Travel

Thom Harding: Austria’s welcoming neighbour Slovenia packs mountains, beaches and cities into one potent package

As discussed in one of my previous travel posts, Austria is perfectly situated to share borders with many interesting neighbours. One of the best things about living in Austria is to be in a place sharing a border with seven other countries that together represent some of the best of Eastern,
Western, Northern and Southern Europe. Since living in Vienna, I have been lucky to explore many of these neighbours, and one of my favourites by far is Slovenia.

Much like Slovakia, many of the highlights of Slovenia are over-shadowed by the more advertised and well-known attractions of Austria, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. However, I have found Slovenia to be a beautiful place to visit with many charms and places of interest, and make an effort to spend a few long weekends there each year.

Although relatively small (only half the size of Switzerland) and with a tiny population (2.1 million, only slightly larger than Vienna itself), it is amazing how many sights and different experiences Slovenia can offer.

As it takes only two and a half hours to drive from the north to the south of the country, many of
the best parts of Slovenia can be seen in a long-weekend trip or by basing yourself in the capitol Ljubljana and making manageable day trips to different places around the country.

For me, Slovenia has two main selling points that instantly make it a place worth a visit:

• First, the people and culture of Slovenia are lovely! There is a laid-back, open-minded vibe that exists in Slovenia reminiscent of trips to Italy or Spain, and people are always very happy to welcome you into their towns or restaurants, and the new generation speak amazingly good English. People are friendly and kind, and I enjoy myself every time I enter a bar or meet people while hiking there. Having lived in Austria for nearly 10 years, the Austrians sometimes live up to their reputation of being slightly grumpy. Visiting Slovenia is a welcome change, and people are helpful and welcoming in every situation.

• Secondly, for such a small country, Slovenia has everything!

Mountains, beaches and more

The Julian Alps extend from the Dolomites in Italy and create a beautiful alpine landscape in the Northwest of the country, dotted with crystal-clear mountain lakes and extensive hiking trails.

In the north and east of the country is a more agricultural landscape with many vineyards, and in the south-east lie extensive forests that cross the border to Croatia. In the south, one can also find a gorgeous Mediterranean coastline that offers beaches and towns as beautiful as any found in Croatia or Italy (although at only 47 kilomters long it can get busy on the weekends!).

To top it off, Ljubljana is an exciting capitol city with excellent museums, live music and great restaurants.

Below you can find some of my favourite places to visit, most of them only 3-5 hours drive from
Vienna
:

Ljubljana

Ljubljana is one of my favourite cities. While it’s tiny size and small population (280,000), the city looks and feels like the small provincial centre that it is. However, this does not take into consideration the number and variety of events and activities to do.

The city boasts jazz and music festivals, theatre festivals, great exhibitions and also a summer open-air cinema in the castle on the hill dominating the downtown. One can easily walk across the Baroque downtown in 20-to-30 minutes, but the benefits of the city lie in its chilled-out and quiet atmosphere.

Hiking up to the central castle in the middle of the city for some amazing views, sitting alongside a canal bar sipping a Slovenian beer or visiting one of the great parks and museums, Ljubljana is small, pretty and friendly and serves as a great jumping-off point for other highlights in Slovenia.

Maribor

The other major city, Maribor, is located very close to Graz on the other side of the Austrian border, and is another quiet and relaxed town to eat well, drink a lot of local wine and just generally relax. The city is surrounded by rolling waves of vine-yards and the beautiful surroundings can be enjoyed by hiking through the large city park up to the Piramida hill.

The lush hills surrounding the town provide opportunities for wine tours and bicycling, and the Mariborsko Pohorje 6 kilomters south of the city is the country’s entry to the Alps, with skiing and hiking easily accessible from the downtown by local transport.

Triglav National Park

Triglav is an amazingly beautiful national park. The biggest in Slovenia (covering almost 5 percent of
the country), the park is also one of the oldest national parks in Europe.

Dominated by the 2,864 metere Triglav Mountain (named for it’s “3 peaks” – Triglav), the park is home to the unbelievably clear and aquamarine Soča River that snakes through the Soča valley. As it is born right there under the peaks of Triglav, the water is ice-cold but that doesn’t stop many kayakers or rafters from exploring the rivers and tributaries through the park.

The town of Bovec is a lovely place to rent a hotel or camp in order to explore the park and the surrounding hiking and biking trails.

On the other side of the park is the largest lake in Slovenia, Lake Bohinj. One of my favourite places to camp, hike and swim, the lake is special as because of it’s location in the national park – the shoreline has not been developed by hotels or restaurants and remains untouched by tourism.

The water is perfectly clear and sits nestled into a ring of glacial hills and mountain peaks, in one of the most picturesque places you will most likely ever visit!

Mediterranean Coast

Although it is small, the Mediterranean coast of Slovenia is just as beautiful as any you can find in Italy or Greece. Another bonus is that unless you visit in the middle of the high season, the little seaside towns are fairly quiet and relaxed places to be. The towns of Koper and Piran are perfect reminders that
the coast used to belong to the Venetian empire, as they are filled with Italian-style piazzas, winding
cobblestone streets and 15th century Gothic palaces.

There are lovely hiking trails and bike paths to explore around the rolling hills and cliffs of the southern coastline, with plenty of restaurants providing local wine and fish to complete the day.

Kamnik and Velika Planina

Less than an hour’s drive away from downtown Ljubljana is the town of Kamnik. Originally a bustling market town, the town hosts a beautiful Franciscan monastery on the outskirts and the ruins of an old Bavarian castle in the centre. Kamnik is also a great place to jump into the mountains, as by following one of the main roads out of town you head into a gorgeous verdant valley in the direction of Triglav National Park. I have done many nice hikes here that are not too challenging, and ate some delicious local food at one of the family-run country restaurants after a swim in one of the coldest rivers I have ever entered!

Also outside of Kamnik is the Velika Planina, a preserved farmers settlement on top of one of the plateau pastures leading up into the Alps. The traditional farming huts are still surrounded by herds of cows and goats with their bells gonging as they graze around, and there are extensive hiking trails to explore the surrounding highland. When the wild flowers are not carpeting the meadows at the top, the hiking trails also double as cross-country ski trails in the winter.

And if your legs are already too tired from all this exploring, there is a cable-car that will take you directly from the valley to the top.

With it’s friendly and welcoming people, small travel distances and a wide range of exciting places
to find and experience, Slovenia is a fantastic weekend get-away from Austria that I would recommend to anyone.

Website | + posts

Thom Harding was born and raised in the UK and USA, sharing his time between Bath and Boston. Upon completing his studies in Art History and Painting in Florence, Thom travelled around Mexico and India before moving to New Mexico to start his career as a Primary school teacher.

After completing his MA in Education, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria and enjoys spending his free time hiking, reading, travelling and exploring around Europe.

See more of Thom’s work here in the Dispatches archive.

You can read more about Vienna here in the Dispatches archives.

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