UNKNOWN AND BOUTIQUE
Many people abroad have never heard of Slovenia (written Slovenija in the native language). Sometimes even its neighboring countries' inhabitants don’t know much about it, or it also might be mistaken for Slovakia. Many could argue, that being unknown is not good for tourism in a small country with its population slightly over 2 million. But in the case of Slovenia, it is different.
Before the outbreak of the Coronavirus earlier this year, massive tourism had been flooding cities all around the world, some of them suffocating under the influx of curious visitors. And in that world being unknown, had its big advantages.
Slovenia may lack what other famous neighboring countries have, but it pays that off with its unspoiled green nature, welcoming people, homey medieval old towns, and an immersive charm of a small country with a big soul.
Most people arrive to Slovenia from either Italy or Austria. Ljubljana has an international airport, but flights are much more frequent to Venetian or Viennese international airports. Crossing the border on land used to be interesting in the past …
ARRIVAL: CROSSING TO THE UNKNOWN
In less than a 3- hour drive south of Vienna (and 2- hour drive from Venice) one comes to cross an international border. Today the border patrol is gone, but not long ago these two borders were an entry into (and for many an exit out of) the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. However, in 1991 everything changed. In June that year, Yugoslavia’s richest and northern-most of the six republics called the Republic of Slovenia, became independent. Its capital city is called Ljubljana (pronounced as lyoo-blyah-nuh).
PASTEL COLORED MEDIEVAL FACADES AND ALWAYS TIME FOR COFFEE
Nevertheless, a reader would be mistaken if he expected grey colored cities and sad socialistic towns. The former socialistic feel is long gone and Slovenia (and with the new restorations with it also Ljubljana) exhibits old charming Austrian style architecture and a lively Mediterranean passion for living. Its relaxing atmosphere is invigorating and welcoming.
5000 YEARS OF FAMOUS EUROPEAN HISTORY
Similar is the case with its history. If the reader expects a country, poor and robbed of its history, then again he is mistaken. The oldest remains of a wooden wheel in the world had spent a respectful amount of millennia underground the outskirts of Ljubljana and are as old as 5000 years. And ever since, or even earlier, the country’s wheels never stopped turning… and they brought in many different peoples and cultures, which stopped and rested a while before they continued their travel on to other lands. Among those nomadic groups were the Slavs, who arrived 1400 years ago and decided to stay. They remain there today. Soon they were subdued by much stronger northern neighbors, the Habsburgs, emperors of Austria. For almost 700 years of Austrian rule, the Slovenian nation managed to preserve its unique culture and signature language, but it has been subsequently influenced back by the Austrian culture. Recent history wasn’t particularly kind, either. The First World War was followed by the Great War and finally the War of Independence from Yugoslavia (that, luckily, had only lasted for 10 days in Slovenia). So one can easily imagine the victory of a tiny nation when in 1991 Slovenia became independent for the first time in its 5000 years’ history. It remains as such until today. In 2004 Slovenia entered the European Union and in 2007 adopted the Euro currency.
A TINY SLAVIC GIANT UNDER THE ALPS
WITH ITS LEFT FOOT BATHING IN THE ADRIATIC SEA
As is many times the case, Slovenia’s culture and history have been influenced by its unique geography. The country is nested under the Alps. The Slovenians like to call the position “On the sunny side of the Alps” and indeed, it is. The country barely covers an area of the size of New Jersey in the United States (or Wales in the UK, or two times the size of Sydney in Australia) and it inhabits slightly over 2 million Slovenians. The official language is Slovenian, a language of the south-Slavic group of languages.
Not far from the mountains, there is a short coast of the Adriatic Sea, just big enough for the Slovenian giant to wash his one foot in it.
What is it about Slovenia?
A SMALL COUNTRY, NATURE AND THE LANGUAGE
Slovenians are very proud of their country. When talking to them about Slovenia, they will surely mention the three things. And strangely so, they always come in the exact following order:
First is always the fact that Slovenia is a very small country. It always comes up at the very beginning of every local-to-visitor conversation. And usually sounds more like an apology, to be honest.
Then there is their love, or rather adoration of nature and the mountains. It is an eternal fascination of the whole nation. Hence Slovenian’s favorite free-time activities are hiking and jogging.
Thirdly, there might be some diversity. A lot of Slovenians mention their language and their unique culture that sets them apart from Austria, Italy, Croatia, and Hungary (all of them sharing a border with Slovenia). They are very proud to say that they have their own (Slavic) language, a hard one to learn if you are a foreigner and much different from other Yugoslavian languages in the neighborhood, or also other Slavic languages in general. The language features one of the most complicated grammar in the world and to a visitor’s eat sounds a bit like Russian. Slovenians hate this comparison.
