Travel

28 Mar 2019, 14:20 PM

The website Ex-Yu Aviation reports that the Slovenian government is planning to increase the number of international connections with the country by subsidizing flights on new routes to and from Ljubljana airport. The project, which is being led by the Slovenian Tourist Board, will give €150,000 a year to each new route for marketing and promotional activities, with €90,000 provided to airlines adding more flights to their existing schedules.

The countries seen as most important for Slovenia’s tourist industry in this regard are listed asGermany, Finland, the United Kingdom, Russia, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Israel, Ukraine, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Japan, and the United States, as well as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

More details can be found here, while all our stories on air travel and Slovenia, including new routes and changes, are here

27 Mar 2019, 14:10 PM

Most visitors only spend a day or two in the capital, so what follows is a few suggestions on how to enjoy from four to 48 hours in Ljubljana, starting with the essential then going on to the more optional, and often more enjoyable, items. It’s a personal list with an eye to pleasing a wide audience, so feel free to disagree and choose your own adventure - I've been living here five years, and am still not bored with the city.

Related: 25 things to know about Ljubljana

The locations named in the text – all except the Zoo are close to each other

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A view from the Castle: Photo JL Flanner

Essential Sightseeing in Ljubljana: The Castle and Old Town

If you only have a few hours in the city then there’s really only two things you have to do, see the Castle (and Old Town. If you’re able to walk then you can get to the Castle on foot in around 20 minutes and if not there’s a funicular (3) that’ll take you up and down a lot faster. But if you have the time and mobility then on foot is recommended, as you’ll save some money and get some exercise, along with an idea of how well defended the place was when attackers would need to trudge up while being fired down upon.

Much of the Castle can be enjoyed without a ticket, but if you do buy one you’ll get to go to the top of the tower for the best view in town, as well as entrance to various exhibitions. If you want to read up on the place beforehand, or while you’re there, then check out our 25 things to know or 10 ways to enjoy Ljubljana Castle.

The Old Town is basically a street that runs from the Central Market (4) to Gornji trg (5), with the whole thing lined with attractive buildings housing boutiques, restaurants and cafés. You can easily go from one end to the other, without stopping too much, in 30 minutes, but you probably want to pause and explore, especially some of the lanes. You should also make time to walk by the River Ljubljanica, ideally along both sides so you get to see the colourful and well-preserved  mansions that give this part of town a very picturesque chocolate box look.

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Everyone takes a picture at Dragon Bridge. Photo JL Flanner

Even if only in town for a half a day you’ll also want to see Dragon Bridge (6), although be prepared to be underwhelmed. Far prettier, in my opinion, are Triple Bridge (7) and Cobbler’s Bridge (8), and the best place to take pictures of both is from the easy to miss Fishmarket Footbridge, as outlined here.

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Taking a picture from Fishmarket Footbridge. Photo JL Flanner

Things to do with 24 to 48 hours in Ljubljana

If you have more time in town then you can take in some culture, nature and nightlife, with plenty of options for all tastes, and all packed into or nearby the pedestrianised area.

“The best” is obviously subjective, so here I’ll just focus on the museums and galleries with the broadest appeal and biggest collections. If you like art then you’ll want to check out the National Gallery (9) and the Modern Gallery’s main branch (10), both near Tivoli Park. The former has everything from the Middle Ages to mid-20th century, while the latter contains the nation’s collection of modern art, with contemporary art housed in another branch by Metelkova. With regard to museums, the big two are the National Museum of Slovenia (11) and the City Museum (12), focusing on Slovenia as a whole and Ljubljana in particular, respectively.

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Contemporary art at the Modern Gallery's Metelkova branch. Photo JL Flanner

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Street art: Photo: Alternative Ljubljana

Metelkova (13), the city’s graffiti-covered squat turned art space / autonomous area is worth visiting in the daytime to see the grittier side of the art scene, while at night it plays hosts to various music and performance venues. Note that unlike some similar looking places in Europe it’s not an open (or legal) drug market, so don’t go looking for trouble (or expecting it).

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The Opera House is one of Ljubljana's many beautiful buildings. Photo: Wikimedia - Grega Pirc CC-by-4.0

For nightlife beyond cafés and bars there are plenty of clubs and live music venues, and a usual week will see these offering a broad range of music, from classical to techno, death metal to jazz, flamenco to dub, house music to experimental noise, with many all-night events, while there’s also a ballet and opera house, along with a number of cinemas. For all of these the best place to find out what’s on is TSN’s very own What’s on in Ljubljana this Week.

