Slovenia's Top Ten attractions
Often described as ‘Europe in miniature’, Slovenia has the perfect mix of coast and countryside, mountains and lakes, pretty villages and lively towns. The 46 kilometre Adriatic coastline has sleepy Venetian towns and lively modern resorts while in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s compact capital city, there’s always some cultural or artistic event taking place. Slovenia is a country of castles, many of them open to the public, some even available for weddings. There’s underground cycling in disused mines, bed and breakfasts that give you the key to the wine cellar and enough museums and galleries to keep culture vultures happy for months.
The country is an ideal holiday destination for those who love outdoor pursuits; there’s white water rafting in the Soča Valley, the opportunity to try a world championship level mountain bike course at Mariborsko Pohorje, and even winter swimming at Lake Bled. On the other hand it’s also a great place to enjoy some relaxation with thermal water parks and wellness centres, such as those at Radenci in the north east of Slovenia, dotted all over the country. It’s a country where you can walk in mountain meadows in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon; in fact, in just a week’s holiday there’s no reason you shouldn’t do it all. Here are our top ten recommendations.
- Postojna Caves & Predjama Castle – Explore the wonderful subterranean world of Slovenia’s largest karst cave. A miniature railway weaves through the stalactites and limestone sculptures in this weird and wonderful underground world. In the vivarium next door learn about the ‘humanfish’, the only vertebrate in Europe that lives solely in the subterranean world. Just ten kilometres from the Postojna Caves, Predjama is perhaps the most dramatic of Slovenia’s many castles. More than seven hundred years old, the castle is perched strategically atop a 123 metre high cliff and appears to be emerging from the cliff face. Visit between May and September to see the cave under the castle: a colony of bats that hibernates in the cave means it is impossible to get access at other times of the year. A medieval tournament is held every summer in July; it’s named after Erazem of Predjama, an infamous fifteenth century robber baron who hid in the castle.
- Piran – This walled Venetian town is the jewel of Slovenia’s short Adriatic coastline. Walk off a seafood lunch with a stroll through the narrow streets and along the old city walls to the Church of St. George to take in the views. Piran is the birthplace of composer Guiseppe Tartini; visit the house he was born in then enjoy an evening concert during the annual Tartini Festival held in August. Take a tour of the Sečovlje Salt Pans, an area of historical importance, which has also been designated a nature park.
- Ljubljana’s Old Town – Tucked between the Ljubljanica River and the castle hill is Ljubljana’s picturesque Old Town. Beautifully restored medieval merchants’ houses and baroque palaces now house galleries, boutique hotels, restaurants and boutiques. Take the glass funicular to the castle; admission to the grounds is free but it’s worth paying to climb the castle’s observation tower for fantastic views over the city and beyond to the Julian Alps. On Sunday mornings a flea-market is held on the old town embankment of the Ljubljanica: it’s a great place for a rummage to find some socialist era souvenirs.
- Lake Bled – Perhaps the most recognisable image of Slovenia, Lake Bled with its tiny island and impossibly blue water is straight out of the pages of a fairytale. Take a boat ride to Bled Island and ring the wishing bell in the tiny parish church. After a day walking round the lake and climbing the hill to Bled’s baroque castle, lie back and be pampered in a health spa: Bled first made a name for itself as a health resort when a Swiss doctor decided to make use of the lake’s thermal waters. The Bled calendar is punctuated with a series of musical events and no celebration is complete without a magnificent fireworks display at the lakeside.
- The Karst region – In the south west of Slovenia, spilling over into Italy is the Karst region (in Slovenian ‘Kras’); this vast limestone plateau forms one of the country’s most distinctive landscapes. Underground are networks of caves, some of these breathtaking caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites such as those at Postojna, and the UNESCO World Heritage site at Škocjan. The region is famed for the quality of its produce such as the buy red Teran wine and air dried Pršut ham. The village of Štanjel with its imposing castle and pretty squares is one of the loveliest in Slovenia. Villa Ferrari in Štanjel was designed by the celebrated Slovene architect Max Fabiani; though the tower was destroyed during World War 2 it was recently restored and now houses an excellent gallery.
- The Soča Valley – The emerald green waters of the Soča River empty into the Adriatic in Italy but before that the river passes through some of Slovenia’s most dramatic landscapes. The first Slovenian location to be awarded the prestigious European Destination of Excellence accolade, the Soča Valley combines unforgettable scenery with some of the most important cultural and historical monuments in the country. The World War 1 Museum at Kobarid is among the best in the country while a visit to the Kluže Fortress provides a chance to learn about the war from both sides. The Soča Valley is the country’s premier destination for thrill seekers with kayaking, rafting and paragliding all on offer.
- Lipica Stud Farm – The home of the famous Lipizzaner horses, used most notably by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, the Lipica Stud Farm allows visitors to watch these handsome white horses in a classical performance and to take a guided tour of the stables to see how the horses and riders are trained. A state of the art interactive exhibition complements the tour. There are also opportunities for trail riding as well as carriage rides drawn by a Lipizzaner.
- Logarska Dolina – Hiding deep within the Kamnik –Savinja Alps, Logarska Dolina is one of the most beautiful spots in Slovenia. Now a regional park, this glacial mountain valley is a haven of tranquillity; even where man has made his mark on it – the landscape is dotted with traditional farmsteads – man and nature have been able to live in harmony. Though Logarska Dolina is well known as a magnet for adventure sports – paragliding, ice climbing and sledding to name just a few – it’s also the perfect place to relax and take in the views and perhaps capture some of your own: various types of deer and birds of prey can frequently be spotted and make an ideal photo opportunity.
- Triglav National Park – Named after the country’s highest mountain, Triglav is Slovenia’ only National Park. Covering 880 square kilometres, the park contains almost all of Slovenia’s 400 mountains over 2,000 metres but has incredible diversity, also being home to such attractions as the Tolmin and Vintgar Gorges, Lake Bohinj and the breath-taking Soča River which is well known as a location for high-adrenaline pursuits. In the winter months there’s skiing at resorts such as Vogel and in the summer it’s possible to make guided ascents of Triglav as well as exploring the flower covered meadows in the cool valleys. A network of mountain huts provides basic overnight accommodation and meals for hikers and climbers. A series of paths such as the Pokljuka Trail and the Tolmin Troughs are perfect for those looking for a less strenuous experience.
- Lake Bohinj – The largest in Slovenia, Lake Bohinj is less developed than nearby Bled and for this reason it’s favoured by the purists who come for the unspoilt surroundings and the silence of what is arguably the country’s most beautiful natural attraction. For lovers of the great outdoors there can hardly be a better holiday destination in Slovenia: Bohinj is popular with fisherman, with lake swimmers and with cyclists. A 12 kilometre walking trail around the lake can be stretched to last a day, with regular stops to take in the beauty of natural attractions such as the Savica Waterfall. Close to the lake, Mount Vogel is one of the country’s most highly regarded ski centres; with 26 kilometres of runs it’s easy to see why boarders and skiers make a beeline for Vogel. Even in the snow free months Vogel is worth a visit; for those with a head for heights, a five minute cable car ride is the ticket to some of the most stunning views in Slovenia and a chance to see Bohinj from a completely different perspective.