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Slovenia: Insider’s Guide

Alexander Datsev | October 6, 2014

The insider advice on this page is brought to you by Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Slovenia: Alexander Datsev of Exeter International.

Trusted Travel Expert
Alexander Datsev

A polyglot and history buff who was born and raised in the Balkans and spent years working there as a guide, Alex delights in introducing people to his homeland, Bulgaria, and its neighbors, including Romania and Montenegro. He returns to the region a few times annually to test-drive—literally—all the road trips he maps out for travelers, scouting along the way for charming countryside taverns and small inns. While Alex is also an expert on where to stay and sail along the Dalmatian Coast, his favorite itineraries focus on lesser-known finds, such as a private vineyard on the Istrian Peninsula or the wooden churches of rural Romania or the mountain villages of Bulgaria. Whenever possible, he’ll arrange for you to meet a master craftsman or have a meal in the home of a local family, to see firsthand the old-world traditions that may not be around much longer. Alex was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.

Travel arrangements start at $700 per day for two travelers. This is the minimum you should expect to pay.
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Where to Stay and Eat

Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
Well off the beaten track in an 800-year-old village, the Kendov Dvorec is a destination in its own right and the perfect place to relax for a day or two. Housed in a fourteenth-century mansion that once belonged to the influential Kenda family (for whom the 11 rooms are named), the hotel has been beautifully restored, with antique furnishings, traditional textiles, and locally made lacework, and there are splendid views over the estate’s apple orchard and the surrounding countryside. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in the authentic culture—both past and present. And it’s the less expensive of just two Relais & Chateaux properties in the country.

Restaurants the locals love
The Lectar Restaurant in Radovljica, for its mushroom soup served in a bread bowl and the apple ice cream. With everything made from scratch using local ingredients, it’s a rustic feast. The peasant-style costumes might seem kitschy to some, but they take tradition seriously around here.

At a small hotel in a centuries-old renovated farmhouse, Dvor Jezersek (just outside Ljubljana, close to the airport) has a wonderful restaurant, Gostilna, and a cooking academy. When it’s on the menu in summer, order the seafood ravioli—it may not sound local, but the cuisine of Slovenia has much in common with that of Italy, its neighbor to the west.

Meal worth the splurge
A gourmet, three-course dinner (for up to four people) in a cable car at the Krvavec mountain resort. After hours, the cars are converted into private dining rooms, and chefs from two high-end restaurants serve your meal while you enjoy the panoramic vistas over the Slovenian Alps.

What to See and Do

Don’t miss
About an hour southwest of Ljubljana, the Karst region is known domestically for its traditional dried ham prsut (similar to Italian prosciutto) and Teran red wine, made from a local grape and best drunk young. Both are available at local taverns and wine cellars. The Karst also features a vast network of caves, like the Predjama and the Skocjan, which offer guided tours deep into their underground chambers.

The Goriska Brda region, in the west of Slovenia, produces wonderful wine that is bottled in small quantities and only sold locally. Spend a day or two exploring the “Wine Road” from Plave to Vrhovlje, along the way enjoying views of rolling forested hills, historic castles and churches, and countless small villages, vineyards, and orchards, and eating in the local “slow-food” taverns.

Best for thrill-seekers
How about underground mountain biking? Take a three-mile-long guided bike ride through the tunnels of an abandoned lead mine under the Peca Mountains, which was first used by the ancient Romans. The tunnels, which have been dug out of the solid rock largely by hand, are illuminated, and your headlamp guides the way. After a few hours without the sun, you’re sure to develop a greater respect for the countless individuals who have worked down below over the centuries.

Bragging rights
We love arranging cooking classes in home kitchens, wine tastings with small production vintners, meetings with traditional craftsmen, and other one-of-a-kind experiences that let our guests interact one-on-one with some fascinating local characters.

How to spend a Sunday
Do as the locals do: Stroll through the flea market held on the riverbank in Ljubljana on Sundays to browse the variety of antiques, Yugoslav memorabilia, art, and furniture for sale, then enjoy the people-watching from one of the riverside cafés.

 

Best Times to Go

May for the warm and sunny (but not yet hot and humid) weather, so that you can make the most of the country’s numerous outdoor cafés and restaurants and its alpine meadows fresh with spring flowers and greenery.

September and early October. The summer crowds are gone, there’s sunshine, autumn foliage, a plenitude of local fruit, and refreshingly cooler temperatures in the mountain areas. This is also a great time for wine lovers to try the new harvest.

Worst Times to Go

Avoid November to the end of March, when the weather is cold, with snow in the mountains and rain along the coast.

Biggest Rookie Mistake

Not purchasing a toll sticker (known as a vignette) when self-driving on Slovenia’s highways. The police are really strict and the fines are hefty—up to 800 euros. If your car rental agency doesn’t provide one, you can buy a vignette at gas stations, post offices, and some newsstands. The price varies with the dates of validity; a week costs 15 euros, a month 30 euros.

Instagram Moment

To get a postcard-perfect shot of Lake Bled, with the island and its church in the foreground, hike up Mala Osojnica hill at sunrise or sunset. The path is quite steep at times, and takes from 30 to 45 minutes; bring a flashlight.

Perfect Souvenirs

Slovenia is famous for its gourmet sea salt. The Secovlje salt pans are located in protected wetlands and are still harvested by hand using the same traditional methods employed by the Venetians—who ruled the area in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries—and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Nowadays, the local fleur de sel is highly prized by well-known chefs and other connoisseurs, and sold in labeled linen bags or as gift sets. You can also find dark chocolate truffles with Secovlje salt at the Cukrcek chocolate stores in Ljubljana, or at Piranske Soline shops throughout the country.

Reviews

Proved to be highlights of the trip

Ryan Stevens | October 19, 2015

Would recommend highly

Jon Shanser | October 9, 2015

I can't wait to go back

Francisco Candal | October 6, 2015
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