Slovenian tourist destinations such as Lake Bled, the Postojna Caves and Ljubljana's charming Old Town are known throughout Europe but where can you go when you want to escape the crowds?
Fortunately, it's not difficult; throughout Slovenia there are pretty villages that are not only interesting to visit, but also make great places to live. Each region has its own distinctive character and that extends to even the smallest communities.
Karst & Coast
Štanjel is one of the sparkling gems of Slovenia's Karst region. This beautiful settlement that numbers little more than 300 permanent residents started out as a Roman fortress, perched strategically 363m above sea level, and later formed part of Slovenia's fortifications against invading Turks. Today this charming village is known for its imposing castle and the Church of St. Daniel, as well as the cluster of stone built houses that cling to the hillside. The narrow streets open up into picturesque squares, each one with an ancient stone well.
The castle is a popular venue for weddings and also houses a museum while at nearby Villa Ferrari visitors can explore the Renaissance-style garden which was designed by the famous Slovene architect Maks Fabiani. The garden is arranged over a series of terraces with its own special irrigation system which is also accessed by local people for their own gardens.
A few kilometres inland from the lively resort of Izola there is a cluster of pretty Istrian villages - Korte, Šared and Cetore. The area has a rich history, its elevated position making it a good place from which to spot potential invaders. Nowadays the area is popular with people who wish to enjoy outdoor pursuits such as hiking and cycling, but it also draws visitors from far and near for the excellent regional cuisine. One special treasure of this area is the tiny village of Malija which clings to ancient traditions and its unique dialect.
Gorenjska is Slovenia's mountain region, famous for lakes Bled and Bohinj and winter resorts such as Vogel and Kobla. But there's more to Gorenjska than skiing and the region is just as popular in summer.
Begunje na Gorenjskem is a typical Gorenjska village though it is also famous among Slovenians as the birthplace of Slavko Avsenik, the best-known exponent of popular Slovene folk music. The gateway to the Karavanke range, Begunje is a great location for people who want easy access to the mountains but it also has plenty of other attractions such as Kamen Castle and Katzenstein Mansion, the preserved Robačnek Mill. Another traditional Gorenjska village, Kropa, is the location for one of the region's most magical customs. Every year on 11 March, the local children make artworks to which they attach candles, and float them on the pond of the village iron foundry: the traditional is said to have originated from St. Gregory throwing his lamp into the water, and celebrates the arrival of spring.
One of the features of traditional Gorenjska houses is the painted fresco that adorns one of the exterior walls and the best place to see some is Ljubno, a small village near the town of Radovlijca. However, there's more than meets the eye here: the murals are actually the work of some of the village's newer residents, Maša Bersan Mašuk and Nikolaj Aleksandovič Mašuk, Russian artists who moved to the area in the 1990s. They were so intrigued by the original murals that they added one to their own house and were then asked by locals to creates ones for theirs too.
Not far away, the village of Brezje is one of Slovenia's best-known pilgrimage destinations and though it is small, it has excellent facilities thanks to the number of people who come from all over the world to visit the church of Mary Help of Christians which was elevated to the status of Basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
Pomurksa is Slovenia's easternmost region, an area of dramatic contrasts from the lush hills of the Slovenske Gorice to the wide Pannonian plain which is famous for its health-giving mineral springs. This part of Slovenia is primarily rural with only a handful of larger towns; life is focused on small village communities and the region is known for wine and wildlife. Storks' nests are a common sight along the roadside while the River Mura and a number of important lakes provide a home for numerous birds. Historically communities were centred around wine production and fruit-growing and many village houses have private vineyards and orchards. A number of traditional wine cellars still exist and can be visited.
Puconci, with just under 700 residents, is a thriving village with a good community spirit; in fact, new houses are being built in Puconci and it looks set to become an increasingly important location. It used to be part of the municipality of Murska Sobota but is now independent and activities are underway to provide it with more facilities. However, with a good village school, various sports clubs and numerous other community associations, Puconci represents an appealing place for families.
Just 5km from the spa resort Moravske Toplice, Bogojina is one of Pomurska's prettiest and most interesting villages. Bogojina boasts a little bit of Jože Plečnik, Slovenia's most famous architect who was responsible for redesigning much of Ljubljana in the first half of the twentieth century. His Church of the Ascension - known locally as the 'white dove' - is situated at the foot of Vršič hill and attracts numerous visitors every year. While some Pomurska villages have suffered due to declining population in recent decades, Bogojina continues to thrive, in part thanks to the dedication of its inhabitants to the continuation of many traditional crafts and events. Several societies contribute to the upkeep of a communal herb garden, while every September a Flax Retting event celebrates the making of linen in the village, which goes back many years; the event is part of the Košič's Days of Culture festival which commemorates Jožef Košič, a respected writer and historian who was a native of Bogojina.
Want to know more?
This article covers only a handful of some of Slovenia's hidden villages. It's possible to spend weeks and months exploring them and many people do. If you're looking for something in particular, however, Slovenia Estates can point you in the right direction. Whether you're looking for a location for an active retirement, or a peaceful haven that's still within easy reach of key services, or the perfect place to bring up a young family, we are sure to be able to advise you.