Baroque architecture, tranquil greens and turquoise streams, Slovenia will promise to put you in a state of meditative bliss, writes Ketaki Latkar
“Come again? Where did you say you are going? Slovenia!? Where is this place? Sounds like some place far-flung, perhaps too fancy…pretty off beat?” Dodge them or answer them, but the questions definitely put the destination on an enigmatic pedestal. And believe me, the spellbinding country reveals itself in the most majestic ways once you snuggle into its affable embrace.
Tracing the past
Enter one of the youngest nations of Europe, and you are standing at the dynamic crossroads of the esoteric Hungary, the adventure- packed Croatia, the fairy-tale wilds of Austria and the artsy spirit of Italy. Slovenia’s the perfect concoction dose—made up of outdoor adventures, home-grown wines, varied architecture and vibrant folk culture.
Rewinding to the birth of the nation, it was a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia following the First World War, and post the Second World War, it was one of the six republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the others being Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. After more than 70 years of being a piece of Yugoslavia, the Slovenians built a consensus for an independent path and in the 1990 plebiscite, almost 90% of the population voted for independence. And so was born the Republic of Slovenia in June, 1991.
Culture, gastronomy and more
The laid back Ljubljana is the country’s capital as also the largest city, and has only about a quarter of a million people—however, it is undoubtedly the most charming point to kick off any Slovenian trip. And I quite agree with travel author Rick Steves’ thoughts on the capital’s calm bearing, “… Ljubljana is where the crumbling buildings seem elegantly atmospheric than shoddy…”
Every first’s a special. For my sister Jasmine, who is also my best travel-bud, a home-stay booked on airbnb did not seem like the most flattering plan, at the outset. Her reservations were not unfounded though, “We don’t know anyone in Slovenia as a back-up plan if the home-stay goes wrong. What if the hosts are really creepy and weird? Or what if they rob us or something? Anything can happen; you really want to do this?”
But adventures are not always jumping off a cliff and hanging by the rope. They also have a lot to do with experimentation, taking a chance, gaining life experiences and taking that leap of faith in an altogether different setting. I must admit, the home-stay was one of the best features of our Slovenian sojourn. Celina Brumec, our home-stay host, and her boyfriend Jure were welcoming, warm and full of trivia about the most sought after local fare and drinks. Jure’s a dealer of the popular rakia (or rakija), which is the region’s most popular fruit brandy, typically made from plums, apricots, or quinces (pear like fruits, usually grown in central and southern Europe). Thanks to him, the Slovenian spirit started to set in, literally and figuratively, right on arrival. And we were positive about immersing in more local indulgences in the days to come.
Embracing the Slovenian ways
In Europe, it is important to be at the right place at the right time. More important, however, is the right temperature. We were lucky we got our share of the European sun sans any compromise. First few days in the capital were spent warming up to the city’s playful architecture and the vibrant café culture. On some days, we ambled along the Venetian Triple Bridge–where the town square joins the river, and just sat observing the passers-by moving around at the riverfront market; while on some languid afternoons, we grabbed the locally popular fruity Human Fish beer and soaked up some Vitamin D underneath the iconic statue of France Prešeren, one of Slovenia’s greatest poets. If meat’s what tantalises your taste buds, you cannot miss the traditional Slovenian fare, the delectable žlikrofi (pasta pockets made with a filling that combines fatty spiced pork, onions and herbs), for instance.
Whether you simply want to shoot nature oozing its green charm, or take some travel diary selfies, or quietly contemplate on how the environs look like they’re dressed to impress, the exquisite Lake Bled will never fail you. The emerald green waters are so inviting, and the mild thermal springs therein make the lake a good bet for a quick dip, especially in summer. Else, a ride in the piloted wooden boat (aka pletna) to the celebrated Bled Island is indisputably an archetypal vacationer’s experience. And the most mandatory instruction from me would be to gorge on the traditional Bled Kremna Rezina (cream cake)—which is the perfect union of vanilla cream, in the exact consistency, topped with a generous layer of whipped cream and a crispy layer of butter dough and icing sugar. I also took multiple pictures of the creamy decadence, so I could have it and eat it too!
5 Unique Selling Points of Slovenia
1) It is great for adventure sports and offers a spectrum of options including white water rafting in the Soca river, canyoning in the Julian Alps, zip-lining, scuba diving, paragliding and river bobbing, among others.
2) Your trip to Slovenia is incomplete without witnessing its subterranean splendour. The mesmerising underground caves of Postojna are a must. These caves are home to unusual sculptural rock formations, magnificent stalactites and stalagmites, underground halls and bizarre animals, the most famous being the human fish.
3) You can swim the Adriatic.
4) The tiny nation is replete with a bounty of tasty food varieties. While the gastronomy borrows from the neighbouring Austria, Hungary and Italy, most of its dishes are home-grown. And if you have a sweet tooth (like me), the signature Slovenian gibanica (layered cake with poppy seeds, sweet curd cheese, cream, walnuts, raisins and apples) or the potica nut rolls will only make you cry in ecstasy. Also, beekeeping is one of the major traditions of Slovenia. Therefore, it becomes binding to pick up some stunning bottles of honey brandy from the local markets (I did).
5) There are no safety issues in Slovenia. The Global Peace Report 2016 has ranked Slovenia as the 10th safest country in the world, moving it up five spots since 2015.