Land of Plenty

Discover the secrets of Slovenia, Europe’s next “it” destination.
By Ignacio Maza

Slovenia, one of Europe’s hidden Gems, is quick to seduce sophisticated travelers in search of new horizons. A few fast facts: This compact, green, diverse, and beautiful country was first to declare independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Slovenia’s small size (roughly the same as New Jersey), combined with its superb infrastructure, means getting around is a cinch. What’s more, the Alps, Adriatic, wine country, and Eastern plains are all less than a 90-minute drive from the capital of Ljubljana. As someone who’s been to over 100 countries, I believe we follow our passions via travel, so here are my suggested journeys for outdoor enthusiasts, food and wine aficionados, history and culture buffs, and the spa seeker.

The Adventurist

Due to Slovenia’s varied terrain, the country offers endless options for travelers seeking active pursuits. Start in the Alps, a gorgeous haven for hikers of all levels. One of my favorite spots? The Upper Savinja Valley, home to Logarska Dolina and the so-called “pearl of the Alps”—a narrow glacial valley with several natural wonders, soaring snowcapped peaks, and endemic flora and wildlife. Kranjska Gora, Slovenia’s premier ski destination, begs for challenging mountain treks during spring and fall. Additionally, hikers can traverse sections of Europe’s major trails that wind through Slovenia, including the E6 Baltic to Adriatic path, or the Via Alpina, a network of five long-distance alpine hiking trails, part of which runs from Monaco to Trieste.

And if you are feeling especially ambitious, tackle Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain (and tallest of the Julian Alps at 9,396 feet) and a rite of passage for both locals and visitors. If water is your adventure muse, raft such rowdy and fast rivers as the Soča. The river winds through Slovenia and northeastern Italy, and a breathtaking float down this ethereal waterway reveals blue-green waters cascading from the Julian Alps. If two wheels are your preferred mode of transport, cycle and mountain bike through green valleys, up and down challenging Alpine foothills, and slower-paced paths near Lake Bled and the Krka Valley.

Finally, for an adrenaline boost, try ballooning, canyoning, or paragliding near the mountain towns of Bovec or Bohinj. Slovenia is also known for its caving and rock climbing. Yet the ultimate thrill in Slovenia? Ziplining down the world’s steepest descent as you fly over Planica Nordic Centre, which features the longest ski jump in the world.

The Epicurious

Long before slow food and farm-to table menus were popular, Slovenian chefs were way ahead of the curve. The country’s top toques have a serious obsession for fresh, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Slovenian cuisine, by
virtue of the country’s location, borrows from its Austrian, Hungarian, Italian, and Croatian neighbors. The result: Unique dishes and innovative flavor combinations you’ve likely never tasted before.

Despite its small size, Slovenia houses 23 distinct culinary regions. Begin your food and wine trail in Ljubljana, where you’ll discover such excellent restaurants as Restavracija Strelec. Located in the city’s castle tower, expect fantastic views of the city. Don’t miss Monstera Bistro, the slow food bistro by Bine Volcic and Gostilna Grič, arguably Slovenia’s best contemporary farmhouse inn. Nestled in the hills overlooking Ljubljana and a member of the Jeunes Restaurateurs movement, it showcases the world’s best young chefs.

Outside the capital city, try Chateau Zemono, located in a charming countryside setting in the Vipava Valley. And, if you’re lucky, have your travel advisor book a table at Hiša Franko in Kobarid. Named to “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” (vetted by a panel of 1000 culinary experts), it’s one of the hardest reservations to secure in Slovenia, so plan ahead. Helmed by Chef Ana Roš, the restaurant is lauded by culinary experts for her award-winning expertise—for the ultimate experience, have your travel advisor arrange a cooking demonstration with this top chef. Order uniquely Slovenian specialties like pumpkin seed oil, Karst Prosciutto, Tolminc cheese, and Prekmurska Gibanica—the country’s rich and multi-layered dessert.

If wine is what you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Award-winning Slovenian wines are attracting fans worldwide. More than 20,000 wineries can be found in Slovenia, so expect a vineyard for every discerning oenophile. The country’s terroir produces bright red wines like Teran, in addition to superb whites, sparkling wines like Zlata Radgonska Penina, and fruit-flavored brandies. Although there are many celebrated wine regions, I recommend the Vipava Valley and Goriška Brda for the quality of wines coupled with outstanding dining and places to stay. What’s more, elevate your wine experience with helicopter flights, biking to various wine tastings, and meeting regional winemakers at their estates.

The Culture & History Buff

Launch your cultural pursuits in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s manageable, livable, and charming capital. Because of the city’s relatively short distances, plan to navigate its storied streets via foot, bicycle, or public transportation. Ride the funicular to the top of Ljubjlana’s castle for panoramic views of the city and an overview of Slovenia’s history. Wander through Old Town (aka Staro Mesto), the most regaled part of the city that hugs the banks of the Ljubljanica River. Explore the area’s charming old squares, wooden shop fronts, markets, and historic churches. Connecting Old Town with Ljubljana’s commercial center is Prešeren Square, a favorite meeting point of city residents.

Make time to stroll along the river, down the grand avenues, or, better yet, take a boat ride for a new perspective on Ljubljana’s neighborhoods. Throughout the city you’ll notice the distinctive architecture of native Slovenian Jože Plečnik, a student of Viennese master Otto Wagner who designed a series of buildings and public works in a unique amalgam of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Arts & Crafts movements. Two not-to-miss Plečnik masterpieces include the National University Library. Completed in 1941, it features grand colonnades (one of Plečnik’s signatures) and distinctive main doors. The Dragon Bridge commemorates the 50-years reign of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph and is adorned with dragon statues.

Additionally, Ljubljana is home to several interesting museums, including the National Gallery of Slovenia and the Museum of Modern Art. Outside the city, witness the awe-inspiring Predjama Castle, a one-of-a-kind fortress built into a cave; the medieval town of Ptuj; Radovljica, a well-preserved village with a colorful main square; and Piran, Slovenia’s Adriatic gem and a beautiful city rich in history, with a bell tower reminiscent of St. Mark’s Square.

Lastly, no trip to Slovenia is complete without experiencing Lake Bled, Slovenia’s most beautiful alpine lake. Visit Bled Island on a traditional boat called a pletna, and then enjoy views from the castle located high above the lake. Ultimate experiences for the cultural connoisseur include an unforgettable private dinner at Predjama Castle or an after-hours visit to the aforementioned museums.

The Spa Lover

No matter what your passion is, end your Slovenian sojourn at one of the country’s fantastic spas. Wellness Orhidelia in the Terme Olimia features spa journeys to ignite all five senses, while the grand Kempinski Palace Portorož is located along Slovenia’s Riviera. The large Kempinski Rosa Spa features outdoor and indoor swimming pools, a whirlpool, fitness center, and sauna. Try the signature Rose Spa Treatment—the pièce de résistance to discovering Slovenia’s unique and beguiling personality.

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