Smartno, Slovenia

You’ve probably heard that Slovenia is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.

Or that the tourist crowds are yet to discover this little Central European gem.

And that’s absolutely true!

That is until you reach the incredibly charming Lake Bled – just 55 km from Ljubljana, the country’s capital – on a summer weekend and have to fight with the other thousands of tourists who have had the same brilliant idea as you!

But, generally, it is true that international tourism has not taken notice of the incomparable beauty of this country beyond its capital and Lake Bled.

And do you know the number of little towns in this gorgeous country that seem to have come out right out of a fairy tale ?

Yes, Ljubljana is magical!

And Lake Bled, totally dreamy if you can travel from October to May before tourists start arriving!

But, once you’ve gone through the mandatory stops, please do yourself a favour – visit the off-the-tourist-track destinations that I share below.

I’m sure that as a traveler over 50 you will know how to appreciate the history, culture and indescribable natural surroundings of these small Slovenian enclaves.

Here you have them:

 

Smartno

 

Smartno, Slovenia

 

Šmartno is objectively one of the most beautiful places in Slovenia.

I guarantee you’ll fall in love with this small fortified city located on top of a small hill overlooking the Italian border, in the wine region of Gorica.

The town was built around the baroque church of St. Martin where you can still enjoy the wonderful frescoes by Slovenian artist Tone Kralj.

Around the church and within the medieval fortification, you’ll find a fascinating world of cobblestoned alleys, houses dating back to the twelfth century, cafes, bars (where by the way, a glass of wine is going to cost you approximately €1!), art galleries, etc…

And, above all, a lot of tranquillity.

Also available to the visitor, a museum displaying a typical house of the “Brda”. Don’t miss the fascinating documentary that describes life in Brda during the communist era.

Another reason to travel to Šmartno?

Its wine culture.

Wine in this region is as good as Italian wine on the other side of the border, although much less expensive.

In addition, you can enjoy it in one of its many and very picturesque places.

A truly incredible experience.

What if you fall in love with this little gem and want to spend a little time here?

Chances are you will, so be prepared!

Šmartno is the perfect starting point to explore the Italian northeastern region and western Slovenia, the Zahodna Slovenija region and the wonderful landscapes provided by the Karst mountain range, its dense forests and the many gastronomic surprises in the area.

 

Dovje – Mojstrana

 

Dovje - Mojstrana, Eslovenia

 

The sister towns of Dovje and Mojstrana are located in one of Slovenia’s most impressive enclaves: at opposite banks of the Sava River, the perfect point of departure to explore the Julian Alps and the Karvanke Mountains.

Despite their closeness, Dovje-Mojstrana have a very different personality.

Mojstrana took shape in the fourteenth century with the development of mining and iron forging.

Now, it’s known as the exploration hub of the Julian Alps and the highest peak in Slovenia, Mount Triglav.

Dovje, on the other hand, is perched under the steep side of the Karavanke Mountains.

Its history and agricultural tradition in form of terraces on the valley, dates back to about 1,000 years ago.

But, the main beauty of this quiet town lies in the access it provides to the surrounding nature in the Triglav National Park: its dramatic peaks, waterfalls and the zigzag of the vibrant Soca River.

Dovje – Mojstrana are about an hour’s drive from other destinations such as Lake Bled and the Vintgar Gorge on the Radovna River.

Medana

 

Medana, Eslovenia

 

Medana is an authentic charming village in the hills of Gorizia (Goriška Brda), one of the most renowned wine regions in Slovenia.

Hidden from international mass tourism, but very popular among Slovenes as a weekend getaway or mandatory stopover on the road to Italy or Soča, Medana is known for its wonderful surroundings and stunning countryside views.

In fact, you’ll probably feel as though you find yourself in Italy’s Tuscany minus the tourists!

In recent decades, ecotourism has gained a lot of strength here.

In Medana you can buy delicious home-grown organic products and local specialties in most of the wineries and restaurants in the area.

But, another reasons to visit Medana, in addition to the long walks through the vineyards and cycling to other villages in the surrounding hills, is the possibility of enjoying a quality wine tasting experience.

A quiet, mindful wine tasting experience.

If you are not too concerned about crowds, the late summer festivals are highly recommended as a celebration of the key role played by wine in the culture and tradition of this area.

 

Koper – Piran

 

Koper - Piran, Eslovenia

 

True Adriatic beauties in southwestern Slovenia and preferred stopover for many of the cruises that travel through the waters of southern Europe, the villages of Koper – Piran are a must on your slow route through this country.

However, I let me warn you about something – you’ll first access Koper through the industrial areas in its periphery. That might leave you a little disappointed.

But, don’t worry because its actual medieval old town is wonderful!

The Main Square, Titov Trg. houses the Praetorian Palace, a stunning XV Century Venetian construction, and the cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary. You must climb the 204 steps of the tower and enjoy the incomparable views of the old town and the Adriatic Sea from this Romanesque XII Century construction.

In Koper you will feel the Slovenian, Italian and Croatian influences all at once, due to their proximity of these countries and their intertwined histories.

You’ll notice this fascinating mixture both in its narrow alleys, in its architecture, and even in its gastronomy!

If you travel by public transport, I recommend a thirty-minute bus ride to Piran, another lovely port in the Adriatic.

By car, it’s 25 minutes traveling along the coast and all its beautiful villages.

However, you will have to park outside the town in one of the public car parks and walk about 15 minutes to the town centre.

But when you get there, be prepared to surprise yourself!

This is one of the best hidden gems in Europe!

