Slovenia takes most visitors by surprise in every sense – its sheer natural beauty, its elegance, its hospitality, friendliness and sense of security, its prosperity and assured cultural identity, and its love of the outdoors and camping. If you think that language barriers may be a problem, no worries; many Slovenians – indeed most within the towns – speak English as a second language. If you think the currency may be a barrier, far from it; the country uses the Euro. There really is nothing to stop you from visiting this magnificent country.
Predominantly rural, Slovenia is bordered by Austria in the north, Italy to the west and Croatia to the south and east, with a fraction of a border with Hungary in the north east. Slovenia's capital is Ljubljana, a cultural city that’s well placed geographically to use as a base for exploring all regions of the country. With just under 300,000 inhabitants, it's compact enough to explore on foot. Slovenia's second largest city, with a population of 116,000, is Maribor, in the north east of the country. The centre of a wine-growing region with, reputedly, the oldest vine in the world, Maribor is a delight to explore on foot or by bike – or indeed by boat along the River Drava.
But Slovenia's highlights are, arguably, within its rural environs. Whether that's the spellbinding Triglav National Park and the Julian Alps, the romantic charm of Lake Bled, with its tiny island and castle, the vine-clad slopes filled with Roman vineyards, the emerald colours of the Soča river valley or the richness of the Istrian coastline. And that's before adding in specific attractions like the network of karst caves or the world famous Lipizzaner horses, the numerous spa resorts or the hilltop castles.
If you're thinking of a tour of Slovenia, however many days you plan to stay there, double it. You'll find you'll want more!
Top five things to do in Slovenia
An absolute must when touring Slovenia is a visit to the Triglav National Park. Within the Julian Alps, in the north west corner of Slovenia, it is the country's only national park and provides superb hiking territory in summer, skiing in winter and many natural features to simply marvel at.
Take a tour through the three wine-growing regions of Slovenia. In particular the Vipava Valley, in the south west of the country, has a signposted touristic 'Wine Road' where you'll find small, family-run vineyards and plenty of opportunities to sample the local wines. The Slovenians have plenty of expertise when it comes to winemaking: the Romans introduced vines to the country 2000 years ago.
Don't miss out on Slovenia's short but beautiful coastline. Bordering the Adriatic Sea, and no more than 29 miles long, you'll come across pretty towns like Piran, Portorož and Izola. There's a distinct Italian influence in the architecture and in the cuisine, but this is still very much Slovenia and the towns are some of the prettiest you'll see.
Visit the historic old town area of Ljubljana, a hive of cultural activity. You'll find plenty to see and do with wonderful East European architecture and attractions including the Dragon Bridge, the Opera House, the Gruber Palace and the Tivoli Park. Don't forget, also, a visit to Ljubljana Castle and Castle Hill for amazing views over the town.
There are more than 8000 known karst caves and potholes in Slovenia, many of which can be visited. The most famous is the Postojna Cave, the most visited in Europe, but for something arguably more impressive, the Škocjan Caves are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while the karst Cerknica Lake disappears! Even so, when full of water, it is Slovenia's largest natural lake.
When to visit Slovenia
Slovenia is both a very cultural and a sporting country, and is extremely proud of its ethnography. Hence you’ll find festivals aplenty whether major musical celebrations or a local village celebrating life.
Tradition says that there’s always a New Year concert at Bled to start proceedings, but then Bled is also renowned for its rowing (it's the Slovenian Olympic training base) and each year you'll find numerous rowing regattas held here. One of the largest of these is the 'First-May Rowing Regatta', actually held in April and which has been running for over 55 years, and the Rowing World Cup, held in May. Lake Bled provides a spectacular setting for witnessing such sporting action.
One event that's unique to Slovenia is the International Wild Flower Festival. Held from May to June at Bohinj, this family festival makes the most of the beautiful surroundings, with botanical excursions into the mountains and the opportunity to really get to know this particular area of the Alps.
