Never thought of visiting Slovenia? Well, you might be soon. In our Breakout Role series, we take a look at places that have seen huge increases in tourism in the last few years, and try to figure out what’s causing all the hype.
It’s easy to see how tourists—especially those outside of Europe—could totally overlook Slovenia. Smaller in total area than the state of New Jersey, the tiny country is also relatively new, as it has only been recognized as an independent nation for 25 years.
“Still globally we are unknown,” says Gregor Fodransperg, the founder and managing director of a tour company called Slovenia Explorer. “When you say Slovenia, most people don’t know where it is, or that it’s a country—or they mistake it for Slovakia or vice versa.”
But there are a lot of reasons to notice Slovenia, and in recent years many people have started to give the small Central European country the attention it deserves. After the nation’s number of yearly international visitors increased from around 1 million in 2000 to almost 2.5 million in 2014, Slovenia saw a huge bump in tourism in 2016, with the industry growing by nearly 10 percent in a single year.
Photo: Lorenzo Magnis, CC-BY
According to Fodransperg, a lot of this growth has to do with how long people are actually spending in Slovenia. In the past, the country would simply be a stop on the way to or from another, more common destination—such as Italy or Croatia—but now many visitors plan to stay for a week rather than a few days.
Some of this might be due to simple convenience, as Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, is located almost exactly in the middle of country, meaning tourists can use it as a base of operations as they book day trips to other locations nearby. Staying in Ljubljana, it’s actually nearly impossible (and somewhat of an entertaining Google Maps game) to find a destination more than a two-hour car ride away.
Jan Klavora, a founder and partner with Good Place, a sustainable tourism association, and Visit Good Place, an adventure tour company operating out in Slovenia, says word-of-mouth advertising has also really the country helped in garnering interest.
“It’s the best possible marketing tool,” he says. “Because as people are liking it they will want to come again and again, and bring family and friends.”
In the past year, there’s another force that has—perhaps somewhat surprisingly—been drawing international visitors to Slovenia: Melania Trump. The Slovenian-born first lady’s homeland has seen a spike in tourism since the start of her husband’s campaign. Many local businesses have been offering food, clothing and tours referencing Mrs. Trump, and her hometown has even named a new, rapidly-selling red wine after her.
“Whatever people think of her or her husband, still it helps promotion for the country,” Fodransperg says.
Photo: Bernd Thaller, CC-BY
With more and more people coming into the country each year, Slovenians in previously lesser-known areas are benefitting as well. From Melania Trump’s hometown of Sevnica to emerging adventure tourism hubs such as the Soca River Valley, local spots are becoming tourist hubs.
For Klavora, including smaller towns and offbeat regions in the nation’s tourism growth is a crucial aspect of sustainable tourism, and it’s a concept he believes is finally beginning to take hold on a larger scale.
“People are more and more sensible about it,” he says. “People are starting to care that the things are local.”
Essentially all of Klavora’s company’s cycling tours, many of which span the entire country, travel through areas that are not thought of as traditional vacation spots. The customers seem to be following suit too—Klavora even recalls a recent U.S. tour group that insisted on only staying in locally owned hotels during their trip.
Photo: Tom Mrazek, CC-BY
Among the greatest benefactors of tourism’s spread to new areas are Slovenia’s natural wonders. In addition to rafting and exploring some of the country’s easily accessible caves and waterfalls, the country’s Julian Alps also provide a number of elite skiing destinations.
The country also marks the northern starting point of the Via Dinarica trail, an absolutely epic 1,200 mile trail that spans eight countries across the western side of the Balkan Peninsula. For adventure seekers, this National Geographic award-winning path—and the soon-to-come bike trail that Klavora’s company plans to build to accompany it—is one of the most remarkable highlights in the entire region.
That being said, there is a reason Slovenia’s popular destinations were popular to begin with. The most iconic of these attractions is almost certainly Lake Bled, as its mountainous surroundings, unbelievably clear-blue waters and fantastically small mid-lake island brings in tourists from around the world.
The area is also home to Bled Castle, one of the nearly 500 palaces, manors and ruins found within Slovenia. Additionally, Ljubljana’s squares, alleyways and canals make the charmingly European capital a must-see and not just a home base for outward excursions.
Flight Rates: Current flights from New York to Ljubljana cost between $652 and $1,645, while flights from Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson airport are going for $1,747 – $1,804.
Travel Concerns: Although crime is generally low in Slovenia, the U.S. Department of State recommends travelers beware of pick-potting and purse snatching in major tourist areas.
Currency Exchange: 1 USD = 0.93 Euros
More Info: The official Slovenian tourism website features information about things to do, travel time between locations and a guide of the country’s sights.
Top photo: James Southorn, CC-BY
Dillon Thompson is University of Georgia student and freelance writer with a love for travel and an addiction to coffee and hip-hop music.