Travel

04 Jan 2019, 16:30 PM

January 03, 2019 - Ex-Yu Aviation has a report that details how the Slovenian government and Ljubljana Airport have worked over the last few years, and are continuing to work, to attract nonstop flights to the Middle East. The site quotes Zmago Skobir, the General Manager of Fraport Slovenia, the firm that operates Jože Pučnik Airport, as saying last week: "We are working closely with the Ministry for Economic Development and Technology concerning flights to the Arab world. We also have good cooperation with the Slovenian National Tourism Board, with which we are jointly identifying markets of interest and coordinating sales and marketing activities… The more direct routes, the more investors there will be, as well as more tourists. So, the Gulf is our priority but we have very strong competition for these markets in Zagreb, Belgrade, Venice and Vienna".

In recent years both Flydubai and Qatar Airways have expressed interest in flights to and from Ljubljana, while the airport has also held discussions with Emirates, Etihad Airways and Air Arabia, although without any deals being signed. The story, which can be read in full here, ends by noting that the country which supplies the most visitors to Slovenia from the Gulf region is Saudi Arabia, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

20 Dec 2018, 14:20 PM

STA, 19 December 2018 - Slovenia's tourism industry has had another record year, with tourist nights expected to top 15.2 million by the end of 2018, up from last year's 12.6 million. Still, some challenges remain to be addressed, including the shortage of staff and low pay as well as the consolidation of state-owned tourism companies.

 

Slovenia now a trendy destination

Slovenia has regularly made it to various lists of destinations worth exploring which are compiled by specialist media abroad, and the country's promotional campaigns have regularly won awards at major international tourism events.

"Slovenia is not only a recognisable destination, it is now a trendy destination," is how Slovenian Tourist Board (STO) director Maja Pak has recently summed the country's position in global tourism.

Tourism revenue, a key indicator of tourism performance, is growing, rising by 11.6% to EUR 2.12m in the first nine months of the year.

While the 2017 tourist nights figures were exceeded already in October, Slovenia expects to record over 5.6 million tourist arrivals in 2018, up from 4.95 million last year.

The number of foreign guests is to reach 4.2 million by the end of the year, and they are expected to generate almost 11 million tourist nights, STO data shows.

The growth is thus considerably more robust that in the EU or in the world.

Hotels in the black, differences in ownership

Following the crisis, hotels are back in the black, yet Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, whose ministry is in charge of tourism, is not entirely happy yet.

He believes the relatively low value added should be blamed on the fact that as many as 40% of hotels are in state ownership.

He thus insists on their restructuring as envisaged in the 2017-2021 strategy on sustainable development of Slovenian tourism.

Once they are brought under one roof, preferably under Slovenian Sovereign Holding, they should be consolidated to secure a higher value added and then gradually sold.

He believes there is room for no more than two to three major groups in the sector, and is confident the incumbent government will complete the restructuring process.

However, Počivalšek has admitted on several occasions that this will not be easy since not all stakeholders have the same view on the issue.

That even state stakeholders have different interests in the sector has been recently proven by the fact that several different state companies and funds bid for six hotels on the coast which are being sold by Istrabenz Turizem.

To achieve a higher value added, Slovenian tourism also needs to develop new innovative products, which implies investment into infrastructure.

To encourage the investment cycle, the ministry and SID Bank have launched a EUR 160m loan scheme for new accommodation facilities. Počivalšek has said there is much interest.

Higher tourist tax, further legislative changes in the making

By passing changes to the law on encouraging tourism development, the government enabled municipalities to raise tourist fee and introduce a new tax to secure more funds for tourism promotion.

The tourist free was capped at EUR 2.5 per person a night, but is still set by individual municipalities.

The new tax meanwhile amounts to 25% of the tourist fee and will be charged as of 2019 as a a new source of STO funds, bringing it an estimated EUR 4.7m a year.

Many municipalities have opted to raise the tourist fee, with several popular destinations such as Ljubljana, Piran and Bled raising it to the maximum.

The ministry has assessed the measure will annually bring all Slovenian municipalities additional EUR 6.9m.

For 2019, the ministry is planning further legislative changes to relax the rules on the hospitality sector and mountain guides.

New rules will also be introduced governing tourist accommodation facilities which introduce internationally-comparable Hotelstars standards.

Owners of accommodation facilities have until 1 April to adjust to a unified set of criteria to classify accommodation facilities.

New collective bargaining agreement, pay still low

Staff is one of the most burning issues in hospitality and tourism, with employers having a hard time finding quality staff in Slovenia or in the broader region.