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Tivoli Park. Photo: D Wedam for Visit Ljubljana

If you’re the kind of traveller who likes to walk or run then you have several options. Going up and down Castle Hill will certainly get the blood pumping and air in your lungs, without taking you off schedule, while if you want something longer then head to Rožnik Hill in Tivoli Park, with both areas having plenty of paths and trails to explore if you want to go jogging. The river can also be walked along in both directions, although going upstream is the more scenic route.

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Further upriver. Photo: bananaway.eu

For children, in addition to the Castle, consider trips to the Puppet Theatre (near 3), the very popular Museum of Illusions or Ljubljana Zoo (13) (I haven’t been, but also haven’t heard bad things). Check out our obligatory Top 10 things for kids in Ljubljana story here.

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Photo: Open Kitchen

Fine dining, street food and cafés in Ljubljana

If you want to eat “the best” then you can head to a review website and find something to your taste. The names that come up most with regard to fine dining are Strelec (in the Castle) and JB (14) on the architecturally interesting Miklošičeva Street , although check the prices before sitting down. Cheaper options are easy to find, and while Slovenian food is good there’s no real “must-eat” dish to put on your schedule, so relax and eat what you want. If that’s “ethnic food”, then head to Trubarjeva cesta (15) . If hungry after midnight then your options are very limited, but a few places can be found here. If visiting in the warmer months, and on a Friday, then don't miss Open Kitchen in the marketplace next to the Cathedral.

With regard to cafés and bars, the best thing is just to find somewhere with a free table that looks like your kind of thing, order a drink and settle down, as with most of the places you get what you see or hear from the outside.

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Photo: JL Flanner

Tourist shopping in Ljubljana

Ljubljana isn’t known for its shopping, with most of the more functional stores out of town at the massive BTC shopping complex, which isn’t really worth visiting if you’re a tourist. No, if you’re just looking cute boutiques and places to pick up a souvenir then the Old Town will have you covered, while if you need any toiletries or stationary then head to Müller (16), on Čopova (near the McDonald’s).

If you need prescription drugs, or even just aspirin, head to the Lekarna (17) in Prešeren Square (the one with the big pink church by Triple Bridge). When I travel I like to visit supermarkets, both to pick up some snacks and drinks for my hotel room, and to get some idea of the local products on offer. The two main chains in town are Spar and Mercator, which you’ll come across just walking around. However, note that while this is a capital city there are no 24-hour, or even very late night, convenience stores, so do your shopping before 20:00 or risk disappointment.

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Photo: Wikimedia - Thomas Geiregger CC by 2.0

Getting around Ljubljana

Everything is within easy walking range, if you find walking easy, although if you want to experience the city “like a local”, and see more, faster, then rent a bike. These can be borrowed from the city’s Bicikelj system, but can also be rented from various hotels and hostels, so if you’re spending the night somewhere ask there. There are city buses, but if you’re only in town for a day or two then you’re unlikely to need one.

If you’re in a wheelchair or less mobile than you’d like then don’t worry. Ljubljana is an old city, and there are still steps in many places, but the municipality is also working hard to improve accessibility. The best way to learn about this, and to find out which places have ramps, where the Eurokey bathrooms are, and so on, is with the Ljubljana by Wheelchair app.

In short, whether spending four or 48 hours in Ljubljana there's plenty to enjoy without feeling too rushed, and if you’re a first-time visitor then I envy the pleasures of discovery that await you.

Related: How to spend from four to 48 hours in…

26 Mar 2019, 18:00 PM

If you’ve ever wondered roughly how many festivals there are in Slovenia, how they’re distributed through the year, and where the main focuses are, then you’re in luck. The good folks at Culture.si have been producing interactive infographics with just this information since 2012. The one for this year, 2019, can be seen at the top of this story, while an interactive version with details in each square, can be found on the main website.

A few things to note from this year and others. One is the dominance of musical events, accounting for 48 out of the total of 146 festivals currently on the site for 2019, followed by dance & theatre (24) and film (22) – with food and drink festivals not included in these calendars. Another is summer being the clear peak season for festivals in Slovenia, with the top month being August.

A third observation, and a surprising one, given the seemingly relentless increase in tourist numbers, and thus tourist offers, over the last decade or so, is that the number of festivals isn’t increasing. While this could be due to data collection issues, since it’s already late March, and these events will have been planned for months, it seems likely some events have been consolidated or simply disappeared over time.

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data from culture.su

You can play around with the infographic here, while you can see a list of all 215 festivals on Culture.si here. finally, readers interested in the history of festivals in Slovenia can explore this timeline, which gives the first appearance of each of the events.

