Oh, BTW, I Thoroughly Recommend Slovenia

I’m not big on counting countries. But it hadn’t escaped my notice that I hadn’t visited a new country for a whole two years, although Poland was at least new to Zac. And so, since we were in Europe for Christmas and therefore, even in an El Niño year, craving snow, we booked flights to Ljubljana on a whim.

Well, not entirely a whim. I’d checked the snow forecast (don’t bother, they’re all wrong) and looked at the webcams (a much better source). I’d chatted to friends who’d been and raved about its beauty. Further, I had read a guidebook.

The death of the guidebook has been long anticipated, but I’m still a big fan of a chunk of ex-tree when it comes to visiting any new country (don’t get me started on TripAdvisor): this one was the Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern Europe.

But I digress…. We landed up in the resort of Kranjska Gora, Slovenia’s largest ski resort, and, as we learned through painful experience, home to the Ski World Cup’s single steepest slalom slope, with a corking 59% incline. (Think something rather like this, but with people who’ve been skiing since they could stand whizzing past. The whole experience was so staggeringly British I almost died of embarrassment.)

And, somewhat to my surprise, Slovenia is absolutely splendid. I thoroughly recommend a visit at any time of year.

Lake Bled, Slovenia, with snow capped mountains reflected in the waters.

First up, there are the mountains. Eminently satisfactory, jagged mountains, which frame the capital city, dominate the ski slopes and make both its famously picturesque lakes (that’s Bohinj and Bled – Bohinj is much less touristed) so stunning.

Secondly, there’s the size. Slovenia is absolutely tiny – roughly the size of Massachusetts, and significantly smaller than Sicily. It’s almost impossible to spend more than three hours in the car, and you can go from ski slopes to seaside in just a couple of hours.

Thirdly, the people. Slovenians are mountain and forest people – almost two-thirds of Slovenia is forest. They’re passionate about the environment and, like many people who live in small, recently reconstituted nations, keen to make visitors fall in love with their country. It’s hard to escape many social situations without a shot of blueberry liqueur or grappa-esque brandy.

Fourthly, there’s an absolute welter of things to do. There are stellar caves, none of which we got to, because skiing, fascinating medieval towns (ditto), pristine landscapes, and even a treehouse resort where you can sleep in pods hung from the trees (not in winter). Not to mention the interesting food, which combines elements of Hungarian, Polish, Austrian and Italian cuisine with some ingredients that are all their own – go buckwheat!

Skiing at Kranjska Gora, with mountains in the distance.

The skiing? Well, it was great to be on skis, and in an environment that pretty (I snapped the photo above on my cheap Samsung smartphone over coffee). However, March is the best season for skiing Slovenia, fact fans, and between January and El Niño, many lifts and pistes were shut, despite the presence of snow cannon, which is how we ended up on a World Cup slalom slope.

Kranjska Gora, almost like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided into four parts (you can download a current piste map here). To the far left, around the Kekec chair lift – hire your gear here as it’s cheapest and the guys are fab – are beginner and intermediate slopes. The centre, around the Vitranc lift, is good for intermediates.

You would be unwise to ascend the Podkoren ski lift unless you’re firmly on the advanced side of intermediate: Slovenian red runs can have an incline of up to 39%, and that tempting-looking red run from the top is narrow (and was closed when we visited). Far to the right is Planica, another beginner-intermediate zone which was closed for the duration of our visit.

We had a lot of fun. If you like long, long runs (like the ones we had in Bansko, Bulgaria ), then Kranjska Gora is probably not for you: the less well-known Bohinj is, I understand, a better bet for this. If you want fun skiing, beautiful mountains and interesting food at a fraction of the price of the French (let alone Austrian!) Alps, then Kranjska Gora is right up your street (search CrystalSki for late deals).

If the snow looks ropy – this is not a high resort, so I wouldn’t visit in December, and I’d check the webcams before booking in an El Niño year – then buy your lift pass and hire your gear in day or half-day chunks. I would strongly recommend hiring a car: while Slovenian buses are modern and reliable, car hire is super-cheap and opens not only the entire country but Italy and Austria, both of which are hiking distance from Kranjska Gora.

View of Ljubljana Castle.

