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Bohinj in the Julian Alps of Slovenia. Photo from www.caingram.info

GoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE

Slovenia:
The Little Country That Declared Independence and Made It Stick!

By Preb Stritter

WHERESlovenia is a little gem of green meadows, karstic rock mountains, and a wee bite of blue Adriatic shore. Close in area (7900 sq. mi.) and population (approximately two million) to New Jersey, Slovenia lies south of Austria. The Julian Alps of Slovenia run naturally into the mountains of the Austrian Tirol.

Be careful not to confuse Slov-enia with Slov-akia. Both are new democracies, but their backgrounds are quite different.

Slovakia abuts Austria to the east and is somewhat more than twice the size of Slovenia. She separated by parliamentary vote from Czechoslovakia in 1993, four years after the breaking up of Communist Europe.

From Slovakia, crawling southwest along the border of Austria you pass through Hungary and then reach Slovenia.

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Until the redrawing of the map of central Europe after World War I, when she became a province of the new Jugoslavia, Slovenia shared the Hapsburgian traditions of her northern neighbor.

In 1990, when Yugoslavia, originally cobbled together from 6 separate republics, was breaking up into a chaos of civil wars, the Slovenians stuck together and declared independence.

With Yugoslav armies taken up by the violence in other provinces, Slovenia got away with forming a peaceful democracy and went on with the business of working hard and making progress. In 1992, Slovenia was formally recognized by the European Community and became a member of the United Nations.

WHY GO

Slovenia’s middle name is LOVE, [as in S-LOVE-nia]. This makes a catchy tourist slogan. But indeed, you will fall for this tiny enclave -- peaceful in the midst of violent chaos in neighboring areas.

Slovenia is:

• friendly and welcoming,

• compact and diverse

• convenient and inexpensive

The traveler will find:

• coastal resorts

• imposing mountains

• lake country

• charming towns and small cities

Activities cover a wide range:

• exploring historic cities and towns

• walking and taking photographs

• hiking or biking, short or long distances

• mountain climbing and skiing [a favorite sport with Slovenians]

• fishing and horseback riding

• caving, from simple tours to serious spelunking

• boating and water sports

WHEN TO GO

Relatively unknown as a vacation destination to Americans and travelers from Down Under, Slovenia is popular with nearby Europeans. Recognized for the beauty and sporting opportunities of her mountains and for boating and beach bumming on the coast, Slovenia is no secret to Europeans.

Slovenia enjoys a varied but pleasant range of climate including the alpine climate of the northwest, the sunny and mild weather of the Adriatic coastal area, and hot summers and cold winters over the eastern plains. Over the four seasons the temperature ranges from around freezing to the high 80s F. with most of the rain in the spring and the fall. We went in December, out-of-season, saw very few other travelers, and enjoyed uncrowded facilities. Take your pick.

GETTING THERE & AROUND

Ljubljana has an international airport and Adria Airways, Slovenia’s national airline, serves many of the major cities in Europe. Other air arrival options include airports at Maribor and Portoroz and airlines such as Austrian Airlines, Swissair/Sabena, Aeroflot, and British AirwaysConsidering her location and small size, Slovenia is more apt to be approached by train or bus. In summer, ferries from Italy offer another option.Train and bus service within Slovenia is excellent and convenient.

In some areas, especially out of season, it may be easier to rent a car. The roads are good and there is a countrywide system of motorways. Excepting Ljubljana, traffic is seldom a bother. Gas costs about half the price in EU countries.

MAJOR ATTRACTIONS

Ljubljana — capital of the Republic of Slovenia, an undiscovered mini-Prague

Your first stop in Ljubljana will be the tourist information center at the airport or the train station. There you can arrange accommodations at your choice of hotels or in the home of a cordial Slovenian family. Gather up a collection of colorful maps and brochures and you will be ready to set out on your explorations.

Be sure to pick up the free pocket guide and map titled Ljubljana Tourist Guide and Ljubljana City Map.Like many ancient towns, the city of Ljubljana is topped by a castle on a prominent hilltop.