Related: What's on in Ljubljana

21 Mar 2019, 06:43 AM

STA, 19 March 2019 - Air carrier Adria Airways is cutting a number of regular routes this summer, Ex-Yu Aviation portal has reported. The company said on Tuesday that it would fly to 16 destinations and increase the frequency of flights to some of them. Meanwhile, passengers will still be able to reach the abolished destinations via other Star Alliance carriers.

It will bump up the number of weekly flights from Ljubljana to Munich, Prishtina, Skopje and Tirana, as well as flights from Prishtina to Frankfurt and Munich, the Slovenian-based air carrier said in a press release.

During the summer season, between 31 March and 26 October, Adria will fly to 16 destinations from Ljubljana: Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Manchester, Munich, Paris, Podgorica, Prague, Prishtina, Sarajevo, Skopje, Sofia, Tirana, Vienna and Zürich.

In total, the carrier will be flying 194 times a week on 20 different routes, the company said.

On the other hand, Adria is abolishing flights to Belgrade, Berlin, Delhi, Düsseldorf, Göteborg, Hamburg, Helsinki, Istanbul, Kyiv, Moscow, Oslo, Singapore, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Warsaw, and Geneva, Ex Yu Aviation says.

According to Adria Airways, all of the abolished destinations, except Kyiv, can be reached by direct or indirect flights operated by other Star Alliance carriers.

CEO Holger Korwatsch was quoted as saying in the press release that the situation in the industry was demanding and that the company could not allow a repeat of last summer. In December 2018, Adria had to be recapitalised or else face losing its flight licence.

18 Mar 2019, 14:08 PM

Open Kitchen is a focus and highlight of the week for many in downtown Ljubljana, bringing stalls selling hot food and cool drinks to the marketplace between the river and Cathedral each Friday, running from an early lunch to dinner. With the culinary event returning for another season at the end of this week, and set to appear at five other towns in Slovenia, we sent some questions to Lior Kochavy, the busy co-founder of the project, and he was kind enough to reply.

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How long has Open Kitchen been running?

The first Odprta kuhna (or Open Kitchen) happened on Pogačarjev trg in Ljubljana in 2013, so we are just about to start our 7th season on Friday, March 22. It is going to be pretty special as it turns out, because the opening will be the 150th Odprta kuhna event in Ljubljana and our 200th Odprta Kuhna event ever. You see, we also take Odprta kuhna on tour around Slovenia to Celje, Koper, Nova Gorica, Ptuj and Novo mesto, the latter being a new location this year. Our first event in Celje is scheduled for March 30, we go to Novo mesto on April 13, to Ptuj on April 20, to Nova Gorica on April 24 and to Koper on June 15.

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How has it changed over the years?

In some ways a lot and in other way not at all. The concept and the standards – in terms of quality, creativity and innovation – have remained the same, but of course the event grew and continues to grow in all aspects.

When we first started there were not a lot of people who understood what we wanted to do. But luckily one those people who understood was the Mayor of Ljubljana. On the very first event we had around 20 stands and it was a disaster, as it started to rain three hours after we opened. But we carried on and today we co-operate with around 80 different restaurants. In Ljubljana around 50 stands are full every Friday (this is how many fit to Pogačarjev trg) and the variety of food and drinks on offer is fantastic.

Odprta kuhna became a fixture in Ljubljana's social life, this is where the weekend begins, but we also became an important tourist attraction. Readers of The Guardian chose Odprta kuhna as one of the best street-food markets in the world, and the BBC placed Ljubljana as the third on this year's Top 10 Destinations for foodies list. We also expanded beyond Ljubljana and added new locations – this year Novo Mesto, in 2017 Ptuj, a year before that Nova Gorica...

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You also run Pivo & Burger fests – do you have any other special events?

Yes, besides Odprta kuhna and Pivo & Burger Fest, which will take place on Pogačarjev trg on April 6 and 7, we are launching a new event this year called Brina, Ljubljana gin festival. It will take place in beautiful Tivoli Park in and around Švicarija House, and it’ll be delicious! There is a number of excellent Slovenian gin distillers who will participate, and we’re talking top quality gin here. There will be speciality cocktail, tastings, food pairings, mixologists and gin connoisseurs from abroad, top chefs preparing amazing food, there will be music, art and good times, so Brina will definitely be one of the highlights of the season.

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Is there anything new for this year?

