Things to do in Slovenia
Slovenia is a tiny country at the crossroads of Europe, a meeting point of cultures between the east and the west, the north and the south. A land of mountains and valleys, Slovenia is one of the best countries in Europe for eco-tourism; a nature lovers’ paradise with much of her landscape untouched and pristine. Wondering what to see in Slovenia? There is something for everyone here: for the adventure seekers, a multitude of alpine trails and virgin forests to hike or crystal clear rivers to kayak. And for those in search of a slower pace, the bucolic landscapes and small villages lend themselves perfectly to the art of the slow wander. And of course, there is wine, plenty of outstanding wine.
Exploring Slovenia’s coastline
Surrounded by Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria, Slovenia is practically landlocked except for the tiniest strip of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. Peppered with small seaside resort towns, the coast has an unmistakably Italian flavour, borrowing much of its charm from their northern neighbours. Rustic harbour towns such as Portoroz boast narrow streets lined with rustic restaurants featuring freshly grilled fish and the ubiquitous gelato. Because the coastline is so small, summer holidays are very crowded, and if you´re visiting during peak vacation time, you might be better off avoiding the seaside altogether in favour of the mountains and lakes further inland.
For what was supposed to be a quick tour and tasting, but ended up being an entire afternoon drinking wine, eating local cheese and chatting with winemaker Matjaž Lemut
Slovenia travel – where to start
We began our meandering road trip through Slovenia in the Vipava Valley, a verdant and fertile plain set between two mountain ranges, well known for its top quality wines. Small-scale producers make the majority of the wine in this region. Wine is a way of life here, and in most cases is a family business going back several generations. A good place to start is at the Vinoteka in the town of Vipava, which boasts a modern tasting room and features a comprehensive range of wines from producers throughout the valley. From here, you can get an idea of what you´d like to explore and can organise a visit to the farms that most interest you. We popped in at Tilia, one of the valley´s most highly acclaimed estates, for what was supposed to be a quick tour and tasting, but ended up being an entire afternoon drinking wine, eating local cheese and chatting with winemaker Matjaž Lemut. He and his wife Melita started the estate in the mid-1990´s, and they currently market the winery as the “House of Pinots” with the focus being on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, two varietals that produce outstanding wines in the valley.
Things to do in Soca Valley
From here, we headed into the mountains in search of the mystical Soca River, famous for its incredibly blue-green waters, crystal clear and icy cold. Flowing from its source in the Mountains through the alpine towns of Tolmin, Bovek and Kobarid, the river is a major draw for adrenalin seekers and is considered to be one Slovenia’s top attractions. Kayaking and white-water rafting are the more obvious activities and are hugely popular, but skydiving and mountain trekking are also big here, and in the summer the small mountain towns and trails are overflowing with adventure seekers. The locals have an incredible respect for the environment, the countryside is pristine, and well looked after so it´s no wonder that nature lovers are attracted to this tiny slice of wilderness in the middle of Europe.
We recommend taking a traditional boat ride across the waters to walk the 99 steps up to the church and ring the bell for good luck throughout your life
Things to do in Lake Bled
Our next stop was the tiny town of Bled and the picture-perfect Lake Bled. Nestled deep in the Julian Alps and surrounded by mountains and dense forests, Lake Bled and her emerald waters have always held a certain mystical appeal. Since medieval times, the waters of the lake were reputed to have healing powers, and the 16th-century church on Bled Island in the middle is also steeped in legend and lore. We recommend taking a traditional boat ride across the waters to walk the 99 steps up to the church and ring the bell for good luck throughout your life. In modern times, Bled is a popular weekend and holiday destination for city dwellers looking to escape the capital, less than an hour’s drive away, and it´s a favourite summer destination for locals and travellers alike. The Jerezo Lounge, right on the waterfront, is a great place for a lazy lunch or cocktails at sunset and is also a good spot to try the famous Bled cream cake. A decadent layer cake with buttery pastry, vanilla custard and a thick layer of cream, this delicacy is legendary and when combined with a cappuccino, hitting just the right spot after a long day of climbing mountains. And conveniently enough, the Jerezo Lounge is located on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Toplice, an elegant and perfectly situated hotel boasting incredible views across the lake and luxurious facilities such as a thermal pool, a private beach and a wellness centre.
Things to do in Ljubljana
Slovenia is a small country, and so her capital follows suit; a tiny, cosmopolitan city that is simultaneously modern and traditional, and easily explored on foot in a few hours. Her architecture is a mix of influences from the various empires that ruled through the ages, but the vibe is distinctly European with her outdoor cafes and restaurants on tree-lined squares and along the river. Compared to mega-cities like London or New York, this tiny little metropolis is refreshingly laid-back. There is no rush to see a million and one things in the limited time you have here because there aren´t a million and one things to see in Ljubljana. But this isn´t a bad thing. The city encourages you to take your time, find an outdoor cafe and sit for a while, watching the world go by. Or take a leisurely stroll up the hill to visit the Castle and admire the views of the city. The morning farmers market in the old town square is a definite highlight and a great way to get a sense of the culture and lifestyle of the city and her inhabitants. We visited at the end of summer and the market was full of early autumn produce, a feast for the senses and a delightful discovery of the most delicious freshly pressed apple juice we´ve ever tasted.
There is no lack of stylish places to eat and drink in this city, but what caught our eye at Kavarna Rog was the ice-cream selection – it was a sweltering day. The gelato was delicious but the restaurant offers so much more than this, as we discovered upon venturing inside. The clean, modern interiors perfectly complement the menu, featuring local produce and serving delicious, unfussy food throughout the day. A perfect spot for a Sunday brunch with friends or a romantic dinner for two.
The best hotels in Ljubljana
Located on one of the Ljubljana’s most picturesque streets, the Lesar Hotel Angel is central without being right in the hub of the downtown action, great for a relaxing stay with the city at your doorstep. A private walled garden is a perfect spot for tranquil breakfast, and their concierge service and attention to detail make this one of the cities most popular hotels. For something with a more modern touch and interesting design details, head to the Vander Urbani Resort. Possibly one of the cities best-kept secrets, the traditional old-town facade does nothing to give away the clean lines and modern style of the interior of this hotel, tucked away in the heart of the historic district. The rooftop terrace boasts incredible city views and a private swimming pool as well as a glass yoga studio where classes are held every morning. And as if that wasn´t relaxing enough, there is also the option to book a zen massage for full-on rest and relaxation.
Things to do in Maribor
After Ljubljana, we headed east towards the Hungarian border for the last stop on our Slovenian itinerary: Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city. Maribor is somewhat off the beaten path and the eastern region of Slovenia, in general, doesn´t get as much tourism as the west, but we were, as always, here for the wine, and it didn´t disappoint. The city´s claim to fame is that of the location of the oldest vine in the world, a Žametovka varietal of about 440 years of age that has survived various invasions and two world wars and is officially registered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Old Vine House, where the vine is located, is also a museum hosting wine tastings of the various wines from the region and is a great spot right on the riverfront to spend a few hours soaking up the incredible history (and wine) of this unique location.
Tilia Estate | Photo: Luis Piteira
Bled Island | Photo: Kerry Murray
Lake Bled | Photo: Kerry Murray
Ljubljana | Photo: Kerry Murray