First built for protection in the 12th century, the castle was expanded into an imposing fortress in the 1400s. Now under renovation, it remains open to the public, and as we found at many sights in Slovenia, you are free to wander and explore as you wish. There are ramparts and towers aplenty, and vivid views over the city and countryside can be seen in all directions. The castle chapel has been restored, conference rooms are available, there is a fine restaurant, and the central courtyard is the scene of concerts and other events

Looking down from the castle tower, you get a sense of this city of bridges. The city is built on both shores of a hook of the Ljubljanica River, and the Bridges — Cobblers, Triple, and Dragon — will help you keep our bearings as you explore this pocket-sized capital.

Postojna and the Slovenian Karst

This area of Slovenia is actually a thick crust over an endless system of caves and underground mysteries. Limestone and rainwater have created distinctive karst phenomena such as sinkholes, chasms, disappearing lakes, and underground caves.

Ask about the steep towers of the River Li in China or the cliffs and water caves of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and you will be told that this sharp, shin-and-knuckle scraping rock is "karstic" limestone.

Because the remarkable natural caves and mountains in Slovenia came under study by geologists, mountaineers, and cavers long ago, the name of the area (Karst) has become official for this type of rock all over the world.

The town of Postojna is a center for travelers and the starting point for visits to the major caves of Postojna. The tour begins with an underground ride on an open Disneyland-type train which carries you a couple of miles through tunnels to a big entrance chamber. There, tourists are asked to sort themselves into different language groups and to follow the appropriate guide on a further trek -- with explanations -- through various tunnels, caverns, and levels of the inner cave.

The tour lasts 90 minutes, and the various stalactites and stalagmites that have been forming grotesque shapes from drips over hundreds of years are emphasized by careful lighting. Although hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the cave each year, the tours are administered in an orderly and efficient manner. A definite must.

Even more exciting is an expedition to the unique "castle in a cave" at Predjama. The castle is about 6 miles outside of Postojna. You can approach on foot, walking the last mile and a half from the bus stop at Bukovje.

The surprise element of coming around the corner on a country road and looking up the valley at a 400 ft. cliff side with a multi-towered castle clinging halfway up is well worth the walk. Apparently the cave became a hideout in the 13th century with the discovery of a secret passage leading up to the forest on top of the cliff.

By the late 15th century, the property had passed to Erazem Lueger, a maverick knight who had a personal feud with the Emperor. He improved the cave by building a crude castle in it, using parts of the cave walls and levels as an integral part of the structure. This fortress was besieged for a year, and Erazem was finally killed when a servant tipped off the enemy to the location of his latrine and gave a signal for the cannonball that blew off his head.

In 1580, a Renaissance-style castle was built onto the primitive one, and this is what is visible today. The castle has been nicely renovated and travelers are offered a brochure and allowed to wander on our own. One could spend an entire day wandering through the six floors of chambers -- many serving as rooms for museum displays. In the back, you can explore parts of the original structure of Erazem, including rooms where the cave walls are used as part of the structure.

From May through September guided tours of the cave under the castle are available. In August there is an annual Medieval Pageant in costume at the Predjama.

Lake Bled

You may have seen the famous photo of the blue lake with a tiny island half taken up by a small 17th century church. This is Lake Bled, a long time tourist paradise. The area offers water sports, rivers for rafting, country castles, thermal springs, recreational opportunities, a conference center and casino, a golf course, and the alluring lake where the best rowers in the world come to test their strength in competition.

Bled is a tasteful but major resort with activities from lazy to strenuous. Popular with Europeans, it is probably best visited out-of-season.

UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS

Lipizzaner Stallions
The famous white Lipizzaner horses occupy a green oasis on the edge of Karst country at Lipica not far from the Italian border. Besides the Stud Farm, Lipica is now a well-equipped tourist resort which keeps visitors busy the year round. Families come for extended stays and enjoy horse, pony, or carriage rides, tennis courts, a golf course, and playgrounds.

