Some of the greatest pleasures in travelling can be found in the smallest places, they are frequently neither crowded nor spoilt by tacky shops and too many eateries. Many have retained their integrity where tourists fit into the local culture rather than tourists dominating at every turn.
Slovenia, to which we return frequently for exactly those reasons, is very individual and indeed pleasantly quirky. Even the otters which live in the very centre of the capital Ljubljana (See; link) are not disturbed by the tourists and the river boats. It is a city of diverse interests; gourmets have some great restaurants in which to indulge themselves. There are art galleries; both commercial and institutional, markets and the general buzz of life in a university city. Something not to be missed is the St. Nicholas celebrations in early December; it is truly great entertainment for children and adults alike, it is difficult to match the friendly atmosphere the celebrations create.
Slovenia is so much more than just one of the more attractive capital cities in Europe (but we do not like the lack of car parking nor its expense). The countryside lends itself to touring and staying in small hotels in quiet villages and towns. A particular favourite is Radovljici, grandly, a county town, pleasantly very small, historic and quiet. A particular memory was watching a choir in the early evening light outside the church in the car-free centre rehearsing for a wedding; pure magic. Nowhere is too far away in this alpine region of Slovenia, there is a good reason to linger here.
A particularly attractive Slovene feature are the large number of very individual beehives that are really works of art as the board or panel above the bees’ access slot traditionally features a painting. The subject can be anything from a religious scene to rather risqué or even libellous scenes as individual characters can be recognised with their dalliances. We all have our interpretations of ‘modern’, the father of ‘modern’ apiculture was an Anton Jansa (1734 – 1773). The Museum of Apiculture is in Radovljica and is well worth a visit. We were shown around by the personable Mayor of nearby Bled, a couple of American tourists joined us and were bowled over by the best and most interesting tourist guide they had ever encountered. “How much can we tip him?”
Radovljica is surrounded by a great variety of places of interests so is a good place to stay. Ljubljana is not far away for more than one visit, Bled with its famous castle high above on a craggy cliff overlooks the enchanting lake and Kranj (See link); another small town/village is particularly enchanting when it puts on the greatest display of St Nicholas/Christmas lights. Bohinj with its atmospheric lake, Slovenia’s premier ski resort – Kranska Gora and Austria are also easily accessible.
There is a small hotel nearby Radovljica; the Vila Podvin which stands out for all the best of reasons, not least a spirit of generosity. The chef, Uroš is very accomplished with his modern interpretation of Slovene food and, front of house, Marcela, Uroš’s business partner finds nothing too much trouble to make sure all the guests will leave with broad smiles, expressing wishes to return. Quietly, they do a great deal for the local community and those less fortunate. Uroš, who is really an exceptional chef (have we said that before?!). now offers cookery classes for those who would like to get to grips with Slovenian cuisine.
All the five en suite double rooms and two suites complement the cheerful atmosphere with modern bright and colourful décor. The all also have balconies, air conditioning and free WiFi. They have added two large apartments 2 km distant in the village, sorry, town centre. There are numerous events and other activities at the hotel from a cookery school through a farmers’ market to team building events. Horse riding is also available, literally on the doorstep.
You never know what you will encounter in Slovenia; as press we are frequently hosted very generously so we were surprised to be taken to a camp site for a pre-event dinner. The food was fabulous, we discovered that the chef had cooked for us before in the excellent Triglav Hotel in Bled but as a free spirit, he was out of the Heston Blumenthal school. The potato ice cream was the final straw, doubtless it was outstandingly good, but not in the style of the hotel.
Despite the tsunami of Asian tourists it is still a pleasure to see the classical cultural capitals of Europe, but at a price both in terms of overheated costs and smothering crowds. Slovenia has time for you and offers a softer, cultural experience that is ever more difficult to find in this frenetic world.