The capital, Ljubljana, is startlingly beautiful, dominated by a castle on a hill in the river, and framed by those glorious mountains. I’d put it up there with Venice, Florence, Paris and Gdansk Old Town on my list of eye-catching European cities. Ljubljana is dinky – just 400,000 population – so a cinch to navigate on foot, while the castle, the river and sundry easily distinguishable bridges make it almost impossible to get lost.

This is splendid wandering territory, with charming parks, lovingly restored bright riverside houses, a selection of galleries, museums and churches, and an impressive selection of cafe-bars, which, as often in Central Europe, will equip you with blankets to enable you to sit outside on even the chillier evenings. (Ljubljana was briefly a Napoleonic capital, so has more architecture than you’d expect for the size, although I really wouldn’t bother with the library.)

Still, as I say – you should totally go! Even if it’s just a minibreak: stroll up to the castle for a 100% Slovenian meal at the excellent Gostilna na Gradu, wander the waterfront, hire a car, and take your pick of the country’s myriad attractions. If you’ve got leisure – and oh how I miss this! – you can hop on a ferry to Venice or a train to most anywhere in mainland Europe, while Turkish Airlines has some tempting flights to Istanbul.

Cheapskate? Hostel 24 is a friendly place in a quiet location twixt river and castle with perfectly serviceable ensuite doubles for virtually pennies on Agoda: request a first-floor room. In funds? Splurge on the stylish, 16th-century Antiq Palace but check rates on Agoda first.

Image credits: Thanks to Mirci for the photo of Bled Lake, Slovenia.


21 Responses

  1. Carissa says:

    Ljubljana remains one of my all time favs! Though I’m sure it has changed significantly since I was there in 1990 – literally just after multiparty elections and before Slovenia became a country in its own right!

    • Theodora says:

      I’m sure it’s much shinier and brightly coloured now – although many of the waterfront houses still have a faded air. When we went to Poland this summer, it was my first visit since the Jaruzelski era – just at the very tail end of it, before the roof fell in, complete with hard currency stores. Awe-inspiring how fast places can change, and yet, in many ways, remain the same. It’s a prosperous little place today, a great advert for the EU. And, glad you love Ljubljana. It really wasn’t on my list at all.

  2. Bob R says:

    Happy to see you got, and enjoyed, a little taste of Slovenia, where small truly is beautiful. Skiing can be tricky here; it’s not high as you mention, so the conditions won’t always be the most conducive — which is why most Slovenes head to neighboring Austria and Italy for longer ski holidays. That said, the views from just about every resort in SLO, no matter how small, are phenomenal. I think late spring and early fall are the best times to visit and do some wandering about in the mountains if that’s your sort of thing. That’s when you should plan your next visit. And throw in a day or two in wine country along the border with Italy’s Collio.

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks for the tips! I think I must have chosen wrong with my Slovenian wines: did no research, just chatted to staff looking for “typical” styles. They seem to like acidic, light, red wines – thought the whites were OK, though I’m not really a white wine drinker. Am I way off base here? I do thoroughly intend to come back, so would be handy to know if they’re doing what Spain did 20-odd years ago.

      • Bob R says:

        The typical reds are probably a little lighter in style than what you’re used to, but there are some very good reds being produced in the western part of the country. The more unique varietals, truly local / indigenous grapes, are white.

        • Theodora says:

          Thank you. We weren’t on a budget to do serious wine, but I’ll definitely make time to check that out whenever we are next there.

