When I heard that one of the countries I was going to visit during my summer road trip around Europe was Slovenia, I was excited with anticipation of the prospect of exploring the unknown.
When you are going to France, you imagine Paris with its Eiffel tower, cheese and wine. When you go to the Netherlands, you think about the flat country, tulips and red windmills. In Italy you are looking forward to their pizza, historical old towns and sparkling prosecco. However for Slovenia, one really does not know what to expect.
My knowledge about this southern country located in Central Europe was pretty weak. Before starting the journey, I did some research before my trip and was surprised to find out how such a gorgeous little land could be almost slightly hidden away. Slovenia is in the true sense ‘a little big country on many crossroads.’
Slovenia shares its borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Influences of these neighbours are visible in its cuisine, culture and language dialects. In Slovenia you can have goulash for a starter, pizza as a main dish, strudel with gelato for dessert together with excellent Slovenian beer or wine – all while listening to Dalmatian folk music. It may sound like Slovenians are just simply copying their neighbours, but that is definitely not true. They take ideas and inspirations while adding their unique Slovenian twist.
A country, about the size of Wales, with a population of a little more than 2 million, hides a bit of everything. You can find stunning peaks of Alpine mountains, charming medieval towns, emerald wild rivers, crystal clear lakes and sunny sandy beaches. During less than a 4 hour drive, you can see how nature changes from pine and oaks forests surrounding Julian Alps in the north to giant oleanders and bougainvilleas on the southwest.
What is the best thing about Slovenia? You can see and experience all this even on a very tight budget and without struggling to make you way through groups of tourists. Despite the fact that Slovenia is not a country that would be forgotten by tourism, you still do not have to worry about participating in typical hunched obstacle races from people with cameras while sightseeing like you would in other, more popular, European destinations. Many say that Slovenia can offer everything Switzerland can but with better weather conditions and blue coastline and for only a fraction of the price.
Slovenia joined the Eurozone as a first former communist country in 2007 and is a member of the European Union and NATO since 2004. Their economy is well developed and has produced stability and properity but it was seriously injured by financial and subsequent euro crisis during 2007- 2010. There are obvious visible gaps of disparity most stark in the villages. Luxurious villas standing next to poor, dilapidated houses in repeating patterns.
Image Ljubljana dragon. Les Haines via Flickr
First stop on my journey around Slovenia was its capital, Ljubljana. Its centre possess a very cosy atmosphere, often compared to Prague, providing a very safe and friendly environment. Everything is easily accessible by walking so one does not need to deal with public transportation or finding taxis. Cycling is a very popular way to get around the city for locals. Architecture wise it has a number of different influences.
The historical centre of the city is a mixture of Venetian baroque, Vienna Secession, Functionalism and Slovene folk elements. During your visit you should not miss the Central Market, located near Ljubljana Cathedral. The main focal point of the city is its castle called Ljubljanski Grad that stands at the top of Castle Hill. The castle is today used to hold important cultural events or weddings. Inside there is not much to see except a spectacular view of the city.
An hour and a half away from Ljubljana lies the most famous and visited lake in Slovenia. Located in the dazzling mountains of Julian Alps, Lake Bled, was created from melted iceberg during the last Ice Age period. The temperature of the lake is very pleasant, around 24 to 27°C. Heat is generated by underground thermal springs, which supply the lake with water and make it one of the warmest among mountain lakes. Lake Bled is the most visited place in Slovenia and makes Slovenians very proud. It is the first place they will send you to when asked what to see in their country.
When the time had come to leave the country I regretted that I could not see even more of its beauty. Slovenia has indeed a lot to offer and especially comparing it to its neighbours Italy or Austria, it is still very underrated. On the flip side this fact makes Slovenia an exciting country for travellers with a passion to explore something yet undiscovered by the masses.