What do you know about Slovenia? If your only answer is ‘Isn’t that where Melania Trump was born?’ then it’s time to pay this stunning land a visit.
Indeed, it may be one of Europe’s smallest countries, with a pint-sized population of 2.06 million and an area mass 20,273 km². (To put that into perspective, Germany has an area mass of 357,376 km2 and a population of 82.67 million). But Slovenia boasts a range of touristic credentials akin to countries that are far, far bigger.
It has the mountainous natural beauty of Austria and Switzerland, and a short stretch of pristine coast to rival Italy and Croatia. Meanwhile the capital, Ljubljana, is as clean, functional and cultural as any in Scandinavia. Best of all, you can enjoy the best of all three without being stuck in cars and coaches for hours on end.
Here’s our guide to making the most of this immensely LGBTI-friendly country – which legalized homosexuality in 1977 and introduced civil unions in 2006 – in a long weekend.
Lake Bled, in the medieval town of Bled, is probably Slovenia at its most iconic. A 30-minute drive from Ljubljana International Airport and 47 minutes from the city proper is a scene so idyllic, it could have inspired fairytales.
In the center of the lake and surrounded by greenish-blue water stands a small island, home to the 17th century Church of Mary the Queen. (Also known as the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary.)
It’s worth doing the short boat trip across the lake, not only for the stunning views of the surrounding nature, but also to visit the island for a closer look. The church, recently renovated, has a beautiful display of baroque art and visitors can ring the church bells to make a wish.
For a postcard view of the lake and to explore the town’s history, a visit up to Bled Castle will not disappoint. This is the perfect spot to have a taste of the famous Kremna rezina, a custard and cream cake popular in the region.
The Castle is also Slovenia’s oldest and most visited attraction. Being first mentioned in the 11th century, the fort witnessed the rise and fall of several medieval kingdoms throughout Europe’s history.
Triglav National Park & Lake Bohinj
Nature enthusiasts must set aside time to visit Slovenia’s only national park, Triglav National Park. Simply driving through Triglav will be already quite an experience – it hosts incredible sights, from pine tree covered hills and clear water streams, all against a south-eastern Alps backdrop.
The name Triglav comes from the mountain of the same name located in the park, the highest in the country. Furthermore, Triglav is so special to Slovenians that it became a national symbol. It’s in the country’s coat of arms, enshrined in the national flag since 1991.
The Park is home to Slovenia’s largest permanent lake, the 3.3 km² lake Bohinj. It’s popular among Slovenians for a summer retreat and of course for tourists.
For a magnificent view of the Triglav park and lake Bohinj, it is worth taking the cable car ride up to Vogel Ski Centre. It also has a lovely terraced restaurant which serves local dishes such as the Slovenian goulash.
In central Slovenia and with a population of just 280,000 people, lies the country’s biggest city and its capital. It took me a while to get used to pronouncing its name, but less long to be charmed by it.
Its small city center features cobbled streets cut by bridges arching over the River Ljubljanica. It’s as lively as it is quaint. Ljubljana Castle sits on a hill, the raised heart of the city and is surrounded by a beautiful park.
For a great view of Ljubljana, I recommend visiting the castle in the afternoon and walking down to the city as the sun sets.
Ljubljana has tranquil vibes, but that doesn’t mean it has no nightlife. Stop by Metelkova by night to see how the Slovenians love to party.
Located in an abandoned army site, is the city’s most hip place as it transforms itself from an art center by day to the epicentre of nightlife after sundown. Metelkova also hosts one of the city’s few LGBTI nightclubs, Klub Tiffany.
Geography buffs will already know about Slovenia’s tiny stretch of coastline in the North-western corner of the Adriatic Sea. It’s less than 30 miles long, but that’s all it needs. The landscape boasts beautiful, typically Mediterranean features, such as pebbled seaside, olive trees and, of course – glorious sunny weather.
Perhaps the best place to visit to have a taste of Slovenia’s coastal life is the charming city of Piran. Its proximity with Italy has heavily influenced the architecture of the town. Indeed, this does not go unnoticed to the eye: as you walk along the narrow and cobbled streets, full of colourful and eccentric houses and laundry hanging from on high, it’s not difficult to visualise yourself being in Italy.
Piran’s focal point is called Tartini Square – a homage to the town’s famous violinist, Giuseppe Tartini. A statue stands in its centre. I was lucky to be there on a Saturday. Thus, I was able to see the whole square turn into a busy and buzzy antique market. Local residents sell beautiful, random things in abundance.
For an unmissable view of Piran and its pier, you should walk up to St George’s Parish Church. It’s situated on a hill overlooking the town. For less than €2 [£1.77, $2.45] you can walk up the old church tower and soak in the breath-taking view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Grand Hotel Union in Ljubljana, located at the heart of the capital and walking distance from the best restaurants and bars in the city.
Furthermore, at Lake Bohinj, I stayed at Bohinj Eco Hotel. This modern hotel is run entirely from sustainable energy sources. It has its own spa, bowling centre and also its own water park.
Words By Aaron Bailey Athias.
For more information about Slovenia, visit slovenia.info/en. Also, for more information about Pink Week, Slovenia’s yearly celebration of LGBTI culture, visit pinkweek.eu. With thanks to Matej and Mattej.