Slovenia offers pristine landscape in the middle of Europe, with soaring vistas of Alpine peaks, hills and dales straight out of a 19th-century landscape painting, and sparkling lakes and rivers that appear to be underlit by emeralds. Slovenians are well-attuned to natural beauty, and the inclination is nearly always to protect and preserve it. Where man intrudes, it’s often to good effect, such as at Lake Bled, where a tiny baroque chapel atop Bled Island and a dramatic cliffside castle complete a harmonious whole. You may well return from your holiday thinking Slovenia is the prettiest country you’ve ever seen.
Food & Drink
Slovenian cooking borrows a little from each of its neighbours – Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans – synthesizing and reinventing dishes that emerge both familiar and unique. The ‘Slovenian’ touch, as it were, might well be a local obsession for using only fresh and (where possible) locally sourced ingredients. The result is a terrific foodie destination, where you’ll sample dishes in unusual combinations featuring items like buckwheat groats or mashed beans you may not be familiar with. Slovenian wine, both white or red, is an unheralded strength, and regional varietals pair well with local specialities.
The people are the ‘X’ factor in any visit to a foreign land, and rest assured you’ll find plenty of friendly faces here. Wherever you go, you’ll get an enthusiastic, helpful, welcoming and (often) English-speaking response. Numbering only around 2 million people, Slovenians perform well above their weight class in international sport, science, academics and even philosophy. In the days of old Yugoslavia, Slovenia was regarded as the most open of the country’s republics, and it’s not any different today. Slovenians are proud of their country and happy to show it off.
Slovenia is an outdoor destination. Of course, there are great museums and historic churches here too, but the locals seem to favour active holidays, and you’ll be invited – even expected – to join in. The most popular pursuits remain mountain walks and hikes, though increasingly Slovenians are discovering cycling (especially in the capital, Ljubljana). Fast rivers like the Soča cry out to be rafted and there are ample chances to try out more esoteric activities like horseback riding, ballooning, caving and diving. If all this sounds a bit much, you can always decamp to the coast and sunbathe on the Adriatic.
In general, Slovenia is temperate with four distinct seasons, but the topography creates three individual climates. The northwest has an alpine climate with strong influences from the Atlantic and abundant precipitation. Temperatures in the alpine valleys are moderate in summer but cold in winter. The coast and a large part of Primorska as far as the Soča Valley has a Mediterranean climate with warm, sunny weather much of the year, and mostly mild winters (although the burja, a cold and dry northeasterly wind, can be fierce at times). Most of eastern Slovenia has a Continental climate with hot (and occasionally very hot) summers and cold winters..
When to go
Every season has its attractions in Slovenia. Snow can linger in the mountains until late June and even July, but spring is a great time to be in the lowlands and flower-carpeted valleys (though it can be pretty wet in May and June). At the same time the days are getting longer, the theatres and other cultural venues are in full swing, off-season rates still generally apply and local people are not yet jaded by waves of summertime visitors.
Summer (mid-June to sometime in September) is the ideal time for hiking and camping, but it’s also the peak season for visitors, making accommodation (and a restaurant table) in Ljubljana and on the coast hard to come by without advance booking. September can be an excellent month, with plentiful local fruit and vegetables, shoulder-season tariffs in effect again and the tourist masses home and back at work. You can still swim comfortably in the Adriatic in September, but by mid-October most of the camping grounds have closed down and the days are growing shorter. Autumn is beautiful, particularly in the mountains of Gorenjska and Štajerska, and it’s the best time for hiking and climbing (though October and November can be rainy).
Winter (December to March) in Slovenia is for skiers. It can be very cold and, away from the mountains, often quite bleak. At the same time, winter sees museums and other tourist sights closed or their hours sharply curtailed. Skiers should bear in mind that Slovenian school kids have winter holidays for about 10 days between Christmas and just into the New Year and again for a week in the second half of February.
Although prices are increasing, with imported items costing as much as they do in the rest of Europe, Slovenia is cheaper by as much as a third than neighbouring Italy and Austria. At the same time, everything costs at least 33% more than in nearby Hungary. Croatia has always been more expensive than Slovenia..
If you stay in private rooms or guesthouses, eat at medium-priced restaurants and travel 2nd class on the train or by bus, you should get by on under €50 a day. Travelling in greater style and comfort – restaurant splurges with bottles of wine, a fairly active nightlife, small hotels/guesthouses with ‘character’ – will cost about twice as much in the capital but an average of €75 to €80 in the provinces. Those putting up at hostels or college dormitories, eating burek (meat- or cheese-filled pastries) for lunch and at self-service restaurants for dinner could squeeze by on €30 a day.