Lying between Italy and Croatia, Slovenia serves as the unheralded gateway to the Balkans. Part of the republics that constituted the former nation of Yugoslavia, Slovenia had the easiest transition from a former satellite of Tito’s communist empire, to a free and sovereign nation, as its war with the Serbs lasted a mere ten days. In that time, many Slovenians that were initially were fighting to keep Slovenia part of Serbia switched sides and a campaign of guerrilla warfare and ambushes took the Serbs by surprise.
Since then, integration into the European Union has occurred and peace has reigned throughout this small nation, which despite its size, has much to offer the budget traveler in terms of natural scenery, as the Julian Alps that concludes this world famous mountain ranges’ possesses a peak so well-loved by the populace that it appears on its currency. Those looking for a stunning passage into the Balkans from the rest of Europe will find Slovenia to be the perfect transition into the region.
What To Do
Starting your voyage on the national capital of Ljubljana, proceed to Ljubljana Castle, a stalwart that has stood on its post since the 12th century. It occupies a place that was highly favourable to settlement, as evidence of continuous settlement here suggests that this area has harboured people since 1,200 BCE. Eventually, it came to be a highly valued defensive post to protect the region against an invasion from the Ottoman Turks and it saw action during the days of Napoleon.
It last served as a jail and as housing before the poor before it underwent significant renovations in the 1960’s. Today, it serves as a popular gathering place for city residents, as many choose to get married here, and cultural events are often organized within its walls.
Before departing the city for the countryside, get the scoop on Slovenia’s history at the National Museum of Slovenia. Here, you will find artifacts scooped up from the dirt by archeologists, old coins and banknotes from well into its past, and displays that honour achievements by its scientists over the years.
The first spot that you should hit up on your travels throughout the Slovenian countryside should be the unbelievably stunning Lake Bled, a body of water of glacial origin that will please those into culture and the outdoors in equal measure. The former will squeal with delight as they happen upon the iconic sight of the church of the Assumption, which sits cutely on a rocky island roughly at the centre of the lake. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for many Christians, as the surroundings lends itself to a heightened relationship with God.
Those looking to enjoy the amazing surroundings in a physical manner can follow the locals by taking an invigorating dip in its waters. Alternatively, you can choose to skim across its surface in a rowboat, attempting in vain to keep up with Slovenia’s finest rowers.
Those looking to tour a UNESCO caliber site during their travels in this country should make the trip to the Škocjan Caves, which are known for its cavernous and long subterranean section, which ranks as the tallest in Europe. This complex stretches on for six kilometres, with many spiky stalagmites and stalactite formations, waterfalls, and a massive gorge at the end that will give even the most surefooted person a bad case of vertigo after looking into its abyss.
Those looking for some top-shelf mountain scenery will find it at Triglav National Park, which encapsulates most of the Julian Alps within Slovenia, including the nation’s famed peak, Mount Triglav. Standing at 2,900 metres, the peak is scalable by those without mountaineering skills, but a guide is necessary to avoid the wrong steps that can lead the unknowing visitor astray in its unforgiving alpine environment. Snow skiers will find excellent runs to bomb down in the region in winter, while causal hikers will find many idyllic routes to find a piece of Slovenia’s wild nature!
What To Eat
When starting a meal in Slovenia, try some Ajdovi Zganci as an appetizer. A savoury dish, this buckwheat spoon bread is often served with black pudding, cracklings and sausage, delivering a grainy and greasy rebuke to the food it is being served with.
Once you are ready for your main course, be sure to give Mavželj a go, as its intimidating nature will garner you some traveler’s bragging rights that will earn you some much deserved respect.
Essentially the remnants of a pork head (brains and all) and lungs that has been cooked in a soup, the meat is formed into a ball and it is placed into netting, which is then placed into a baking mold. Meat of other animals can also be used, and bread or rice is used to create a vegetarian version of this bold dish.
At dessert, fill up on Prekmurska Gibanica (especially if you passed on the pig brain surprise), as its layers of cheese, apple, walnuts and poppy seeds have attained the status of a national sensation. Its popularity was so elevated, that this cake was chosen to serve as Slovenia’s entry into the Café Europe initiative spearheaded by Austria in 2006.