This is mainly due to difficult working conditions and low pay.

A new collective bargaining agreement was signed in August, bringing higher wages for workers receiving the lowest pay, a higher annual holiday allowance of EUR 1,000 and changes to overtime work.

Nevertheless, hospitality and tourism trade unions have already announced their plan to push for fresh pay talks.

Feel Slovenia your way

This year was one of the most intensive and successful years for Slovenia in terms of marketing as well. The STO continued with its digital campaign Slovenia - Make New Memories this time on 17 markets, including in the US and Canada for the first time.

Its main promotional slogan "Slovenia - Green. Active. Healthy." will be replaced with "I Feel Slovenia. My Way." in 2019.

However, just like in 2018, culture will remain in the focus of the STO's promotional campaigns, to be replaced by gastronomy in 2020 and 2021.

13 Dec 2018, 16:50 PM

There’s perhaps no phrase more ripe for retirement in writing about Slovenia than “hidden gem”, especially when it comes to the places that are usually mentioned in travel articles introducing the sunny side of the Alps to a wider audience. Many of these simply detail already well-visited locations, like Ljubljana’s Old Town, Bled, Piran, Postojna, and so on, with many of the, eh, more obscure jewels remaining unpromoted.

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Find out how to take this picture, here

And of course, this focus on a few places means that these get put on the must-do itineraries of many visitors – for what’s a two-day trip to Slovenia without kremšnita and a hike to that bench? – and this, if nothing else, creates some logistical problems with regard to parking, overcrowding and so on, not to mention “ruining” the places for some, including local residents with no direct interest in the tourist industry.

To this end the Slovenian Tourist Board, among others, has been working to promote some of the less-trafficked locations in the country, aiming to spread the prosperity that can come with travel and tourism, extend the stays of visitors (which are still, on average, less than two days), and show more of what makes the young nation such a pleasant one, and perhaps encourage more folk to relocate or invest here.

One organisation that’s also working in this regard is the national broadcaster Radio SI, which just announced the winners of its hidden gems competition. The final list, obtained after a selection of options was put to a vote, draws more attention to 18 tourist packages and products that aim to show off the diversity and wealth of Slovenia’s of natural and cultural heritage, from historic sites to gourmet experiences, hiking tours to craft beer adventures.

The list of 18 recommendations is presented below, with a link to the main webpage at the end, while simply clicking on the name will tell you more about each offer.

1: Laško craft beer experience

2: Gourmet over Mura

3: Tastes of Pohorje

4: Winter Weekend in Jezersko

5: Exploring the history, scenery and taste of Brežice

6: Hard coal and fragile glass in the Zasavje region

7: Delights of Count Blagaj’s land

8: Underground adventures in Geopark Karavanke

9: Exploring Tolmin and the remnants of the Isonzo Front

10: Mediterranean flavours of Slovenian Istria

11: The Brown Bear Kingdom

12: Hidden treasures of Slovenj Gradec and Mislinja Valley

13: Idrija Adventure

14: Charming Slovenia Herbal glamping resort

15: Among the Herdsmen on Velika planina

16: The Valley of Kolpa’s green beauty

17: Green Adventures in the Vipava Valley

18: Getaway to the Red Planet (the Karst and Terran wine)

The full story on Radio SI can be found here

12 Dec 2018, 16:30 PM

STA, 11 December 2018 - Slovenia expects to record more than 5.6 million tourist arrivals and more than 15.2 million tourist nights by the end of 2018, in what will be yet another record year. Tourism revenue is also growing, up by almost 12% to EUR 2.12m in the first nine months of the year at annual level.

 

"That 2018 will be a new record year is already clear. The number of tourist nights from 2017 was exceeded as early as the end of October," Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said at a news conference in Ljubljana on Tuesday.

He attributed the good results to cooperation. "Measures by the ministry and the Slovenian Tourist Board (STO) have not been that well harmonised in a long time, tourism companies and destinations have not been that responsive and creative in a long time."

This year's promotion has been largely based on culture, which will also be the case in 2019. STO director Maja Pak said 2018 was one of the most intensive and successful in terms of marketing.

She is also happy with the media attention abroad, stressing Slovenia had been regularly making it to lists of recommended destinations. "Slovenia is not only a recognisable destination, it is now a trendy destination."

Slovenian food and drink the next focus of tourism efforts, along with some restructuring

Looking ahead, the STO said it would be all about gastronomy in 2020 and 2021 as Slovenia had been chosen the European Region of Gastronomy 2021 and influential French restaurant guide Gault & Millau published a Slovenian edition of its high-profile restaurant guide.

