Ed Leahy runs down the top ten reasons to visit the Central European country where the Alps meet the Mediterranean.
This central European country is one of the continent’s smallest, but Slovenia provides the ideal summer holiday vacation, boasting long hot sunny days and warm balmy nights.
This green and pleasant land, where the Alps meet the Mediterranean, offers a host of interesting cities, majestic mountain ranges, stunning lakes, friendly folk and endless year-round outdoor activities.
A week or two in Slovenia will provide one of the most diverse holiday experiences that you could imagine. And all within a couple of hours’ drive in any direction. Here are just ten reasons to visit:
1. Triglav National Park/Julian Alps
The highest mountain in Slovenia, Triglav, (2864 m), resides inside Slovenia’s only national park, the Triglav National Park. The park extends along the Italian border and close to Austria in the northwest of Slovenia, covering 880 square kilometres. The spectacular Lake Bohinj lies in the heart of the national park, just an hour from the capital Ljubljana and the Savica Waterfall is one of the main attractions near Bohinj.
Hiking trails will take you to see the impressive 60m waterfall, which also inspired Slovenia’s most famous epic, The Baptism at Savica Falls. In winter, the national park and adjacent Julian Alps become one of Europe’s most accessible ski resorts, such is the proximity of Slovenia’s main airport.
Slovenia is sandwiched between Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary and just manages to sneak onto the Adriatic Coast for a mere 40 kilometres. But take a couple of days to enjoy the pretty, Venetian Republic-inspired coastal town of Piran. A fascinating wander through the older areas will take you through the clustered medieval town with narrow, winding streets and houses huddled close together, all surrounded by the sea.
Tartini Square is located in the centre of Piran and was named after the famous violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini. The town is bordered by a circular wall and is a national historical monument.
The Church of St George, the patron saint of Piran, offers views across the sea to the Croatian and Italian Coast. And Piran is also famous for its sea salt so a bag should be procured for the suitcase to take home.
The capital city of Slovenia is located between two of central Europe’s most famous addresses, Venice and Vienna. Primarily pedestrianised, the town centre is steeped in history and blessed with it's aesthetic - carefully created and enhanced by influential architect and Ljubljana’s most famous son, Joze Plecnik.
The vibrant city centre revolves around the slow-moving Ljubljanica River, which meanders through the city, while the many bridges add to the city’s charm and character. The riverbank is populated with an endless string of restaurants, cafés and bars that provide a vibrancy that runs throughout the small but stylish town centre.
Visit the impressive cathedral and Ljubljana Castle, which offers great panoramic views of the city. Friendly locals, great food and drink, 10,000 cultural events throughout the year, and such a pretty city - Ljubljana is as good as it gets for a short European city break.
Caves Located on the road from Ljubljana to the coast, the Postojna Caves are Slovenia’s top tourist attraction. You’ll be impressed as you travel into the depths of the caves by train before taking an hour-long trek around the ever-changing limestone interior.
The equally impressive Predjama Castle is close by with yet more caves beneath, while equestrian enthusiasts must pay a visit to the famous Lipica Stud Farm, home to the magnificent Lipizzaner white horses.
Slovenia’s second city, Maribor, was the 2012 European Capital of Culture and has just as much to offer as the capital Ljubljana. The city’s main attraction is the Old Vine House, where the oldest vine in the world (over 400 years) is still growing above the door. Other attractions include Grajski Square with the castle and museum, Glavni square, Bishop Slomšek's cathedral with its viewing tower and the Jewish synagogue.
If you’re travelling throughout the summer months, try to time your trip to coincide with the Lent Festival, where music, dance, food and drink are all celebrated. Nightlife is enjoyed outdoors throughout the warm summer months around the lively streets and squares where an interesting blend of history and tradition remains.
Great views of the city are available atop the town's wine growing hills. Across the river sits the mountain resort of Pohorje, where hikers, cyclists, para-gliders and adrenaline seekers can enjoy year-round adventure.
6. Wine Roads
On the outskirts of Maribor, the Slovenian wine roads will provide a very enjoyably sojourn into the countryside, where the many picturesque vineyards crisscross their way over Pohorje's slopes all the way to the Austrian border.
To drive the meandering roads throughout the region beyond Maribor is a treat to the senses as an ever-present vibrant green dominates the scenery, made prettier with the ubiquitous summer sun and clear blue skies providing the perfect backdrop. Stop off at the award-winning Dveri Pax, where the wines were originally produced by the Benedictine monks as early as 1139.
And if wine is not your drink of choice, the renowned quality of water in Slovenia has resulted in the production of a very palatable beverage. Lasko beer is as good as any lager that I have tasted and originates from a small Spa town with the same name just east of Maribor.
7. Spa & Wellness Breaks
Slovenia's natural health resorts, thermal spas and wellness centres are the ideal place to take a couple of days away from travelling, traipsing and sightseeing. Terme Olimia is a Spa resort close to the Croatian border and two remarkably relaxing days were enjoyed chilling out at the faultless Hotel Sotelia, which blends into the local countryside and boasts some amazing facilities.
The hotel’s Spa Armonia offers every treatment imaginable and the outdoor and indoor relaxation areas are the perfect place to relax and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the hotel and the surrounding area. The sunbathing area also includes a secluded ‘adults only’ area where swimsuits are optional – it’s a European thing.
8. Lake Bled
The jewel of Slovenia, Lake Bled, is located amidst the protective peaks of the surrounding Julian Alps and is another of the biggest tourist destinations in Slovenia. One of Europe’s oldest castles, Bled Castle overlooks the lake and dates back to 1011, perched over 100 metres above the glacial lake.
The best ways to enjoy the beauty and serenity of Lake Bled is to traverse the six-kilometre walking track, which takes you on the scenic saunter around the perimeter of the lake. Another obligatory stop in the vicinity of the lake is to pay a visit to the Park Café to sample a Kremna Rezina (a custard, cream and puff pastry cream slice).
Bled is the perfect holiday destination with great activities available throughout the day and nightlife is equally entertaining with many quality bars and restaurants catering for every budget. However, do try to reserve a table on the waterside terrace of the boutique hotel, Vila Preseren.
There are more than ten quality golf courses located throughout this compact country, so wherever you are based, a game of golf is less than an hour away. I was lucky enough to tee up amidst amazing alpine backdrops at Bled Golf & Country Club’s King’s Course, which has been recognised as one of the Top 100 golf courses on continental Europe. And it didn’t disappoint.
The views alone make it one of the most spectacular tracks that I’ve had the pleasure to play. The course’s lofty setting also made the ball travel that bit further than it does at sea level, which was a very welcome bonus.
The luxurious city of flowers is the upmarket neighbour of historic Piran and makes for an ideal seaside break after travelling the lakes, mountains, caves and cities of Slovenia. Enjoy some five-star luxury at the Kempinski Palace, located adjacent to the seafront in the heart of Portoroz.
The culinary options in these parts are first class but for a feast to remember, travel up through the nearby hills to the village of Padna to the Istranova restaurant. Spectacular views from the dining table take you across the hills and back down to the coast. Bring your appetite and take a bottle of locally produced olive oil back home for the memories.
For more information about Slovenia, visit www.slovenia.info.