Slovenia has only enjoyed independence since 1991, but in the intervening years this small central European country has made great strides towards developing a strong economy and stable government. Located next to Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and the Adriatic Sea, a Slovenia cruise offers its visitors rugged mountains, rolling plains, far-reaching plateaus, vast forests, and intricate cave networks.
The climate near the Adriatic is typically Mediterranean, with warm, dry summers and cool, mild winters. The rest of the country varies between a continental and moderate continental climate, with cold winters and warm to hot summers. Fifty-three percent of the land area is covered by trees, making the country the third most forested in Europe. The forests are home to many species of wildlife, from the elusive ibex to the goat-like chamois, from the brown bear to the hedgehog. There are many birds to discover while on a cruise of Slovenia including owls and hawks and eagles, searching for their next meal. Dolphins leap in the waters of the Adriatic, and the pale-skinned ‘human fish’ lurks in the dark waters of the myriad cave systems. Visitors to Slovenia may also want to see the beloved Lipizzan horses, native to the country, which are known for their graceful performances of the classical High Dressage movements.
The 30-mile coast, while small, makes a lovely stop. While on a Slovenia cruise in the summer, visitors will have the chance to experience many cultural events, open-air dancing, delightful restaurants, and refreshing swims in the Adriatic. For those looking to avoid the crowds, early and late summer are preferable to the middle of the season. Autumn is grape-harvesting season, and visitors timing their travels right will have a chance to taste a variety of delectable wines. From its fine wines to sandy beaches to stunning scenery, Slovenia makes a delightful destination for any traveler.
Slovenes make up 83 percent of the population, with Serbs and Croats making up another two percent apiece, and Bosniaks making up about one percent of the population. The remaining 12 percent is unspecified. Over 90 percent of the population speaks Slovenian, with Serbo-Croatian spoken by another four percent. Despite decades of socialist rule, Catholicism still has a strong hold on the country, with nearly 60 percent of the people claiming membership in the Roman Catholic Church. Two percent are Orthodox, another two percent are Muslim, and one percent claims Protestantism. Ten percent do not ascribe to any religion.
A popular destination for a Slovenia cruise is the capital city of Ljubljana. This is the largest city of Slovenia and is located in the southern Alps of central Slovenia. It has a population of 266,000, with 495,000 in the larger urban area. The architecture of the city has a distinct Austrian/Alpine aura, with its Neo-Classicist and Baroque styles. Ljubljana is home to the National Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, which display the works of the greatest Slovenian artists. The counterculture center on Metelkova Street hosts lectures, films, and alternative music concerts. In the summers the streets are filled with sounds from the music festivals, featuring classical music, jazz, and world music.
Slovenia has one major port city, Koper, with a population of 25,000. During a tour of Slovenia spend time in Koper and enjoy the Venetian Gothic style of the 15th century Praetorian Palace, the 12th century Carmine Rotunda church, and the 14th century tower of the Cathedral of St. Nazarius. The city is officially bilingual, with residents speaking both Slovenian and Italian. It is also the location of the University of Primorska.
Slovenia’s varying landscape has a corresponding variety of plant and animal life. Below the tree line in the Alps, trees such as Alpine conifers and junipers are found, along with stretches of high meadowland. Farther down a belt of coniferous and deciduous trees such as spruce, fir, pine, birch, linden and beech combine with pasture- and farmland, and yet lower one can find heath and maquis, which are suitable for grazing animals. At lower elevations is a cover of brushwood, offering visitors on a tour of Slovenia a typically Mediterranean landscape.
Slovenia’s natural resources include lignite coal, lead, zinc, mercury, uranium, silver, vast forests, and hydropower. Agricultural products include potatoes, hops, wheat, sugar beets, corn, and grapes, while domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, and poultry are raised. Stemming from these resources are industries such as lead and zinc smelting, ferrous metallurgy and aluminum products, electronics, electric power equipment, wood products, textiles, chemicals, and machine tools.
Unfortunately, while good for the economy, all this industry has created environmental problems for the country. The Sava River is polluted with industrial waste; the coastal waters of the Adriatic are polluted with heavy metals and toxic chemicals; air pollution from metallurgical and chemical plants is damaging the forest near the port at Koper with the resultant acid rain.