The minister announced his ministry will be working on three priorities next year: restructuring of state-owned tourism companies, a loan scheme worth EUR 160m and legislation simplification.

Počivalšek insists on the restructuring in line with the national asset management strategy, which envisages bringing all the companies under the roof of Slovenian Sovereign Holding, improving their management to secure a higher added value and then privatising them.

Noting "things were going in the desired direction", he is convinced the project will be successfully carried out, including the privatisation already under this government.

He insists the companies must be sold to good owners with a development vision.

"In all sectors, I promote prudent privatisation to the benefit of a company which is on sale, to the benefit of Slovenia, not to the benefit of the seller."

The minister is open as to who the new owners would be, saying the hotels could be sold to domestic or foreign companies, or to asset management funds.

Počivalšek also said there was a lot of interest in the loan scheme, so he believes the funds will be well used to increase the number of accommodation facilities.

State Secretary Eva Štravs Podlogar said the ministry would continue to simplify legislation, taking on the hospitality law and the law on mountain guides.

Related: All our stories tagged “tourism” are here

10 Dec 2018, 14:30 PM

STA, 9 December 2018 - The lakeside town of Bled, one of Slovenia's top tourism destinations, is set to see another boom year in tourism, having broken last year's record as early as October this year.

Visitors to the Alpine resort have spent over one million nights in one of its accommodation facilities in the first ten months of the year after the one millionth mark was broken for the first time ever at the end of last year.

It was British visitors who spent most nights at Bled (177,000), followed by Germans (92,000) and visitors from the United States (67,000) and Italy (65,000).

Since many Italians tend to spend their Christmas and New Year holidays in Bled, the local tourism board expects they will overtake the Americans as the third largest group of visitors in terms of nights.

Tourism statistics are expected to improve further because Bled has also attracted many of the biathlon fans and athletes competing at the Biathlon World Cup opener on Pokljuka just above Bled this week.

Related: Photo sports - that bench overlooking Lake Bled

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Photo: Screenshot of Google Image Search

07 Dec 2018, 14:20 PM

STA, 30 November 2018 - Slovenian hunters are getting older and their organisation is struggling with declining membership, which is just one of the challenges. They also oppose culling plans that they have no say in.

The Hunters' Association (Lovske zveze Slovenije) argues that the deer culling plan imposed by the Agriculture Ministry is excessive considering the size of the deer population.

The association has told the STA their members are not in a position to realise the planned culling, but that they face high fines, from EUR 4,100 up per a hunting club, if they do not.

Hunters took 8,229 red deer and 41,869 roe deer from nature last year, which includes large numbers that perished due to extremely low winter temperatures.

Under the plan, hunters should have killed almost 5,000 red deer and 39,986 roe deer.

Despite the large numbers of deer and wild boars lost in last year's winter kill, the Hunters' Association says they have been instructed to implement the culling plan for this year in full.

"We cannot agree with a plan that doesn't take into account the projected deer population trends, but only by the damage done to trees by game."

Average age of hunters is now over 56

The Hunters' Association, counting 22,000 members, is worried about dwindling membership numbers. They have also had to withdraw more than 200 hunting licences for various reasons this year.

The average age of hunters is quite high, standing at over 56 at the end of 2017.

Membership is a key source of income for hunting clubs but an important source of income is hunting tourism although the clubs managing hunting grounds pay a concession fee to the state.

Foreign game hunters coming to Slovenia are interested mainly in chamois and bear, but they also hunt other large game.

Related: Slovenia's Ministry of Environment Wants Hunters to Kill 200 Bears and 11 Wolves

Hunting tourism is the principal activity of special-purpose hunting reserves. Out of 408 hunting reserves in the country, 12 are special purpose.

Ten of these are managed by the Slovenia Forest Service (SFS) and one by the Triglav National Park, while hunting clubs are responsible for sustainable game management.

Hunting tourism is available to guests from Slovenia and abroad. The guests who are not hunters need to be accompanied by a hunter with a valid hunter's licence.

It costs between €600 and 6,500 to kill a bear in Slovenia

Apart from domestic guests, it is Austrians, Germans and Italians who come to hunt in Slovenia most often.

Ljubljanski Vrh, one of the ten reserves managed by the SFS, hosted 1,900 guest hunters last year, some of them several times.

The Forest Service made over EUR 1m from hunting tourism last year.

The guest hunter will pay between 600 and 6,500 euro for killing a bear plus a daily hunting fee. A red deer trophy comes at between 215 and 5,500 euro and a roe deer trophy between 50 and 400 euro.

