Meet Slovenia: Mountains, Lakes and a Green Capital City3 min read
Nestled between tourist hot spots like Italy and Croatia, the little country of Slovenia is only slightly smaller than California, but has much of the same appeal. From the mountains of the Julian Alps, to an impressive wine region and a trendy capital city, Slovenia has a bit of something for everyone.
When I first arrived in Ljubljana, I was coming off a road trip through neighboring Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. A long time vegetarian, I’d been laughed out of many-a-restaurant in rural Bosnia and Herzegovina for inquiring about non-meat options. That’s not a figure of speech. The waiter started hysterically laughing, went back into the kitchen, repeated my request in Bosnian and the entire kitchen erupted in laughter.
Luckily, I’d been largely able to survive the Balkans on delicious spinach- or cheese-stuffed Byrek pastries, but wandering down the modern cafe-lined river upon arrival in Ljubljana, the plentiful options of salads and veggie-centric dishes did not go amiss. One of the nicest parts of Ljubljana is how pleasant it is to walk—or bike—around the downtown. Like many old European cities, the river is the central vein of the city and all along the off-shooting side streets you’ll find bike racks stuffed with bikes, as well as plenty of shops and restaurants to explore.
In fact, in 2016, Ljubljana won the title of European Green Capital due to its focus on sustainability, particularly by creating a pedestrian-friendly downtown and advancing public transportation options and cycling routes. In addition, three quarters of the territory of Ljubljana are green areas. Most notable is Tivoli Park, a massive public park full of chestnut trees, hilly running paths, sporting areas (tennis, soccer, basketball) and much more.
And outside of Ljubljana the opportunities for nature-filled adventures in Slovenia only get bigger and more beautiful. Triglav National Park might be the only national park in Slovenia, but it’s really the only one you need. Whether you’re in Slovenia for winter skiing or summer rafting, biking or hiking, there are few places on Earth you’ll find the special kind of peace and beauty that you’ll find here.
I happened to visit during the peak of summer, which meant plenty of time spent leisurely walking the circumference of Lake Bled and branching off to climb lush green hills to viewpoints overlooking the lake and it’s church-topped island. From the viewpoints, I watched locals and tourists all enjoying leisurely cycles, paddleboards and row boats on and around the icy blue water. And to reward myself for a day spent exploring the outdoors, I stopped in a cafe by the water to try Lake Bled’s infamous kremna rezina, or cream cake.
For those interested in more outdoor adventures at Lake Bled, there are many options for canyoning, rafting, zip lining and kayaking through mines.
From Lake Bled, I made my way east into Slovenia’s wine country. Maribor, the second largest city in Slovenia with about 130,000 people, is snuggled between rivers and mountains. While you surely don’t think of Slovenia when you think about wine destinations around the world, this tiny Balkan country is to be taken seriously when it comes to grapes. In fact, one of its coolest claims to fame is a 450-year old vine which is thought to be the oldest in the world. The vine is the biggest local celebrity in Maribor. Many different festivals are dedicated to it throughout the year, like the harvesting of the vine which incorporates centuries-old traditions.
After happily participating in a surprisingly delicious wine tasting at The Old Vine House, I ventured to Mariborsko Pohorje. A great ski spot in the winter, this area is a wonderful spot for summertime hiking and mountain biking. I spent the day leisurely exploring dense forests, waterfalls and wide open fields. If you’re just in it for the views however, the gondola operates year round.
Whether you’re someone who enjoys wandering around the city, a balance of outdoor adventures and total relaxation at a lake, or diving into unique wine culture, you’ve come to the right place in Slovenia.