Explore gay Slovenia: Mr Hudson’s favourite places to visit

A fairy-tale in miniature, no bigger than the US state of Massachusetts and dwarfed by neighbouring Italy, Austria and Croatia, Slovenia is a small-time treasure, unassuming yet disarming at every turn. Enter its story-book mountain villages where medieval castles sit elevated above fields of white horses and vast forests as far as the eye can see, turning the page to settle at the foot of the Julian Alps on rustic lakeside retreats. It’s not all slow-moving narrative however because Slovenia is also a nation of adventurers, with popular pursuits of skiing, hiking, horse riding, and mountain biking on stunning terrain. The wild at heart can follow the white-water rivers of Soča either by raft or hot-air balloon, winding up at a small chunk of Adriatic coast for a sunny Mediterranean chapter. From the Art nouveau capital of Ljubljana to the baroque getaways of Lake Bled, travel with us as we explore our favourite places in gay Slovenia.

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Jesenice | Photo: Ales Krivec

LGBT Slovenia

Veiled by forest and overshadowed by more popular European nations, Slovenia is rather less visited than it deserves. Besides picture-perfect landscapes and rural getaways, Slovenia’s cities offer unbeatable cultural getaways for gay travellers, made all the better by progressive attitudes throughout. Gay Slovenia is markedly livelier than many travellers assume, particularly in the capital city of Ljubljana which hosts an annual ‘Pink Week’ to introduce travellers to the nation’s open-minded values and the best of Ljubljana gay scene, centred on Klub Tiffany, the city’s only official gay club.

Slovenia has strong anti-discrimination laws in place protecting LGBT rights and making for a worry-free travel experience. Its EU membership also ensures these rights are met. Regarding Slovenia gay marriage laws; though ‘marriage’ is a sticky term, civil unions are legal for same-sex couples with these couples accessing many of the rights of married couples, including the eligibility to adopt children.

Photo: Rok Romih

Photo: Bruno Bucar

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Pedestrian-only streets leave the banks of the emerald-green Ljubljanica River free to roam in leisure, attended by a number of café terraces which in summer throng with alfresco drinkers both day and night

1. Ljubljana

Voted the European Commission’s Green Capital of Europe in 2016, Ljubljana continues to go from strength to strength in both green credentials and liveability. Pedestrian-only streets leave the banks of the emerald-green Ljubljanica River free to roam in leisure, attended by a number of café terraces which in summer throng with alfresco drinkers both day and night. Leading Ljubljana nightlife is a fun-loving band of 50,000 students who study in the city, making for a very active clubbing scene as well as youthful vibe throughout the city’s main squares and beauty spots, centred on the riverside Prešeren Square. Otherwise, find popular hangout spots in Tivoli Park or atop the hill around the grounds of Ljubljana Castle, also home to some of the best viewpoints across the city. Of the city’s up-and-coming districts, Metelkova is our favourite, a former Yugoslav army base turned independent squatters’ settlement in the 1990s. Today the area is the best place for alternative nightlife, embracing its anarchic roots with graffiti-laden streets and live music concerts to raise money for the community.

The Ljubljana gay bar scene is largely mixed, with a number of gay-friendly clubs hosting regular LGBT+ parties. The city’s only official gay club, Klub Tiffany, serves as the centre for gay Slovenia Ljubljana, with locals and internationals communing here at night for clubbing and to visit the queer cultural centre by day. Other queer-friendly events include the Ljubljana Fashion Week held in the springtime. Those wanting to venture out on a day trip will be pleased to find that the trip from Ljubljana to Lake Bled takes just 40 minutes along the Gorenjska Highway.

