Secret Slovenia

Published in Travel Talk Australia, July 2015.    P1090132 For years this country lay torn apart in the battlegrounds of Yugoslavia. Nearly 25 years later, Slovenia sparkles, an undiscovered jewel ready to be unearthed. Vicki Morrison reports.

“I lost my wallet twice and both times it was returned with all the money inside,” says Simona our tour guide, proudly. A study conducted among European cities revealed that Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, is the safest, equal to Helsinki. The cobblestone streets of the old town are also remarkably clean, allowing their natural medieval charm to shine. When you cross the famous dragon bridge over the Lubljanica River, you’ll find a pedestrian-only, pollution free city centre. The city has three electric cars (Kavalir), which offer a free ‘taxi’ service within the pedestrian area. Pedal power is also encouraged and at only €3 per year to hire a bicycle from any of the city stands, you find many happy and healthy locals. When this exercise gets too much you can quench your thirst at any number of drinking fountains scattered throughout the city. Most people carry BPA-free bottles and fill up with some of the EU’s freshest and cleanest tap water, direct from the mountains. It is easy to see how Ljubljana was recently awarded Greenest EU City 2016.

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Like Australians, Slovenians are sport crazy and with Slovenia’s fairytale alpine lakes, mountains and richly forested countryside, you can understand their draw to an outdoor lifestyle. If an active holiday is your dream, then Slovenia rises to the occasion. Skiing in Slovenia is extraordinarily affordable. At only €30 for a day lift ticket, the whole family can ski to their heart’s content without impacting your pocket. Take the state-of-the-art cable car as it soars above the Bohinj Valley to the high-energy ski-fields of Vogel, where panoramic terrace cafes with bench blankets, steaming traditional dishes and views of Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak, await. Or for family fun, head to the village of Kranjska Gora, where tobogganing, mystery igloos, outdoor ice-skating, snowfield entertainment and ski schools abound, all within walking distance of a welcoming array of hotels, eateries and its ever-charming, Christmas-lit village which sparkles throughout the winter season as night skiers and snowboarders shimmy down the quieter slopes.

When all that activity has taken its toll, the Slovenian Spa and Wellness centres that form a huge part of their tourism are waiting to serve. Wellness Spik, just outside Kranjska Gora, is the ultimate resort for affordable, unique indulgence, with private hot stone beds, salt-scrub showers and oxygen therapy rooms. Hotels like Bled’s five star Hotel Toplice specialise with a Roman-themed indoor thermal pool, where naturally warmed spring water is changed ever day. Their sister hotel, the four-star Hotel Golf, has an Asian-style wellness retreat where you can leave behind the noise of children’s laughter from their indoor swimming centre (complete with spiral slide) and withdraw to their blissfully calming haven. Here you can lounge with other bath-robed bodies sipping alpine water in candle-lit rooms, while waiting for your massage, romantic spas for two, facials and other healing treatments.

When you are done and dusted, Slovenia’s scenery lures you back outside. The jewel in Slovenia’s medieval crown is the ever-enticing, picturesque, swan-filled Lake Bled. A meander around its six-kilometre foreshore is a photographer’s and walking enthusiast’s dream or you can hire a horse-drawn carriage to ease you through the winter’s snow or summer’s heat. The foreshore offers panoramic views to the inspiring Julian Alps, its island’s Baroque church, and its well-trodden 99 steps to the famous wishing bell whose spire appears to rise to the heavens within Bled’s eerie morning mist. Look up and you’ll see 130 meters above the lake, Bled Castle, one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Slovenia. Lake Bled is 360 degrees of wonderment.

After years of remaining hidden, Slovenia has emerged as a highlight of Europe, competing strongly with its neighbours, Italy and Austria, for spectacular Alpine scenery, heart-warming food and high-end affordable accommodation, all within the embrace of some of Europe’s most charming people.

FAST FACTS

GETTING THERE

Easy Jet fly direct from London to Ljubljana five days a week. Lake Bled (Lesce Bled) is one hour by train from Ljubljana. Kranjska Gora is another 30 minutes by car or bus from Bled.

WHEN TO GO

Slovenia shines all year around. Best snow conditions for skiing, snowboarding and outdoor ice-skating are December- February. To enjoy alpine hikes, swimming and summer festivals, choose the warmer months from May- September.

WHERE TO STAY

Lake Bled: Hotel Golf, a fabulous half-board family hotel with wellness centre and indoor swimming complex with slide. www.sava-hotels-resorts.com/en/bled/

Kranjska Gora: Hotel Kompas, with breathtaking mountain views and only 100 metres to the ski slopes and village. www.hitholidays.si/en/hotels

Ljubljana: Hotel Vander, a chic hotel in the cobblestoned old town owned by an Australian. www.vanderhotel.com/eng

LANGUAGE

Slovenians are generally fluent in English, but learning to say thank you in Slovenian –Hvala (sounds like koala) goes a long way.

For more information:

Ljubljana Tourism: www.visitljubljana.com Bled Tourist Board: www.bled.si

Kranjska Gora Tourist Office: www.kranjska-gora.si