How Slovenia went from obscurity to Boris Johnson’s honeymoon hotspot

Though Boris Johnson is notoriously flawed, even Britain’s Prime Minister seems to have had the wit of knowing where he was last week after heading to a remote valley in northern Slovenia with his wife Carrie for a belated honeymoon.

What a great achievement for a head of state who knows basic geography, do you think? But that was not always the case in this small Central European country between the Balkans, the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps.

Slovenia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but in the past both Silvio Berlusconi and George W. Bush managed to confuse it with its almost eponymous Slovakia. Even in 1998, Slovenia welcomed fewer than a million tourists a year. It wasn’t really on everyone’s menu.

Somewhere down the line, however, things changed. Slovenia has evolved from relative travel obscurity into an unconventional holiday favorite. In 2019, the last year of normal travel, over six million people came. Quite a leap for a country of just 2.1 million people, about the size of Wales, with about 70 percent hills and mountains and 60 percent tree cover, with just a hint of coast in the name.

As it turns out, I visited Slovenia long before it was cool. A family holiday in Yugoslavia in the 1980s, now poring over maps again, was somewhere on the north Croatian coast. I was maybe eight not caring where I was except that the sea was cool and blue and the ice cream was about to be served.

But actually, my strongest memories of this trip are of a bus trip we took one day away from the beach and into an amazing – no, fairytale – land somewhere beyond. On that long, hot voyage, my young spirit was overwhelmed by a spired island floating in an emerald lake; of blind salamanders—so eerily pink-translucent you could see their insides—that lived in caves big enough to explore by train; of mousy brown horses that could mutate into dashing white stiffs and practically learned to dance.

We had indeed jumped over the border into what would become Slovenia and I was enchanted by Lake Bled, the Postojna Caves and the Lipica Stud Farms. I just didn’t know.

But now everyone has discovered the magic that lies here. Because Slovenia, now in their early 30s, has definitely grown up. It’s matured into a destination that’s managed to bring together its diverse heritage — part Italian chic, Balkan backstories, Hungarian flavors, Austrian coziness, free-flowing schnapps, and dizzying polka — but create something definitely Slovenian.

They are proud of the mix of influences, but they also celebrate their own heroes: for example the architect Jože Plecnik, whose fingerprint is carried throughout Ljubljana and whose 150th birthday is being celebrated this year, and Anton Janša, the godfather of modern beekeeping.

That’s the mood. But perhaps more appealing to tourists, once they finally realize it, is that Slovenia offers a little bit of everything that is alluring about Europe, in a wonderfully compact package. The coast, although almost 47 km long, is enchanting. Here you will find the Venetian flair of Piran, the traditional fishing center of Izola, the lush, sheltered landscapes of the Ankaran Peninsula and numerous taverns serving the freshest seafood and fine Slovenian wines.

Yes, wines – because move a little inland and you’re in one of the country’s most important wine-growing regions (there are others further east), where previously overlooked vineyards are attracting increasing attention.

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Ljubljana is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric cities in the world

Then, after a short time, you are among the most spectacular mountains: the Julian Alps, the Kamik and Savinja Alps, the Karavanke Alps… Alps everywhere, which are wonderfully accessible thanks to thousands of kilometers of well-marked hiking trails, a rich mountaineering heritage and a general national love of nature. Even if you’re not particularly energetic, a short walk to a mountain hut for a hearty meal and a schnapps (anytime of the morning) will make you feel like a real Slovenian.

Ljubljana, the beautiful capital of the country, also meets many criteria for city breaks. It’s just the right size for easy wandering, with a pretty river cutting through it and cafes sprawling along pedestrian streets. There are the greatest hits of continental architectural styles: a castle on a hill, a medieval and baroque old town, Italian flourishes, secessionist elegance, socialist memories. It’s also appealingly eco-friendly: named European Green Capital in 2016, it offers free public transport, car-free streets and plenty of green space.

In fact, this eco-ethos applies nationwide. The international organization Green Destinations has declared Slovenia the first green country in the world, and more than 100 destinations, accommodation providers, nature parks and attractions have joined the Green Scheme of Slovenian tourism. As travelers increasingly look for more conscious, sustainable choices, Slovenia is making it easy for them — and might explain why the eco-conscious Carrie was so fond of visiting.

When I finally returned to Slovenia a few years ago – this time knowing exactly where I was – it was this green that initially attracted me. I wanted to hike in the forested hills and along the emerald Soca River, and I was dying to stay at the then newly opened eco-resort Vila Planinka (which I did long before Boris and Carrie showed up).

However, as I explored from the Julian Alps to the Prekmurje plains, I found a lot more. I discovered formal spa resorts once loved by the Habsburgs alongside state-of-the-art wellness retreats. I explored remnants of past conflicts, sensitively transformed into open-air museums. I’ve devoured deer stew and traditional Štruklji dumplings, but also exquisite Michelin-starred cuisine at Hiša Franko (currently ranked 21st on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants).

Essentially, I have found a confident nation striving to preserve its natural looks and focused on its future while at the same time being immensely proud of its past.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/europe/how-slovenia-went-from-obscurity-to-boris-johnsons-honeymoon-hotspot-41899049.html How Slovenia went from obscurity to Boris Johnson’s honeymoon hotspot

Fry Electronics Team

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