The verdant rolling hills, the typical southern European countryside, mountainous vistas that even Maria would be satisfied with, a jewel-like coast and buzzing city centre with street side coffee bars and nic-nacky marketplaces. Slovenia is a country teeming with history and it is dying to share it with you.
It has to be said my knowledge of Slovenia is as fully fledged as my understanding of the offside rule – next to zero. In fact, when asked, I racked my brain to my 12-year-old self to the history lessons we were made to endure and all my frazzled brain could make out was three words: Yugoslavia, the colour grey and political unrest. When I shared my thoughts to the head of tourism over dinner, her face fell, ‘We certainly have our work cut out for us then’ she sighed, but spend just a few days in Slovenia and the country sells itself.
Slovenia, for those of you not in the know, is a small central/southern European country, nestled in between the Alps, the Pannonia Plain and the Mediterranean. It borders with Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia.
One of Slovenia’s biggest assets is its people. Friendly, accepting and warm. Almost every sentence begins with ‘Of course…‘ and with such a positive affirmation, you realise that the people here are longing for you to have an excellent time.It might not be the most obvious of European getaways, but Slovenia is a gem, a relatively unknown paradise for those who love city breaks, spas, skiing, Nordic walking and Riviera living.
THEGAYUK were invited to celebrate the inaugural PinkWeek, the brainchild of Mattej and Matej, real life and business partners who founded luxuryslovenia.eu, and who now hope to bring LGBT tourists to Slovenia to enjoy its rich heritage, hospitality and gay life.
Our hosts ensured that every moment of our stay was filled with sensory delights from the moment we arrived at Slovenia’s laid back main, international airport in Ljubljana. We were met and driven through the picturesque countryside to Otočec Castle Hotel, a sublime, five-star hotel, situated on an islet in the middle of the Krika River. Stunningly peaceful and mesmerisingly beautiful. The service was incredible, whilst the culinary experience was outstanding, catering for even the most discerning tastes. As you stand in the history rich courtyard of the hotel you take a moment to enjoy the serenity of the surroundings; the gentle rushing of the river in the distance and melodic song of birds that inhabit the small island.
A special mention here of the many spa options open to you whilst staying in Slovenia, which is famous for its live-well establishments. Close to the hotel is the Terme Krka Spa, which you have the full use of. Here you will find world-class health treatments and fitness experts, which promise to have you feeling leaner, healthier and more youthful than you’ve felt in a long time with its extensive slimming and detox programmes. Again, you will revel in the sheer luxury of the culinary delights that await you, should you wish to take full advantage of the programmes.
Although small, Slovenia packs an interesting excursion, with something for everyone. Whether you love rock climbing (the Alps), caving (Postojna Caves), skiing, boating (Lake Bled, above) or just lazing in the Mediterranean sunshine it’s all here.
The climate is wonderful. During the summer months, the weather is sunny and warm. The average temperature being in the high 20s throughout the summery months. Winters can be harsh and freezing, but the locals inform me that December is known as ‘Happy Month’, with thousands of people taking to the city centre streets for all manner of fairs and celebrations.
If you manage to get to the coast (Slovenia has around 60kms of coastline) you should stay at the incredible Kempinski Palace in Portorož. While one-half the hotel retains its old fashioned, colonial feel, with wonderfully appointed rooms and public spaces, it also offers a newer, fresher building, which blends seamlessly, to create a world-class hotel, with, it has to be said a stunning breakfast – and stunning sea views.
Take a coastline stroll to the next town Piran (below), to experience a quaint and patchwork seaside town, with all the charm and rustic beauty that you’ll expect from any southern European country, perhaps picking up a little sea-salt souvenir, one of Slovenia’s many exports. It has to be said that dining so close to the sea, that food is best served straight from the ocean. You should visit the Fritolin fish restaurant, which is famously popular with the locals, after take in a chilled by-the-sea drink at Paprika.
As the week progresses, the gayness of Pinkweek starts and our first introduction was cocktails at the Park Hotel in Ljubljana, where we were treated to a special drag show with Mataina and Casper, whose dulcet tones managed to attract children playing in the local park who soon joined the drag act on stage, dancing along. I’ve never seen a sight like it as one excessively excited girl was thrown into the air by a drag queen, miming to Kylie. So laid back are the locals, that not one parent batted an eye, as the two queens cavorted and put on a mid-afternoon show in the afternoon Slovenian sun.
The next day we had the honour of visiting Lake Bled, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth. Located in a natural basin, surrounded by mountain reaches, Lake Bled’s azure waters lap gently onto the shore. We were greeted on one of the jetties with a glass of bubbles and canapés, whilst we looked out, our tired eyes were revitalised by the sun and glittering jewel-like ripples in the water. Later we took a boat trip across to the monastery on the small island in the middle of the lake. There is a bell tower and it is said that if you ring the bell three times, your wishes will come true.
In terms of a gay scene, Slovenia’s is intimate but incredibly friendly. The two main haunts are Tiffany, which is to be found in the middle of a teeming and crowded complex of bars and clubs, catering for every type of person. There is also the bigger more dance oriented Klub K4, which is popular with the LGBT community on a Saturday night.
The scene is laid back, with an ‘anything’ goes attitude.
Later that evening we were treated to Champagne and cocktail at the AS Apertivo Restaurant, whilst the Eurovision semi-finals played in the background.
Whilst in Ljubljana, we stayed at the boutique and centrally positioned Cubo Hotel, which as the name suggests provided compelling design concepts, with tight lines and cube features. It also had wifi included and interestingly complimentary mini-bar, yes you read that right.
Ljubljana is a beautiful bustling city, with a population of around 200,000 and with that you get a feel of small town living. Friendly faces, excellent café culture and if you get a moment, do go to a local karaoke bar to get the real feel of the Slovenes letting their hair down. We went with two drag queens and nobody blinked an eye – and that’s Slovenia all over. It seems everybody is happy to let everybody else just get on with it. If you are looking for more culture and history, you won’t be left bored. There is a world class Opera house, open air concert and theatre spaces and museums to while away the hours, filling your mind with Slovenia’s rich and varied history. It’s easy to forget that this country was once in the grip of a communist government and that Slovenia now, is still creating its own exciting identity. However step into any government building and the reminiscence of that bygone time can still be felt – and it’s fascinating.
If you’re feeling a little jaded after a night on the town, (take note that wine and beer is cheap), a cable car ride and brisk mountain walk (accompanied by the sexiest accordion player, you’re ever likely to find) up the Velika Planina will invigorate the senses and clear the head. Take a moment to enjoy the awe-inspiring vista and breath in the cooler, fresher air.
Learn about the incredible herdsmen and their historic significance and listen to the story of the Trnič cheese. Famous for its likeness to breasts, which were given by the herdsmen to the girl they wanted to marry. You’ll never look at cheese in the same way again.
The week’s trip climaxed with an extravagant event inLjubljana Castle (above), which was decorated and lit atmospherically for the evening’s festivities, which coincided with the Eurovision finals, which played on a giant screen. Three internationally renowned chefs provided mouth watering food for the assembled elite, whilst the Slovenia Army Big Band serenaded the crowd. Guests of honour included the Ljubljana mayor who during his speech, informed the crowd that he could not wait for the first same-sex couples to be legally wedded in the historic building.
For more information please visit pinkweek.eu. Find more LGBT-friendly places to visit here.