  3. Rosita says:

    Hi, Thea, I have a new puppy, as you can confer at this text I wrote myself.
    Potcake’s story:
    I was really wanting to have another dog to make company to Cleo, our beloved Yorkshire Terrier, but, instead of buying a purebred puppy of an exotic and foreigner breed, who wasn’t adapted to the tropical equatorial climate of this city, so, I decided to adopt an unwanted puppy at any animal shelter to see just some dogs. I visited the local dog pound, and, despite the fact of promising myself that I would adopt an adult rather than a puppy, a woman who works at the shelter suggested me to look the puppies first, so, I did it, when she was accompanying me. And then there was Luna, an eight-months-old puppy. Gorgeous, floppy-eared, forlorn Luna, who didn’t seem to know how to be a puppy at all.
    “Can I change her name?”, I asked.
    “Of course! What name you’ll choose?”, the woman asked me, brightly.
    “I’ll call it Potcake (spoiler: I chosen this name because she looks like a Potcake Dog, a dog breed from the Caribbean).”, I said, without hiding my enthusiasm.
    I simply loved her bright green eyes, a remarkable trait of her mixed heritage, as she was a purebred BSD (Brazilian Street Dog, an unrecognized mixed breed dog, who can be called as being a “mutt”, “mongrel”, or even our local term, “vira-latas”, a Brazilian slang term for street dog which means, literally, “those who scavenge”, although I personally think this term is pejorative), who contrasted with her brown shorthaired fur, like a redhead person. Her story couldn’t have started worst: she was neglected by her owner, a drug user, who loved she, but the drugs consumed him, so, he let it without food or water or human care during weeks, and she was struggling to survive at all costs, even when it was nearly impossible – the resilience and strong drive to survival are remarkable traits of the immense majority of BSDs, as most of them suffered horrible abuses during their lives, except by some few dogs. She was found starving and sick, with both anemia and babesiasis, but, luckily, she don’t have none sequelae. She was what we would call as being a miracle puppy. Potcake, like me, was a survivor of her own story, and nobody can imagine what occurred with she on a not very distant past, but, now, she was ready to receive so much TLC from a good family. I promptly decided that she was my new puppy, both because I was touched by her history and loved her appearance, but, also, because according to my beliefs (spoiler: we aren’t talking about religion, but yes the most profound beliefs of one person, independently of its religion), no one human being should mistreat any living creature, specially a dog, who is as a holy creature, because God putted dogs on the world to show us what’s unbreakable loyalty and unconditional love, that can exceed all form of borders and even other lives (yes, despite the fact of being born and raised by a catholic family, I believe in both karma and reincarnation). Yet having already inflicted two dogs on our small, long-suffering family, there was apparently no space for poor, forlorn Potcake, but I was decided to keep it with me. Even if she resolutely refused to play with her ball, or her squeaky toy, or show any interest in the foods I desultorily threw, and demonstrated that she was a couch potato by lying on a orange hammock with me, at mommy’s room. I am fresh back from a trip to Santiago, and gripping with the vicissitudes of local internet connection, when the gate opens.
    Some weeks ago, we took Potcake again to the shelter, to being sterilized, and the vet said that, after this surgery, dogs tend to be obese both due to an improvement on their appetite and lack of exercise, so, he said that Potcake really need walk, like all dogs. He also asked if Cleo, my 3-years-old Yorkshire Terrier, used to walk.
    “Ehhh…no! She isn’t sterilized and it’s pretty scared of being at the street, even on leash and with me”, I say, laughing.
    “It’s totally wrong! TOTALLY! All dogs need walk, independently of the fact of being neutered/sterilized or not! ALL DOGS!”, he said, firmly.
