It may be Europe’s tenth-smallest capital (population 300,000), but Ljubljana offers an abundance of interest and a generous dose of charm. The compact centre is made for walking – literally, as much of it is pedestrianised – with eco-friendly electric buggies on hand should you tire. Meander through the graceful Old Town, reimagined by a forward-looking local architect after an earthquake in 1895, admiring buildings in every style from Baroque to Viennese Secession. This characterful district hugs the bends of the Ljubljanica River, with waterfront promenades lined with cafés. Look down on it from the medieval hilltop castle that dominates the skyline, reached by a short but impressively steep funicular railway. Then cross the famous Triple Bridge to Prešeren Square, the city’s bustling social hub; between here and the sprawling greenery of Tivoli Park, you’ll find museums and galleries devoted to everything from modern art to 60,000 years of history.
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Outdoor enthusiasts will find a pristine playground in the majestic Julian Alps, which span the border with Italy in Slovenia’s northwest. At the region’s heart is the vastness of Triglav National Park, named after the 2,864-metre peak that’s the country’s highest – and its national symbol. Adventure seekers come to hike, climb, cycle and snowshoe through spectacular untamed landscapes that provide a refuge for brown bears, wolves and golden eagles. From springs deep in the mountains, the beautiful Soča River traces its way through gorges and canyons, its vivid emerald waters luring photographers, kayakers and fishermen hoping to catch an elusive marble trout. On the park’s eastern fringes is the ridiculously scenic Lake Bled, described by a celebrated Slovenian poet as ‘heaven’s twin’. Hot springs power thermal spas around its margins; tear yourself away to savour the panoramic vistas from the 1,000-year-old castle and the local cuisine, whose specialities include a cake made of puff pastry, custard and cream.
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MEDITERRANEAN COAST AND KARST
Tucked into the country’s southwesternmost corner, the Slovenian Riviera provides a welcome dose of Mediterranean living. This sliver of coastline, bookended by nature reserves, has all the ingredients of a relaxing seaside holiday, including Blue Flag-garlanded shingle beaches that are a haven for swimmers, sailors and paddleboarders. In between are charming ancient port towns such as Piran, Izola and Koper, notable for their distinctly Venetian historic architecture, where you can linger in chic harbourside cafés and seafood restaurants. Heading inland, the Karst Plateau is a geological wonderland crammed with extraordinary limestone formations, sinkholes and cave systems, one of them special enough for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The region’s picturesque scattering of settlements includes Štanjel, a cluster of quaint hilltop buildings, from where there are far-reaching views. Lipica, meanwhile, is internationally famous for its stud farm, home to the distinctive white Lipizzaner horses first bred by the Hapsburgs in the 16th century.
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Slovenia’s engaging second city hugs a curve of the Drava River in the lush northeast, surrounded by the vine-clad slopes of the country’s largest wine region. Dive into its 900-year history in the waterside Old Town, whose café-fringed main square (Glavni Trg) is a glorious medley of architectural treasures, including a Renaissance-style town hall built in 1515. A short stroll away, the 15th-century castle now houses the fascinating Maribor Regional Museum, complete with a Rococo staircase and frescoed Knights’ Hall. The Old Town’s most celebrated sight, however, is the magnificent vine – officially the world’s oldest – that spreads across the facade of the Old Vine House beside the Drava; planted around 450 years ago, it still bears fruit. For a breathtaking overview of the city and the vineyards beyond, follow the leafy path to the summit of Piramida hill, where the ruins of Maribor’s original castle are still very much in evidence.