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Slovenia offers pristine surroundings, few crowds, and enormous value
Slovenia offers pristine surroundings, few crowds, and enormous value
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Slovenia Spotlight

An insider's guide to a tiny country that has big charm

By Jennifer Dorroh

March 13th, 2009

Eighteen years after declaring independence from Yugoslavia, the tiny, picturesque Alpine nation of Slovenia is firmly planted in Europe. Not only did it attain European Union membership, but it also took the reins of the EU’s rotating presidency for the first half of 2008. Yet despite its emergence on the world stage, and although it is wedged among high-profile destinations such as Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, Slovenia remains largely undiscovered by stateside travelers.

Slovenia offers pristine surroundings, few crowds, and enormous value, as well as a population that loves making the most of its great outdoors. A trip that includes the picturesque capital, Ljubljana, as well as the sparkling lakes and rugged Julian Alps in the west, is the perfect city-country combo and offers a comprehensive glimpse of this nation.

Roughly the size of New Jersey and home to two million people, Slovenia is nearly 55 percent forested land. The alpine regions in the west give way to lush river valleys in the east. The official language is Slovene, but English is widely spoken in the capital and at most establishments that cater to travelers (you’ll want a phrase book when traveling outside Ljubljana; pronunciation is difficult, but people will love it if you try).

Surrounded by so many historic centers of European power, Slovenia has seen its share of occupiers: Austro-Hungarians, Turks, Italians, and Germans, among others. Along the way, the country has absorbed something from each of its conquerors. Pasta and sauerkraut carry equal weight in the repertoires of home cooks, and many Slovenes can converse in Italian, Croatian, German, and English.

In 1991, after 10 days of fighting, Slovenia became the first of the six Yugoslav republics to break from Josip Broz Tito’s Communist state. Although Slovenia played a minor role in the ensuing Balkan conflicts (passionate and entrepreneurial, Slovenes actually led the way in postcommunist private enterprise), tourism remained scant. Tourists have since gradually started to visit the region, and a clutch of small, smart hotels and innovative restaurants have sprung up to meet them.

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