As seen on Masala Thai Magazine’s Dec – Jan 2016 Issue
Take a glance at the map of Europe, and you will find Slovenia eclipsed by Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the ever-trending Croatia. A forgotten country can only mean one thing to me; it’s a hidden gem yearning to be discovered, and I was going to make that discovery.
I came to Slovenia neither with expectations nor information. It was one of those spontaneous moments where you blindly choose a destination and just decide, “Okay, Slovenia it is.” After spending a mere 4 days there, I felt as though I climbed down a rabbit hole and reappeared in Wanderland. There’s a reason why Slovenia is dubbed, Europe in Miniature. It is the geographical and cultural equivalent of the proverbial casket of wonders; boasting beautiful landscapes including mystical lakes, waterfalls, caves, mountains, lush forests, and coastal lines. Tucked away between the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Dinarides, and the Pannonian plain grants Slovenia the diversity to cater to all travelers’ tastes and needs.
For first-time visitors, like I was, I’ll focus on Slovenia’s admired destinations. Ljubljana, the capital city, Bled, the town of emerald lakes, and Piran & Portoroz, located along the Adriatic coastline.
Merge Prague and Budapest into one, and you have Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital city. This picturesque destination is adorned with vibrant buildings, inspired architecture, pop-up markets, and bold graffiti dissected by tranquil canals.
A panoramic view can be observed from the Ljubljana Grad. The hike up to the castle in itself is an adventure; however there is always the option of enjoying a gondola ride up the hill, which is what I opted for, because my legs gave out on me from all the walking! Having said that, majority of Ljubljana’s charm lies in walking through narrow cobblestone paths; do it without a map, look up, observe the detail surrounding you, and lose yourself completely.
There are a lot of treasures to be found here. Young and lively, this town is dotted with vintage stores, indie cafes, and hipster bars; not to mention the array of atmospheric restaurants that occupy the sidewalks and river banks. If you thrive on hunting for hidden gems, Ljubljana is the perfect setting for your wandering soul. For nightlife lovers, Ljubljana is known to be the European city that never sleeps, similar to the reputation of Prague.
Travel Tip: Go to any small bar, take a seat on the barstools, and strike up a conversation with the local bartenders. You’ll soon find yourself indulging in some delicious Slovenian liquor. Do not question what they put in front of you, just drink it, and enjoy the flavors. Their liquors are a specialty, and something the locals are very proud of.
Put the best camera in my hand, and I could take a 1000 photos. Yet, none of them can quite capture how beautiful Lake Bled is, especially on a day with clear blue skies and sunshine. If there is one reason why Bled is worth a visit, it’s the lakes; especially Lake Bled.
Crystal clear emerald water in a lake is not a common sight to witness. This iconic lake is enhanced by a cozy 100-meter island swimming in the middle of it; housing the charming Church of the Assumption.
Calling it picturesque would not only be an understatement, but almost unjust to the beauty it possesses. However, rowing a wooden boat from mainland to that tiny island is another feeling entirely. To be surrounded by a ring of water, a 2nd ring of land- and cityscapes, and a 3rd ring of the Alps in the horizon is nothing short of extraordinary.
Travel Tip: As an avid traveler, I knew that this scenery should be witnessed, not just at the location itself, but also from a bird’s eye view. Bleski Grad (Bled Castle), sitting at the top of a cliff at a corner of the lake, will provide you with just that; a 360-degree view of Lake Bled, the small island in the middle of the Lake, the town of Bled, and the mountainous horizon.
Piran & Portoroz
Face the Adriatic Sea in Slovenia, and you’ll find Italy to your right and Croatia to your left. Drive a mere 46km along this Adriatic coast, and you’ve conquered 3 countries; not just in a day, but in an hour. Piran & Portoroz, small Slovenian towns, are located 3 kilometers apart along the Slovenian Adriatic coast. I chose to stay in Portoroz, which turned out to be quite a wise decision as I had the Salt Lakes leading to Croatia on my left and Piran, for the most stunning coastal viewpoints, on my right.
Travel Tip: Rent a bicycle in Portoroz and challenge yourself to a 15 kilometer ride, past the Salt Lakes, and directly into Croatia. There are bicycle lanes to support this endeavor along the entire coast.
Piran, a magnificent Venetian town located on a peninsula, commands attention on the Adriatic Sea. Jutting out in drastic ways onto the Adriatic Sea makes it the ultimate location for having both a gorgeous sunset and sunrise. The town is compact size, with a vast array of complex mazes to navigate through. Piran happens to be an underrated Venice in the making, so don’t be surprised if you find them peculiarly similar both in architectural style and atmosphere.
Travel Tip: Do not miss the view point of both the Peninsula and Tartini Square from the beautiful hilltop Cathedral; 2 Euros for a million-dollar view. That’s a bang for your buck!
Aside from stunning destination, experiencing Slovenian & Istrian Food is equally important; Istrian, being specific to the Adriatic region. The locals that I encountered pride themselves in the quality of their fresh produce, and their Italian inspired cruise. Make sure to try the Štruklji, a traditional dish, composed of dough and various types of filling, their home-made Istrian pastas, local wines, and any dish that is comprised of mushrooms and truffles. Istrian food is best enjoyed in Portoroz and Piran, where the variety of fresh riverside seafood is limitless.
Although part of the European Union, Slovenia is not as developed as its counterparts, and that is precisely what makes Slovenia so special; untainted by tourism, unnecessary infrastructure, or immense amounts of urbanization. It is the simplistic beauty that will make you fall in love with Slovenia.