I first arrived in the capital, Ljubljana, before setting off on a little two week road trip through Slovenia and northern Croatia. I started my adventure by going west to the Alps for a winter escape and then headed south to the sea for a little sun (which doesn’t actually exist I would later learn). Despite activities being more limited in the winter and the fact that I swear I was the ONLY tourist there, every mile I drove still had me falling more and more in love with the teensy little country and I look forward to one day seeing it in all its summer glory. But since it wasn’t summer I was basically surrounded by all this nonsense:
But let’s get some important stuff out of the way before moving on. First things first: the capital, Ljubljana, is pronounced lyoo-bleh-yana or for simplicities sake you can take those pesky j’s out and loo-blah-nah works just as well. It is a tiny city that packs a punch in the charm department; imagine cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, colorful buildings and a nice little river running through the city that is lined with quaint restaurants and cafes. Oh, and there’s also a large castle atop the hill looking down on the city below and dragons guarding the bridges. Although it’s fairly small, there are still enough alleyways and little roads to get lost down while exploring and I almost always found something new to see.
POP QUIZ: Where is Slovenia on the map? (I’ll wait.)
Yeah, that was me a few months ago too, don’t worry. I could provide a general region but, despite being fairly well-versed in geography, I really couldn’t pinpoint where it was exactly. Not knowing anything about Slovenia was largely what drew me to actually visit and upon doing some research I constantly wondered how such a place can fly so low under the radar.
Now for those of you who are equally unfamiliar with lovely Slovenia and to all those that said “Huh? Where?” when asking where I was going (and if you didn’t actually say it I know you were thinking it), then this little post is for you. Alright, let’s dive right in, shall we?
WHERE ON EARTH IS SLOVENIA!?
This country is tiny, like tiny tiny. Like, size of the state of Vermont tiny. (Which for those of you unfamiliar with the size of Vermont, take my word for it here when I say it is, in fact, tiny.) Slovenia shares borders with Italy to the west, Croatia to the south, Austria to the north and Hungary touches a smidgeon of the east. It has a very small portion of land along the Adriatic Sea (not too far from Venice), and the Julian Alps run through the northwestern part of the country as well.
WHAT IS SLOVENIA FAMOUS FOR?
Not a whole lot really. Slovenia feels (and rightly so) a bit overlooked, so when they do have something that puts them on the map they run with it, which in their case is winter sports. The winter Olympics were their time to shine, let me tell you, and you bet that it was on each TV in every single bar. There is also a lady you may be familiar with by the name of Melania Trump, who happens to hail from this country as well. I’ve yet to determine if Slovenes are proud or embarrassed by this, but I think they’re mostly just excited to have their name out there in any sort of way. Also, the oldest known musical instrument in the world, the Divje Babe flute, was found in Slovenia. How this hasn’t helped increase their popularity is beyond me.
OKAY, BUT WHAT IS THERE TO ACTUALLY DO?
Honestly, winter isn’t exactly ideal for most activities but that doesn’t disqualify it as a ridiculously magical place. In fact, one of the things I love most is the diverse terrains found within such a small country and the changes that can be seen from season to season. That being said, I’m happy I saw its wintery side and it’s seriously a nature lover’s paradise year round. There is Triglav National Park with mountains that boast hiking and dazzling alpine lakes during the summer while in winter it is a wonderland of snow and mountain sports. There is the coast with Venetian influences and a bit of sun. Despite being one of the smallest countries, it also has the most cave systems in the world and even the largest one in all of Europe. And if that’s not enough there is even a decent wine region and who can say no to that? (Besides me in the middle of winter.)
>> PRETTY CITIES
>> GORGEOUS MOUNTAINS
>> PLENTY OF PERSONALITY & PIZAZZ
>> LAKES & HIKING
A LITTLE HISTORY
Poor Ljubljana was round-housed by European empires like a bottle of vodka at a frat party. First the Italians, then the Germans; the Austrians took a turn (for nearly one thousand years) and later Napoleon came in on his high horse but the Austrians were having none of that and pushed him back out. Most recently was Yugoslavia before Slovenia finally had their time to shine and became an independent nation in 1991. Go Slovenia!
Perhaps of equal importance to the past is the future and I’m fairly certain that if the world is one day saved then Slovenia will have had a hand in it (and naturally no one will give them any credit). Three words: Free higher education. Two more: professional recyclers.
Generally speaking, they aren’t a rambunctious group, are mostly mild-mannered and not prone to much over-talking. I found the people to be very personable and although they seem happy to keep to themselves, when they did interact they were consistently upbeat, friendly and really quite funny. This is all to say that I’m pretty fond of the Slovenes.
Originally I thought they were an absolutely insane bunch because they LOVE to eat outside no matter what the temperature is, however, I have since concluded that they aren’t entirely crazy because I eventually gave in to this outdoor eating culture and came to love it as well. Most restaurants have tons of outdoor heaters and nearly every place has blankets so it’s really not too terrible. There is also something refreshing about sitting on the riverside and seeing your breath but still feeling cozy and warm with a hot coffee in hand.
KAKO IZGOVORITE KAJ V TEM SMEŠNEM JESIKU!?
That’s fancy Slovenian speak for “language.” Being a Slavic language, it sounds a bit like Russian but luckily this is Europe where nearly everyone speaks a bit of English which helps things out since I can’t pronounce 97% of the words here. Even when I came remotely close to saying them correctly I still don’t quite get it right. Seriously though, how am I supposed to pronounce “krk” or “dvanajst.” I need more vowels to work with guys.
>> BONUS: Become a Slovenian-speaking pro with these handy survival phrases!
- Please: prosim (pro-seem)
- Thank you: hvala (sounds like “koala” and “voila!”)
- Can I hold this cat forver?: ali lahko to mačko držim za vedno? (pronounced 100% opposite of whatever you just said)
- Where is the Nutella?: kje je Nutella?
They don’t necessarily have a certain type of food and are instead influenced by other cultures around them. There are lots of risottos and pastas to be had (thanks, Italy) and goulash (shout out to Hungary), as well as schnitzels (go Germany) and they really like to throw truffles in things (here’s to looking at you, Croatia). Generally I found their main food groups to be meat, cheese and coffee.
I think that is quite a bit of random knowledge for the time being. Basically all that jibber-jabber up there was to say that Slovenia is an unknown and often overlooked gem that deserves far more credit than it is given. It was also a lot of information to take in so my sincerest congratulations if you made it this far and on behalf of Slovenians everywhere, I’d like to say I’m very proud of you.