Another very traditional festival is Argonaut Days at Vrhnika in June. Ten days of celebration covers the arts, sports, food and cultural festivities, culminating in Vrhnika Night, a large musical concert.
Lastly, in Maribor, the Old Vine Festival, held every October, is the biggest event in the autumn calendar, celebrating food, culture and, naturally, wine, in this wine-growing region of the country.
Cheap overnight stops
Camping in Slovenia is generally cheaper than many other parts of Europe, even when you’re staying at a five-star campsite. And there really are some fabulous campsites across the country.
However there are 40 or so dedicated motorhome stopovers, rather like ‘aires’ or ‘stellplätz’, throughout Slovenia, many of which provide facilities to empty cassette toilets/grey waste and to fill up with fresh water. These can be on the outskirts of a town, within the grounds of a thermal spa or swimming pool complex, or as a part of a larger campsite. There’s a useful list (with maps) of all such stopovers on the official Slovenia Tourist Board website.
Tourist Farms are also a really popular type of accommodation within Slovenia – and some of these also provide overnight stopovers for motorhomes. In spectacular rural surroundings, tourist farms are a great way to really get to know the country. You can run a search for this kind of accommodation – including those that accept ‘vans – on the tourist board website.
Motorhome access and information
Slovenia's main roads are well maintained and you shouldn't encounter any major problems, though anticipate the odd slightly flaky road on minor country roads in the more remote outposts in the east of the country. There are tourist hotspots where you'll find a lot more traffic, particularly coaches, to contend with – such as the road to Lakes Bled and Bohinj, and Postojna, otherwise roads tend to be relatively traffic-free.
To avoid on-the-spot fines, make sure that you have all the necessary documents and equipment on board. Passports, driving licence (the minimum age for visitors to drive is 18 years), vehicle registration and insurance documents are all required. An International Driving Permit is required if your driving licence doesn't include a photograph. It is also compulsory to have a warning triangle (two if you're also towing a car/trailer) and a visibility-warning vest for the driver and all passengers, which must be kept in the cab and used as you exit the vehicle in the event of an accident or breakdown. Headlamp converters may also be necessary. Carrying snow chains is compulsory between 15 November and 15 March, unless your 'van is fitted with four winter tyres marked M&S. It's also recommended that you carry spare bulbs, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit, but these are not compulsory.
On-the-spot fines, which must be paid for in Euros, are also handed out for a variety of offences, including drink driving with the 'limit' virtually zero (indeed it is zero tolerance for drivers under 21 and those that have held a licence for less than two years). Dipped headlights during the day are compulsory and hazard-warning lights should be used while reversing. At roundabouts, indicators should only be used upon exiting, not approaching the roundabout.
Slovenia is a very rural country and, as such, you'll not find motorhome parking too difficult. Coachbuilts will find it difficult to park in the coastal towns of Piran, Izola and Portorož, particularly on warm summer days.
Your best option for visiting Ljubljana is to stay at the campsite on the edge of the city and use public transport to visit the centre. There are restrictions for traffic within the historic centre, including fines and rising bollards, and we wouldn't recommend negotiating these streets!
How to get to Slovenia
From Western Europe, there are three major access motorways crossing into Slovenia – the E70 from Italy and Trieste, the E55 from Austria and Salzburg, via the Karawanken Tunnel (toll), and the E57 via Graz in Austria to Maribor.
Beware of the three mountain passes between Austria and Slovenia – the Wurzen Pass, the Loibl Pass and the Seeberg Saddle. All three stipulate 'no caravans' but they are, largely, unsuitable for motorhomes also. They really are very, very steep, and you have to be very sure that your brakes are in absolute tip-top condition before your climb/descent – and check them afterwards! Personal experience found that the natural momentum from the weight of a coachbuilt is too much for the brakes to cope with.
A vignette is required to travel on Slovenia's motorways, available at border crossings, petrol stations within Slovenia and service stations within border countries. The vignette is available for one week, one month or one year. Motorhomes up to 3500kg are classified as '2A' for the purposes of Slovenian vignettes.