In a world of seemingly endless hotel options, travelers typically prefer boutique accommodations and experiences over traditional chains and overcrowded locations. What does it truly mean to be boutique? I found the answer in Slovenia during my visit.
For a destination to be considered boutique, it would typically have the following qualities:
- An intimate and inviting atmosphere
- An easily-accessible location
- Provide unique experiences
- Offer superior food and accommodations
If this is your criteria for choosing your next place to visit, I recommend the small and scenic country of Slovenia. Slovenia has culture, tradition, and history that rival the well-known European countries but in a destination that quite a lot of people aren’t yet familiar with.
Slovenia is intimate
Slovenia is similar in size to Massachusetts, and with popular neighbors like Italy and Croatia, it’s easy to overlook Slovenia. One of Slovenia’s advantages is that it doesn’t suffer from over-tourism like much of Europe. Although tourism exists in Slovenia, it is not on the same scale as some higher traffic destinations. As an example, the entire country of Slovenia had almost six million international visitors in 2018, while the city of Paris alone received 30 million foreign visitors.
Slovenia remains authentic with a strong cultural identity. During my visit, it felt like I was being welcomed into a close-knit community. The Slovenian people were friendly and inviting—they are very warm hosts and are eager to share their traditions and make your visit enjoyable.
Slovenia is well-located
It doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘mountain person’ or a ‘sea person’, or even a ‘forest’ or ‘wine country’ person—you’ll enjoy all of these vistas during your visit. In my one week trip, I was able to explore all of the following destinations:
- Ljubljana, the Cultured Capital City
Ljubljana is a picture-perfect city with a lovely Old Town section. You can view the city from several interesting vantage points. My favorite was seeing the city from a riverboat ride, which offers unique views from the banks and bridges. I also rode a funicular to Ljubljana Castle, a historic fortress on a hill above the city, which gave me a bird’s eye view of the city. I learned about the city’s history from talented reenactors throughout the castle. Prince Edward of the United Kingdom was hosting an event in the castle during my visit, and I got a quick glimpse of him and his party. I had a fantastic dinner in former Archer’s Tower which has been converted to a highly regarded restaurant called Strelec, which serves Slovenian fare as well as modern takes on medieval cuisine. Some interesting items on the menu include beef tongue, boiled oxtail, and bear salami.
- The Slovenian Riviera
Slovenia’s coastline is proportionate to the country—small-scale but brimming with beauty. The Slovenian Riviera stretches along 28 miles of the Adriatic Sea. This area offers sailing, beaches, and lively nightlife. On my first night in Slovenia, I got to experience a polka music festival on the beach, complete with fireworks and thousands of enthusiastic polka-partyers!
- The Julian Alps
The highest point of the Julian Alps is Mount Triglav, which has become a symbol for Slovenia and appears on the country’s flag. Lush, green forests and sparkling teal rivers and lakes surround The Alps. I took boat rides across the lakes and a cable car up Mount Vogel.
- Slovenia’s Romantic Wine Region, Goriška Brda
Tucked between the Alps and the Adriatic is a picturesque wine region. I had a delightful day-trip to Brda and the scenic villages scattered throughout this area. I enjoyed tastings and meeting the winemakers. The town of Šmartno is a romantic destination to visit with its lovely cobblestone streets and hilltop views of the surrounding vineyards.
- The Karst Region, a Fantastic Place to Visit Caves and Castles
There are 10,250 caves in Slovenia, and I visited the largest one, Postonja Cave. On my private guided tour, I saw dazzling formations in a safe and accessible environment. There is a surprising species of cave salamander endemic to Postonja Cave called an Olm. Sometimes called the “human fish”, it has translucent pale skin and no eyes. I saw these interesting creatures on display in special tanks in the caves.
I was also able to combine my visit with a stop at the nearby Predjama Castle, which is perched on a mountainside cliff. This is the world’s largest cave castle and has existed for more than 800 years. The castle also has a series of hidden tunnels and caverns where a fugitive knight held out from the imperial army’s siege. I was fascinated by the history and architectural ingenuity of Predjama.
Another benefit to Slovenia’s location is how easily accessible it is. Multiple European airports operate daily flights to Ljubljana. I connected through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, but other major hubs include London, Paris, Vienna, and Frankfurt. There are a variety of carriers that offer service to Ljubljana.
