The prospect of travelling to Slovenia was no small feat for a 4ft 11 solo traveller such as myself… what could I eat there (the most important question in any given scenario)? Do they even have proper shops? Will they understand me? Will I be safe? My dad isn't Liam Neeson, after all. What does one even do in Slovenia?
Alas and predictably so I was unequivocally wrong - Slovenia is not a backwards country which hasn't seen a glimpse of the modern day, it's an absolute gem of a destination that thoroughly defied my expectations.
First things first
I flew in the reliable old orange number - the first sign that Slovenia must be an above average destination if it gets regular flights. Flying over the Alps, although stunning, didn't sit well given recent current affairs - a Hail Mary and refreshment from the drinks trolley did the trick though. The best part of the flight however is flying in to Ljubljana, the country's capital - the landscape is a gorgeous shade of emerald and wonderfully picturesque that any fear of flying went right out the window. The country prides itself on being green and environmentally friendly, so much so that Ljubljana won Green Capital of the Year.
Let's pause on Ljubljana for a moment, not only is it a great spellbuzz contender but it is one seriously cool city. I use the word city loosely because it isn't at all built up and is also really very clean. For those who have a penchant for Scandi city breaks it has a Copenhagen-esque style, which if truth be told seems a rather rash comparison as Ljubljana really does have its own unique character. I meandered the streets lining the River Ljubljana dodging merry cyclists and snooping at well dressed women who sat drinking cocktails and trendy sorts painting or singing. I so desperately wanted to be on this hip inner circle I stopped for a Hugo, which in Eastern Europe is a popular cocktail of Prosecco, lime, mint and soda. I even contemplated a cigarette but knew I'd only start choking and my cover would be blown. Not only was the beverage delicious and made me look ever so chic, it was only €3.50. Please note this country is incredibly good value. I wondered why the Slovenians all seemed so chirpy and I feel it might be something to do with the fact they finish work at 3pm and have happy hours that last from 3-6pm in most places.
Where is the love?
The Slovenian Tourist Board were very clear on what they wanted from us and that was to feel the "love" - for the country, for ourselves… who knows, it was a very hippy/green perception. To be fair, I did leave Slovenia very much feeling the "love", not least because they seemed to know the way to my heart - food, and lots of it... and possibly a nice glass of wine thrown in for good measure. I ate everything from fresh fish to meat cuts and delicious desserts, namely an asparagus tiramisu. The food had a strong Italian feel; rock salt is one of the big players to be produced in Slovenia, as well as truffle mushrooms and oysters.
The second time I felt the "love" was when a 7 foot tall man, who I can only describe as looking like he jumped out of fairy tale book, showed me around a hotel. Which leads me nicely on to where to sleep - Ljubljana is where I would recommend you base yourself for any jaunt to Slovenia. Why? Because it is the hub of where most things happen and you are never really more than 40 minutes from the country's highlights. Plus the hotels are of a great standard in Ljubljana. Starting with the Antiq Palace, a small SLH property which, if you didn't know it existed you'd never find it. The décor is slightly dated but deliberately so and it is so boutique you'd hardly know it was a hotel. The courtyard is laced with beautiful smelling plants where you can choose to have afternoon tea or have your breakfast alfresco. Additional highlights include being next door to the classical music school, which pours out all sorts of lovely sound tracks for your stay.
Going from boutique to chic we have Hotel Vander, which can I just pause and say - it has a roof top pool overlooking the River Ljubljana - yes, yes it's all very cool on that side of town. Not only does it have a champagne bar but it's a member of Design Hotels, which although may not be up everybody's street is a strong contender for any stay. The likes of British royalty have also sought shelter in Slovenia's capital, but I'll keep where they stayed a secret…
I wouldn't call myself a photographer as such, in fact I am by no means even close; I bought myself an SLR hotshot-looking thing purely to appear hipster and ever-alternative in all my travel instagram photographs. However, this is one country that is not camera shy and will make any novice look like a complete pro. This is done on scenery alone. I was lucky enough to not only explore Ljubljana but venture further afield to Lake Bled, which although having been told by my boss simply how beautiful it was, I needed to see it to confirm on the record right now - it is, falling short of another word, stunning. The serenity and peace of climbing up Bled castle and looking down on the rowers and boats below is wonderful. We sampled a delicious local custard, cream and pastry cake with fresh apple juice to wash it down - visiting the lake and trying this little sugary extra should be on everyone's itinerary. If you wanted a slower pace of things and didn't quite fancy heading back to Ljubljana, why not glamp in wooden huts nearby? Dispel all thoughts of roughing it camping - the only way is luxury with these Slovenians!
Other notable picture taking highlights, aside from the backdrop of the Alps, are excursions like the Postojna Caves which, although not for everyone, are fascinating and have rich historical standing - my inner geologist had a field day! Portoroz is worth a visit as it is Slovenia's coastal town and, again not to everyone's taste, but much like in neighbouring Croatia the sea is beautiful and the fish is deliciously fresh so worth a day or two. Lastly, anyone who knows me knows that I have a fear of horses, so being taken to visit Lipizzan horses to endure a ride in a horse-drawn carriage on the estate was, in one word, traumatic. Needless to say if you are the horsey type you must visit.
My only blemish on what I would dub the destination of 2015 would be that casinos seem to be plentiful and often crop up in wild and picturesque landscapes. Like the Easter bunny at a nativity - distinctly out of place and wholly unnecessary. However this is most likely a side effect of my judgemental nature.