    Mommy and I hold a summit meeting. Although she isn’t a big fan of dogs, specially one of mixed breed heritage, and I’m an assumed dog lover, who’s a big contrast, but we ARE, we decide, going to do this properly. So, I pick up a black leash, who was of one of my dogs that died just a few years ago, and took Potcake for walks on the front of the condo or at an old park, like a pedigree dog of a foreigner breed. We will spend a small fortune on stupidly expensive pet food so that she gains weight. She might started her life as an abandoned and mistreated puppy, we conclude, but Potcake’s lifestyle aspirations are firmly cosmopolitan. Obviously a puppy that deserve to walk at Miami Beach, Fifty Avenue and spend a holiday at an all-inclusive five-stars beachfront resort in paradise Bali. I’m just kidding, but, if you give me the chance, I’ll certainly do those things with my dogs, specially one who suffered a lot on its short life. And so it begins. Potcake does not like her leash. Nor does I like the idea of walking a dog. I literally have to drag her out of the house. And also myself, because, despite the fact of being a dog lover, I don’t really appreciate the idea of walking a dog. Yet, the more we walk her, the more socialized she becomes. She stops and sniffs at other dogs – occasionally yapping at them, rather unnervingly. I interact with other dog owners, as the dog lover teenager that I am. In one night, I decided to pick Potcake to my room.
    “Only that night”, I tried promise to myself (spoiler: I couldn’t do my promise, so, she still sleeping with me).
    It takes me approximately three seconds of inspecting the terrified, disoriented creature in the sofa to conclude that Potcake is somnolent, and, when I took it, she bit me on the right arm.
    “Mommy!”, I screamed, nervously quivering.
    “What occurred?”, she asked, both nervous and somnolent.
    “Potcake bitten me!”, I said.
    “Wash and put a bandaid on it”, mommy said.
    I was concerned about the risk of contracting rabies, so, I dig out Potcake’s vaccination book. She has not had her rabies shots yet. Drug! It means that I would die on a horrible way, of rabies. Aaarrrrgggghhhhhhhhhh! I washed frenetically my arm, but I was really concerned about catching rabies, although I really wouldn’t approve the idea of killing poor, forlorn Potcake to do rabies test, who consists on cutting the head of animal to send a sample of its brain to lab, but I certainly wouldn’t do that with a puppy, specially one that suffered a lot on its short life and is only wanting a lovely family to give it so much TLC. No, I wouldn’t kill this poor creature. I’ll monitor her behavior during some days, to see if it have any considerable change. One of the benefities of living on a small city? Your favorite restaurant can be pretty distant of your home, but there’s no problem, since drive-thru exists at your city and you can eat your favorite plate when assist any movie/documentary/TV series at Netflix. I am eating a pizza, while immersed in a nonsense movie when Potcake jumps on the couch and starts running up and down it. This seems both odd and unlikely to improve the cushions, so I pick her up and put it on the floor. Potcake jumps back on, and, finally, I notice that it was wagging its sable-like tail, and is too obvious that she just wants to play with me. At the middle of night? No way! I’ll not pay attention to a hyperactive puppy. Oh, OK, Potcake, you won! I’ll play with you! So, I get down of the couch and thrown Potcake’s favorite ball. And she go to pick it. Yes! I won! And nobody can imagine my happiness who was impregnated at my face at this moment, although it was just a playful moment between a puppy and its owner.
    One of our friend’s daughter had routinely play with Cleo, and she wanted to know our new puppy. Ignoring all advice from interested parties of ‘for god’s sake, get rid of the mutt’, and breathing a quiet sigh of relief that I’ve mentioned nothing about having a new dog to the neighbors, but they probably had noticed until that, mommy and I decide that we will go walk her properly, and bring her a toy to play with while Cleo’s also wanting to play. I started diving deeply into the complex and wonderful world of canine breeds, and I solemnly decide that I need to train Potcake, as I did with Cleo, but, first of all, we bough a toy for Potcake, who is, after all, only a puppy – and a much-loved puppy, with lots of canine and human friends, as one of our friend’s daughter. And so, they finally visited us, or better, Winnie. “Hello”, the child says, brightly.
    “Woof Woof!”, she said, running and pointing to Cleo, although she wasn’t obviously referring to Cleo, but yes to Potcake.
    Mommy seemed a little surprised, but take them through. Potcake was on a cage, pretty isolated from the baby, both food and water untouched. She was wagging her sable-like tail, and brought one of her toys to the child. Their parents looked at each other, without saying nothing. Despite her sad start on its life, Potcake’s receiving lots of love and is, finally, living with a good family. I am, I decide, smiling, definitely a dog person. So, what do you think about my new puppy story?

