Slovenia: Why the Johnsons’ honeymoon spot should be next on your bucket list | Travel


DHave you seen the news footage of Boris Johnson at the end of his honeymoon on Sunday? Relaxed and old-fashioned, the Prime Minister stood outside his five-star eco-hotel, Vila Planinka, and enthused about all he and Carrie had done: cycling, climbing mountains, jumping into lakes and seeing “things incredible”.

No doubt a few eyebrows were raised. Johnson certainly never struck me as the climber type, although every new husband strives to be his best on his honeymoon. What might have stopped people, however, was what the prime minister said next. “So,” he continued, “huge thanks to Slovenia, the only country in the world with love in its name.”

“Wait,” you could imagine the nation saying on its collective couch. “Is he say Slovenia?

Logarska Dolina

VISIT SLOVENIA

I mean no disrespect by pointing out that this quiet, unassuming Central European nation is not the standard honeymoon destination for world leaders. It is regularly overlooked in favor of neighboring Italy, Austria and Croatia; despite more than 30 years of independence from the former yugoslavia, i expect most british people will still struggle to put slovenia on the map. It only received 160,000 visitors from the UK in 2019, compared to 6.4 million in Italy. Worse still, many still confuse it with Slovakia – most famously George W Bush when he was on the US presidential campaign trail.

It’s not entirely our fault. For most of its history, Slovenia was not Slovenia at all, but a state within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Italy and Yugoslavia. But if anything should have alerted us to this EU member by now, it’s the continent’s landscape value it crams into a country you can drive through in three hours.

Few places in Europe offer the pristine cinematic beauty of Slovenia. The Vila Planinka website speaks of “a natural energy associated with the power of age-old forests and clear streams”; that in nature, you will “slow down, harmonizing your rhythm with your inner balance”. You’ll read it, roll your eyes, and then arrive to find it’s all true.

The big thing is in the northwest. After two days of wandering around the charming and laid-back capital, Ljubljana, your first dazzling moment will be at Lake Bled. The first seaside resort in Slovenia remains Disneyesque: a peaceful lake criss-crossed by gondolas; a baroque church on an island; a horizon of summits. Yet Bled now has too many tourists for the balance, interior or otherwise. Instagrammers have also arrived – queues have grown longer for the classic snap on my last visit.

Skocjan Caves

Skocjan Caves

VISIT SLOVENIA

Lake Bohinj is Bled without the tourist buses; two and a half miles of sapphires and jewel box greens cut into the highest peaks in the land. You could waste happy days here, drifting in a canoe rented from Alpinsport (alpinsport.si), hiking through the Julian Alps in Triglav National Park. In the sunny surrounding dairy villages, farmers set you up in barns that smell of fresh hay to feed you their cheeses, and inns serve up slivovica (plum brandy) to the sound of accordion polkas – niche but pleasant.

For a week-long road trip, loop around the Julian Alps in the Soca Valley (pronounced “so-cha”). Beyond Kranjska Gora, Slovenia’s highest hairpin road winds its way through a valley of breathtaking beauty, even by Slovenian standards. Base yourself in Bovec for rafting or, for food, in Kobarid, where the landscape is more lush, the architecture shifts from alpine chalets to villas, and they chirp “Ciao, ciao!” in the shops. Piran, a pocket of former ruler Venice transported to the eastern Adriatic, ends a cracking week.

Cyclists can’t get enough of this mountain-to-sea transition (try Saddle trips with Skedaddle; skedaddle.com). A country that prides itself on its green ethos is stunned by cycle paths – it’s no coincidence Tadej Pogacar, a national hero, won the Tour de France twice and finished second this year. Still, with short driving times on the autobahns (things slow down considerably on A-roads), Slovenia rewards those who explore.

I guess the Johnsons chose Vila Planinka partly because it’s nestled in the Jezersko Valley. No crowds here near the Austrian border, just jagged Alps and, near Logarska Dolina, a valley of dreamlike perfection. Spend the night in an agritourism lodge. It’s so quiet you can almost hear the mountains sigh.

Whitewater rafting in the Soca Valley

Whitewater rafting in the Soca Valley

VISIT SLOVENIA

The couple also visited the UNESCO-listed Postojna Cave, an hour south of Ljubljana; awesome if touristy (you visit by land train). I would recommend the Skocjan Caves instead – more raw, almost Tolkein scale, more of a gateway to the wine villages of the Vipava Valley and Karst regions.

