Welcome to the New Slovenia
Like many Eastern European countries, Slovenia is something of a contradiction in that it's both old and new. While the first Slavic settlers (the name Slovenia literally translates to "Land of Slavs") arrived in the 6th century ACE, Slovenia has only been an independent nation since the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1992. This has resulted in a country that was once mostly closed to outsiders yet is now open for business and ready to share its hospitality and natural beauty with visitors.
With any newly emerging tourism destination, the most famous attractions get most of the attention. Those who actually have heard about Slovenia know mostly the highlights: the incomparably beautiful Lake Bled, the culturally rich capital of Ljubljana, and the handsome towns dotting Slovenia's sliver of Adriatic Coast, like Piran. Still, there's a host of other destinations and activities in this small but handsome country. Below we list some of the best.
That isn't to say the more famous sights of Slovenia aren't amazing. If you are interested in learning more, check out this 7-day Slovenian highlights vacation itinerary.
A Tasty Lesson in Slovenian Beekeeping
One of the major ways to connect with this country is via one of its smallest creatures: bees. Slovenia is a rural nation—even today around 66% of its area is covered in forest—and there's a long tradition of family-run farms. It was common for all farms to keep bee apiaries in order to produce honey and candle wax. Over the years many folks left the farms to start apiaries and exclusively raise bees. Today there are some 90,000 beekeepers in a national population of just under two million.
This activity involves visiting the Kralov Med Beekeeping Farm, a family farm run by husband and wife beekeepers. They've opened their apiaries for tours that offer fascinating insight into the world of bees. Kralov Med Beekeeping raises Carniolan honey bees, which are less aggressive than Italian bees and thus it's possible to get up close to the apiaries without getting stung. Here there are 70 colonies with about 60,000 bees per colony, and in each of them, only one queen.
The tours serve a number of purposes. You can visit the wooden apiaries and see how bees organize their hierarchical societies. You'll also learn about the crucial role bees play in earth's eco-system, such as how every third spoonful of food that we consume is a direct result of bee pollination. Of course, you'll also be able to sample a wide variety of delicious artisanal honey and pick up a few bottles as gifts if you so choose.
A Different Kind of Wine Tour
If Slovenia is famous for any single export, it's wine. You can find Slovenia's varietals, like Zelen, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Riesling, and the sparkling red Teran, in great restaurants throughout the world. And over the centuries Slovenia's wine has been enjoyed by kings, queens, and popes. Even Slovenia's national anthem, "Zdravljica," was originally conceived as a drinking song in the 19th century with the text layout resembling a wine glass.
You can make a day tour from Ljubljana to one of Slovenia's fertile wine regions such as the Vipava Valley, Karst, and Goriška Brda. This is a hands-on tour of local wineries, meaning you'll partake in the grape-harvesting process. Then you'll chat with the owners and sample five types of wine straight from wooden barrels while pairing them with Slovenian tapas such as cured meats. All in all, it's fine a celebration of Slovenia's ethos "make wine, not war."
Take a Local Cooking Class
Slovenia has yet to make its mark on the main stage of popular global cuisine, which is a shame. The food here is unique, hearty and humble, but most of all, diverse. There are 23 gastronomic regions in a nation whose cuisine is based entirely on the environment, be it the Mediterranean coast or the mountainous forests. More rustic dishes you'll find here include stews, porridges, and cured meats. Common ingredients are root vegetables, potatoes, nuts, berries, honey, pork, lamb, goose, duck, and beef.
A cooking class, held in a renowned restaurant in the historic center of Ljubljana, is the perfect way to discover these ingredients and this cuisine. Led by a local chef, you and your group will learn how to prepare a traditional four-course meal that would win the approval of any Slovenian grandmother. A real highlight is making the traditional Slovenian dessert of kremšnita, a bright, rich, whipped cream and custard cake dusted with powdered sugar.
The class is located next door to a working farm, so you can rest easy knowing that all the ingredients you use will be seasonal and sustainable. Best of all, you'll enjoy copious amounts of Slovenia's world-famous wine as you cook.
Hit The Skies in a Hot Air Balloon
As we mentioned, most of Slovenia is blanketed in a thick green forest abounding with spruce, ficus, linden, acacia, and chestnut trees. That's to say nothing of the glassy lakes and turquoise rivers running through the fertile countryside. What better way, then, to enjoy all this gorgeous scenery than on a hot air balloon ride?
Naturally, there's no better place for this excursion than famous Lake Bled with its center Bled Island and the iconic bell tower of the Church of the Mother of God, a 17th-century gothic chapel. Hop in the basket and harness the power of air fed by a gas burner to ascend slowly into the air as the sun gilds the shimmering waters of the lake. You'll not only get prime views of the lake and its 11th-century Bled Castle but also Triglav National Park and the stunning peaks of the surrounding Julian Alps.
For a different experience, opt for a balloon ride over the capital of Ljubljana. Soar through the air as you look down on the city's historic center, home to its famous river, medieval churches, and cobbled streets. Part of the fun of the experience also involves chatting with the operator. Most of these pilots have been flying hot-air balloons for years, often decades, so they can provide a host of information about not only the practicalities of flying, but offer insight into the region as well.
Metelkova: Counter-Culture in Ljubljana
Every good city needs a counter-culture enclave, a bohemian sanctuary, a proud artistic community. That’s what Metelkova is. More specifically, it's a cultural center located in a former military base a couple of blocks east of the central train station. The abandoned base, which is comprised of seven buildings, was taken over by cultural and youth organizations following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and in the intervening decades it has grown into the counter-culture hub it is today.
Every building in the complex is either artistically painted or part of some broader art installation. You can come by anytime for a visit, and during the afternoon there's always someone wielding a saw, welder, or paintbrush and putting the finishing touches on a new project. It's also a workspace, with many offices in operation during the day. These are occupied by a variety of NGOs such as a chapter of a Slovenian LGBT association, a disability advocacy organization, and many more.
It's when the sun goes down, however, that Metelova comes alive as all the cafés, bars, art galleries, and nightclubs open for business. There's some kind of show or event here most nights including art gallery showings, concerts, even stand-up comedy performances (there's a calendar on Metelkova's website). The venues are a nice change of pace to the swanky bars and nightlife options in the historic center; here you can mingle with folks of various walks of life in a celebration of all things artistic and human.
Visit Historic WWI Sites in the Soča Valley
Slovenia's Soča Valley is known for its fertile valleys, its namesake river, and the snowcapped peaks of the Julian Alps. It is pure, natural beauty and a model of bucolic tranquility. But over 100 years ago it was the location of the famous Isonzo Front, a bloody WWI battleground. The front stretched 57 miles (93 km) from Mt. Rombon in the north to the Gulf of Trieste in Slovenia's south. It was so famous that Ernest Hemingway immortalized it in his seminal 1929 book, "A Farewell to Arms."
Remaining today are many sites where the Italians engaged in fierce combat with the Austro-Hungarians. You can visit ruins of forts and trenches around the areas of Rombon, Ravelnik (which houses an outdoor war museum), and Mr. Krn, where the famous 12 Battles of the Isonzo occurred. There's also the Italian Ossuary located on a hill just outside the town of Kobarid, in the northwest valley. This octagonal military cemetery is home to the remains of over 7,000 Italian soldiers killed in WWI.
And if the awe-inspiring beauty of these mountains primes you for more adventure, consider this week-long hiking/cycling tour of the Julian Alps.