The independent traveler can drop by to tour the Stud Farm, attend a performance by the Classical Riding School, or even ride a Lipizzaner horse. Public transport does not go to Lipica, so if you go on your own you may need to rent a car. Kobilarna Lipica, Lipica 5, 6210 Sezana, Slovenia

Triglav National Park
Imposing but accessible mountain peaks invite you to experience the Julian Alps. Mount Triglav -- Slovenia's highest summit at 9400 ft. -- and the Triglav National Park. Covering 200,000 acres, this is one of the largest natural parks in Europe. The mountain world of Slovenia includes:

• Unique plant and animal life from oversized sheep to bantam marmots • Lake Bohinj, playground for kayakers, canoeists and fly fishermen • Over 4000 miles of trails, 165 mountain lodges, and numerous ski resorts

• Hiking, climbing, skiing, paragliding, paddling, fishing, skating, and curling

Beaches and Coastal Villages
Slovenia’s short 30 miles of Adriatic Coast has the feel of the Italian Riviera. Its three resort towns of Koper, Piran, and Izola have all the appurtenances of major resorts — including crowds in high season. But in the off-season, they can be lovely. In addition, salt-making and wine-making are done in the area.

BEST ACTIVITIES AND TOURS

Caving
Real cavers will go crazy in Slovenia! The Skocjan Caves, which are on UNESCO's list of natural and cultural world heritage sites, boast a deep underground canyon of the Reka River which is almost a mile long and 500 ft deep. A region with some of the most extensive caves in the world, much of the Karst still remains unexplored.

Proteus Anguinus is a tiny sightless lizard known as the "human fish" found in the pools of Slovenia’s karstic caves. This four to six inch flesh colored lizard, the only cave vertebrate in Europe, is the largest known cave animal in the world. Experienced spelunkers can learn more by contacting SPEGU:

Speleological Association of Slovenia
Alternative Karst Tourism
Premanèan 28, SI-6280 Ankaran
Tel./ fax: +386-5-6526-036
franc.maleckar@guest.arnes.si

Castles
Slovenia has been known as the country of Castles. Some have fallen to
ruin, but a number throughout the country are open to visitors. Tours can be
arranged through the Association of Castles directly or through the Tourist Board

Association of Castles (Skupnost Gradov na Slovenskem)
Ng gradu 1, 2250 Ptuj
Tel: 062-773 145
fax: 062-771-618

One of the largest agencies offering tours in Slovenia is Kompas Holidays.

Kompas Holidays   
Slovenska cesta 36, Ljubljana
Tel: 061-125-2065
Fax: 061-219-111
or
2826 E. Commercial Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308, USA
Tel: 954-771-9200

ALTERNATIVES

Work Camps
SIC (Service International Civil) sponsors the organization, MOST, which plans summer work camps. Projects include ecology research and working with Gypsies in various regions of Slovenia.

MOST
Breg 12, Ljubljana
Tel: 061-125-8067
Fax: 061-217-208

BEST LODGINGS

In addition to hotels, there are a number of other lodging options in Slovenia:

Hostels -- in summer, university quarters are also usedRooms in private homes -- ask at the local tourist info centerFarmhousesAlpine lodges and mountain huts Health spa hotels, castles, manors, and luxury establishments

For more options, find unique Slovenia accommodations and interesting tours in Slovenia.

The Association of Tourist Farms of Slovenia
publishes a catalog of farms that offer visits in the countryside and feature healthy food, peaceful walking and biking in touch with nature, and an introduction to the cultural heritage of rural life.

The Association of Tourist Farms of Slovenia
Vilma Topolxek - President
Trnoveljska cesta 1, 3000 Celje
Tel. and Fax: +386-(0)3-491-64-80
e-mail: ztks@siol.net

BEST EATS

Slovenian food comes with a strong Austrian and Italian influence making for a broad variety of yummy traditions. In addition, lots of vegetables, cheese, pasta and fish near the coast bypass any problems for vegetarians. Slovenia has some very nice native wines that are currently winning awards around Europe.