Slovenia borders Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Italy. Venice is a two-hour drive away, or you can reach it by taking the ferry from Piran. You can connect to many other European countries by train in just a few hours. With so many ways to get to Slovenia, it makes the perfect addition to a multi-country trip. Frontiers can coordinate all of your travel plans for a seamless experience.
Slovenia offers high-quality experiences
One destination in Slovenia that many are familiar with is Lake Bled. Lake Bled receives a lot of attention for its small and charming island church beneath the Julian Alps. The location seems too beautiful to exist in real life; it feels like the creation of a painter who couldn’t choose between having a stoic castle or quaint church as the subject of the painting.
My guide explained the variety of customs passed down through the centuries. Each tradition has a story and a reason for being. My first encounter with their customs began before I even made my trip to Lake Bled! In order to get to the island, I took a wooden boat rowed by an oarsman. Empress Maria Theresa assigned the original oarsmen in the 18th century, and the role has been passed down through the same families for generations.
Upon arrival to the island, I walked up 99 steps to the Church of the Mother of God on the lake. Here, I learned it was customary for a newlywed groom to carry his bride up all of the steps to ensure a happy marriage. The church itself is ornate but quaint. Inside there is a ‘wishing bell’. Supposedly ringing the bell three times means your wish will come true. I closed my eyes while I made my wish and pulled the rope, causing the bell to resound at least three times!
One of my favorite traditional activities in Bled was eating a huge piece of cream cake. I should have used my wish to wish for another cake! The entire experience of visiting the town of Bled was as charming as it was meaningful.
Another well-known location is the town of Lipica, which is home to the Lipizzaner horse stud farm. These gorgeous white horses originate in Slovenia but are better known for performing at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. I had the opportunity to see the spring foals, which was surprising because the horses are born black and eventually turn white over the course of three years. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to seeing a unicorn in real life!
The number of authentic and unique experiences in Slovenia is endless, and there are plenty of activities for people of all ages.
Slovenia is an up-and-coming destination
In juxtaposition to the traditional experiences that Slovenia offers is its blossoming culinary scene. The Netflix original series, Chef’s Table, introduced the world to Chef Ana Roš. Roš began cooking later in life and is self-taught; therefore, her style is unconventional and completely her own since she doesn’t draw upon classical cooking methods. The World’s Best 50 Restaurants named her The Word’s Best Female Chef in 2017, and in 2018, they named Roš’ restaurant, Hiša Franko, one of The World’s Best 50 Restaurants. If you want to visit the Soča Valley while in Slovenia and dine at Hiša Franko, we will assist you with making a reservation, as we advise making it well in advance.
Another facet of Slovenia that is receiving more attention lately is the wine. I was very impressed by the quality of wines I tried in Slovenia. My hosts joked that Slovenian wines aren’t exported very often because the Slovenes drink the supply and don’t leave any for other countries. I can’t say that I blame them. On the Italian border, you will find the Brda wine growing region. Brda produces white wines, such as Rebula, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, and red wines, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I savored a relaxing day visiting boutique wineries in this beautiful region accented with hilltop churches and castles.
I felt very spoiled in the variety of hotels I visited. Slovenia is host to a number of strategically placed Virtuoso and Relais and Châteaux properties. I loved my stay at the Kempinski Palace Portorož in the seaside town of Portorož. My room in the hotel’s new building had a sophisticated rose theme, fitting for the ‘Port of Roses’. The hotel is very close to the marina, where I spent the days sailing on a vintage wooden sailboat and the evenings on my balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea and Croatia across the bay. The Kempinski named their restaurant, Sophia, in tribute to their frequent guest, Sophia Loren. This stunning venue is a fitting tribute to the glamorous Italian actress.
To the east in the Lower Carniola region is the magnificent Hotel Grad Otočec. This castle hotel sits on a river island surrounded by forests. Dating back to 1252, it has been meticulously restored throughout but is equipped with modern amenities. My room had a view of the resident swans gliding along the river. With 16 charming rooms and a beautiful location, this is a boutique hotel in a boutique country!
There are numerous properties in Slovenia that all offer comfort and style in lovely locations. We’re happy to offer our suggestions for the right fit for your stay.
If you are searching for a boutique location offering unique cultural experiences, cuisine, and properties, then I recommend visiting Slovenia. Since the country is reasonably sized and easy to navigate, I was able to see a lot in my week-long visit. This appealing country leaves a lasting impression with a variety of experiences, epicurean delights, and alluring scenery. Slovenia has truly set my standard for boutique!
Some photos courtesy of the Slovenian Tourism Board and Hotel Grad Otočec.