You’ve likely heard of Slovenia because it’s where First Lady Melania Trump hails from … but probably not for much else. Sure, Hungary has glittering Budapest, Germany has Bavaria and its political powerhouses, and Switzerland has the Alps, but this sleepy little country deserves some love in its own right. Sharing its borders with Austria, Croatia, Italy and Hungary, with a diverse breadth of experiences in a state the size of New Jersey, Slovenia has come a long way from the days of Yugoslavia. It’s design-forward, English-speaking, easy-to-navigate, green, clean and ready to welcome families with immersive experiences.
It’s Easy Being Green
If you fly into capital Ljubljana (pronounced Lyoo-blee-ah-nuh), you’ll likely spot snow-capped mountains (in spring, at least). And, after a 10-minute drive from the airport, it feels a world away, with green surrounding you as far as the eye can see. You’ll pass by flowering pear blossoms, farms and paved roads in small villages that make it easy to see why Slovenia was Europe’s first country declared “green” by Netherlands-based organization Green Destinations.
There’s plenty here to appeal to active adventurers and families, including miles (or, kilometers) of hiking trails and the Postojna Cave Park, where, much like a Disney ride, you board a train to descend toward the 24-kilometer long wonderworld of stalactite and stalagmites. Try to spot Santa, the Empire State Building and an ice cream cone in the shapes; you can also marvel at the olms — or “baby dragons”— creatures that can live up to 100 years and without food for up to a decade. While here, don’t miss nearby Predjama Castle, cleverly built into a nearby cave.
Diversity of landscape in such a small country is one of Slovenia’s greatest assets. Seaside Portorož offers a small swath of sand, beaches and resort hotels, while Lipica Stud Farm is home to the graceful white horses (with plenty of family-friendly programming). Lake Bled and its picturesque church on the island is iconic enough, but nearby Lake Bohinj offers even more opportunities for pristine natural wonders and sports like fishing, hiking, biking, ice skating and skiing.
Diverse Range of Accommodations
Slovenia offers some standout accommodations. Otočec Castle is a Relais & Chateaux property with a delectable fine-dining restaurant; wine cave featuring many domestic talents; a golf course just a stone’s throw away; and proximity to Dolenjske Terme, one of the most historic thermal spas in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In capital Ljubljana, don’t let Best Western branding throw you off — Hotel Slon is in a prime location, boasts luxury linens (and a pillow menu!), L’Occitane bath products, rain showers, pillow-top chocolates and a great in-house bakery and bar. Foodies will enjoy the intimate rooms at Vila Podvin, where one of the country’s most respected chefs, Uroš Štefelin, runs the downstairs kitchen. For those who want to try glamping or waking up with the rooster crowing, there are a fair number of farmhouses that opened their doors to guests. At Firbas Farmhouse, homemade fresh cheeses, juices and sausages await each morning, along with visits to see the animals.
Farm to Table
There’s quite a culinary culture in Slovenia and no need for anyone to “return to their roots”— the villages and cities never skewed from true farm-to-table cuisine. Kick off an experience just a few minutes from the airport at Dvor Jezeršek restaurant, before heading to Hotel Plesnik in the Logar Valley, one of the most beautiful Alpine landscapes in Europe. Here, the family-owned hotel and restaurant serves fresh juices from local berries, homemade sausages, freshly hunted game and farmhouse cheeses and eggs. In Ljubljana, get the lay of the land by booking a food tour. You’ll not only taste local specialties like flying žganci (fried chicken drumsticks and wings), but visit local fruit and vegetable markets. At Gostilna na Gradu, the restaurant at Ljubljana Castle, get your fill of cuisine from the country’s most notable chefs Svetozar Raspopović-Pope and Ana Roš.
You can’t have food without wine, and Slovenia is famed for its excellent varietals. You’ll find affordable varietals of each all over. In Maribor, the country’s second-largest city, you’ll discover the walkability is just right for wandering around to wine cellars, wine bars and restaurants with domestic-heavy lists. To take the work out of all of it and get up close and personal with the world’s oldest wine vine, opt for an afternoon or all-day excursion with Big Guy’s Wine Tours, with three or more varietals at several locations, along with snacks and conversation with the owners. The longer tours include vineyard visits and lunch. Both options are led by an experienced sommelier.