Why Slovenia? After clarifying that we did in fact go to Slovenia and not Slovakia, this is often the second question we get. My husband and I have been tacking on the country count over our last nine years of traveling, but Slovenia is the first place (other than Paris) that we have gone back to for a second trip. Portugal and Slovenia are our favorite countries in Europe and we frequently waffle back and forth about which one wins out overall. Slovenia, nestled between Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria, mixes the best of central and Mediterranean Europe. The northern tip of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia is now fully integrated with its European neighbors. But what’s so great about it and why are we already dreaming and making excuses to go back? Since Slovenia is still somewhat off the tourist radar for Americans, here are 9 reasons why we think you will be likely to fall in love with Slovenia too!
#1 – It’s a great place for a roadtrip
It is very easy to drive around Slovenia which makes it a great country for a roadtrip. Get yourself a car! Driving in an unfamiliar country can be intimidating, but Slovenia has to be one of the easiest countries to drive in. The main roads are well maintained, you don’t need to worry about driving on the opposite side of the road, and our experience has been that other drivers are overall courteous. (You will need a Vinjeta to drive on the highways, but if you’re renting a car in Slovenia most car rentals just include this in the price.) While you could easily spend a week exploring Ljubljana, there are so many half or full day trips that would be difficult to do if you were relying on public transportation. For example, we loved our daytrip to Otocec, a whimsical castle located about an hour drive south east of Ljubljana.
#2 – There’s always a festival somewhere
Really…there is! And who doesn’t love a festival? Local products, wine, and celebrating the area’s culture always leads out a good time! I’m sad that I don’t have a good picture to represent this point, but you will have to take my word for it since I was probably too busy trying to choose what food I was going to get or holding a cup of wine that someone conveniently handed to me to be able to take a picture. Our favorite festival (and probably our favorite evening, ever) was put on by Taste Bled in Bled, Slovenia. The food was amazing, the wine was amazing, and we sat under the stars and the light from the castle while listening to young Slovenian women sing traditional and international songs. I even got my husband to dance with me. Don’t forget to check out the food festival, Odprta kuhna, held every Friday throughout the summer and into the fall in Ljubljana!
#3 – The desserts are perfectly sweetened
If you’re a person that only ever eats a giant sugar bomb for dessert, then you might not follow me with this one. But if you’re like me and actually want to taste the dessert for what it is without going into a sugar coma afterwards, then Slovenia is for you! This is why I have a hard time stomaching American desserts. They are too dang sweet. But every dessert, ice cream, or candy that we have had in Slovenia has had just the right amount of satisfying sugar.
Sidenote, while I am on the topic of desserts. I have been to Italy, and to Spain, where you can safely say that the best gelato is found. However, I am going to argue with you and say that the best gelato that you will ever have is at Gelateria Romantika in the capital city of Ljubljana.
#4 – The capital city is perfectly sized
Speaking of Ljubljana, it’s a wonderful city to explore. There aren’t any really big blockbuster sights, which is one of the reasons why I like it. It’s big enough to get a little lost if you want to, but small enough that getting completely lost is rather difficult (as long as you can get back to the river!) The cafe scene is great, the food culture is evolving, and there are plenty of deals to be had, if you take the time to look. Don’t forget to do our #1 recommended activity in the city — a food walk with Ljubljananjam! I will be doing a separate post on our time in Ljubljana, so I’ll save telling you more about the city’s food for that post. The Ljubljanica River runs through the city, creating the desire to take a picture every few minutes of one of the many bridges offering access to both sides of the river. There are green spaces and parks, it’s the perfect city to ride bikes around, and there’s a castle that you can view from pretty much anywhere in the city. What more could you want?
#5 – The wine is basically unknown — and incredible
Raise your hand if you have had wine from Slovenia….no? No one? It’s a small country that doesn’t do much exporting outside of neighboring countries, so most people have never had it. Being bordered by Italy and Croatia, it is not surprising that Slovenia has also engineered its own unique culture of excellent wine. They are best known for their whites, but Slovenia offers a range for you to try in reds, whites, and sparkling. So go, have a glass of Malvazija or a dry rose for me, and pair it with a delicious Slovenian dish. If you’re lucky enough, you may even have the pleasure of tasting the wine at Vina Povh with Miha, the winemaker. If you have time, explore the village of Goče: a village that was so renowned for its winemaking that the Hapsburg family arranged for the wine to be sent to Vienna 200 years ago.
#6 – The landscape is beautiful and diverse
We often describe it as the European Colorado, but with better food and wine. This small county offers a lot of for the size. Dramatic mountain vistas, fairy tale lakeside settings, emerald-green alpine rivers, a small but gorgeous coastline, impressive caves, terraced valleys, and waterfalls and whimsical streams flowing from canyon walls. Because Slovenia was once part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, there was a church built about every mile or two in every tiny village that has a different colored steeple blending in and enhancing the landscape. It’s packed with tourists in the summer, but there are few views as breathtaking as the aerial view overlooking the island on Lake Bled.
#7 – It’s surrounded by other amazing countries
Not only is Slovenia a great destination in itself, but it’s also bordered by other top destinations that you can easily get to as daytrips, or tack them on in addition to your Slovenia adventure. You can drive to the Alps in Austria or to the gorgeous Mediterranean coast Croatia in less than 2 hours. Take a daytrip to Zagreb, or hop on a train to Budapest. You can’t go wrong if you go stay in Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy and eat the best steak of your life at Al Postiglione. After you have a wine tasting with Violeta at Specogna winery, that is! Or go to Stari Podrum, a restaurant that is my heaven on earth (I imagine that nothing bad can ever happen there) that is located outside of the town of Buje, Croatia.
#8 – The people are friendly and accommodating
Along with Portuguese and the people we met in northern Greece, Slovenes are definitely up there with the kindest and most accommodating people we have met. Basically anyone under 40 or anyone in the hospitality or service industry speaks excellent English, and they are very forgiving when you try to butcher an attempt at Slovene. In our opinion Slovenes are great conversationalists and are very informed about current events, their culture’s past and where it’s headed, and are open to hear about your perspective. On our last trip we stayed in a tiny village next to Lake Bohinj, where the owner made us breakfast each morning with enough food to feed eight people. I liked the tea he served me so much that he made me a bag of the five different flowers he used to make it into a bag for me so I could make it myself at home. I could go on with similar stories!
#9 – It’s affordable!
I may have left one of the most important points to the end. Your money might not go as far as some other eastern European or Balkan countries, but Slovenia has many of the charms of Switzerland and Austria at half the price. You can of course get ripped off just like anywhere, but using a small bit of discretion quickly clears out that worry, and plenty of deals are to be found. For example, we ate a meal at Gostilna Repnik in Kamnik, a town outside of Ljubljana fit for a king with soup, starters, bread, salad, mains, sides, desserts, wine, and coffee for 30 euros total. 30 EUROS!! You can stay in the top rated place in Lake Bled with the most dreamy setting, beautiful rooms, delicious homemade breakfasts, and electric bikes to ride around for about 100 euros/night. In addition to being affordable, the infrastructure for tourists is well developed and there are few places where credit cards aren’t accepted. With so much to offer in a this affordable country, you will be constantly wondering, why aren’t there more tourists here?
I hope this list has given you reasons to add Slovenia as a must-do on your travel bucketlist! We will see you there. You can probably find me eating a cup of gelato at Gelateria Romantika or sipping some excellent white wine at whatever gostilna happens to be closest!
Have you been to Slovenia? Tell me what you liked about it below!