Tartini Square, Piran’s main square, hides some of the most vibrant and colourful buildings in pure Renaissance style, a consequence of the almost 500 years of Venetian rule.

Take your time, enjoy Piran’s picturesque alleyways, which seem to have stopped in time, and let them lead you to the port and the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic.

Visit Saint George’s Cathedral, located on a small hill, and enjoy the incomparable peace and extraordinary views of Piran and the Bay of Trieste.

Not satisfied enough with those views?

Time to climb the old bell tower!

Only 146 steps to the top and totally worth it! On a good day you will even be able to see Venice!

You can also walk along and over walls that surround Piran since the X Century to protect it against the many threats to which it has exposed throughout its history, particularly the feared Turkish empire.

Koper and Piran are about three hours from Ljubljana by public transport.

 

Radovljica

 

Radovljica, Eslovenia

 

Sweet Radovljica, as the locals call it – for its extraordinary beauty but also for being the capital of Slovenian chocolate and honey!

A lovely town which is usually overlooked by most tourist routes but a town that could easily be qualified as an open-air museum!

In addition to having the only medieval water moat in all of Estonia, Radovljica hides wonderful old alleys, buildings, palaces and museum, of all of them framed by the splendid views of the valley and the imposing Karawanks mountain range that surround it.

Radovljica old town is one of the best-preserved city structures in Slovenia, with buildings dating back to the XV and XVI centuries.

The Radovljica Mansion – a beautifully renovated manor with a baroque hall that used to hold concerts, receptions, weddings and other important events.

The Šivec House Art Galler – one of the best examples of late Gothic urban architecture in Slovenia, with an interesting art gallery.

The Beekeeping Museum – a representation of the rich history of the Slovenian beekeeping tradition (it’s located on the first floor of the Radovljica Mansion).

And the Gingerbread museum and workshop!

Radovljica is also the starting point of endless hiking or cycling routes around the region.

The perfect place to get yourself lost in the rustic landscapes of the Upper Carniola region!

 

Kanal

 

Kanal, Eslovenia

 

And speaking of rustic landscapes … Kanal.

Another unexpected wonder in western Slovenia, traversed by the emerald waters of the Soca River.

In fact, the Soča River Valley was the first Slovenian destination to be awarded the title of European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) thanks to its impressive work to promote and develop sustainable tourism in this area.

This beautiful valley witnessed the heinous events of the First World War, stories today reflected in the Peace Walk that has been built along the Soca River.

Kanal has three main bridges, one of them of Roman origin – but you’ve probably heard of its 17-metre tall bridge from where brave jumpers dive into the river every August attracting a mass of local and foreign tourists.

But, after that summer tradition Kanal regains its tranquillity and you can explore with absolute peace and quietness its rich cultural heritage, its colourful houses, its charming cafes, and the wonderful natural environment that surrounds it.

 

Jeruzalem

 

Jeruzalem, Eslovenia

 

Located northeast of Slovenia (near the border between Croatia and Austria), Jeruzalem is a truly enchanting population.

But I mean, truly hipnotising!

For centuries Jeruzalem has cast its spell on foreign and local visitors!

In fact, the legend tells the story of a group of crusaders travelling to the Holy Land who decided to have a rest in these lands, in one of the most beautiful hills they had never seen in their lives.

It only took a few hours for them to fall in love with the hospitality of the locals and the wine and gastronomic pleasures offered by them… and they completely forgot about their trip to the Holy Land and spend the rest of their days in this magic Slovenian region!

So watch out!

You’ve been warned!

Because the Jeruzalem of today remains as magical as it was back in the day – its friendly people, its history, the wonderful views of the vineyards, the lovely natural environment…

It’s just pure perfection!

There’s even a small wooden ferry which thee locals use to cross the Mura River!

Adorable!

Ptuj

 

Ptuj, Eslovenia

 

The population of Ptuj, a beautiful enclave in the north-eastern Slovenian region of Podravska, dates as far back as the Stone Age.

It seems that Ptuj achieved his greatest prosperity during the time of the Roman Empire.

But since 450, when Ptuj was sacked by the Huns, the population has gone from hand to hand! The Avars, Slavs, Franks, Austrians, all had a go at Ptuj and it was badly looted and burned during the Turkish Wars of the XVIII century.

Nazi Germany also left its mark on Ptuj and in 1941 deported its Slovenian population, repopulating it with Germans from Tyrol and Gottschee. At the end of the war, the German population was deported to Austria and the United States.

Today, the population of Ptuj is almost exclusively Slovenian.

As you can imagine, the old town reflects the turbulent history of the city: its architecture, its palaces, castles, churches, cobbled alleys, old squares, monuments, towers …

Also highly recommended within walking distance of Ptuj, the two amazing Mithras Shrines.

What is Mitra?

Mithras is a divinity most probably of Persian origin, centre of the cult of many soldiers during the Roman Empire, which made it illegal in the year 391.

Even so, Mithraism spread throughout Europe and Ptuj became one of its largest religious centres.

The two sanctuaries that still stand are in magnificent condition and offer a rare opportunity to learn more about this mysterious religion that was based on oral and ritual transmission from believer to believer instead of a body of sacred scriptures like in other religions.

The Mithra followers were expected to keep all rituals secret and that’s why today there’ hardly any documentation on Mithraism.

And that’s why these temples are so precious!

 

And there you have them!

Ten of the most enchanting little towns in Slovenia that I’m sure all travellers over50 will adore.

I only share the secret because I know they are in good hands and you’ll know how to appreciate them and take care of them as they deserve.