- 2.1 million
If you want the best of Europe crammed into one destination, Slovenia is your country. Follow its borders and the landscape changes. Imagine yourself singing ‘The Sound of Music’ in the north, where the country butts up against Austria. Health retreats, mineral springs and rolling vineyards epitomise dreamy countryside near the Mura River, where Slovenia meets Hungary. And the sun-dappled coastline of the Adriatic, while not as lengthy as those of its next-door neighbours Croatia and Italy, is equally as impressive. Here, Piran, located on a picturesque peninsula and crowned by the baroque Cathedral of St George, shouldn’t be missed. At this town, as well as Izola and Koper, visitors marvel at the Venetian Gothic architectural stylings.
Slightly inland is karst country. Olive groves and orchards abound at ground level, but below it is a limestone world of caves and sink holes. There are more than 8000, and 20 have been adapted for tourism. In fact, Vilenca is the oldest tourist cave in Europe, and tours were conducted there as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century.
Lovers of a fine drop should head to the Vipava Valley. In season, gorge on freshly picked peaches and plums, sip the local varieties such as zelen and pinela (both crisp whites) produced by the more than 120 winemakers here, or head for Nanos, a craggy limestone plateau and popular destination for hikers, rock climbers and mountain bikers.
Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, located in the centre of the country, is a surprisingly leafy idyll. Much of its heart is car-free, the banks of the Ljubljanica River are lined with cafes in the warmer months, and the remainders of the Old Town are linked to the Centre district (rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1895) by the gorgeous town square Presernov Trg and Triple Bridge. Atop a hill, Ljubljana Castle watches over the city.
But perhaps the best-known of Slovenia’s landmarks is Lake Bled and its spectacular, cliff’s-edge eleventh-century castle complete with ramparts and towers jutting out of the forest. There’s a museum celebrating the history of the lake and its settlements within its walls, as well as a restaurant with an outdoor terrace, wine cellar and traditional print works.