Ljubljana | Photo: Bram Van Geerenstein

2. Lake Bled

Ljubljana to Bled is a perfectly stress-free journey with a whole host of rewards. The city of Bled lies to the east of the lake and is the best place for lunching, but hiking to the various viewpoints around the site is a must, particularly the viewpoints of Straza Hill and Ojstrica either side of the lake. In the north meanwhile, the medieval Castle Bled is the top draw, Gothic in every sense of the word, built into the hanging cliffs above the lake around 1,000 years ago. Roam the heritage site freely, taking in its intriguing history among fantastic lake vistas. At the centre of the river, you’ll spot the Church of the Assumption, a stunning feature accessible only by rowboat. If you have time after your rowing session, travel slightly further out to Vintgar Gorge Slovenia, also known as Bled Gorge. Here you’ll discover a magical setting of river-fed glades dotted with waterfalls, rock pools and rapids, mostly walkable over wooden gangplanks and various trails.

Lake Bled | Photo: Jason Thomas

3. Škofja Loka

Lake Bled isn’t the only place to enjoy medieval heritage in Slovenia however and if that’s what you’re searching for then Škofja Loka can provide. One of the oldest towns in Slovenia just 25 kilometres from Bled, Škofja Loka – anglicised as Bishop’s Meadow – has an old-world atmosphere like no other. Out from the central square, where Mother Mary has watched over the Old Town since 1751, find narrow cobblestone streets leading to various attractions such as the 600-year-old Selca Town Gate, connected by bridge to the Capuchin Church and monastery built in 1709. The adjacent library is also one of the nation’s most important, home to the various historic books and religious artefacts. Though the entire town can easily hold you rapt with its artful stone residences preserved in heritage frescoes that come illuminated on weekends, don’t forget the treat of Škofja Loka Castle, a famed historic site dating back to the 1200s, now home to the Loka Museum within reach of the town’s western hiking trails beside Grajski Park.

4. Bohinj

Next in our Slovenia itinerary is the capital town of Bohinj in the fun-to-say valley region of Bohinjska Bistrica. Travelling to Bohinj is also fun, particularly if you catch the Bohinj Railway, a train line that wends all the way to Italy through Slovenia’s extraordinary Alpine regions. Alight at Bohinj for a tranquil hike around Bohinj Lake, meeting the nearby Sava River, for ‘end of the world’ stillness.

Not far from the tourist-heavy Lake Bled, Bohinj is a discerning man’s alternative, with only the sound of your breath and birds flying overhead to fill the silence. Though eerie to some, the hikes around Lake Bohinj are truly something to behold, setting high expectations for longer hikes into the Julian Alps, perhaps to the famed peak of Mount Triglav, a top option in spring. If hiking is not in your plans, consider kayaking and fishing on the lake, travelling up Mount Vogel by cable car in winter, or taking it easy in the nearby towns of Stara Fužina and Studor year-round.

Bohinj | Photo: Ivabalk

Photo: Bruno Bucar

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Poking into the Adriatic on the tip of the westernmost peninsula, Piran entices holidaymakers with its pedestrian-only Old Town decked out in Venetian Gothic architecture and an impressive number of al fresco wine bistros

5. Piran

Another worthy mention among the best places to visit in Slovenia is the coastal town of Piran Slovenia, the nation’s own version of Venice. Poking into the Adriatic on the tip of the westernmost peninsula, Piran entices holidaymakers with its pedestrian-only Old Town decked out in Venetian Gothic architecture and an impressive number of al fresco wine bistros. Tour the narrow streets behind Tartini Central Square to find restaurants and shops between heritage sites such as Venetian House, while upfront, the Piran Harbour lies forever active with the comings and goings of the town’s fishing trade. Towards the peripherals of the city, however, clamber up the remnants of the Old City Walls or climb the St. George Bell Tower stairs for some encompassing coastal views overlooking the Church of St. George, the Monastery of St Francis and the entire town. While there are no sandy beaches in Piran, look to the area around Piran Point for pebbly jump-in points, also on offer at Piesa and Portoroz Beach.