Slovenia has one national park, Triglav National Park, which is located on 838 square km in the country’s Julian Alps. Slovenia also boasts two regional parks, Kozjansko and Škocjan Caves. There are several dozen smaller nature parks to explore on a Slovenia tour, which are scattered throughout the country, as well as several Natura 2000 areas.
The Postojna Caves, in the southwest part of the country, are famous for their beautiful, eerie stalagmites and stalactites. The cave system covers a total of 13 miles, with most of the dry sections open year-round to visitors. The caves are home to 84 species of specialized subterranean animals, the most striking of which may be the whitish-pink ‘human fish,’ an amphibian that has adapted uniquely to the caves’ environment.
Slovenian food varies greatly from region to region, making it hard to define a distinct native cuisine. The cooking shows Italian, Hungarian, Austrian, and Balkan influences, with Italian pasta and risottos very popular throughout the country. Austria lends many pork and other meat dishes, while Balkan flavors appear in grilled meats and phyllo pastries.
Some of the local dishes to sample while on a Slovenia cruise include black pudding, polenta, and air-dried ham. One distinctive soup is jota, which consists of sauerkraut, beans, potatoes and smoked pork. A delicious dish from the western province of Idrija is zlikrofi—tiny tortellini filled with minced potato, onion, and bacon. Along the coast, seafood is plentiful, from scampi to grilled fresh fish to trout with garlic and parsley.
Deserts are rich, from the delectable apple strudel to the decadent cottage cheese and raisin strudel, and from rolled cakes filled with chocolate to layer cakes with curd cheese, walnuts, and poppy seeds.
The Republic of Slovenia is one of the countries that formerly made up Yugoslavia. Independent since 1991, Slovenia is now characterized by a stable democracy, a strong economy, and its status as a modern state. It is located in central Europe. A Slovenia trip offers easy access to a variety of countries; it shares borders with Austria, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, and the Adriatic Sea. With an area of about 7,827 square miles, Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey.
Slovenia’s coast on the Adriatic is quite small, with only 29 miles of coastline. Near the northwest borders with Italy and Austria is an alpine mountain region, with mixed mountains and many-rivered valleys to the east. The landscape slopes from sea level along the Adriatic coast to the northern mountains and the top of Mt. Triglav, the highest Slovenian peak at 9,396 feet.
Slovenia is the meeting place for four major European geographic regions: the Alps, the Dinaric mountains, the Pannonian plain, and the Mediterranean hills and plateaus. The Alpine region covers the largest territory, making up much of northwest and north-central Slovenia. The Dinaric mountains range from the western border with Italy to the south-central border with Croatia. The Mediterranean region curves in a crescent along the Adriatic Sea on the west, while the Pannonian plain makes up the northeastern section of the country, along the borders of Austria, Hungary, and Croatia.
Slovenia is the third most forested country in Europe after Finland and Sweden, with about half of the land covered by trees. A Slovenia trip even offers a chance to explore the remains of some primeval forests, with the largest along the south-central border. Grassland covers another quarter of the landscape, while the rest is either mountainous or covered with by various forms of agriculture—fields, gardens, orchards, and vineyards.
The Slovenian region was first inhabited tens of thousands of years ago, but modern history begins with its settlement by the Romans in the first century B.C. They settled into villas along the coast and moved inland to build cities such as Ljubljana and Ptju. These cities still offer those on Slovenia travel a display of Roman architecture.
Alpine Slavs, who were ancestors of present-day Slovenes, moved up various river valleys into the eastern Alpine region in the 6th century AD. There they became a part of Romano-Celtic-Illyrian peoples that had already settled in the area. For the first several decades the Slavs were under the rule of Avar khans, but after the Byzantine emperor Heraclius defeated the Avars, the Slavic ruler Samo reigned over a kingdom that stretched north to Leipzig. By 748, however, the area had come under Frankish rule, and over the next two centuries Bavarian and Magyar invaders moved in, absorbing the Alpine Slavs into their culture and language. Despite the invaders, a small tribe of Slovenes were able to keep their unique culture and language alive during this time.
