|Editor’s note: Exodus Travels hosted the author on its Lakes & Mountains of Slovenia Walking Tour.
The news headlines screamed of travel chaos in Europe as record numbers of flyers returned to the skies this busy summer season. My packed flight from Boston to Paris bore this out, with huge crowds at the airport on both ends. It was a different scenario the second I boarded the connecting flight to my final destination—Slovenia.
At every intersection in Slovenia where I expected hordes of visitors, I found instead serenity. Rather than crowds jostling for the famous photo of Lake Bled, I encountered empty shores, dotted with a few local families enjoying the sunshine on a brilliant summer Sunday. During prime dining hours, patio seats at pretty outdoor restaurants were easy to acquire sans reservation.
Located between over-visited Italy and Croatia, Slovenia still manages to fly under the radar of most tourists. When I talked about my summer travel plans back home in the United States, the reaction of most Americans to hearing my destination was a puzzled, “where’s that?”
With only a week to explore the country, I signed up for Exodus Travels’ Lakes & Mountains of Slovenia tour in order to maximize my time and get a good taster of this tiny country. Slightly smaller than New Jersey, Slovenia is dwarfed in both size and tourism numbers by its neighbors Italy, Croatia, Austria, and Hungary. Despite its small size, Slovenia features a huge diversity of landscapes. On a trip to Slovenia, you can summit mountains and descend into gorges, and see a wide range of geography without spending all your time driving. It was a running joke on my trip that everything in Slovenia was 45 minutes away because each morning’s itinerary started with “we’ll drive 45 minutes to the trailhead.”
We were based for the week in Radovljica, a charming town nestled at the base of the Julian Mountains. Nicknamed the “sweetest Slovenian town,” Radovljica lived up to its moniker. Stopping in the tiny boutique Radolca Chocolate, the shop’s owner offered me samples of her delicious chocolates along with an explanation of how the pandemic pushed her to open her dream business. Now she spends her days handcrafting chocolates with local ingredients (like blueberries or buckwheat) instead of grinding away at a corporate job.
With Radovlijcia as a home base to return to each afternoon, I got a little taste of what it would be like to live in Slovenia. One thing became clearer each sweet and slow day I spent ambling in mountains and eating my way through towns—Slovenians place a high priority on the quality of life.
Slovenia consistently ranks as one of the best countries in the world to live in, and it was easy to see why. Chatting with the gregarious owner (and chef) of the family-run Kunstelji hotel and restaurant that served as my home base for the trip, he told me he spends over 100 days a year indulging in his passions of diving, hiking, and skiing—all while juggling the business.
Every Slovenian I met on my trip shared a similar interest in the outdoors and expressed bafflement when I told them that the average amount of vacation time for U.S. workers was a mere 15 days. The emphasis in Slovenia is on getting out and enjoying nature, and the country protects its environment fiercely.
In 2017, this small nation was named the world’s most sustainable country, scoring high marks on 96 out of 100 sustainability indicators. The country’s capital city, Ljubljana, won the title of European Green Capital in 2016. This focus on the environment influences daily life in Slovenia.
Rok Teul, my Exodus Travels guide for the week, tells me that Slovenians “prioritize knowing where their food comes from.” Says Teul, “Most Slovenians tend their own gardens and live off the land as much as they can.”
Slovenia’s farm-to-table ethos is emphasized everywhere we dine, and its citizens’ zest for the outdoor lifestyle is evident everywhere we go. Restaurants use local ingredients and menus change based on what’s in season and fresh. Cars pull over for the numerous bikers we see happily peddling up the road. Life is indeed sweet in Slovenia, and it’s worth tasting, even if it’s only for a visit.
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