Slovenia is a small, perfectly-formed gem of a country (about the size of Wales, for those who enjoy that standard of measurement). Like a film set, superb alpine scenery of lakes, rivers and mountains in the north, pretty, ornate buildings lining a sedate river in the charming capital and the historic, Venetian splendour of its Mediterranean coast all dazzle and beguile the visitor. With over half the country covered in forest, Slovenia is a haven of nature with an overwhelming atmosphere of ecological harmony and an encouragement of outdoor pursuits.
It is a proud, new country, only achieving independence in 1991, with a long and fascinating history of cultural influence, being once part of the Roman and Venetian Empires, the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg Monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Yugoslavia and, at some point, controlled by France, Italy, Germany and Hungary.
The capital city, Ljubljana, is a wonderful introduction to the country, with a compact, elegant centre, where cafés and restaurants line the gently curving Ljubljanica River. There are architectural reminders of the Hapsburg and Austro-Hungarian empires that lend a grace and style, with many Art Nouveau features, to the city. The city houses excellent museums and is blessed with many green spaces in which to relax. The centre is dominated by the imposing 11th century Ljubljana Castle, approached by cable car and used as a cultural centre.
Northwest from the capital lies the town of Bled. Set on a lake and surrounded by the foothills of the Julian Alps, the natural beauty of this location is enhanced by the fairy-tale Bled Castle, perched high over the lake on the edge of a precipitous cliff. On the lake itself, lies a picturesque chapel on a small island, accessed by boat. The combination of spectacular landscape and historical buildings make for some ridiculously attractive scenery. It that wasn’t enough, the town is famous for its vanilla and cream pastries.
In the southwest the limestone karst geology together with strong underground rivers have created some of the world’s most spectacular cave system with the most important at Škocjan and Postojna. A tour of the underground wonders can be combined with nearby Lipica where the magnificent white Lipizzan horses are bred.
On Slovenia’s short but sunny Mediterranean coast is a series of Venetian ports. Piran is the most appealing of these with endless tiny alleyways leading to impressive squares and café-lined promenades. This active fishing-port has a strong Italian feel to it and a casual, pleasant charm.
A first-time visitor to Slovenia could not fail to be impressed with these sights, but the country offers so much more. The Soča River Valley offers the opportunity for river rafting and kayaking and Triglav National Park from whence it flows is fantastic for trekking, cycling and adventure sports. To the east is Maribor, surrounded by mountains suitable for skiing and endless vineyards. In fact, Maribor boasts the world’s oldest vine, still producing grapes for wine. Also, often overlooked, is the culturally rich region of Bela Krajina in the southeast, renowned for its unique folk heritage.
Slovenian cooking is becoming celebrated worldwide, borrowing techniques from the neighbouring countries, introducing clever dishes with elements from Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Balkan region. Chefs are proud to use only fresh and locally sourced ingredients.
With so much diversity and unique experiences, Slovenia is an delightful destination and due to its size and position can easily be combined with a visit to Austria, Italy and Croatia.