Yes, at Odprta kuhna a number of new restaurants will participate – such as Gostilna Grabar, Hotel in restavracija Planinka, Gostišče Barbara, Pivnica Lajbah, Restavracija Evergreen, EK Bistro, El Patrón Tacos & Store, Fermen(s)tation, Pop's Place, Fejst™, TINK superfood café and La Ganache – and in April we will add a new stand, dedicated to natural, living wines.

In summer there will also be a special section of Odprta kuhna called Taste Slovenia where producers of Slovenian delicacies, tourist organisations from all over the country and producers of handmade kitchen and food related products such as wooden boards, ceramics and knives will present themselves as they did last year very successfully.

And of course we are very proud that some of the country's best chefs trust us and participate with us, such as legendary Janez Bratovž (JB Restavracija) and fantastic young chefs like Jorg Zupan (Atelje), Luka Košir (Gostišče Grič) and Mojmir Šiftar (Evergreen, named Young Talent of 2019 by Gault&Millau Slovenija).

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Where can people learn about the dates?

We have a lovely website  where you can find out all about the dates  (and, fortunately, very few cancellations due to bad weather) and much more. Of course we are also very active on social media. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram.

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Personally, what do you enjoy most about the Open Kitchen events?

The food, the people, the atmosphere, the socializing, the buzz... I could go on. Odprta kuhna brings joy to people, it is open to everyone and everyone can try something new, meet old and new friends, explore and simply have fun.

I am there every single event from early morning to late evening and I never get tired of it. All of the people who work there are like family to me, I stop by every single stand at every single event to chat, make sure everybody is happy and doing well. In Ljubljana, where we have events on Fridays, there is also this collective sigh of relief that the weekend is about to start and it is a vibe you can feel very distinctly, you can almost touch it.

Related: What's on in Ljubljana this Week

14 Mar 2019, 14:20 PM

Ex-Yu Aviation, the best site we know for flight information in the area, reports that British Airways is set to increase its capacity this summer on flights between London and Ljubljana. By switching from an Airbus A319 to A321, the carrier will be able to carry 76 more passengers, up to 220, on a service that’s scheduled to run from 15 July to 2 September (2019).

There are two services a week on the timetable, operating on Monday and Friday. The flights leave London Heathrow at 17:20 and arrive at Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport at 20:35. In the other direction, passengers can expect to take off from Slovenia at 21:20, and touchdown in the UK at 22:35.

All our stories on air travel and Slovenia can be found here

12 Mar 2019, 17:50 PM

FishingBooker, “an online community that enables you to list, find and book the best fishing trips worldwide” has released a list of the “10 best fishing holidays in Europe”, with Slovenia’s Lake Bled among the featured destinations.

As the site says in write-up of an area perhaps less known for its angling potential than its castle, church on an island, kremšnita and seasonal crowds:

Bled feels like a different world or maybe even a different century to most European holiday spots. Between Lake Bled’s island fortress, and the green slopes of the Julian Alps, the area seems almost too good to be true. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Bled every year to admire the serene beauty of this town. For anglers, Bled offers alpine, chalk stream, and freestone rivers full of four different trouts, all within half an hour of each other. And it’s not just about the rivers. Lake Bled is home to pike, carp, and even zander. All this, in one of the prettiest places in Europe.

The full list, in alphabetical order, is:

Bled, Slovenia

Costa Adeje, Tenerife, Spain

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Herceg Novi, Montenegro

Inverness, Scotland

Lisbon, Portugal

Marbella, Spain

Santorini, Greece

Stockholm, Sweden

You can read FishingBooker’s full story here, while you can see all our posts on Lake Bled here, our posts on fishing here, and our slightly flawed but still delicious recipe for kremšnita here.

12 Mar 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 7 March 2019 - Ljubljana, the lakeside resort Bled and several other Slovenian towns included in the Slovenia Green scheme have been awarded at ITB Berlin, one of the world's largest and most prominent tourism trade fairs.

Ljubljana won in the category Best in Cities with its campaign promoting local food production entitled the Exchange of Local Foods.

The first meeting of producers and potential buyers of food from Ljubljana and central Slovenia was held in February and attracted more than 80 food producers, representatives of schools and kindergartens, hotels and restaurants.

"Locally produced ingredients are a trend in modern cuisine that is becoming an increasingly important element of Ljubljana's tourism, so we plan to continue with the Exchange of Local Foods ..." said Petra Stušek, the head of Turizem Ljubljana.

Bled received the second prize in the category Best in Europe, which Tomaž Rogelj of Turizem Bled sees as a reward for the town's efforts in environment protection. It is also an encouragement for new measures promoting sustainable tourism, he said.

