Slovene cuisine blends Italian and Balkan influences – deliciously filled ravioli, schnitzels and goulash – with rustic produce like locally-cured ham (prsut). Snack on savoury pastries (burek) and kranjska klobasa (spicy sausages), or tuck into fresh fish (riba) and shellfish from the coast. For pud, try fruit dumplings or the local cheesecake prekmurska gibanica.
Wintry Slovenia is spectacular for photographers – frozen waterfalls, misty lakes with island churches, clifftop castles, snowy peaks changing colours in low sunlight. In the Julian Alps, snap gorges, rushing rivers and moody WWI remnants – or grab a shot of the elusive Alpine ibex. Autumn spreads technicolour from coast to mountains. And under dark rural skies, capture galaxies and star trails. Human life is a great subject too, in the picturesque villages.
Its castles are today atmospheric repositories of Slovenia's lively historical past. The 11th century Bled Castle is a cliffside setting for a fine history museum, while Predjama is linked to underground caverns – and tales of witchcraft. Witness medieval dancing at lovely Celje Castle, admire fine art at Kromberk near Nova Gorica. Žužemberk and Soteska are impressive fortresses too, while Ljubjana castle, with its dramatic hilltop setting, dominates the city skyline.
Limestone geology has given Slovenia some of the world's finest cave systems. Standouts include the UNESCO-listed caverns at Skocjan, home to the world's largest subterranean canyon, plus the 20km of passages, galleries and chambers at Postojna, Europe's most visited cave system. Archaeological treasures found beneath Slovenia include the world's oldest musical instrument, the 55,000-year-old Divja Babe flute.
Founded 2,000 years ago as the Roman town of Emona, Ljubljana is a leafy atmospheric beauty cradled in a bend of the Ljubljanica River. Take in grand views from Castle Hill, then hit an Old Town of 19th-century wooden shops and medieval marvels laced with atmospheric courtyards and cobbled lanes; it’s not hard to imagine why it was crowned the 2016 Green Capital of Europe. The prettiest area is around Stari trg and along the river.
2,864m Mt Triglav is Slovenia's highest peak, and a Slovene icon with its striking triplet of summits. There are over 20 ascent routes, but most folk take the trail from the Pokljuka Plateau near Bled. Experienced climbers can get up and down in 12 hours, but it’s wiser to spend a night in one of the huts close to the summit. The mountain is protected within Slovenia’s only national park – and one of Europe’s oldest.
Bled and Bohinj are a dynamic duo in the Euro lake stakes – and at just 25km apart it's easy to join the heated debate over which is best. Some give Bled the edge for jaw-dropping looks, others say Bohinj has more charming low-key beguilement. As well as swimming, there's kayaking, cycling, climbing and horseback riding, plus lovely lakeside settlements and a wildflower festival. Bled offers watersports and laid back rowing.
Slovenia's 300 vineyards make it an oenophile mecca, with the eastern Podravje region in particular being the most celebrated; wines has been known here since prehistoric times. The world’s oldest vine is found in Maribor – and still bears fruit after 400 years. Savour Merlot and Pinela from Vipava on a jaunt around its Wine Road. Look out for wines made from Malvazija and Refošk, plus whites from Brda – and good sparkling. The word for wine, by the way, is vino.
While the surrounding riverside architecture thrums with sophisticated capital life (bars, cafes and markets), some folk are underwhelmed by Ljubljana's famous Triple Bridge itself once they get past the fact that it has three walkways. “Fairly small and made of concrete” and “I expected something more grand” are among the online comments.
Like Red Army stuff in Berlin and Mao memorabilia in China, souvenirs of Slovenia's long-time communist ruler Marshall Tito are on sale. But rather than buying a 'quirky' T-shirt, take time to delve the complexities of a man who fought superbly against Nazism and campaigned for admirable global causes. He is credited with unified Yugoslavia – but arguably through his opposition of democracy – and was a staunch Marxist yet beloved by Hollywood celebrities of the day.