It’s only when you stop gawking at the scenery that you notice something else: Slovenians are adorable. In the puzzle of nations that made up Yugoslavia, it continues to define itself by the traditional virtues of hard work and honesty. People remain polite until the fault. The worst aboriginal slur is “May you be kicked by a hen”. “Three hundred furry bears!” counts as ripe blasphemy. And yes, everyone speaks English.

I haven’t mentioned the food yet, and not just because Vila Planinka lists bear cheeks on the menu. The folks at Michelin have finally figured out a country that takes purity seriously.

According to Kobarid, Ana Ros’ Hisa Franko is ranked by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, which also named her the World’s Best Female Chef in 2017 (hisafranko.com). She works in a pastoral backwater in sorely neglected country, but ask her why and she’ll tell you about the stellar ingredients from the surrounding farmers, fishermen, and gatherers. I won’t bore you with the details of my eight courses. Suffice to say that the sour milk ice cream with parsley gratin and porcini mushroom crumble sounds deranged but breathtaking.

By a happy coincidence, the Soca ends near Goriska Brda, the lost twin of Italy’s Collio wine region, only recently rediscovered after Yugoslav collectivization. In addition to elegant national flag carriers, such as Movia in Ceglo, and tiny organic estates like Klinec in Medana, the Brda cooperative winery is owned by 680 operators and produces around 24 million bottles a year.

When I visited, organic producers sat me down for home-cooked meals presut (cured ham) in the kitchens to wax for hours on natural wines. None of us were in a rush. The sun was shining. Another bottle opened. My schedule got out of hand. It never happens that way in Europe’s most famous wine destinations, but being overlooked has its advantages.

Cox & Kings is offering a new week-long tour from Ljubljana to Piran via Bled from £1,545 pp, plus bespoke seven-night food and wine trips from £4,845 pp (coxandkings.co .uk). Saddle Skedaddle offers seven-night self-guided hikes and hotel bike tours from £775 pp (skedaddle.com)

Tamara Hinson in Vila Planinka

Tamara Hinson in Vila Planinka

My stay at Vila Planinka, Boris’ Slovenian honeymoon hotel

Unlike Boris Johnson, I was not facing redundancy when, three years ago, I locked myself in Vila Planinka. But I needed time, and the 23-room boutique hotel — nestled in an alpine valley filled with natural springs, glassy lakes, and hissing marmots — offered precisely that.

Westminster workers who complained that Johnson was hard to track down would have been even less likely to do so here – customers are encouraged to turn off their phones and turn on their out-of-office notifications.

Rooms are alpine-chic and bring the outdoors in — faux fur throws, locally sourced larch, and low armchairs strategically perched next to telescopes for a glimpse of Slovenia’s starry skies. Huge windows mean that what lies beyond them is the star of the show – if Carrie Johnson was looking for wallpaper inspiration here, I suspect she may have left disappointed.

Natural energy points (much like ley lines) are said to surround the property, which is an hour’s drive north of Ljubljana. Whether they actually worked their magic while I was there is debatable, but I certainly felt relaxed lounging in the garden gazing up at the jagged peaks that separate Slovenia from Austria.

Vila Planinka

The property is seriously sustainable (the owners even claim that the cooling effects of the Skuta Glacier negate the need for air conditioning). The hotel’s water comes from a nearby spring – its high manganese content is believed to help anyone with circulatory problems, resulting in a near-constant queue of villagers at the nearby fountain fashioned from a hollow log.

Biodegradable materials are composted and food is sourced locally. This includes the hotel’s famous bear prosciutto, which tastes delicious like venison. My waiter assured me that Slovenia’s brown bear population was thriving, adding that as a child he moaned when he saw his mother running off into the woods with her shotgun – that meant this bear was definitely at new on the menu.

Further afield, my forays included breath-taking hikes through the mountains I could see from my window and a day trip to Predjama, an 800-year-old castle partly nestled in a cleft in a 123m high cliff. high, about an hour and a half. far by car. The castle is close to Postojna Cave, where I rumbled past stalagmites on the world’s first underground railway.

The news of the Johnsons’ honeymoon in Vila Planinka made me want to come back. And, who knows, maybe next time I’ll find myself exchanging pleasantries with Boris while we refill our bottles at the fountain.
Tamara Hinson

Tamara Hinson was a guest of Vila Planinka, which offers double guest rooms from £212 (vilaplaninka.com). Fly to Ljubljana

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