No it’s not Slovakia. Not Armenia nor Silesia. It’s Slovenia, perhaps the prettiest little country in Central Europe. I visited there on a delightful quickie drive from Trieste, Italy, and it’s varied landscape reminded me of Switzerland. Slovenia makes a great add-on to a western European trip, or a worthwhile trip in itself.
Some not-to-misses in this not-so-hidden gem, even if you only have a week:
Just a 10-minute drive from Italy and Austria is the alpine village of Kranjska Gora, with it’s towering mountains and reflective waters. Set on the Sava Dolinka River in the Upper Carniola region of northwestern Slovenia, it’s known for skiing but is delightful to visit any time of year, just for the beauty and peace.
Picturesque scenery in Kranjska Gora
The country’s capital, Ljubljana, sits between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. Slovenia’s largest city, and known for its university population and green spaces, including expansive Tivoli Park, it was chosen the European Green Capital for 2016.
The curving Ljubljanica River, lined with outdoor cafes, divides the city’s old town from its commercial hub. The National Museum of Slovenia, displays historic exhibitions, and the Museum of Modern Art is home to 20th-century Slovene paintings and sculptures.
An open air market in Ljubljana, Slovenia, (Photo: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg)
Bled is the most famed beauty spot of Slovenia — a resort town in the foothills of the Julian Alps, set along glacial Lake Bled. I’d seen numerous photos, but when I came upon it late one afternoon I was still surprised by its stunning tranquility.
On a cliff overlooking the lake is the 11th-century Bled Castle, which houses a museum, chapel and printing press. And atop a picture-perfect islet in the lake’s center is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria, with a steep staircase and bell tower.
You can rent a pedal boat, or go up the mountain and take some dynamite photos. But even if you just sit down and breathe in the mountain air, leave time to linger and refresh.
Lake Bled, with the Church of Our Lady on the island, and surrounded by snow-covered Julian Alps. (AP Photo: Dusan Stojanovic)
If you like to bird-watch, stroll the trails along the Sečovlje salts flats near pretty, picturesque Piran, on a narrow peninsula on the Adriatic, filled with medieval buildings. Or relax on a traditional wooden Pletna boat on the ride to the quaint island of Otok to visit the 10th century church of St. Catherine.
The island of Otok
Slovenian pleasures are many and varied. Kobarid is known for the 1917 Battle of Caporetto, where the Italian retreat was documented by Ernest Hemingway in his novel A Farewell to Arms. You can tour the award-winning Kobarid Museum to discover historical battle grounds from World War I.
The Postojna Cave is a 24,120 meter-long karst system in southwestern Slovenia. There’s easy access from the road to a web of tunnels, passages, galleries and halls, and a glorious diversity of features. This is the second-longest cave system in the country (the Migovec System is longer).
Postojna Cave: (Photo: Donald Judge)
Nearby is Prejama Castle, a Renaissance building perched on a vertical cliff, in the charming village of Predjama. The two make a top attraction, worth a stop.
In Slovenia you can easily drive on your own, or take the train on several routes with aEurailPass. Or join one of many active tour groups such as Country Walkers on a guided walking vacation (their departures start in August 2016).
Throughout the country you’ll find small, clean hotels and inns, and a savory blend of farm-to-table Slovenian cuisine with influences from Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Pair your meals with local wine to complement traditional Slovenian flavors. Soaking up the local foods and the unspoiled countryside, you can feel what Europe was like 50 years ago.