TO VISIT, OR NOT TO VISIT IS NOT A QUESTION
Even though Slovenia IS a small country, it is adorable, welcoming, culturally rich, and has a charming boutique feel. Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana is one of the smallest, nicest (and also safest) European cities, at the time of writing, still overlooked by vast tourist masses. However last year (2019) had seen a significant rise in numbers of foreign visitors. Tourists are slowly discovering this small paradise of peace, nature, and excellent cuisine.
PRISTINE NATURE and SHORT TRAVELING DISTANCES
SLOVENIA IS A RELAXING HOMEY RETREAT
Slovenia’s nature is fantastic. More than half of the country is forested, the deep green lakes and clean rivers are topped with the imposing Alp mountains. The water is so clean, that you can drink it straight from the tab even in the city center of Ljubljana. Its pure and calm feel invites visitors for a welcoming pause. This is where we also take a deep breath in, and exhale for a few days on our tours, to experience all that natural beauty. And there is so much of it!
Another advantage of a small country is traveling distances. If traveling daily from the base in Ljubljana, it never takes more than an hour each way. In an hour one can reach the Alp mountains in the North and in an hour the Adriatic Sea (a bay of the Mediterranean) in the opposite direction.
The culture of every nation has been shaped by its geography and its history.
THE LANGUAGE & THE CULTURE
THE PRIDE OF SLOVENIANS AND A UNIQUE MIXTURE OF FOUR INFLUENCES
Its specific geography endorsed Slovenia with an amazing mixture of cultural influences. The Slavic melancholy meets the German industrious spirit and combines it with a dreamy nostalgia of the Balkans and the vivid joy of the Italians.
Can you imagine a more inspirational environment?! Slovenia sits on the exact place where the four distinct cultures meet.
Apart from the influences, borrowing words from neighboring countries’ languages, adopting many traditions, and incorporating genetics, Slovenia’s culture has been strongly determined by its love for the soil. It provided survival for the ancestors. Slovenians didn’t have their own country (until 1991), instead, they were always subdued by another greater force. The only thing in their lives that they could rely on, was their land and their community and these two run deep in their blood still. The soil was rich enough to feed the nation and is still very much appreciated. Slovenians love producing their own food. Country’s healthy soil, clean air, and the loving care of the owners recently gave rise to one of the best cuisines in Europe, that has recently also started to gain international recognition. The same goes for the exquisite wine heritage that Slovenia is getting to be known for.
A COUNTRY WHERE IT IS OK TO BE HUNGRY, ALL THE TIME
Just after the Corona pandemic was declared over, the Slovenian culinary scene received a recognition it has been waiting for for a long time. On the 16th of June (this year) Michelin’s gastronomic guide has named quite a few excellent restaurants and rewarded them the honorary (or in the case of Hiša Franko, and its world-famous chef Ana Roš, two) golden stars, the sign of excellence.
Michelin’s stars or not, Slovenia and mostly Ljubljana, has long been famous among the experts for its excellent wines and great cuisine. The position of the country introduces and combines tastes typical of Central European Austrian cuisine, with a strong scent of the Southern, the Balkan's and Turkish invasion, the Hungarian hearty dishes, and Italian eternal cooking magic, together with an addition of Slovenian inventiveness and… the fact that the country is as green and its nature as clean as possible nowadays.
The dishes they serve in the chick, elegant, eclectic, and traditional restaurants show the love of Slovenians for the best quality, together with the beauty. They are very much aware that the design of the place has to complement the harmony of the tastes on the plate.
Either dining in a fine restaurant in a 16th-century tower of the Ljubljana Castle, a stylish town’s restaurant in an old bourgeois house, a countryside Renaissance mansion, a privately owned intimate wine cellar, or a bio farm where all of the food is homegrown, the taste is always complemented by an adorable space.
In Slovenia, nobody goes hungry and even if that happens, hunger can never last long. It is actually just the opposite. Locals love good food and visitors usually join in quickly with this passion.
What we visit?
LJUBLJANA, A HOME ABROAD
We stay in Ljubljana city and make it our home on the Grand Tour from Vienna to Venice for a few nights. Our hotel is in the very city center, so we can visit the local open-air market, or the Triple Bridge, or the medieval castle on the hill,… in a very short walk. Ljubljana is a small city with a lazy river and a charming old town, its riverbanks bustling with life in many different cafes. The city has it all- it is of a manageable size, so one can see it all on foot, yet it is a capital of a nation and as such welcomes many world-famous cultural events, exhibitions, and happenings. It’s a small city with a rich cultural life and a charming Mediterranean soul (especially during the warmer months, from April till October).
LAKE BLED, DESPERATELY ROMANTIC
In Ljubljana, one can feel the undercurrent of a deeply emotional nation. But there is even more than meets the eye to Slovenia, so exploring further spreads a whole rainbow of romantic stories and the love for . For those who like romantic views and charming history, Lake Bled is the place.
