Slovenia's Bled Castle sits on the city’s idyllic lake. // © 2014 Devin Galaudet
Clients into taking the road less traveled? Have them check out Upper Egypt
Agents know it’s getting harder to find a destination that’s both tourist-friendly and far-flung enough to please adventurous clients. But Slovenia proves itself to be both familiar and foreign — the perfect vacation spot for eager globetrotters.
Born from the splintering of former Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenia sits atop the Adriatic Sea as a gatekeeper separating Western and Eastern Europe, and it remains a hub for its more well-known neighbors like Italy, Austria and Croatia.
Influenced stylistically by the West and linguistically by the East, Slovenia boasts stunning landscapes and architecture and a laid-back culture. It also maintains a strong national identity through its 2 million citizens.
Visitors to Slovenia need to know two names: Ljubljana and Bled.
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s socially progressive capital. The city’s symbol and coat of arms, a dragon, is thought to have its origins in the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. According to one myth, Jason defeated a mighty dragon and settled the area, becoming Ljubljana’s first citizen.
Legends aside, the city is compact and highly walkable. And while some former Yugoslavian states may conjure images of a dreary Cold War atmosphere, Ljubljana has a bright and hip feel. Visitors can expect solid infrastructure and services, plus great food and a wonderful history.
Ljubljana’s old-town area is a must-visit. For sightseers, the Triple Bridge, a group of three bridges that cross Ljubljanica River, is the hub for food, people-watching and live music. Other notable strolls include the path along the Sava River and the steep trudge or ride via funicular up to Ljubljana Castle, the city’s icon that mixes old and new architecture and offers a soaring 360-degree view of the city.
Older clients should be aware of golf-cart services, which will pick up passengers and drop them off in any area of the pedestrian center of Ljubljana. My wife and I discovered this while saddled with luggage leaving our hotel, Vander Urbani Resort — a surprise for which we were very grateful.
Some 40 minutes from Ljubljana by car is Bled, Slovenia’s top resort area. The town’s centerpiece, Lake Bled, is a fairytale come to life. The idyllic lake has an island — on which sits a church where visitors can ring the 16th century “wishing bell” in its cathedral — and abuts the medieval Bled Castle, built on a precipice above the city. Bled is a small but popular town. It is perfect for rowing, hiking and whiling away the day.
Two of Bled’s top properties are a combination of new and old. Hotel Vila Bled is home to Tito’s former residence (the former leader of Yugoslavia, not of the Jackson ilk), with excellent views just steps from the lake. For those with a more eco-conscious streak, Garden Village features glamping (luxury camping) tents and tree houses galore for sustainability of the highest order. A unique dining experience also awaits here, thanks to fresh herbs grown directly on tables and a water stream that runs through the restaurant. Dining tables may require an occasional lawn mower, but the food is always top notch.
Getting There: Multiple carriers — including Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines and United Airlines — operate in partnership with Adria Airways, Slovenia’s national carrier, which offers flights to Ljubljana from 20 European cities. Visitors flying in from the West Coast can expect a couple of stops before arriving at Ljubljana Joze Pucnik Airport. Bled is a short bus, car or train ride from Ljubljana.
Where to Stay: Vander Urbani Resort is centrally located within Ljubljana’s old town and is a 10-minute walk from the train station. Rooms start at 120 euros per night. In Bled, Garden Village offers luxury apartments year-round and tree-house and tent accommodations from April to the end of October, with prices starting at 120 euros and 80 euros, respectively, for low-season visits.
Where to Eat: Ljubljana abounds with Slovenian and Italian cafes, as well as eateries ranging from high-end dining to street-fare meals. Try Gujzina for a taste of traditional Slovenian cuisine at its finest without breaking the bank.