Rich in resources, naturally good looking and persistently peaceful, Slovenia has been doing just fine since its break from the formerYugoslavia in 1991. No longer the undiscovered, bargain gem that it was, Slovenia still remains a wonderful antidote to much of Europe’s crowds and high prices.
Many of its cities and towns bear the imprint of the Habsburg Empire and the VenetianRepublic, while up in the Julian Alps you’d almost think you were in Bavaria. The relative affluence of this country on the ‘sunny side of the Alps’ is immediately apparent.
LakeCerknica – This lake-that-isn’t-always-a-lake is one of the country’s most unusual natural phenomena. It’s actually a polje, a field above a collapsed karst cavern full of sinkholes, potholes, siphons and tunnels that can stay dry for much of the year and then flood.
Fed by several rivers, the plumbing floods in autumn and spring and the water fills the polje – sometimes in less than a day. It grows as large as 40 sq km (15.5 sq mi) but isn’t deep. Cattle-farmers and haymakers cultivate the land when it’s dry. Dry or wet, it’s a beautiful place, especially in the winter, when the waves on the lake freeze into eerie ice formations.
The AdriaticCoast – There are several bustling beach towns alongSlovenia ‘s short Adriatic coast. Italianised Koper has a medieval flavour despite the surrounding industry, container ports and superhighways, and pretty Piran is a gem of Venetian Gothic architecture with narrow streets.
Ljubljana is a smaller Prague without the hordes of tourists. By farSlovenia ‘s largest and most populous city, this charming place feels like a clean, green, self-contented town rather than an industrious municipality of national importance.
Ljubljana began as the Roman town of Emona, and legacies of the Roman presence remain throughout the city. But contemporaryLjubljana has a vibrant Slavic air all its own. The 35,000 students who attend LjubljanaUniversity keep the city spirited and young.
The Julian Alps – Adrenaline seekers in Slovenia head for three-headed Mt Triglav (2864m/9394ft), the country’s highest peak. It presides over the Julian Alps, which cut across Slovenia’s northwestern corner into Italy. The Alps are visited by hundreds of weekend warriors, not all of whom are on ambitious treks.
Early Slavs believed the mountain to be the home of a three-headed deity who ruled the sky, the earth and the underworld. Since the days of the Habsburgs, the ‘pilgrimage’ to Triglav has been a confirmation of Slovenian identity. Today Triglav figures prominently on the national flag.