Eastern Slovenia, embracing three provinces, rises from flat agricultural lands to snow-capped peaks. Its mountains, rivers and thermal waters provide a natural playground, while many of its historic towns date back to Roman times. Sizable Štajerska (Styria) has swathes of farmland, much of it rich with vineyards, obligingly linked by cyclable wine routes.
Lake Bled & the Julian Alps
This is the Slovenia of the tourist posters: mountain peaks, Alpine meadows, postcard-perfect lakes. Prepare to be charmed by Lake Bled (an island and a castle!), and surprised by Lake Bohinj (how does Bled score all that attention when down the road is Bohinj?). Mt Triglav's lofty peak may dazzle you enough to prompt an ascent.
Štajerska has long been the crossroads of Slovenia and virtually everyone has ‘slept here’ – Celts, Romans, early Slavs, Habsburgs and Nazi occupiers. In the 14th century, the German-speaking Counts of Celje were among the richest and most powerful feudal dynasties in Central Europe, and they challenged the Austrian monarchy’s rule for a century.
The Karst & the Coast
Slovenia’s astonishing diversity comes to the fore in this region. Separated by short distances, you can traipse through remarkable Unesco-recognised caves that yawn open to reveal karstic treasures, go bear-watching in dense green forests, or admire the Venetian history and architectural legacy of photogenic seaside towns.
Western Slovenia & the Soča Valley
Rivers don't come much more scenic than the Soča (pronounced so-cha). This aquamarine-coloured watercourse threads through the Soča Valley (Dolina Soče) from its source in the Julian Alps and gives rise to a smorgasbord of sights like gorges and waterfalls.
Southeast Slovenia & the Krka Valley
Slovenia’s southeast doesn’t announce itself as loudly as other parts of the country, preferring subtle charms over big-ticket attractions. Dolenjska (in English, Lower Carniola) and Bela Krajina are regions where life slows down considerably – all the better to enjoy the meandering rivers and rolling hills covered with forest, orchards and grapevines.
Picturesque Piran (Pirano in Italian), sitting pretty at the tip of a narrow peninsula, is everyone’s favourite town on the Slovenian coast. Its Old Town – one of the best-preserved historical towns anywhere on the Adriatic – is a gem of Venetian Gothic architecture, but it can be a mob scene at the height of summer.
With its time-warp historical centre, fabulous architecture, excellent museums and enormous castle looming over the picturesque Savinja River, Celje might appear to have won the tourism sweepstakes. But as it often gets overlooked in favour of Maribor and Ptuj, making it here feels like something of a discovery.
Coastal Slovenia’s largest town, Koper (Capodistria in Italian) at first glance appears to be a workaday port city that scarcely gives tourism a second thought. Your first impression may be underwhelming as you see all the industry and shopping malls on the outskirts, but Koper's central core is delightfully medieval and far less overrun than its ritzy cousin Piran.
The Karst region (Kras in Slovenian; www.visitkras.info) is a limestone plateau stretching from the Gulf of Trieste to the Vipava Valley. Rivers, ponds and lakes can disappear and then resurface in the Karst’s porous limestone through sinkholes and funnels, often resulting in underground caverns like the caves at Škocjan and Postojna.