- Written by Dan
By Hostelling International
Ljubljana, Triglav National Park and Piran
This unassuming eastern european country often gets overlooked in major travel plans, but the little nation of two million people is slowly starting to turn heads. In its tiny frame (about two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island), it packs in a charming and lively capital city, a worldclass national park, beachside villages and incredible geology.
Slovenia has only been independent since 1992, establishing itself in the wake of the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Today, Slovenia is like any 18-year-old—basking in its independence, setting its sights on the future and making sure everyone knows who it is.
Capital city Ljubljana has one of the funnest names to say (pronounced lee-oobly-ahna) and also manages to combine many elements of urban Europe without going over the top. Only 280,000 people live here and a castle still sits atop a hill in the middle of the city. There is the Old Town, with its cobbled streets and baroque-style architecture. Outside, a more modern centre sprawls with shopping and dining. Tivoli Park is the city’s largest and dates back to 1813.
Ljubljana’s “Autonomous Culture Zone” Near the middle of Ljubljana is a small, seemingly self-contained community of artists and musicians thriving on their own take on cultural expression. Metelkova could be considered its own neighbourhood, taking residence in former Austro-Hungarian military barracks near the city’s train station. Squatters originally occupied the seven-building complex in 1993 after the city government threatened to demolish it. When a new city government came into power the next year, residents of Metelkova worked with the city to create the self-proclaimed “Autonomous Culture Zone.”
The community has faced continued government opposition over the years and its future is never too certain, but today it thrives as a home to a number of nightclubs, galleries, live music spaces and artist studios. You can rely on a regular program of events, but your best bet is to just show up after dark and see what happens.
Triglav National Park
One of the most iconic Slovenian landscapes comes from Lake Bled, just outside Triglav National Park in northwestern Slovenia. This is the stuff of postcards and you can’t help but admire the picture-perfect church perched on a small island in the middle of the tree-trimmed lake. Walking and bike paths surround the lake and it can be circumnavigated in a couple hours at a leisurely pace. It’s a hot spot for Slovenian and international visitors in the summer who swim or rent row boats to explore the lake.
Triglav National Park is the only national park in the country but it means a chunk of stunning wilderness will be protected as the country attracts more visitors. Inside the park you’ve got Triglav Mountain, the park’s namesake. You can climb the mountain, and thousands of people do every year, but you’re best to hire a guide to lead you on the best route up. Then there’s the incredible Soca River that looks like it flows from the Caribbean Sea. Its bright turquoise waters are actually that colour because of the limestone deposits that flow down the waterway.
Triglav’s bustling hub is Bovec, a town dressed in Gore-Tex and climbing ropes. This is a playground for the outdoorsy types and there are tons of opportunities to go whitewater rafting, rock climbing, hiking, mountaineering, kayaking and whatever else tickles your adrenalin’s fancy. In the winter, the area is a ski mecca.
Slovenia only has 43 kilometres of coastline, wedged between Croatia and Italy. You might feel like you’ve stepped into Italy here, as Italians flock to Slovenian shores on their holidays. Piran has an undeniable Mediterranean flavour that visitors to coastal Croatia and Italy will instantly recognize. It’s a small place, and your best bet is to travel around it on foot to get a sense of the town’s rich history and architecture. There’s nothing you’d really consider a beach in town, but you can swim from some of the many piers.
Where to Stay in Slovenia
HI-Slovenia has 32 hostels across the country. For information on all of them, visit www.youth-hostel.si.