Over the following centuries the Slovenes struggled to maintain their identity, especially after they were assigned to the German part of the Frankish empire. The Germans enserfed the Slovenes, and pressured them to Germanize. It was during these years, however, that the Slovenes were drawn into the Roman Catholic Church and western European civilization. Some early confessions and sermons dating from 1000 AD were the first manuscripts to be written in the Slovene language. In the 1400s, present-day Slovenia came under the ownership of the Hapsburgs. One hundred years later, the Habsburg empire (and the Slovenes within it) experienced the Reformation and counter-Reformation, leaving the area firmly Roman Catholic.
In the early 1800s, Slovene lands became part of Napoleon I’s French empire, which had deep impacts on the culture and politics of the region. Slovene became the official language of the area, resulting in a growing national self-awareness. In 1808, the poet and philologist Jernej Kopitar created the first Slovenian grammar, and as a result of his initiative, the first Slovene-language newspaper was published in 1843.
Learn a little more about the country and its political system before you begin your Slovenia travel. Slovenia is a parliamentary democratic republic, with its constitution adopted on December 23, 1991, after it gained independence from Yugoslavia. The president, prime minister, and parliament share governmental power. Presidential elections are held every five years, with Janez Drnovsek voted into office in 2002. After the last National Assembly elections in 2004, Janez Jansa became prime minister. The prime minister is usually the leader of the majority party or majority coalition, and is nominated by the president and elected by the National Assembly. The prime minister then nominates the cabinet, which is also elected by the National Assembly. The National Assembly is made up of 90 seats, 40 of which are directly elected and 50 of which are selected on a proportional basis. However, this breakdown varies with each election. Slovenia also has a National Council, which consists of representatives of social, economic, professional and local interest groups.
Currently, the center-left Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) is in power, with 29 seats in the National Assembly, while the Liberal Democratic Party (LDS) is in close second with 23 seats, and the United List of Social Democrats and the New Slovenia parties holding 10 and 9 seats, respectively. Prime Minister Janez Jansa is the leader of the SDS, while President Janez Drnovsek is a member of the LDS party.
Slovenia has enjoyed healthy economic growth and a stable democratic government in the years since independence. This has resulted in Slovenians enjoying the highest per capita income of all the transition economies in Europe. Slowly but surely, Slovenia is restructuring its economy, and is moving toward increasing privatization. The country’s recent membership in NATO and the EU will continue to help Slovenia’s restructuring process.
Because of the vast diversity of landscapes in Slovenia, the country has a corresponding diversity of climates. While enjoying a Slovenia cruise along the Adriatic coast you’ll find a Mediterranean climate, with dry, warm summers and wet, mild winters. The high northern mountains experience an alpine climate, while the eastern plateaus and valleys are subject to a continental climate, with mild to hot summers, a long growing season, and cold winters.
The average temperatures are 28°F in the winter and 70°F in the summer, with the average precipitation varying from 40 inches a year along the coast, 138 inches in the Alps, 30 inches in the southeast, and 55 inches for the central region.
The wildlife discovery on a Slovenia trip is numerous, including such mammals as the ibex, the marmot, the European brown bear, the lynx, the goat-like chamois, the wild boar, several species of deer, and various small game such as hares and hedgehogs. Birds include several species of owl (tawny, long-eared, and eagle), hawks, and the short-toed eagle. The woodpecker, white stork, and varied migratory fowl also can be found in Slovenia. The Postojna Caves in southwest Slovenia are home to a unique species of amphibian, called the “human fish” because of its whitish-pink skin. The rivers run with trout and grayling, but few fish are found in the Adriatic Sea. One marine mammal that may be seen in the Adriatic is the friendly and playful bottlenose dolphin.
Several domestic animals have originated in Slovenia, including the Carniolan honeybee, the Karst Sheepdog, and the Lipizzan horse, a beloved national symbol. These horses are powerful and muscular, and are well known for the ease and grace with which they perform the High Dressage ‘airs above the ground’ movements.