05 Dec 2018, 12:50 PM

Ex-Yu Aviation reports that travellers to and from the UK will have new option in summer 2019, with British Airways launching a service that connects Ljubljana and Heathrow airports. The flights will run from July 15 to September 2, and will be an addition to the other regularly scheduled services between the British and Slovenian capitals, with easyJet flying out of Stanstead and Gatwick, and Wizz Air working from Luton.

Related: How to get to Ljubljana Airport from the city

The British Airways service from London Heathrow (LHR) have the flight number BA690, taking off from the UK at 17:20 and touching down at Ljubljana Airport at 20:35. From Slovenia to the UK the flight number is BA691, taking off at 21:20 and landing at 22:35. In both directions the route will be served by an Airbus A319

30 Nov 2018, 18:15 PM

At the start of the year we spoke with Steve Hartley about his experience as a foreign entrepreneur in Slovenia, an Australian who runs Explorer Kids Summer Camps. Now, after another successful season and going into the winter, we spoke to him again about summer camps for children in Slovenia, and the potential that’s still there in this relatively undeveloped market in an ideal location for getting away from it all.

Summer camps are an 18$ billion industry in the US, with over 14,000 camps and 14 million children attending every year. How does that compare to the European market?

It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges really as there are so many variables involved. Clearly though there is a much greater camping tradition in the US when compared to Europe, though does that mean camps are unpopular here?

The bottom line is that summer camps in the US are a tradition, a way of life. In many ways it’s become so engrained in popular culture that it’s just a given that children do this during their summer holidays. Well, at least those children from families that can afford to send their sons and daughters off to camp for eight weeks straight.

In saying this, it’s foolish to say that summer camps aren’t popular in Europe because they are. Just not to the same extent as in the US, nor in the same way. For example the Scouting Association is present in 40 of the 50 European countries, while there’s a large number of language-based camps found in places like the UK, Spain, France, and even Croatia. It has to be said though that Europe has a lot of ground to catch up to reach the dizzying heights of summer camps in the US.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

What makes summer camps in the US different to those you generally find in Europe?

Looking at what those in the American camping industry say, the majority of summer camps there are far less focused on traditional education and are more centered on strengthening and developing skills, such as Emotional Intelligence, not commonly taught in the classroom. On paper they’re also much longer, ranging from four to eight weeks in length, whereas in Europe it’s not common to find camps that last longer than two weeks.

When delving further, the American Camp Association emphasizes “exposing campers to different cultures” as a key factor of US based camps, as they see this cross-cultural experience as vital for their children’s growth. Even though this is becoming more popular now in Europe, with such programs as ERASMUS and some international camps, it still isn’t a deep tradition like you see in the US.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

They also aim to develop community skills in the campers. Many camps (the American Camp Association says over half) offer some kind of community service program, such as clean-ups or community food drives in their curricula. It ties into exposing campers to different cultures, while also building Emotional Intelligence which they deem so important to their values.

Slovenian summer camps can learn much from the American experience

One can perhaps get the biggest insight into how camps work in the US by looking at what the parents see as advantages of sending their children to camps. According to the American Camp Association the benefits for parents were reported as having a safe environment that builds self-confidence, esteem and social skills, and encourages friendships, while increasing children’s willingness to experiment and try new things.

Again, there’s a distinct focus on building Emotional Intelligence in camps in the US as it’s now widely regarded as a better indicator of success than what you find with IQ. This focus on building EQ is something that isn’t often seen in feedback from parents in Europe as a society is still much more focused on building IQ for schools and life.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

You’ve been running camps in Slovenia for over 10 years. How have they evolved over that time?

Slovenia has always had a pretty rich camping history, especially when you take into account its abundance of nature and outdoor activities. Not only are the Scouts quite popular, but you also have the Taborniki which some might say is a mellow younger sister of the Scouts. Adding to that there are many specialized camps for at-risk children, language learning, and also some sport-based camps in both summer and winter. Of course, you also have your traditional school camps which are a regular part of the school curricula.

In saying all of this, the vast majority of these camps are predominately done only with Slovene children and staff, meaning there’s a lack of “exposing campers to different cultures”. Poletni Taborni was perhaps the pioneer in this field, having run international camps in Slovenia for the past 11 years, and with the recent tourist boom there’s a distinct growth in foreign children attending summer camps in Slovenia.