Piran | Photo: Mikita Karasiou

6. Pokljuka Plateau

Raised some 1,400 metres up upon the mountain pastures of Triglav National Park, lies the glorious Pokljuka Plateau. Covered in forest and winter snow, Pokljuka Plateau is the ideal locale for skiing and snowboarding, as well as a popular starting point for trekking in the Julian Alps.  Hidden in the rural hills above the main tourist trail between Bled and Bohinj, Pokljuka Plateau offers a look into Slovenia’s humble farming lifestyles in spectacular surrounds. Triglav National Park is best explored by rental car, making many of the best lakes, rivers and meadows that cover the plateau easily compacted into a day or two on your itinerary. Spend your time hiking among the lush forests of Triglav or look into the more extreme options of kayaking, rafting, parasailing and skydiving.

7. Kranjska Gora

Another top destination for the winter months is the alpine resort town of Kranjska Gora, one of the top places for skiing in Slovenia upon the Julian Alps. Besides gearing up for the pistes of Spik peak and its neighbours, visitors to Kranjska Gora can spend their time exploring the wider Sava Dolinka Valley, passing through the phenomenal Vrsic Pass on the journey. While there, seek out the Russian Chapel, a site built by prisoners of war during WW1, before stopping for breath-taking views over Lake Jasna. Kranjska Gora is close to both the Austrian and Italian borders, just 40 kilometres from Bled and within easy reach of all the outdoor adventures happening in Triglav National Park.

Kranjska Gora | Photo: Sara Deis

Kranjska Gora | Photo: Miha Rekar

8. Škocjan Caves

127 kilometres southeast of Kranjska Gora in the limestone Karst region that stretches all the way to Italy, lie the Škocjan Caves, a complex underground system of canyons, passages, natural bridges and river rapids, hidden beneath the Slovenian countryside. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the caves are among the world’s largest underground systems, at almost 6 kilometres in length. Approximately half of that is accessible to visitors, allowing for guided tours across three different hiking trails all of which enter through a gorge in the village of Škocjan following the Reka River in its subterranean journey towards the Dead Lake. From there the rapids disappear further underground before surfacing in Italy and emptying into the Gulf of Trieste, but visitors will stay put in Škocjan, marvelling at the vast Martel Chamber and various river-carved rock formations amid ‘the centre of the Earth’.

9. Predjama Castle

Of the top Slovenia tourist attractions, Predjama Castle is a clear favourite, particularly among history lovers. One of the most beautiful places in Slovenia placed atop a lofty cliff upon a maze-like network of caves, Predjama Castle is an ideal pit-stop on any Slovenia trip at any time of year. If you fancy touring the caves, however, you’ll have to do so when the bats aren’t sleeping, outside of May to September. Though Postojna Cave is indeed an eerie wonder, the real Gothic attraction is the Renaissance castle itself, which connects to the caves through a series of tunnels said to be from where Knight Erazem of Predjama – the local Robin Hood – would set out on all his plundering expeditions. Now, as well as providing shelter to a colony of bats, the tunnels and caves beyond can also tell stories of historic sieges and medieval intrigue. At ground level meanwhile, the castle’s pretty façade and romantic setting make it one of the most popular wedding venues in the country.

Predjama Castle | Photo: Chris Yang

10. Maribor

We have just enough time for one more city break, this time to Slovenia’s second-largest and most charming municipality, towards the southeast. Serving as the gateway to the trekking paradise of Maribor Pohorje and the vineyards of Mariborske and Slovenske Gorice, Maribor is a definite crowd-pleaser for lovers of both wine and recreation.

One of the city’s biggest celebrations known as the Old Vine Festival happens every September in the city when crowds descend on the Lent area to harvest a vine said to have been growing since the 17th century. St. Martins Day later in the month marks the day when the brew is finally ready to drink. Other than wine, Maribor offers visitors a taste of local history by way of the 15th century City Castle, inside of which lies original interiors, costumes and guilds as part of the Maribor Regional Museum. It’s towards the southern edge of the city, along the river’s edge, meanwhile where you’ll find most cultural excitements. Here, among the life of the Main Square and the various monuments to the Great Plague, you’ll uncover the 16th-century architecture of the Town Hall and the ever-popular open-air market on the vibrant Vodnik Square.

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