Good things in small packages
OK, so there is no denying that Slovenia is small. But as the old adage goes, “good things come in small packages”. While Slovenia may appear physically small on the outside, on the inside it is huge. Tucked away on the edge of south central Europe, the country’s geographical location is just one of many things that make it such a special place to visit. If you browse the country on a map, you might be tempted to think that a short visit is enough. Once people come though, very quickly do they realise that a short visit is far from enough.
Where the mountains meet the sea
Slovenia comprises a total area of 20,273 sq kms and a population of just over 2 million. It’s these statistics however, that make the country such a great place to holiday or even live.
Geographically, Slovenia is wedged between the European Alps and the Adriatic Sea. This has created a landscape that changes dramatically across such a small area. You can watch the sunrise over an alpine lake in the mountains, and the sunset over the Adriatic the very same day. I know, you may think that is a bit far-fetched, but trust me I have actually done it.
The country spans four geographical landscapes: the European Alps, Karstic Dinaric Alps, Pannonian Plains and the Mediterranean Coast. The numerous easily accessible mountain passes have long ensured easy passage for people traversing the Mediterranean and transalpine regions in Europe. Even today, Slovenia is a transit country. Millions pass through yearly on their way to more southerly regions, blissfully unaware of what they are missing!
Slovenia’s compact size and superb infrastructure means that all of its treasures are well within easy and quick reach. Those pushed for time can cram in a ton of activities and sightseeing during their short visit. Whereas those with more time on their hands can easily explore the more remote regions.
The world’s first Green Destination
In 2014, Slovenia was listed in the top 100 sustainable tourist destinations. Two years later the Netherlands-based organisation Green Destinations officially named Slovenia as the world’s first green destination. It came during the same year the capital city Ljubljana was holding the title of European Green Capital. So Slovenia is truly green, and still remains one of the most pristine, environmentally-friendly and sustainable tourist destinations in the world.
While Slovenia’s popularity is growing, mass tourism is thankfully still quite low. Visitors can enjoy the country’s sights, nature and activities largely free from crowds. It’s true that places like Lake Bled, Postojna Cave and the capital Ljubljana do get crowded in summer. However, many others like Lake Bohinj, the Soča valley, karst region, southern forests and the Pannonian Plains remain low-key. It’s easy to avoid people in Slovenia, if you want to.
And with such a small population much of the countryside is wild and untouched, making the country a Mecca for outdoor activities. Slovenia is also blessed with a climate that truly has four seasons.
Ljubljana & Central Slovenia
Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana lies in the middle of the country.
Cosy and compact is what best describes the Slovene capital. With a population of around 288,000 and just 163 sq kms in size, it may pale in comparison to other capital cities, but therein lies its charm. It has everything you’d find in a large city but with the easy feeling of a big town.
Ljubljana is small enough that all attractions are within walking distance, and unlike many other capitals you won’t feel exhausted after a day trudging around sightseeing. The pedestrianised centre means you can stroll along the leafy riverbank free from the noise and smell of cars. In the summer the cafes and restaurants setup willow-shaded seating beside the river, making it a great place to hangout, especially in the evening.
The city is centred around the medieval Ljubljana Castle. For a great view of the castle itself, pop up to the restaurant or terrace cafe in the Nebotičnik building on Slovenska Cesta.
If you go down to the woods today...
Did you know that 58% of Slovenia is covered in forest? It’s the most densely forested out of all the alpine countries. Tree-lined mountain slopes with church spires sprouting from within, and vast tracts of forested land are in abundance everywhere. Slovenia’s best and most pristine forests can be found south of Ljubljana along with bears, wolves and other interesting wildlife.
From Ljubljana, you can already see the majestic peaks of Alpine Slovenia that dominate the northern half and stretch across the borders of Austria and Italy. In spring, these snow-capped peaks are a magnificent sight to behold. Coupled with already warm days, they simply beckon you to come hiking or cycling through their easily accessible valleys and passes, across densely-forested plateaus, verdant mountain pastures and wildflower-strewn meadows.
The summers are hot in the city, but cooler alpine air awaits just a 30-minute drive away. Stunning alpine lakes, gushing rivers and waterfalls offer a wealth of water-based activities such as rafting, kayaking, canyoning and much more. The glistening emerald-green Soča River is just one of many. If you like rock climbing, then you’ll also find plenty of opportunities here. The autumn colours are breathtaking too. And of course, there is no shortage of winter pursuits.
Marshlands and limestone
Head southwest of Ljubljana across the Ljubljana Marshes (Ljubljansko Barje) and you’ll find yourself in another world. The Alps will be behind you and ahead the marshlands will give way to a limestone world of subterranean caves, underground springs and seasonal lakes that appear and disappear throughout the year. This is red wine and cured ham country. The rich soil of this karst landscape produces some of the country’s best red wine. Across this rugged terrain blows the infamous Bora wind; a dry, cold, and strong gusty wind that howls down from the mountaintops on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea. This unique climate produces ideal conditions for air-drying ham, and as a result Slovenian Prosciutto (Pršut) is a delicacy that perfectly complements the wine. Stop in any winery in the region and you’ll be sure to try it.
At a modest 48kms long, Slovenia’s coast may rank 7th in the list of world’s shortest coastlines but it still packs a punch. A walk or cycle along this gorgeous coastline will take you through some of the country’s finest Venetian architecture in the snug harbour towns of Izola and Piran.
The east of Slovenia may not contain the dramatic alpine peaks of the north. A drive, cycle or hike amid rolling green hills dotted with vineyards, castles and churches will more than make up for it. The rolling hills eventually give way to a grassy plain bisected by the Mura and Drava rivers. It’s home to Slovenia’s second largest city, Maribor, and its oldest town, Ptuj. There’s a large network of wine routes to follow here and you can sample both white and the unique Cviček wine, low in alcohol content but great tasting. The latter is perfect for cyclists, as you can sip it throughout the day without fear of going round in circles.
Everything your little heart desires
Slovenia has everything you heart could desire, all wrapped up in a nice compact little country where everything is not only easily accessible, but all within a short drive from the capital. However, don’t be fooled into believing you can see it all in one short trip. It may be close, but there is so much to see and do that you’ll find yourself coming back, time and time again.