual in this respect.

After English, German and Italian are most common. English is taught in schools, so it is always easy to find a translator among younger people.

Since Independence, the country has developed a national identity to which language is central. 

With a varied history, no royalty of its own and varied attitudes to religion (most Slovenes are Roman Catholic but atheists are also common), language fills an important space and bookshops are to be seen everywhere. Ljubljana was Unesco World Book Capital in 2010.

The country avoided the ethnic or religious conflicts of the rest of the former Yugoslavia and has consciously maintained a balance between its many disparate neighbours. 

Integration into the EU has been slower than expected, though, and the country is starting to explore its Balkan identity as much as its Central European one.

This mix of influences makes for a rich cultural life and events such as the annual Ljubljana Summer Festival or the Shrovetide Carnival are well attended.

Their beautiful country has made Slovenians lovers of the great outdoors, hikers and bikers in summer and skiers and snowboarders in winter. It is no surprise that the triple peaks of Mount Triglav adorn the national flag.

Food & drink

With their passion for the open air, it’s no surprise that Slovenian cooking relies on wholesome local ingredients such as fresh vegetables and homemade sausage.

Pasta and gnocchi are freely borrowed from neighbouring Italy, goulash and beef from Austria, or nut-flavoured apple pie from the Balkans.

A typical meal might start with chicken noodle soup, followed by a plate of pork dumplings or a pilaf of rice and seafood. 

Potatoes make a common appearance, as do sauerkraut and pickled vegetables.

Those will a sweet tooth will then enjoy chestnut-heavy dishes such as a strudel or nutty ice cream. 

Strong, black Turkish-style coffee and a board of local cheeses might tempt those with more savoury tastes.

The most common drink is beer, with many domestic and foreign brands available. 

Craft beers are making an appearance, so don’t be surprised to see names such as “Reservoir Dogs Starvation” or “HumanFish Russian Imperial Stout” on sale in Ljubljana.

Local wines are variable in quality, ranging from Italian-style reds to German-style Rieslings. 

Wine bars in Ljubljana are a good place to sample some uniquely Slovene wines, such as the red Teran from the Karst Region.

Regional fruit-based brandy (such as “Slivovka” made from plums) and honey brandy (“medica” – mead) make for good digestifs.

Health & safety

There are few health hazards in Slovenia, except for those who venture into nature. Hikers and kayakers should beware of Lyme disease and meningitis, spread by tick bites. 

There are some venomous snakes in the Julian Alps, although you’d be unlucky to come across one.

Tap water is safe to drink, and bottled water is freely available.

There is some petty crime such as purse snatching on public transport and crowded markets, but less so than in most neighbouring European countries.

Slovenia’s roads are modern and its motorway and rail network extensive. Buses are a reliable way to get around, and timetables are adhered to.

Taxis are also generally very reliable, although airport ones may try the common scam of shutting off the meter.

Must-see sights

Ljubljana

Ljubljana’s Old Town sits on the bank of the river, adding cobbled streets and the backdrop of Ljubljana Castle to its charms. 

Its layout is based on three squares – Mestni trg, Stari trg and Gornji trg – that are surrounded by medieval houses and grand buildings. 

You will need a guide book, or a guide, to make the most of its many historic attractions, from the Schweiger House to the Cobbler Bridge. 

Ljubljana Castle dates mostly to the 16th century, when it was rebuilt after an earthquake, and holds a Slovenian History Exhibition. 

A funicular spares you the walks up but the views on the walk down make it well worth the effort. 

City Museum of Ljubljana is pretty much what it says on the tin, but it’s a lot more interesting than you might expect. 

It’s a modern, lively museum with a lot going on, including ever-surprising special exhibitions. 

Central Market, Ljubljana, is one of the masterpieces of 1930s Modernist architect Jože Plečnik, whose work can be found throughout Ljubljana. 

A tour to see his buildings such as the National and University Library or the Triple Bridge is an essential for anyone with an interest in the subject. 

The market is a photographer and food-lover’s paradise, filled with farmers selling fresh produce.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled, with its picturesque medieval island church, is a popular photo stop for visitors. The castle museum is well worth a look. 

Stay longer to enjoy climbs, hikes or bikes around the lake or its Blue Flag beaches, with warm, crystal clear water and warm springs. 

Mount Triglav is Slovenia’s highest peak at almost 10,000 feet and is best climbed in two days, with a stay in a mountain hut. 

It stands in a national park that is one of the largest in Europe, offering spectacular peaks, green valleys, waterfalls and rivers of the Julian Alps.

Contrast the incredible alpine beauty of Slovenia’s fairy-tale Lake Bled with the stunning Opatija Riviera on Croatia’s idyllic coast Find out more here.

Postoina Cave

Postojna Cave is on every itinerary for good reason, with graffiti showing its first visitors were in 1213. 

Carved out by the Pivka River some two million years earlier, the cave has impressive stalactites and stalagmites that can be seen via an electric underground train. 

The very humid underground passages (bring a raincoat) are home to a unique pink blind salamander, Proteus anguinus. 

Prejama Castle

Prejama Castle, about five miles from Postojna, is built into a cave but still offers all the sights you might expect from a castle, from ambush-ready drawbridge and hidden passageways to dark dungeons and murky tales of betrayal. 

Its history goes back to at least 1200 but the present structure dates to 1570 when it was rebuilt after a 1511 earthquake. 

Skocjan Caves

Skocjan Caves are another Unesco World Heritage site and hold the largest underground canyon in Europe as well as 15 species of bat. 

It’s less visited than Postojna, perhaps because the lack of a train makes access more difficult for those with children or walking difficulty. 

Lipica Stud Farm

Lipica Stud Farm shows off the fact that the original Lipizzaner horse comes from Slovenia. 

The Hapsburgs first established a stud here in 1580 and you can see the magnificent royal stables and equally magnificent animals on a guided tour that ends with an arena display. 

The Slovenia Riviera

The Slovenia Riviera along the Adriatic Sea suffers from pebble beaches (a notable exception is Portorož) but does have lovely resorts with histories dating back to the Romans. 

Sailing is a popular activity on this coast, with charter boats available. A visit to the Saltmaking Museum in Salina Landscape Park reveals a tradition of saltpans that is still preserved here.

Rogaška Slatina and Dolenjske Toplice,

Rogaška Slatina is the country’s largest spa town, with dozens of treatments on offer. If you have never “taken the waters” in an historic spa, this might well be the place to try it. 

For more, try Dolenjske Toplice, the oldest spa in Slovenia but brought firmly up to date with its modern Balnea Wellness Centre.


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