Healing waters in Slovenia

Offering hiking in summer and skiing in winter and now establishing itself as a top choice for spa and wellness, Slovenia is a year-round destination, says Jo Gardner

With my arms resting on the edge, I find a comfortable, semi- buoyant position in the water and take in the spectacular mountainous view through huge panels of glass curving up to the ceiling.

“Is this what spas in England are like?” asks my friend, who is swimming lengths in the ultra-modern pool while I watch swathes of mist move across the mountains to reveal more of the Julian Alps.

Not really, I think to myself as I recall some of the inadvertent splashes that come from braving a swimming pool during the school holidays – a world away from the tranquillity of this private pool.

“I guess it would be hard to find a view like this from a pool in the UK,” she adds, almost reading my mind.

Private ‘spa-ing’, where guests have all the facilities to themselves for a pre-organised amount of time, seems to be common in Slovenia. At the Bohinj Eco Hotel we have three hours to swim, stare at the mountains, use the steam room, warm up in the sauna, help ourselves to tea and snacks, and sip glasses of Gin and Tonic on comfy loungers. We feel like royalty.

The next day, at the boutique Sunrose 7 Hotel opposite, the basement spa offers a different perspective with its moody, bronze-clad bubbly pool, statement experience shower, and day beds with curtains and beautiful coffee table books to flick through. A bottle of Champagne in a bucket with two glasses propels our experience to dizzying heights, while the décor (where can I get hold of those tiny mice lights, I wonder) is bold and beautiful.

Again, we have the space entirely to ourselves for three hours – and boy is it relaxing. If this is ‘spa-ing’ Slovenian-style, I think to myself as I sip a glass of fizz in the warm water, the UK needs to catch up!

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Mountain views at Bohinj Eco Hotel

Good all-rounder

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Hiking LovrenŠka Jezera Lakesat Bohinj Eco Hotel

When a destination has stunning mountains (snow-capped in the winter; lush green in the summer), clear blue lakes and rivers at its disposal, it makes sense to promote wellbeing; after all, who doesn’t benefit from a spot of hiking, biking, skiing or swimming?

“Slovenia’s mountains are the perfect playground for lovers of the outdoors,” agrees Deborah Welsh, Julian Alps Account Director and Tourism Lead at AM+A PR.

“The lofty peaks and fresh mountain air helps visitors to decompress, leading to a mindfulness experience rather than a holiday of box-ticking.”

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Hit the slopes at one of four resorts

Skiers will also love Slovenia in the winter: Crystal Ski Holidays has added resorts in Kranjska Gora, Bled and Bohinj to its winter 2023/2024 schedule, with five hotels to choose from.

Flights to Salzburg, with transfers to Slovenia, commenced on December 23 and run until March 2024 from eight regional airports, including Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Glasgow, Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle and Stansted.

“We are always looking for exciting new destinations to add to the wide range of holidays we offer,” says Crystal Ski Holidays Managing Director Chris Logan.

“The resorts in Slovenia are perfect for those looking for a different cultural experience; the budget-conscious will love the affordable prices.”

“Being more eco-friendly is high on the agenda for many holidaymakers these days, too,” adds Welsh.

“Slovenia is committed to sustainability and is making strides to be recognised as one of the greenest and most sustainable countries in Europe, if not the world.”

The Slovenian Tourist Board’s 104-page travel agent manual entitled ‘Slovenia My Way. New Way’ is a must-for agents selling the destination, with pages dedicated to sustainability, inclusivity, gastronomy, hiking, cycling, skiing, history and culture, as well as maps, inspiring images and contact information. Download a copy from slovenia.info.

What’s new

As a local: If you’re looking to join a tour, look no further than Slovenia Unique Experiences, a team of local hosts who have come together to create a range of new authentic and off-the-beaten-track tours for visitors wishing to see how the locals live. slovenia.info

Talking trees: If you believe that the trees can talk (or at least listen), then the new Forest Melody experience is for you. Join this guided tour and see how experts coax melodies out of trees. slovenia.info

Hair-raising: Experience the beauty of the Krn mountains as an alpine climber with Pangea Adventures before abseiling down a vertical wall onto a suspended platform. From here, you will be able to marvel at the magnificent view while enjoying gourmet food. Choose between a sunrise or sunset adventure. pangea-adventures.si

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Ljubljana Castle

Capital stays: Last summet saw the opening of the new Occidental Hotel in Ljubljana, a four-star property in the heart of the city with rooms designed to reflect the art and culture of Slovenia, as well as a light-filled, plant-heavy lobby; a spacious, social dining space; and meeting rooms. barcelo.com

Family time: Regent has launched a new family programme including Rafting and Zip-lining in Alpine Slovenia, an eight-day self-drive adventure that crosses Slovenia’s highest mountain pass to reach the Soča Valley for white water rafting and zip-lining. regent-holidays.co.uk

Foodie focus: Slovenian chef Ana Roš was declared the ‘world’s best female chef’ by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Her restaurant, Hiša Franko in Kobarid, received a third Michelin star, making Roš the first Slovenian female chef with three culinary stars. She has just opened a new bistro, JAZ, in Ljubljana. hisafranko.com

Top Experiences

Visit Radolca’s chocolate festival

Each April visitors and locals flock to the pretty town of Radolca to gorge on chocolate. Taking over Linhart Square, the annual Chocolate Festival – the biggest and best in Slovenia – invites some of country’s best chocolate experts and makers to the town to give talks, show off their wares (including a vast range of pralines and chocolate desserts) and run creative workshops. There’s live music, cookery shows, and – of course – tasting sessions. radolca.si

Hike the Juilana Trail

A must for keen hikers, The Juliana Trail leads walkers along the edge of the Julian Alps to Triglav National Park. The 270km, four-to-five-hour hike has 16 stages, with experienced hikers able to latch on a further four stages (two deemed ‘difficult’) to Brda. Commencing at a high altitude, the circular, relatively non-demanding trail traverses through dense forests to pass glistening lakes, green pastures, lofty peeks and gushing waterfalls. Cameras at the ready. julian-alps.com

Ski to your heart’s content

Slovenia’s slopes total 230kms in length and consist of four large resorts (with more than 10 lifts), several medium-sized resorts (with up to 10 lifts) and smaller resorts (with a maximum of two lifts), perfect for beginners, families, and advanced skiers and snowboarders alike. The largest ski centre is Mariborsko Pohorje Hills, with 14.5kms of track; the highest is Kanin Sellin Nevea, at 2.293 metres. Not a downhill skier? Try snow-showing, cross-country skiing or sledging. crystalski.co.uk

Get out on the water

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Waterside in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana

Whether you’re bathing in a deep blue lake, sailing along the coast, feeling the adrenaline of rafting, canoeing or kayaking, balancing on a Stand-Up Paddleboard, rafting down a river or trying to catch a fish, Slovenia excels when it comes to watersports. Don’t fancy getting wet? Join an organised boat cruise and see Ljubljana from the river or cross the Mura River on a traditional ferry. visitljubljana.com

Prioritise Bled Island

That famous image of an ornate church standing in the centre of a tiny island in the middle of an unbelievably blue lake is Bled Island on Lake Bled.

No first-time visit to Slovenia should be complete without an in-the-flesh sighting (and a snapshot). But don’t just stare at it… board a boat so that you can enter The Church of the Mother of God – count the stairs as you climb to the top and make a wish as you ring the bell.

Where to book it

Riviera offers a six-day Slovenia and Lake Bled escorted tour, priced from £1049pp based on a May 1, 2024 departure. The price includes four-star accommodation, return flights and transfers from London Gatwick and daily guided tours and visits.