Meanwhile, Komen, Rogaška Slatina, Idrija, Koper and Podčetrtek were among the 25 finalists in the category for their efforts for responsible tourism, the Slovenian Tourism Board (STO) said after the accolades were handed out on Wednesday.

The Sustainable Top 100 Destinations awards are conferred by an NGO promoting sustainable tourism, Green Destinations, which declared Slovenia the first green country in the world in 2016.

Last year, Slovenia was among the top six most sustainable destinations in the world and the top in Europe.

A total of 64 destinations, service providers, parks and travel agencies in Slovenia are currently included in the Slovenia Green scheme and another 11 are to be included shortly, the STO said.

06 Mar 2019, 17:36 PM

A leisurely walk in the woods in many countries, especially in my home country of England, invokes an image not only of peace and tranquillity, but also one of relative ease and safety. One of the advantages of the UK is that nothing really dangerous lurks in our woods; other than the odd crazy person with an axe or a gun. In Slovenia however, while you are less likely to encounter an axe-wielding homicidal maniac, there are other more natural dangers to be aware of: bears!

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Brown Bear in the forest in Notranjska, Slovenia.

If you go down to the woods today, the likelihood that you’ll encounter a bear is extremely low. Over the years I have frequently gone driving and walking in areas where I had hoped to see or photograph them. Not a single sighting. Yet there is an estimated 800-900 European Brown Bears in Slovenia, bearing in mind (pun intended) that many of these bears and other wildlife routinely wander between Slovenia and Croatia. The brown bear is an elusive creature and at best it’s safer to go with a hunter, or an organised tour.

A few years back I did manage to find someone who had setup a series of hides specifically designed for photographers, so I was able to finally go on a bear watch and capture some great photos. However, while these are ideal for serious amateur or professional photographers, they are not so good for tourists who simply want to see the bears but don’t have the expensive camera equipment required to photograph them.

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A one year old Brown Bear Cub in the forest in Notranjska, Slovenia.

So imagine my delight when I found Bears and Wildlife Tours. Based at the tourist office in the little village of Hrib, in the municipality of Loški Potok, they offer an array of wildlife watching tours as well as bear viewing huts. But the most intriguing of all, was the offer of staying the night in a simulated bear cave. I had to go and see.

The journey took me south from the capital Ljubljana to the border with Croatia, where I met with Tjaša, who organises and coordinates the tours, and Stanko, a local hunter and guide. We were already late into September so they told me that the chances of a sighting were low because the bears usually come out late in the evening, and as the sun is now setting earlier it would more than likely be dark by this time. But they would take me to see what they had to offer anyway.

Over a strong cappuccino, they told me a little about the bears and what they offer. They currently have about 7 hides in total, 3 in the Loški Potok region. This gives them much more scope to ensure a sighting for their guests. “We have never seen the same bear at each of our hides. The bears travel around 60kms per night or day. Many go from Loški Potok to Cerknica, and of course across the border,” said Tjaša.

The bears tend to travel over a specific area. A mother bear can remember from 5 years before where she got a good meal. Amazing, I struggle to remember where I ate yesterday!

Their numbers are increasing. In 1960 there was an estimated 150 bears in Slovenia. In 2018 that number was around 900. These numbers apparently swelled during the Balkan conflict; where many bears I guess fled here for asylum! I asked how it’s possible to know the numbers. “Hunters collect bear poo and send it to Ljubljana to the institute and from the DNA they can estimate their numbers. Every year the number is increasing,” replied Tjaša.

Mother bears in Slovenia are now giving birth to 3 cubs instead of 2. Rarely before have bears had more than 2. This is also an indicator that the quality of their habitat and food source is improving. 2018 was a particularly good year for food, as conditions that year made not only the forest rich with food, but the village orchards were overgrown with fruit. Stanko explained to me how September 2018 has seen an unusual rise in bears coming into the villages, much more than previous years. In autumn the bears are fattening up for the winter hibernation.

The improved quality of the habitat is partly down to conservation work, and rules being enforced that prevent hunters or bear tour organisations from feeding the bears within 2kms of a village. This helps stop them from wandering into villages in search of food and prevents any incidents with locals, and also accidents with cars. One of the biggest threats to bears is being hit by cars.

Every year the government sets an annual cull to try to control the population. For 2019 it was 200, increased from previous years because of the reasons above. However, this decision was suspended by the administrative court after a case was brought by the environmental protection organisation Alpe Adria Green (AAG).

A Winter Den and Bear Jacuzzi

After coffee we headed out for the first part of the tour. Stanko drove us to a location a few kilometres outside of town, where we stopped beside a forest road. He pointed to the forest and said that just up the hill is a winter den for a mother bear.

