Geographically, it lies on the outskirts of Central Europe—or those of Southern Europe, if you wish. Its location makes it a strategically significant European region, and over history it belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, the Republic of Venice, even the Ottoman Kingdom, as well as the French Illyrian Provinces and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before being part of Yugoslavia and eventually gaining independence in 1991. Today, locals speak Slovenian, which is a Slavic language, but English is widely understood.
This tiny nation with a population of two millions borders on four countries: Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and Italy. In fact, you will rarely find yourself too far away from a border crossing! Yet despite its small size and limited distances—and thanks to the proximity to other nations and cultures—culinary, cultural, social, and historic customs and heritage vary greatly between regions.
Can you imagine skiing in the morning and dining by the sea in the evening? Or riding in the rolling hills of the Pannonian Plains before hiking in Karst Canyons and exploring miles of caves.
A two-week holiday in Slovenia can provide you with an exciting and diverse experience. Mateja Travel’s itineraries will include top-notch destinations and activities characterized by an assorted range of historical, cultural, interpersonal, and culinary experience.
Upper Carniola and the Slovenian Alps (MAP)
Northwestern Slovenia are home to the southeastern tip of the Alps, the highest and most extensive European mountain range. One of the most characteristic features of this part of the country is the Triglav National Park named after Triglav, the highest Slovenian mountain peak standing 2864 meters (9,396 ft) tall. The mountain is so revered that it is portrayed on the national flag, coat of arms, and on the Slovenian Euro coins. The people of Slovenia half-jokingly claim that one is not a true Slovenian until they make it to the top of Triglav!
The Alpine Association of Slovenia was founded in 1893 and is one of Europe’s oldest mountaineering associations. It is thanks to this vibrant community of tens of thousands of members that many mountain huts—179 in total—can be found near mountain peaks. Most offer lodging, and many more offer food and beverage. Few gourmet dishes beat the taste of a true mountain stew!
In addition to the majestic mountains and crystal-clear rivers and lakes, this region is home to many castles, churches, and ancient cities with rich histories. Given the country’s location relative to Alpine massif, Slovenians like to say they live on the Sunny Side of the Alps!
Have you ever heard of Tina Maze? This Slovenian skier, winner of four Olympic medals, hails from the Slovenian Carinthia, a traditional region in northern Slovenia. Being another Alpine region, road connections with the rest of the country are modest and the population density is relatively low. However, this part of the country is home to many Alpine tourist farms. The many forests provide shade even in the warmest summer days, making this province particularly appealing for trekking and mountain biking trips. In the winter, pedals and trail shoes are replaced by skis and boots to provide yet another popular skiing destination.
Styria is a region nested between Carinthia and the Pannonian Plain in eastern Slovenia. The region’s center is Maribor, the second biggest city in Slovenia after the capital, Ljubljana. Maribor is home to a number of cultural and national landmarks; one of the most curious ones is the Old Vine, the world’s oldest grapevine which, at its venerable age of about 440 years, can be found in the Lent district.
Another Styrian town worth visiting is Ptuj, Slovenia’s oldest city. Year-round, the most significant landmarks include the Ptuj Castle (originally built in the 12th century to defend the local population from the Hungarians), St. George’s Church (also built the 12th century, it still features medieval interior paintings and Renaissance and Baroque gravestones on the exterior walls), and the Orpheus Monument build in the 2nd century AD. In early spring, Ptuj hosts a ten-day carnival called Kurentovanje. Kurenti are figures fully dressed in heavy sheep skin and go about town wearing masks, cow bells, and other adornments. In an ancient pagan rite, they visit houses and scare off evil spirits and the winter.
The Prekmurje region lies in the Pannonian Basin in the northeastern part of Slovenia. As the name of the wider region suggests, this region used to be submerged under the Pannonian Sea, a shallow ancient sea which probably dried up about two million years ago! The dried up body of water left behind some characteristic landscape features such as wide plains, rolling hills, and thermal springs. Rivers are populated by floating mills, while characteristic bird-scaring rattles try to prevent the endemic storks, starlings, and other birds from feasting too much on delicious grapes; they are needed to produce wine (mostly white, including sparkling wine). The people living in Slovenia’s most productive agricultural region are proverbially welcoming and like to share their singular traditions with visitors.
The cities and towns located alongside the Mura River and its tributaries are connected by excellent trails suitable for biking, hiking, or trekking. Tourist farms and numerous folk-themed festivals allow visitors to experience the unique customs typical of people in northeast Slovenia, while homely restaurants and taverns offer excellent local wines and scrumptious typical dishes.
The Karst Plateau (MAP)
The Karst Plateau lies between the coastal region and the national border with Italy (actually expanding into it) on the west, valleys and Alpine formations on the north, and Dinaric Alps on the east. Its weather features and the predominantly limestone soil generate very typical morphologic phenomena characteristic of the karst topography, earning this region the moniker Classical Karst.
Life on the Karst is marked by the Bora, a north-eastern wind that blows in gusts, releasing the cold high-pressure area sitting on top of nearby mountains over lower-pressure areas by the Adriatic coast. Hold on to your hats as gusts in the winter can reach 125 mph! Luckily, people in the region have learned to live with this strong yet predictable wind, and use it to their advantage in the growth of grapevine and production of delicious wine and prosciutto.
This region offers more than meets the eye—quite literally, for tiny Slovenia alone has over ten thousand registered caves, twenty-one of which are open to tourists. The most famous include the Postojna Cave, at fifteen miles the second-longest cave system in Slovenia, and the Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising an underground canyon created by the Reka River.
The Mediterranean Coast (MAP)
Even though the Slovenian portion of the Istrian peninsula has a coastline that, at 29 miles, only slightly exceeds the length of a marathon race, it offers three beautiful medieval towns in Koper, Izola, and Piran, each of them worth visiting. The latter is perhaps the most prominent and picturesque one, and the nearby town of Sečovlje (in the Piran municipality) is home to traditional salt fields where the mineral is extracted from the sea following the same procedures as first described in the 13th century, as well as Europe’s only outdoor spa center. Prepare your taste buds for an experience that involves fish and seafood, and indigenous twists on Italian culinary classics such as pasta and desserts.