Ignacio Maza, EVP of the Signature Travel Network, has returned from Slovenia with advice on how to sell the country to a variety of travelers.
I recently visited Slovenia, one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. This compact, green, varied and beautiful country was first to declare independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Slovenia’s small size (roughly the same area as New Jersey) combined with a superb infrastructure, means getting around is easy. The Alps, Adriatic, wine country and Eastern plains are all less than 90 minutes’ drive from the capital, Ljubljana. I believe we follow our passions when we travel, so here are suggested journeys for outdoor enthusiasts, food and wine aficionados, and history and culture buffs.
Ignacio Maza in central Ljubljana
Slovenia for Outdoor Enthusiasts
Because of Slovenia’s varied terrain, the country offers a wide range of options for travelers seeking active holidays. Start in the Alps, heaven for hikers of all levels. One of my favorite spots is the Upper Savinja valley, home of Logarska Dolina — a narrow glacial valley offering myriad natural attractions, soaring snowcapped peaks and endemic flora and wildlife. If you are feeling energetic, climb Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain and a rite of passage for the country’s citizens. Raft fast rivers. such as the Soča, a breathtaking float down blue-green waters rushing down from the Julian Alps. Cycle or mountain bike through green valleys and challenging Alpine foothills, or at slower-paced paths near Lake Bled and the Krka Valley. For adrenaline junkies, try ballooning, canyoning or paragliding near Bovec or Bohinj. For the ultimate thrill in Slovenia, zipline down the steep descent over Planica Hill, the longest ski jump in the world. Stay at Hotel Plesnik in the heart of the Logarska Valley; a fully furnished treehouse or tent at Garden Village Bled, or at an Alpine chalet.
Tartinijev Trg Square and the bell tower of the Cathedral of St George in Piran, on the Adriatic
For Gourmet and Wine Connoisseurs
Long before “slow food” and “farm-to-table” menus were popular, Slovenian chefs were ahead of the curve with an obsession for fresh, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Despite its small size, Slovenia has 23 distinct culinary regions. Begin your discoveries in Ljubljana, where you will find excellent restaurants, such as Strelec Ljubljana, located in the city’s castle tower; Monstera Ljubljana, the slow food bistro by Bine Volcic; and Gostilna Grič, perhaps Slovenia’s best contemporary farmhouse inn, set in the hills overlooking Ljubljana and a member of the Jeunes Restaurateurs movement. Outside the capital city, try Chateau Zemono in a charming countryside setting in the Vipava Valley, and if you are lucky, book a table at Hiša Franko in Kobarid, considered one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. The restaurant is run by Ana Roš, celebrated by culinary experts as the No. 1 female chef. Hiša Franko is the hardest reservation to secure in Slovenia. Plan ahead to avoid disappointment. Don’t miss tasting Prekmurska Gibanica — the country’s rich and multi-layered dessert.
One of many historic bridges in central Ljubljana
There are over 20,000 wineries in Slovenia, so there is a vineyard for every oenophile. Slovenia is known for its bright red wines like Teran, superb whites and sparkling wines, and fruit-flavored brandies. Although there are many celebrated wine regions, I recommend the Vipava Valley and Goriška Brda, for the quality of the wines, coupled with outstanding dining and places to stay. Consider Hotel Gredič, a beautifully restored five-star, 17th-century castle in the heart of Goriška Brda (Slovenia’s answer to Tuscany), or ultramodern Alma Vista, a sleek luxury villa with every creature comfort.
Slovenia for Culture and History Buffs
Launch your cultural pursuits in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s manageable, livable and charming capital. Ride the funicular to the top of Ljubljana’s castle, for panoramic views of the city and an overview of Slovenia’s history. Wander through the Old Town (Staro Mesto), and don’t miss Prešernov Square, favorite meeting point of city residents. Take time to walk along the river, down the grand avenues, or — better yet — catch a river boat ride that will give you a new perspective on Ljubljana’s neighborhoods. Throughout the city, you will notice the distinctive architecture of native son Jože Plečnik, who designed a series of buildings and public works in a unique amalgam of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements. Two Plečnik masterpieces are The National University Library and the Dragon Bridge, commemorating 50 years of the reign of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef. Ljubljana offers great museums, such as the National Gallery of Slovenija or the Museum of Modern Art.
Predjama Castle, perhaps Europe’s most dramatic setting, originally built over 800 years ago
Outside the city, visit the awe-inspiring Predjama Castle, a one-of-a-kind fortress built into a cave; the medieval town of Ptuj; and Piran, Slovenia’s gem on the Adriatic, a beautiful Venetian city proud of its rich history — complete with a bell tower that will remind you of St. Mark’s square. In Ljubljana, two hotel recommendations: The InterContinental near the city center, and the intimate Hotel Cubo in the heart of Slovenia’s capital.
No visit to Slovenia is complete without seeing Lake Bled, Slovenia’s most beautiful Alpine lake. Take time to visit Bled Island on a traditional boat called pletna, and catch the views from the castle, high above the lake. Final Tip: Late winter / early spring is a great time to visit, with fewer crowds and lower prices.
Beautiful Logarska Valley, in the heart of Slovenia’s Alpine region
Destination Specialist: Roundabout Travel
I traveled with Roundabout Travel, Slovenia’s leading Destination Specialist. Managing partner Mitja Jus and his team of experts have been in business for over 10 years and create custom itineraries for independent travelers, families or groups. Roundabout excels at creating memorable experiences, such as helicopter adventures over the Alps, music and champagne receptions deep within Postojna Cave, after-hours visits to Bled Castle, bike and wine tasting adventures, or private dinners at Predjama Castle.