Slovenia: small country, very big heart

By | Category: Travel destinations

I had the pleasure of a short interview with Dr. Danilo Türk, the president of Slovenia, and asked him to select the three main attractions of Slovenia for UK visitors. He replied: very friendly people, unspoilt natural features and a huge range of holiday activities and I agree with him, not just because he’s the president!

The President at Novo Mesto

Dr Türk also announced that “coming soon” there was to be a Space Museum and Centre in Slovenia which sounded bit inappropriate for a small country with less than two million. But in fact it will commemorate a Slovene, Herman Potočnik Noordung, internationally recognised as a pioneer of rocket and space science. Apparently, his work influenced the production team on Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Where and what is Slovenia ?
The quickest way to position Slovenia is to say that its western border starts 65 miles east of Venice and, clockwise from Italy, it has borders with Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Having virtually no coast of their own, many Slovenians head south to enjoy the pleasures of the Croatian sea resorts for holidays and weekends. 50 per cent of the territory is forest and woodland, so plenty of wildlife (including bears), can be spotted. Away from the main roads it has stunning views which one can sit back and enjoy or get around hiking, biking or canoe paddling. There is also golf and excellent horse riding, not necessarily on a Lipizzaner although the original stud was at Lipica in today’s Slovenia – another more down to earth first.

The modern independent Republic of Slovenia is just over 20 years old and the Slovenes have a pride and sense of the history that got them there after WW2 and the demise of Soviet influence. And they also like to have fun.

Everyone joins in!
I was on a short visit based in the east at Maribor, a Cultural Capital of Europe 2012. And, with its five partner towns in the eastern region (Ptuj, Novo Mesto, Murska Sobota, Slovenj Gradec and Velenje ) had over 3,600 events including visiting exhibitions. This has led to a significant increase in visitors.

Maribor interior

At Putj, the Region’s oldest town, after visiting three galleries and the 11th Century Castle, we all put on togas for a mock Roman Games and feast and then went to a rock concert (after handing back our togas). It was interesting that there were more locals than visitors at all these events. Putj has an artistic community and a major festival every July which has a big International following, even Yoko Ono sends in exhibits.

Bronzes at Dolenjska Museum

We stayed one night at Novo Mesto which has the Dolenjska Archeological museum with a rare collection 5th Century BC bronzes, see: There is also a large Photographic Gallery where I was able to get the interview with the president before he went on to be one of the Judges at the final of Jazzinty Competition (seven or eight piece fairly brassy big band sounds).

Otocec Island Castle

Just down the road from Novo Mesto the 13th Century Otočec Castle, now converted to a fine looking hotel, sits on an island and is one of Slovenia’s most stylish wedding venues. There also an Otočec summer music festival. See this link:

Natural Thermal Spas: the “real deal” all year round
There’s been a proliferation of spa units in hotels, but Bath is the UK’s only spa naturally warm enough to bathe in. Over a dozen natural spa centres in Slovenia attract those who appreciate the real thing: where one can take the waters and sit in them bubbling and ready heated from the rocks below. We dropped by at the Olimia Spa Centre and Hotels, where since Roman times the waters are extracted from 500 meters below at around 44˚C and help heat the hotels in winter. It’s a lot less expensive that getting the same sort of benefits at Baden Baden and Marienbad. For the main spas see:

Maribor: Cultural Capital and inspiration hub
With a population of just under 100,000, Maribor has punched way above its weight in 2012 with what can be described as a “high energy” programme of cultural events – even to shows and pop-ups in private courtyards and displays in vacant retail properties. The team involved benefited from a host of volunteers and even in the second half of “the year” when we arrived, there was still the same buzz and feeling of everyone joining in that we enjoyed in the Toga wearing and jazz nights in Putj and Nove Mesto.

Drava River Maribor

Slovenians know how to enjoy life. Like many central European countries they brew good affordable beer. But unlike some other countries they make very good wine! Maribor itself lays claim to the oldest living vine in the world: around 400 years. Leading wine makers Dveri-Pax won nine Medals in the 2012 Decanter Wine Awards in London.

Polish puppets

Two of the many shows that caught my eye in Maribor were the large-sized Polish puppets and the mini-sized battle displays from a 170,000 collection of tin soldiers. The bell tower of the main Cathedral was open and there was even an exhibition entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Stage’ celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

In 2013 Maribor continues on the international stage as European Youth Capital and hosts the International Choral Competition, in April. This is in addition to their usual programme of Festivals and events. Check out the following link for more information:

Everywhere in Slovenia unspoilt forests, rivers, lakes and mountains are not far away and it’s an expanding skiing destination. Above Novo Mesto are the Goranjchi Hills rising to 1,200m for serious walkers. Maribor itself has the best of several worlds including floodlit (after work) skiing at Pohorje with cable cars all summer for hikers and downhill bikers.

Staying there and getting there
Accommodation and meal prices are reasonable Slovenia. We were very comfortable at the Piramida Hotel, Maribor. Link:

Two other options are the Bellvue Hotel Maribor, Pohorje ( and the Hotel City Maribor (

There are regular flights to Ljubljana from Luton with easyJet ( and, from this month, with Wizzair (

An alternative route to consider is via Graz in Austria, with a 50km coach trip to Maribor.




An alternative route to consider is via Graz in Austria with a 50km coach trip to Maribor.

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