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We have posted a few deals to Slovenia in the last few months. None of us on the team have visited (yet!) but from what everyone has said, it definitely is on our list of places we would like to go.
Aaron of My Sweet Adventures went in mid 2016 and here are his practical travel tips.
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Slovenians get a bit of a rough deal when traveling. A lot of people (myself included!) first mix up Slovenia and Slovakia. This isn’t that surprising – both are small countries in central Europe that border Austria, with impressive landscapes of mountains, castles, and lakes. Over the last two years, I have visited both countries and while I can recommend both countries, Slovenia holds a pretty special place in my heart. This is largely because of the friendly, fun-loving Slovenians I have met, all of whom made my time in Slovenia so much memorable! I can safely say I will never get Slovenians and Slovakians mixed up again!
Slovenia’s history of upheaval and change is typical of central Europe. Trade routes between Western Europe, the Middle East and Asia resulted in the whole area being of key strategic importance. In saying that, the Austro-Hungarian empire did hold Slovenian lands for six centuries – a reflection of the strength of the empire more than anything! In 1918, most of Slovenia joined Yugoslavia, a newly formed state that stretched from Slovenia in the north down to present day Macedonia in the south. Additionally, a large part of present day Slovenia was also given to Italy, following the end of World War I.
Yugoslavia’s mix of ethnic diversity (read irreconcilable differences) eventually resulted in the beginning of its break-up in 1991 – when Slovenia and the rest of Yugoslavia engaged in the ‘Ten-Day” war beginning on the 27th June 1991. The short timeframe of the war resulted in casualties of less than 100 people, significantly lower than the civil war and genocide to come throughout the rest of Yugoslavia.
Following independence, Slovenia entered a period of peace and prosperity, culminating in joining NATO and the EU in 2004. However, like many other smaller countries within the EU, membership has had its difficulties – a stronger Euro and over-reliance on cheap credit resulted in unsustainable growth and Slovenia was hit hard by the Great Financial Crisis in 2008.
When to go
Slovenia’s diverse landscape within a small geographical area can give a visitor a great overview of Europe within a short timeframe. From small seaside towns on the Adriatic Sea with a heavy Italian influence, mountain resort towns, castles, a beautiful capital city on a river, and of course a fanatical support of football (soccer to the uninitiated), Slovenia has it all.
Therefore when you go will depend on what you want to do in Slovenia. Summer allows drinking beers overlooking Lake Bled or in a multitude of bars and restaurants on Ljubljanica River in Ljubljana City, mountain biking in the many hills (Maribor has a ready made mountain bike chairlift, see below for more), white water rafting or kayaking on the Soca River near Bovec, or espressos on the seaside in Piran. Winter has a multitude of skiing options, not just in Slovenia but across the border in Austria, depending on weather patterns.
A standard warning for visitors to Europe is to stay away in August as this is when other Europeans holiday and prices can be as much as double. September is my favorite time to travel Europe – the ocean water is warm, it is off-peak, and temperatures are a little cooler but still very warm. July is also good to travel but the ocean water can be a little cooler.
How to get there – Visa/Currency
Slovenia is part of the EU and the Schengen area of open borders. Therefore, you can drive from Italy, Austria or Hungary, with no border control. However it is worth noting that Croatia is not part of Schengen so you will need to pass through border control. The plus side is you can still get a stamp in your passport if you travel by car from Croatia. When I visited Slovenia from London, we flew into Zagreb, Croatia, where my Slovenian friend picked us up and drove us across the border near Maribor. The main flight options are either to fly to Zagreb or Ljulbjana. If you are flying from your own country direct to Slovenia, check your requirements for Schengen before flying.
Slovenia also uses the Euro currency. While Slovenia is on the cheaper side for European countries, be aware of a significant price increase in the peak times, particularly for the tourist heavy areas such as Lake Bled, Piran, and Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is one of many central/eastern Europe cities that follow a similar pattern – an old town based around a winding river, with many cafes, restaurants and bars outside on beautiful cobblestoned streets. Ljubljana also has a significant student population, keeping prices down if you know where to go. My friend showed us many hidden delights around the city when we were there. I would highly recommend going on the free walking tour and asking the local guide for some good food and bar options. We were there during the student holidays, so it was relatively quiet, but my friend said that it gets very busy when University is in session.
When we visited, Maribor had recently won the Slovenian Football First League. There were many supporters wearing their team’s colors everywhere as it had been a number of years since they had won! We learnt some of the chants – the main one involved the two main beer brands – one being a Ljubljana team sponsor, the other a Maribor sponsor. Let’s say the Maribor one was drunk in the usual way while the Ljubljana beer was something that ended up in the toilet!
If you like mountain biking, Maribor has a world class Mountain Biking park that people can use for €20 a day, offering easy routes for beginners to more challenging ones for professionals. While in Maribor, you also have to visit ‘Old Vine’ – the oldest wine producing grape vine in the world at nearly 500 years old! On the topic of drinking, we also went into the countryside and visited a farm owned by friends of my friend. When we arrived, everyone was very merry after drinking and eating most of the afternoon. They invited us to try various Slovenian specialties – barbecued trout and the local home brewed spirits were particularly well received! If you can do a countryside tour and experience some Slovenian hospitality, you will not be disappointed.
Lake Bled is an incredible location – a castle on a hill overlooking a beautiful lake, a real life fairy tale destination. It is easily accessed from Ljubljana by bus (about 75 minutes) or by car. I highly recommend renting a car so you stop as you please – in Slovenia, the journey definitely makes the destination! In the Lake Bled area, you can rent a bike and cycle around the Lake (or go into the hills for mountain biking), you can rent a boat and paddle around the lake, or climb up to the castle for great views of the whole area (and a well deserved beer!).
Bovec and the Soca River
Bovec is a small town on the Soca River and is highly recommended for all river-based adventure activities. After doing a lot of research, we decided to go with Sport Mix Bovec for all of our activities, and we were so glad we did! Everything was easy — they were flexible when we wanted to change our plans and all of the guides were very professional. We signed up for four adventures: a river kayak lesson, mini-rafting, a downhill mountain bike adventure, and canyoning. All of them were well worth it. We traveled from Bled to Bovec through the Triglavski National Park, but I believe if you wanted to travel by public transport from Lake Bled, you would need to go back to Ljubljana and then around to Bovec, making this a significant detour.
To finish off our tour of Slovenia, we visited Piran, a beautiful sea-side town on the Adriatic Coast. As I mentioned earlier, Slovenia has undergone many transformations, with Piran previously part of Italy, and a lot of the coast to the north of Piran is still part of Italy. Piran has a very Italian seaside feel to it with cafes and gelaterias on every corner!
For more information on Bovec and river adventures.
About the Author:
Aaron Sweet has the wanderlust bug BAD. Ever since leaving home at 18 to go to University in the deepest darkest south of New Zealand, he has spent the last 15 years finding ways to earn enough money to see new places all over the world, one country at a time (55 and counting!). The last 5 years has seen him calling London home, with Europe his playground. He loves finding immersive holidays for himself and his friends, so much so that he has set up My Sweet Adventures w
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