Slovenia is roughly the size of East Anglia – a lot less flat of course, and more like Switzerland in its contours. It has a share of the Alps (The Julian Alps in particular) and is the most forested country in mainland Europe. The curiously named Bloke Karst plateau was the setting for some of the first-documented downhill skiing in central Europe - as early as the 17th century, when they pioneered a primitive ability to steer their skis. “They have swerved like snakes at an incredible speed to avoid obstacles” wrote Janez Vajkard Valvasor in 1689. Slovenia has as many as 50 ski areas, but only one – Kranjska Gora – has an international reputation, all are small-to-medium resorts, and – given the size of the country - inevitably not far from one another.
Slovenia’s attractions as a ski destination were spotlighted when the celebrated Olympic champion Franz Klammer spearheaded a campaign to hold the 2006 Winter Olympics at Klagenfurt, in his native Austria. For the first time in the history of the Winter games, they would have been shared by three countries: Austria and neighbouring Italy and Slovenia. But it was not to be. Kranjska Gora (2660 ft), an attractive little town in the Zgornjesavska Valley, has a good variety of skiing, with slopes for all levels, including World Cup runs at Podkoren. With its highest slopes reaching more than 7,500 feet, and a vertical drop of 2132 feet, Kanin is the only Slovenian resort with skiing above 2000m (6560 ft). Although the resort has less than 10 miles of pistes and only a handful of lifts, it’s possible to ski in three countries (in keeping with Klammer’s Olympic mission): Italy’s Sella Nevea and Tarvisio resorts, and Arnoldstein in Austria. Slovenia’s cuisine tends to be quite a nice blend of Italian and Austrian: local specialities in mountain restaurants include wild boar goulash. Don’t miss the opportunity to spend some time in Ljubljana, the relatively tiny but beautiful capital often compared with a small but perfectly formed version of Prague. The city is dotted with Baroque and medieval buildings, ancient monuments (including the ruins of the old Roman city walls) and various historic buildings, old churches, bridges across the river Ljubljanica - all overlooked by the ramparts of a huge ancient castle on the hill-top above the city. The “Dragon Bridge” is guarded by four dragons – the symbol of the city. There are numerous good bars, pubs and very reasonably priced restaurants, and one of the most popular places to stay (usually for one night only!) is Celica (The Cell). Just a quarter of a mile from the railway station, cells at this old military prison at the former Yugoslav army base of Metelkova have been renovated by local artists. The Celica “hostel” was once rated the “hippiest” hostel in the world by Lonely Planet. Tours of the city are available throughout the year in 17 different languages. These include a cycling tour, a boat tour along the Ljubljanica river, a tourist train ride, a hot-air balloon flight over the city, and boat and walking tours by night.