The Slovenians are starting a movement of reaction against the "fast food syndrome" — gather a group of friends together at a restaurant or home and celebrate a "Slow Food Dinner". Appoint a Slow Food Governor to preside and stretch the meal to eight or so courses emphasizing local produce and old style recipes. Now there’s the way to eat! For more information about "Slow Food" and the growing Slow Food Movement, see DON’T EAT SO FAST

VISAS AND OTHER OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

Visas are not required if your passport is from USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, or an EU country.

HEALTH & SAFETY

You can expect a high level of medical care in Slovenia. No special inoculations are needed, and water is OK for drinking. Bottled water is available everywhere if you prefer. Be sure to have valid health insurance -- if you need it, medical care will be good, but expensive.

Consistent with its high level of political, economic and social stability, Slovenia is one of the safest countries in Europe, both in the cities and country towns. Outside of Postojna, we were advised by the Tourist Bureau to hitchhike back from the castle as no public transportation was available. Hitchhiking is, of course, a controversial solution, but in this case we had very nice rides with almost no waiting.

Nevertheless, a new problem is arising. Slovenia is being overwhelmed by illegal immigration from her war-torn neighbor countries. She is the first stop in a country believed to be secure and the refugee problem is growing. Slovenia recently declared Croatia to be a "safe third country" which means that people coming from there will be sent back. As more illegals slip in, caring for them becomes a problem and crowding could cause a rise in crime. Keep up-to-date.

MONEY

The Slovenian tolar is called SIT. For a rough estimate, divide the price in SIT by 200 to get a $US amount. This will be a bit high but is a useful ballpark figure. As of January, 2001, the British pound was worth about 335 SIT, the American dollar approximately 230 SIT. Check the current exchange rate on bank exchange boards when you arrive.Major credit cards are widely accepted.

ATM machines are readily available and now the preferred method for getting cash at any time. Some US or British cash and a few old fashioned traveler’s checks are useful safety backups, however, traveler’s checks are sometimes hard to negotiate.

COMMUNICATIONS

Language:

Slovenians use the Latin alphabet and speak Slovenian. Many speak a second language, German being the most common among older people. In the cities and among younger people, English is commonly used as the second language.Internet: We found our first ‘true’ cybercafes in Ljubljana. At several locations you can access an internet-ready computer by purchasing a snack as minimal as a cup of coffee. There was no additional charge and time was restricted only by courtesy to others waiting. An excellent Internet resource is public libraries: the big university library in Ljubljana and a small town library in Postojna both offer access at no charge.Telephone: Public phone booths are easy to use with phone cards which can be purchased at newspaper kiosks. For out-of-country or otherwise complex calling, go to the post office where you will be given a booth and the connection will be made for you.

Electric:

220 volts/50Hz — you need an adapter to fit normal European two pin plugs.

Books:

The Postojna Caves and other Tourist Caves in Slovenia, 4th ed.1986
Predjama: the Castle and the Cave,
1987
both by: Dr. France Habe, available in Postojna

Tourist Boards
The Slovenian Tourist Board publishes endless regional brochures featuring tantalizing color photographs, varied descriptions, and very complete contact information for hundreds of accommodations, restaurants, and activities offerings. Load up on arrival or contact the tourist board before you leave home;

USA
Slovenian Tourist Office
345 East 12th Street
New York, N.Y. 10003
Tel.: 212-358-9686
Fax: 212-358-9025
slotouristboard@sloveniatravel.com UK
Slovenian Tourist Office
49 Conduit Street
GB-LONDON W1R 9FB
Tel.: + 44-1-71-28-77-133
Fax: + 44-1-71-28-75-476
slovenia@cpts.fsbusiness.co.uk

Slovenia
Information Center, Stritarjeva, SI-1000 Ljubljana
Tel.: +386-61-306-12-15
Fax.: +386-61-306-12-04
pcl.tic-lj@ljubljana.si

 

 

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