Why Slovenia should be your next European destination
When we think of European destinations, we can often get stuck with the likes of Rome and Paris. Who wouldn’t want to have a romantic dinner next to the Eiffel Tower, or visit the Colosseum and do an epic gladiator impression?
While the plane tickets to Europe can be expensive enough in themselves, popular tourist destinations in Western Europe can often make the entire trip unfeasible - even a simple cup of coffee can leave you five euros short! For the people who are scrounging and saving for that European destination but don’t want to be in debt forever, moving east on the map can actually be a wonderful solution. And if you are interested in the road less travelled, Slovenia is a European gem waiting to be discovered - and here’s why.
Slovenia is a relatively young country - once part of former Yugoslavia, it only became independent in 1991. Slovenia literally means “the land of the Slavs” and their culture is one that can be traced back to prehistoric times, making their capital city Ljubljana a wonderful mix of the old and the new. They have a castle, just like any proper European city should, complete with a full history of medieval Slovenia and a wonderful view of the city, but they also have a central square where instead of a statue of some outdated general or political tyrant, they have their national poet France Preseren.
This in itself shows how fiercely proud the Slovenians are of their culture, and the city is full of mentions of their artists, architects, musicians and poets. If you’re interested in the history of Yugoslavia, it also has a wonderful Museum of Contemporary History that you can easily spend a rainy day in.
The dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana - but it isn’t just any old dragon. According to local legends, dragons used to lurk in the marshes that surrounded the river Ljubljanica and took out their fire-breathing rage on anyone that dared to cross paths with them. However, a more specific legend relates the Slovenian dragon to the Greek hero Jason and the Argonauts. While in the Greek version Jason slew a fierce beast on his way back home, in the Slovenian one, he murdered the brave Ljubljana dragon while using their rivers to make his escape. Since this ‘hero’ was on his way back from stealing a golden fleece, and eventually went on to abandon the lovely woman who helped him do it, we are more inclined to side with the dragon on this one.
The most obvious dragons in the city are the ones on Dragon Bridge. Legend also says that every time a virgin walks upon the bridge, the dragons wag their tails. Ljubljana is also a city of bridges, and the famous Butcher’s bridge is well worth a trip for the fascinatingly creepy statues there, created by renowned Slovenian sculptor Jakov Brdar.
One of the great things about Slovenia is that it is a relatively small country, so it is easy and cheap to hop on to a bus, no prior bookings required, and leave the city behind you. The unique topography of Slovenia means it has over 11,500 caves filled with ancient and eerie rock formations. There are miles and miles of underground caves that can be explored in the country, and most of them look as impressive, if not more, than the Mines of Moria from Middle Earth.
Of these, the easiest to visit are the Postojna Caves - a 24,340m long marvel that includes an underground train ride and also holds a concert hall with exceptional acoustics. Travellers from Ljubljana can actually plan to visit Postojna and Predjama Castle, a Renaissance castle that is actually built into a mountain and within a cave mouth, on the same day. The castle is best known for the legendary knight Erasmus of Leug, a robber baron who weathered a siege from the imperial army for months by using the cave passages to bring in supplies in secret.
Only a short bus trip from the city is also Lake Bled, a glacial lake in the Julian Alps that is straight out of a Disney film. Surrounded by mountains and forests, it’s next to a medieval castle and has a tiny island with a beautiful church on it - and it is just perfect. There are genuinely no words to describe how magical and picturesque this place is, and it is an absolute must-see for anyone who travels to Slovenia.
Further up from Bled is Lake Bohinj, the largest permanent lake in Slovenia. While one can easily walk around Lake Bled in a day, Bohinj takes a lot more time to explore, and the best way to do it might be by renting a boat. Alternatively, it is the perfect place to pack your backpacks, gather your camping equipment and just hike around or kayak in. And who wouldn’t want to get lost in the forests next to a glacial lake nestled in the Julian Alps?