If you are in doubt as to where to go this summer (or ever): go to Slovenia
I love Slovenia. It is easily one of the prettiest countries in Europe and one of the most pleasant to explore. Although it has been on the interrail trail for a while, it still feels like a hidden gem. It even has an instagram-crazed president and it gave the world Melania Trump. Every time I go back, I like it more (and write about it).
Actually, when I first visited Slovenia in 2000s I was not impressed. During the wars in the 1990s, my parents created very high expectations about the most developed of former Yugoslav republics: they rhapsodised about wonderful mountains and lakes, and described Slovenes as very nature-loving and much more orderly than their other Yugoslav brethren. Once we actually visited Slovenia, as a short stop on the way to Austria, it did not feel that great. Ljubljana, back then was still grey and a bit drab. It did not help that the weather was crap and the castle overlooking the town looked haunted and dilapidated. Even the brief visit to lake Bled (which had a special place in my parents’ stories) left me unimpressed due to unseasonal rain in August.
It was only when I came back in 2013, and stayed for four months that I started appreciating the country. Ljubljana, spruced up with EU funds and new money from a frothy construction sector, looked like a toy-city with its pretty barque core, lush parks and quaint bridges.
Exquisite culinary scene made up for the fact that the city is on the quiet side. Back then, Slovenia just started becoming aware of how amazing its mix of Mediterranean and Mitteleuropean cuisines is and great restaurants (like JB and Valvasor) were making the best use of it. Thankfully, the world started noticing, as attested by an appearance of a Slovenian restaurant (Hiša Franko) appearance on the popular Netflix culinary series, Chef’s Table.
Another draw was the sense of quirky style that pervades Slovenia. A friend who lives in Ljubljana, often jokes that every person living in Ljubljana is an architect. This diminutive city probably has the highest number of concept stores per capita (I counted more than 10 during a 30 minute walk), however given the relaxed outdoorsy culture this style-consciousness never feels oppressive nor forced. For some reason, Slovenes always had a knack for architecture, as evidenced by wonderful castles and churches that grace almost every other hill.
At last but not the least, there is the nature. For a country that you can drive through in 2 hours in every direction, Slovenia has an impressive variety of landscapes. Dry karst hills in the south are doted with dramatic caves and planted with olive groves. Julian Alps in the north make you want to belt out Edelweiss while swimming in the clear waters.
All of this makes Slovenia a perfect spot for a vacation. Given that I just got back from a two day break in Ljubljana and Bled, I cannot but recommend you visit. Below are some of the highlights of my trips to Slovenia. Please note: This is just subjective and I still have a lot of exploring to do. I need to go back to do Soča valley and actually visit Hiša Franko. I also need to climb Triglav and see Škocjan caves… and I still need to visit Sevnica, Melania Trump’s home town.
Skinny-dip in lake Bohinj
As soon as you see the fresh clear water of this glacier lake you will want to jump in. Better yet, take a paddle board (or a canoe) and find yourself a secluded beach for some skinny dipping. Visit the camp at the farther side of the lake, which has a pretty beach, good bar and a paddle board rental.
Climb Ljubljana castle in the morning
The views over sleepy Ljubljana in the morning are mindblowing. The bracing walk will open your appetite for Kranjska klobasa at Klobasarna in the old town.
Explore Piran’s Venetian walls at dusk
This is probably the most romantic small town on the Adriatic coast. Kod Ive
Stroll around lake Bled
It is just picture perfect and you’ll feel that you earned a snack of kremšnita at Zima. If you are budget conscious, I recommend staying at Jazz hostel.
Take a break at Bazilika bistro
Ljubljana’s stylish but cosy bistro is everything a cafe should be. The crowd is mixed, food is great and they also have a great selection of magazines. I wish they opened an outpost in Belgrade.
Admire Predjamski grad
This otherworldly building is the world’s largest cave castle. Although it is worth going in, admiring it from the nearby church will do the trick as well.
Truffles, game and wine
Treat yourself to some Slovenian delicacies. Julija in Ljubljana is affordable and good. You can also visit Movia’s wine bar to sample amazing white wines from Goriška brda. If you like your meat, try to find a restaurant that serves a bear steak.
Admire Plečnik’s architecture
This student of Otto Wagner is my favourite 20th century architect from ex-Yugoslavia. His projects in Ljubljana, from Tromostovje to Žale, are a great example of how architecture can be both poetic and useful. I like him even more because he also gave Belgrade one of its best churches.
Climb to Savica waterfall
Sava, the greatest river of former Yugoslavia starts with a bang below Triglav.