Bear dens are always close to water, so they can often be close to the road and village. Stanko and Tjaša then pointed to a stream running out of the forest to the roadside and told me how the bears will seek out sources of water, especially when it’s very hot.

These pools of water or streams are mostly deep in the forest well away from people and villages. However, they are also found on roadsides like this close to villages, because the water that runs off the forested hillsides collects in pools by the road. Stanko regularly comes here deer hunting and told me how, early one morning around 5am, he spotted a bear immersed in a pool of water up to its neck, with just its head poking out the surface.

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“I call it the Bear Jacuzzi”, he laughed.

The bears often come to these roadside pools to cool off in the heat of the summer days, and Stanko, and likely many locals, see them as they drive these forest roads.

Mushrooms – A national sport

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Wild Parasol mushrooms, known as Marela in Slovenia.. Macrolepiota procera or Lepiota procera

I then followed them up the hill to the winter den. On the way Tjaša picked some mushrooms and described how to prepare them. Mushroom picking, along with other forest fruits, is a national sport here in Slovenia. Every season the forests are packed with locals out mushroom picking, and they are usually racing each other to get the best and most. She also explained how to tell the difference between a poisonous and non-poisonous one.

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Wild Parasol mushrooms, known as Marela in Slovenia. As you can see, on the stem this circular piece is an indication that the mushroom is non-poisonous.

“I’ll take these to my mother in law’s tomorrow for cooking,” I said.

I feel I should add here that I fully intended to give my mother in law the non-poisonous mushrooms.

Slovenian folklore says that if you see a mushroom in the forest you must pick it immediately, no matter how big or small it is. Once someone has seen it, the mushroom will stop growing. Tjaša also explained that when you pick a mushroom you must clean it there and then in the forest before you take it away.

The bear cave

Bears hibernate during the winter in a den, essentially a small cave deep in a hillside. The entrance is narrow, but inside it is very wide and deep. The bear can get inside because its head and neck are very small and it doesn’t have a collar bone, so can squeeze its body through.

The bears enter the den when the first snow comes, or before if it’s a pregnant female. She will give birth in January and emerge from the den in April with her cubs. The cubs remain with the mother for two years. Therefore the bear has cubs every three years.

The male bear typically weighs 300kgs, while the female weighs 150kgs, so they can tell by the small size of the den that this is for a female only.

Responsible tourism

Bears and Wildlife Tours believe in keeping tourism to a minimum. Therefore they don’t have tours every day in the same location, so the wildlife isn’t disturbed too much. Bears can smell fresh blood from up to 4 kilometres away, and have excellent hearing too. If too many people are around the bears will hear and keep well away. Unless you are hunting!

On the way to our next destination, the viewing cave, Stanko told me a story about a time he shot a roe deer. Afterwards he placed his rifle against a tree and proceeded to cut open the deer and gut it. When he had finished pulling everything out, he took the gutted deer to his vehicle about 400 metres away.

Upon his return, Stanko got to within 100 metres to discover that between him and his rifle was a big male bear feasting on the leftover deer. It was not the most ideal of circumstances, so Stanko had no choice but to patiently wait before he could retrieve his firearm.

So to not only ensure the safety of visitors, but also ensure they don’t scare away the bears and other wildlife, they practice responsible tourism and ensure the numbers are kept low, and wildlife tours are conducted in different places each time.

There are very strict rules governing hunters and tourist organisations offering wildlife tours or trips to see bears in Slovenia. Along with the 2km rule, it is forbidden to feed the bears with farmed meat. But when gutting a deer it’s permitted to leave the leftovers in the forest for the bears to find, as long as they don’t find you first! But while an attack is undoubtedly terrible for the victim, it also means a death sentence for the bear. Once a bear has attacked a human being, it will be hunted down and killed. So these rules are not only there to protect people, but to protect the bears too.

Despite its love for meat, bears are actually 90% vegetarian. A sobering thought when you are just about to trudge through bear country.

Off to the bear viewing cave

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Wolf footprints in a forest in Loski Potok, Slovenia

We then headed off to the starting point of our walk deep into the forest to one of their viewing huts and, in this case, the bear viewing cave which you can sleep in. Along the way we spotted some wolf tracks, apparently attracted here because it’s deer mating season. As we got deeper into the woods I was told that from here on we must be very quiet and talk in whispers, or else the bears will sense us. In our case, we were here to spot them, so didn’t want to scare them off.

I just hoped the big bucket of apples that Tjaša was carrying wouldn’t encourage them to overcome their fear of humans!

