If you’re looking for a tiny destination, easy to explore, with an intriguing culture and impressive nature, your solution is Slovenia. The pearl of Europe – on the busy crossroad between East and West, has managed to blend to its traditional charm the finest features of various foreign dominions. What’s more, relatively cheap hotels and services make it even more tourist-friendly. Of course, ‘castles, wine and snow’ are not enough to describe all its marvels; they simply denote three wider categories: its architectural and historical monuments, its wine and cuisine, and the endless outdoor adventures it offers. Here are some highlights of things to see and do in Slovenia:
Not all of ancient Slovenia’s thousand castles have survided but the few you’ll see will definitely transport you to a Rapunzel-like fairy tale. The Predjama Castle, built partially inside a cave, and the Podsreda Castle, immersed in dark green, are two fantastic fable settings.
Get a bird’s-eye view of the capital Ljubljana from the tower of it’s own medieval castle. The city is a true architectural jewel where Art Nouveau, Baroque and Post-modernism mix. As you walk around the narrow streets of the Austrian-style old centre and say a prayer in a Gothic churche, prepare to meet the four fierce dragons guarding the Dragon Bridge. Read more about my experiences in Ljubljana or watch my video guide on what to do in Ljubljana.
Even more fable-like are Slovenia’s medieval towns, like Piran, Pruj and Koper with their enchanting little squares and narrow cobbled streets. Portoroz too has some medieval charms, although most tourists prefer it for its Adriatic beaches and luxurious casinos.
You will definitely need many invigorating sips of wine if you want to see all of Slovenia’s pretty features. Cellar visits and wine tastings are part of the special itineraries across its wine regions. Spoil yourselves with a stress-releasing Wine and Water itinerary, combining winery tours and spa sessions.
First on your wine-tasting list should be the light red, almost rosé, Cviček or the much darker Metliska Crnina. The ruby-coloured Teran produced in the western Karst region is excellent accompanied by olives and traditional homemade kraški pršut (Karst prosciutto ham).
You will immediately notice that the Slovenians are true meat-eaters. The famous long meatballs, the cevapcici and the kranjska kolbasa (a type of sausage) are everybody’s favourite. The Slovenian cuisine is a fusion of traditional dishes with Austro-Hungarian, Mediterranean, and Balkan ones. A meal often starts with a soup, like the ričet (barley porridge boiled with beans), grilled fish or meat as the main course and a very sweet dessert such as the tempting prekmurska gibanica – a layered cake with poppy seeds, apples, walnuts and cottage cheese, or the much loved nut roll called potica.
After a rich dinner, a pub will welcome you with a variety of local beers and cherry or plum liqueurs.
Slovenians consider themselves the inventors of Alpine skiing – very popular in the entire country. Another outdoor pleasure is free climbing, both on rock and ice. According to an unwritten law, climbing Triglav, the highest peak of the magnificent Julian Alps, will earn you the title of ‘a real Slovenian’.
A safer alternative is hitting the path. Considering that almost 60% of the country is covered with forests, you have a vast choice of hiking trails to get lost along. Visit some of the 750 caves for a taste of ‘underground Slovenia’. Soča River will be delighted to show you her wildest torrents for some rafting; kayak and canoe for the calmer souls.
After a long day of adrenaline-charging activities and glorious gourmet experiences, spoil your senses in a steamy outdoor thermal pool; forget about the rest of the world, it’s just you and snow-covered Slovenian pines around you.