10 Things No One Tells You About... Slovenia
Nestled between Italy and Croatia, two of Europe’s most popular destinations, lies the understated-yet-stunning country of Slovenia. While this tiny nation might not be on every traveler’s radar, following these 10 tips and tidbits — which you probably won't find in a guidebook — will help you fit in like a local whenever you do make your first trip over.
1. Conquer the Capital Connotation
Ljubljana, like many of its fellow cities in the former Yugoslavia, has not only existed within the boundaries of several countries throughout time, but has gone by many other names as well. Unsurprisingly, the exact etymology of the city’s name is still up for discussion. The explanation I like most is that it’s born from the Slavic word “ljub” — to love. And to fall in love with this city (because you will), you should first know how to pronounce it: “Lyoo-blee-ahna," or, to mingle in with the locals, shorten it to “Lyoo-bahna”.
2. You're Not a Real Slovenian Unless You've Summited All Three Peaks
With a square mileage smaller than that of the state of Massachusetts, Slovenia’s countryside offers natural beauty rivaling even its more popular neighbors. The Julian Alps pour in from the northwest corner of the country, and form their highest point at Mount Triglav. The mountaintop actually consists of a trio of peaks — Triglav translates to "three heads" — and to be considered a true Slovenian, you must summit all three. If you’re an experienced hiker, you can climb the mountain, but expect this hike to take about eight hours from start to finish. Are you a novice hiker? Book a guide to help you along the way.
3. It's One Language, but With Many Dialects
The Slovenian national language, spoken by its two million-plus inhabitants, has over 50 dialects, making it the most diverse of all the Slavic languages. Those dialects have been influenced by not only the aforementioned redrawn borders and foreign occupations, but also the many neighboring languages. In spite of the country's tumultuous past, Slovenians display a warm and welcoming outlook on outsiders. One prime example of this is participation in TED’s Open Translation Project, an initiative that inspired native speakers from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro to come together and bridge the gaps in their languages, despite the break-up of the former Yugoslavian state.
4. The Secret to a Long-Lasting Marriage
A trip to Slovenia isn’t complete without a visit to Lake Bled, where clifftop Bled Castle overlooks both the lake and the tiny, iconic islet in the middle. To reach the island and its church grounds, you must be taken by a row boat and climb the steps to the top. Legend has it that if a newlywed couple wants to have a long and loving marriage, the groom must successfully carry his bride up these stairs in one go — future grooms have even been known to practice this hike ahead of time.
5. Toilets Are a Castle's Weak Point
A visit to Predjama Castle is a truly unique experience, even for castle-strewn Europe. The name literally translates to “the castle in front of the cave.” Built outside Postojna Cave, Predjama's interior staircase winds its way into the depths of the cave, allowing its inhabitants a well-protected escape from approaching enemies. One famous inhabitant, Erazem Lueger, however, would argue the castle's impregnability: The knight lost his life to the Austrians when they fired a cannonball into the castle's toilet — precisely where Lueger happened to be. Other variations of the legend say that he was betrayed to the enemy by his own men, or that it was his fed-up soldiers who blew him to smithereens while he was in an outhouse.
6. Watch Out For Dragons
You’ll spot them on the city bridges and on the coat of arms, but do dragons really exist in Slovenia? Locals seem to think so. According to an old legend, a dragon lives in Postojna Cave, and locals have been known to stir up quite the conversation about its offspring hatching in the cave. According to scientists, these hatchlings are actually salamanders, but what makes these creatures cool (and legendary, apparently) is not only their resemblance to tiny dragons, but their life story: They live for 100 years but only lay eggs every 10 to 20 years.
7. There Are Three Good Reasons to Try to the Wine
Slovenian wine is incredible. So much so that Slovenians have their own holiday to celebrate opening and blessing a new vintage, the Feast of St. Martin or "Martinmas," which falls on Nov. 11. The country's three primary wine regions — Primorska, Podravje and Posavje — each have its own unique characteristics and high notes. A jaunt across the countryside to visit all three of these regions is highly recommended.
8. Leave the City to Find the Finest Dining
The wife and husband duo behind award-winning restaurant Hiša Franko is just the beginning of the perfect pairings you'll experience. Highlighted in the Discovery Channel's book, The World's 50 Best Restaurants, chef Ana Roš and husband and sommelier Valter Kramer inherited the restaurant from Kramer's aging parents and made it what it is today. It may be tucked away in the woods and hills of Kobarid, about a two-hour drive from Ljubljana, but the dining experience is worth it, with all the ingredients harvested from the grounds the restaurant stands upon.
9. There's a Hidden Gem Right in Ljubljana's Old Town
If you're not able to make the two-hour trek to Kobarid from Ljubljana, fear not. The capital city's Old Town offers a delectable variety of restaurants, many nestled along the Ljubljanica River banks. My favorite? A charming bistro called Marley & Me, which offers authentic Slovenian dishes and an array of local wines — it's frequented by locals and often missed by tourists. And if the temperature is right, you can dine al fresco.
10. Run the Marathon and Celebrate Like a King
If you're planning on running the Ljubljana Marathon or half marathon in late October, you're in for a treat. As you cross the finish line, clutch your well-earned medal and smile with endorphin-induced glee, you'll be looking up at the city’s 11th-century castle. It's hard to imagine a more majestic sight, except maybe that glass of Slovenian wine that you'll celebrate with later.
Have you ever been to Slovenia? Tell us about your experience, below.