What to do if you encounter a bear

Contrary to popular belief, bears are not the man-eating beasts they can often be portrayed as. In fact, they are very nervous creatures and will likely hear you first and keep well away. Attacks are usually the result of a bear being startled by a walker, or often a bird watcher who is not making any noise; or a photographer sneaking around to take photos. The bear will only attack if it sees no means of escape. Or if you inadvertently come between a mother and her cubs, you’re in for trouble.

Ordinarily when walking in the woods the advice is to never walk alone, and walk and talk (but don’t shout), make as much noise as possible in order to stay safe and avoid startling a bear, or other wild animal. This way the bear will hear you first.

There are many stories about what to do if you happen to surprise a bear. Although the instinct is to run, this is apparently the worst thing to do. A bear can run much faster than you, and if you run it will see you as a threat. Some say you should grab a stick and make yourself look big and loud. If the bear charges at you, remain still. Chances are it is a bluff and will veer away at the last minute.

Another crazy theory I heard is that you should run downhill, because the bear’s front legs are shorter and it cannot run fast downhill. But Tjaša laughed and said that the bear will still outrun you.

Tjaša’s advice is simple: back away slowly, always keeping your eye on the bear and it will very likely run away from you.

The Bear Cave

When we arrived at the viewing spot, a wide open meadow at the edge of the forest, Stanko went off alone first to check it was safe. Then they both prepared the food they would put out to try and attract the bears; Tjaša didn’t touch the food to ensure any human scent was kept to a minimum. For obvious reasons, the area was a short distance away from the viewing area. Tjaša explained that, for the reasons above, Stanko alone must go; no one else, not even her.

This particular viewing area is actually right beside the Croatian border. There are two places from which to observe the bears. The first is a viewing hut setup for both photographers and casual observers. The second is the specially designed bear cave. Here they have built a small wooden room into the rocks that is designed to simulate a bear’s den. Inside I was surprised to discover a cosy double bed and a row of seats next to small windows that look right out across the field to where the bears will hopefully come.

Stanko returned with a special night vision camera that they clamp to a tree where the bears are. It is triggered by movement so they can see when they are active at night. The previous night they came at 9pm, after dark. This was not looking promising for me. But as they had explained I was well into September now so the chances of a sighting during daylight were much lower.

The camera also showed a bear was here at 8.30 in the morning. So this goes to show that a night in this bear cave will undoubtedly increase your chances of a sighting. Sadly, commitments elsewhere meant I couldn’t stay the night.

The best time to take this tour is in high summer, from late May through June and July. August is also a possibility. The tours start at 16:00 and end at 22:00. There are several observation points like this, all on hills in areas of wide open space with lots of light.

But there is only one bear cave, and in this case you get to spend the night here. Naturally this increases your chances of a sighting, because you can also wake early and likely see them in the early morning.

Soon after, Tjaša and Stanko left. Just before he bolted the door, Stanko looked at me and said: “Do not go outside.”

I had no intention of doing that.

I was alone. All was quiet. I settled down for the evening, camera ready. When I had been on the photography tour a few years before we were extremely lucky that, not more than 30 minutes after settling into the observation hut, a couple of one-year old cubs came, followed by the mother and soon after a big male.

As the time ticked away I continued to live in hope. A bird of prey was swooping by occasionally, but sadly no bears.

Stanko returned to collect me after dark, and we trudged on through the forest without torches back to the car. Along the way he told me how he had been privileged to see a lynx in the forest. The Eurasian Lynx was reintroduced to Slovenia in 1973 by a hunter’s initiative. The current population is estimated at about 15-20. Thus not only are their numbers low, but they are very shy animals so a sighting is extremely rare. He showed me a photo he had. “It was a big privilege for me,” he said, proudly.

The love and respect that both Stanko and Tjaša have for the bears and other wildlife is clearly evident.

All this just goes to show how difficult it can be to spot the wildlife, and how important it is to go with an organisation like Bears and Wildlife Tours. Not only will they ensure your safety, as long as you follow their rules and instructions to the letter, but it will increase the chance that you too will be privileged enough to see one of these magnificent animals in their own habitat.

I had seen them before, but sadly not this time. However, I plan to return in May or June for another tour, and maybe even an overnight stay in a bear cave!

How to go

If you would like see bears, then visit the Bears and Wildlife Tours website. They also offer other wildlife tours, including as well as the bear cave, the opportunity to sleep on a rocky shelf in the forest and experience the sights and sounds of nature, with your guide there to keep you safe.