World-famous Lake Bled is within a short 45 minutes drive. Lavish green waters of the lake enclose a small island in the heart of the lake. That is the only natural island in Slovenia. Everything about Lake Bled is so romantic! Maybe it is a beautiful marriage of nature and architecture of sumptuous private villas on the shores of the lake, or a medieval castle high on the cliff, or maybe the fact that Bled has an island of love. Everybody decides for themselves, but one can only understand it when they visit. In the summer, visitors swim the distance from the shore, but on our tour, we take a traditional Pletna rowing boat instead. A fairy-tale scene, of course, takes in a mighty castle, an impressive image of medieval ramparts with an old charm. From its panoramic terrace high on the cliffs above the lake, one can sometimes spot mount Triglav, the highest Slovenian mountain. The view is usually spectacular when the weather is friendly.
POSTOJNA CAVE, A SECRET WORLD
In contrast to what lies on the surface, a lot of Slovenia’s beauty is deeply hidden! Stretching from Ljubljana in the direction toward the West (Italy), the Karst region of Slovenia jealously hides all its most spectacular sites underground, literally. The most famous of them all, the Postojna Cave is just one of many. There are said to be as many as 9000 caves in Slovenia. Who knows if it is true, we doubt anybody has ever counted them all! But Slovenia for sure has a spectacle of natural beauty well hidden. The Postojna cave is said to be the second-longest cave system in Slovenia (24km). A big part of it is open to visitors and creatively lit to highlight the nicest parts of the cave, either be it a big hall or an individual rocky stalactites or stalagmites formation (a celebrity stalagmite is called a Brilliant). A visit to the caves always feels like entering the history of Earth, 3 million years ago. It is also home to an endogenous Baby Dragon, but that is already the next story...
ALL THAT BEAUTY
Hopefully, after reading about Slovenia, the reader knows better what to expect of it. In this unknown petit country, the past is holding hands with the present within a nation, small and proud, who is welcoming and warm. The people, the beautiful nature of forests, high Alp mountains, the Adriatic sea medieval towns, and Ljubljana’s city center, are only second best to the beauty of the underground world sceneries that the country possesses. Long gone is the past of socialism, even though a lot of people who you meet on the streets and squares, or even on a traditional rowing Pletna boat on Lake Bled, still remember living in Socialist Yugoslavia. Slovenia is the land of contrasts and passion, intertwined with a deep Slavic yearning and love for great food and excellent wine. It Is actually impossible to describe briefly a country, who’s long and rich history and many different influences have been shaped during the past 5000 years.
The best is, as always to visit and check it out yourself!
WHY WE VISIT SLOVENIA ON OUR TOURS?
OUR CHARMING GRAND TOUR FROM VIENNA TO VENICE FEATURES SLOVENIA AND LJUBLJANA
Apart from all the above reasons, we add Slovenia to our tours because, after the (sometimes overwhelming) experience of artistic and culturally rich Venice or Vienna, we appreciate deep rest, good air, and a calm time away and in Slovenia:
- The air feels cleaner than in Venice (and it is, actually)
- There is no traffic on the streets of Ljubljana, unlike Vienna, the whole city center of Ljubljana has been a big pedestrian zone for more than 10 years now
- There are no gondolas on the river’s channels and
- There are no crowds on the streets. Street musicians share the squares and bridges with locals walking their dogs and children safely running around.
All in all Slovenia and Ljubljana are homey and charming. In fact, in Slovenia, one feels at home in no time. Everything is close and it is very easy to get to know the locals, who are always happy to meet foreigners and chat about this and that.
WORTH A VISIT ON ITS OWN
Offering a very diverse experience, Slovenia never leaves her visitors indifferent, actually, most don’t want to leave at the end of the tour.
The country is so pleasing, that it is well worth a visit on its own… we are preparing a special program of only Slovenia. A program will feature:
- A visit to the region of Goriška Brda, dubbed “A Slovenian Tuscany” for its beautiful hilly landscape, vineyards, and excellent cuisine.
- We will include visits to some magnificent Slovenian castles with special cultural programs on a high level at each of them.
- We will dive deeper into Slovenian rich ethnographic past with storytelling and folk music in beautiful local settings.
- We will indulge in a creative hands-on workshop (or two) and get to know Slovenian history and art and their connections to all different directions, the North (Austria), the South (The Balkans), and the West (Italy).
Can you imagine a better fusion of styles and ideas?! On our tour, we will, of course, follow our passions. for high art and culture, elegant travel, and luxurious accommodations. And we will not want to miss on fine dining in some of the best restaurants this part of Europe can offer.
Oh, and did we mention, that Slovenia is also a proud home to Elegant Cultural Tours?! We live here, and we plan and organize our tours from our base in Ljubljana city.
If you would like to know more about traveling with to in Slovenia, Vienna, Venice, Cuba, or Morocco.. feel free to contact us here, and join our mailing list (in the sign-in fields below). We will be happy to hear from you.
And if you have more ideas, suggestions, or questions, we would be happy to hear from you. You can contact us. and perhaps we can set a live call over Skype (or IMO) and maybe one day even plan your visit to this little piece of Heaven under the Alps together.