  4. Rosita says:

    Hi, Thea… I forgotten to mention one detail: the puppy wasn’t vaccinated against rabies when it bitten me, and I DON’T took rabies vaccine… Weh, the puppy’s still alive. And me too. It was 2 weeks ago… Should I take rabies vaccine now?

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Rosita, Did it break the skin? And did you wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water? Theodora

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Rosita, I am not a doctor! Also, I’m from a country where we eliminated rabies many years ago, so I am probably more worried about it than people who are from countries that have rabies. I am sure you will be fine given the puppy has no symptoms. But, particularly given you spend so much time with dogs, I’d get the series of shots as a precaution. What does your mum think? If she wasn’t worried, then I wouldn’t worry yourself: if she doesn’t know, I’d tell her and ask her advice. Theodora

  5. Rosita says:

    Hi, Thea… Yes, it broken the skin, and, inclusive, was bleeding at the moment.. I washed it with water, but I didn’t asked for medical help. Really I need rabies jabs?

  6. Rosita says:

    Mommy isn’t very worried, but Brazil ISN’T a rabies-free country, so, I am worried by the possibility of catching this dreadful disease, but, now you said that if the puppy has showing none concerning symptoms, I’ll be more tranquil. More one time, thanks, Thea! I’ve visited England last month, and it’s pretty cold – at least during the winter –, but luckily it wasn’t snowing! I’m a tropical person from a tropical country, so, I am not accustomed with cold (or better freezing) temperatures, as opposite of you, who was born and raised in England. Thea, I also have to advice you that here on Brazil we’re having a zika outbreak. OK, it may sounds weird to you (and to me also), but it’s a new disease (at least in this side of world), who’s causing serious problems on pregnant woman. And, the most weird of all, is that’s spread by a mosquito! Those nasty mosquitoes!!! How I hate them! Zika can fake slightly dengue symptoms, so, it’s pretty hard to distinguish it from dengue (which I had twice) or chikungunya (which I also had). So, plz, use mosquito repellent to keep zika away! 😉 I’m doing my part on eliminating mosquito breeders. Zika, as dengue & chikungunya, is epidemic here on Brazil, sadly… And what about zika, dengue & chikungunya in England & Bali?

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Rosita! England was very warm for January last month! I’m glad your Mommy isn’t worried. We have Zika in Indonesia as well. Very concerning. Fortunately, we have fish in ponds that help eat our mosquitos.

  7. Rosita says:

    Oh, so do you know what’s zika… Last January, I was in England, but I don’t think it was hot… At least, not to me, because im accustomed with the hot and humid climate of my homeland 😉 my dreams are to visit Bali, Australia, Hawaii, French Polynesia, Philippines and the Caribbean 🙂 do you would adopt a puppy, as I did? I’m sure that BAWA and BARC have some cute puppies to you 🙂 so, what do you think about this idea?

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Rosita, I wouldn’t adopt a puppy, no. There are far too many puppies that are adopted in Bali and then abandoned because the owners can’t take them with them when they leave – there’s a law against taking puppies off the island. Theodora

  8. Rosita says:

    Oh, I don’t knew this information… 🙁 those poor Bali Dogs! Oh, if I could, I would adopt all of them! Here on my city’s pretty hard to leave a dog outside it, although there’s no law forbidding it (as far as I know). There’re just lots and lots of bureaucracy & all the normal procedures while bringing a Brazilian puppy to outside, but the wheels of Brazilian bureaucracy rarely run rapidly, even when oiled. So, it can be pretty slow to bring a puppy (or an adult dog) from my city to outside Brazil & other countries. But I’m not saying that it’s impossible (at least not if you’re from Latin America or some European countries). IDK how is the procedure to bring a dog from my city, at northern Brazil, to countries in which rabies is just a distant memory, but I think it can be pretty traumatic to the animal (and expensive to the owners!) weh, stopping talk about that expensive and boring bureaucracy, I’ll explain you how’s Potcake appearance: she’s just a small brown dog, with a Bali dog-like appearance, and floppy ears. She’s sometimes a playful dog, otherwise a forlorn, pitiful creature, a trait of her past as a neglected puppy. I don’t know how a person can neglect a dog at the backyard of the kampong until a Good Samaritan neighbor notify it to an animal welfare NGO 🙁 luckily, Potcake isn’t suffering anymore, she’s living a relatively comfortable life as a pampered & spoiled puppy at an apartment. Potcake appearance remember a small, floppy-eared Bali Dog. To talk the true, most BSDs share similar traits, as small/medium size, thin bodies, shorthair, sable-like tails, long face, floppy ears, depending on the breed who originated the mix, but I’m talking about those who don’t have mix with none know breed, just regular BSDs. How I love them! Thanks, Potcake, to show me the other side of BSDs, as lovable (and loving) dogs, not just rabid ones. I promised to myself that I wouldn’t buy more purebred dogs from puppy mills, but yes I’ll just adopt purebred BSDs from the local dog shelter. They’re resilient. They’re funny. They’re beautiful. TThey’re unique! Do you have noticed anything of unique on Bali Dogs appearance & temperament?

  9. It looks like your Slovenia trip was a great success. I really hope to visit here soon; such a beautiful looking place.

  10. I’ve heard such great things about Slovenia! Ljubljana seems like a quaint yet eye-catching city in the heart of Europe. I wasn’t aware the Slovenia had so many different options for skiing , but the mountains are so picturesque it almost doesn’t seem real!

  11. Dominika Koder says:

    I can’t believe you were in Slovenia last year. I used to follow your blog quite a bit but then “life got a hold of me”. I live 20 km from Kranjska Gora and would absolutely love to meet you both. I have a 7-year-old daughter and have been thinking of taking off again and travelling with her. If you are ever close by again, let me know – I’ll do my best to make sure you’ll see places you haven’t before around here!

  1. December 28, 2016

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