More info and bookings here: www.bearsandwildlife.si

Check out a video of the trip below:

For a more comprehensive look at Ian’s photography, check out his free e-book here. You can see many images in higher resolution, find other photo posts and subscribe to his newsletter here.

05 Mar 2019, 17:57 PM

STA, 5 March 2019 - Maribor, Slovenia's second largest city, was visited by almost 202,300 tourists last year, up 13% from 2017, and the number of nights they spent there reached a record 451,610, a rise of as much as 36%.

The majority of nights was spent in Maribor by tourists from Germany, Croatia, Poland, Italy, Serbia and Austria, whereas only 13% of domestic tourists decided to stay more than one day.

The average period a tourist spent in the city thus increased from 1.86 days to 2.23 days.

"We've surpassed all set goals," Doris Urbančič Windisch, the director of the Maribor-Pohorje Tourist Board, told the press on Tuesday.

She attributed the upbeat figures to intensified promotional campaigns and a number of events taking place in Maribor.

Last year, the board promoted Maribor and the broader destination around the Pohorje hills at 22 fairs, ten workshops and four exchanges.

It moreover worked hand in hand with organisers of 65 local events.

Maribor and Pohorje play host to a number of interesting events, not least World Cup skiing races, the Lent summer festival and the Maribor Theatre Festival.

An event attracting a number of visitors is also the pruning of the Old Vine, which is more than 450 years old and is believed to be the oldest in the world.

"The Old Vine is one of our strongest trade marks which can take the good name of the city to the world and tell people that we appreciate our past and can build new stories on its basis," Mayor Saša Arsenovič, the new Old Vine master, said.

The pruning is an opportunity for the city to give Old Vine grafts to towns around the world to strengthen cooperation with partners from Slovenia and abroad.

The Žametovka or Modra Kavčina vine has won a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest cultivated vine in the world still bearing grapes.

The vine was planted towards the end of the Middle Ages, when Maribor was facing Ottoman invasion, and grows in the old city centre in front of the Old Vine House.

All our stories about Maribor can be found here, while those about tourism are here

02 Mar 2019, 08:00 AM

While there seem to be few explicit appeals to the LGBT community in the official promotional efforts of the Slovenian Tourist Board, the country ranks fairly high on this year’s Spartacus Gay Travel Index, at #28. In terms of ex-Yugoslavia this compares to Bosnia-Herzegovina at 47, Croatia at 48, Serbia and Montenegro both at 68, and Macedonia at 83.

In contrast, when it comes to Slovenia’s other neighbours Austria ranks much higher, in 4th place, while Italy is at 41 and Hungary 57.

The ranking, which the German-based organisation carries out each year, is based on 14 criteria in three categories, from civil rights to discrimination and threats, based on information from Human Rights Watch, the UN Free & Equal campaign, and reports of human rights abuses against members of the LGBT community collected over the previous 12 months.

As the related webpage states:

The first category consists of civil rights. Among other things, it assesses whether gays and lesbians are allowed to marry, whether anti-discrimination laws exist or whether the age of consent is the same for heterosexual and homosexual couples. Discrimination is included in the second category. These include, for example, travel restrictions for HIV-positive persons and the prohibition of Pride parades and other demonstrations. The third category includes threats to the person through persecution, imprisonment or death penalty.

Slovenia’s 28th position is shared with Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Guadeloupe, Martinique and South Africa. The top countries on this list, sharing first place, are Canada, Portugal and Sweden, while the bottom four are Iran and Saudi Arabia (194), Somalia (196) and Chechnya (197). The United Kingdom is 4th, Germany 23rd, and the United States 47th 

Gay rights in Slovenia in more detail…

Nations gain points if they have anti-discrimination legislation, same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, adoption and transgender rights and an equal age of consent. In contrast, they lose points if religion influence legislation, if there are HIV travel restrictions or anti-gay laws, if homosexuality is illegal, if Gay Pride is banned, if the locals are hostile to the gay population, or if there are prosecutions, murders, or death sentences for members of the LGBT community.

On this basis Slovenia got a total of 6 points, with the breakdown as follows

Anti-discrimination legislation: 3 

Marriage/civil partnership: 2

Adoption allowed: 1

Transgender rights: 0

Equal age of consent: 1

Religious influence: -1 

HIV travel restrictions: 0

Anti-gay Laws: 0

Homosexuality illegal: 0

Pride banned: 0

Locals hostile: 0

Prosecution: 0

Murders: 0 

Death sentences: 0

You can read more about the report here, while you can read all our stories about the LGBT community and Slovenia here

Page 10 of 27

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