When compared to the traditional ‘life skill based’ US camps, that’s something that hasn’t quite caught on yet in Slovenia. One could argue that the Scouts and Taborniki are groups that teach some of these skills, although they’re still some way off what you’ll find in the States, especially when it comes to building EQ. Quite simply, when camps aren’t seen as big business, as you see in Slovenia, they tend to lack the same professionalism and day-to-day organization that you see across the Atlantic.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

You established Explorer Camps four years ago, and they have grown over 320%, with 2019 looking to be even bigger. What’s behind this success?

Identifying one clear reason behind our present success is difficult, as it’s been a combination of many different factors. Without doubt the fact we are a true international camp with children coming every year from over 18 different countries is a big draw not only within Slovenia, but also in this region. It’s something unheard of in Slovenia to have 45 children on camp, with only three Slovenes, and while the rest of the campers come from as far as Australia, China, UAE, Ireland, Russia, Latvia, Malaysia, and the US to name a few. You can then also add having the bonus of English native-speaking stuff that run 100% of the activities.

Some may point to our desire to step away from a school like atmosphere by focusing on outdoor activities that are fun and engaging as a key point. It’s definitely an amazing experience being challenged to try something you’ve never done before. However, behind this fun there’s a strong belief in building EQ amongst our camp community, whether it be during our outdoor activities, free time or even meals.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

You could add to this the open and caring environment we create where children can feel free to express themselves without fear of judgment as being a good reason behind their success. It’s not often campers can totally relax and enjoy just being who they are.

Counsellors are the key to a successful summer camp

Personally, the biggest factor of our success is our staff. Across the board campers repeatedly talk about the counselors and their warm, caring, and personal approach to working with them as being the biggest reason for enjoying the camps so much. It’s a unique opportunity for campers to simply be themselves, and to learn to love who they are rather than trying to be someone they’re not.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

You mentioned campers come to Slovenia from all around the world. What are their impressions of the country?

It’s safe to say that they really love Slovenia, and our camps, when you take into account that nearly 80% of our campers come back every year. Without doubt they’re impressed by the beauty of Slovenia as the nature around Lake Bohinj, our previous location, really is something else. I think it’s also the fact that they experience the outdoors rather than just observe it which creates and even more special bond between the campers and nature here. Whether it be on the water in canoes or kayaks, hiking in the mountains, riding horses through forests, or flying through the air they are always challenged to step out of their comfort zones while being totally in nature.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

As you pointed out, campers come away with life-long memories. What are some of your best moments from camp?

Over the years there have been so many magnificent memories, if I’m honest it’s quite difficult to pin point one. Quite often campers come to us lacking in self-confidence, self-belief, and generally feeling negatively about themselves, so it’s extremely rewarding seeing them grow in stature leaving happy and more in love with who they are, rather than who they’re told to be. The feeling of staying in touch with these campers year after year and seeing them grow as human beings is unbelievably satisfying, especially on those occasions those campers come up and thank us for all we did with them.

A supportive environment gives children the confidence to grow

In saying this, perhaps the most memorable moment came from my very first camp in Slovenia, as it set the tone for the next 15 years, and also became the cornerstone for Explorer Camps. A young camper was in need, but was at a loss at how to express himself or to get others to understand his pain. By taking the time to listen, the staff helped him find his voice and show his emotions, not only for the first time at camp, but also at that time in his life, which resulted in him not only enjoying the camp but also being more relaxed and happy at home. His parents were extremely grateful to us for making this difference, and as a result this empathy and care shown towards campers forms an integral part of our camp philosophy. We aim to make a difference to every camper’s life.

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Photo: Explorer Kids Camp

Do you think there’s a place for summer camps in Slovenia and Europe in the future?

It’s a funny question if I’m honest, as I believe camps will always have a place in Slovenia and Europe. However, a lot needs to be done to ensure that they reach the extremely high levels set in the US, which I believe should be our goal. Education is more than just the pursuit of IQ, as Emotional Intelligence is a growing force worldwide and becoming increasingly recognized as a true indicator of success. Without doubt we’ll be pushing hard at Explorer Camps to ensure children that come to us walk away not only being happier with themselves, but also understand more about EQ and its value.

You can read our earlier interview with Steve Hartley here, visit the Explorer Camps website here, follow them on Facebook, or watch more of their videos on YouTube. And if you’d like to share your story about running a business in Slovenia, or about anything else related to the country, then please get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

27 Nov 2018, 16:45 PM

Although climate change seems to be moving the snowline ever higher, forcing many resorts to buy snow machines and push back opening dates, skiing in Slovenia remains a big part of the country’s seasonal tourist offer. And with the skiing, snowboarding, sledding and so on season about to begin, the newspaper Finance has put together an overview of what’s new at Slovenian ski resorts for 2018/19 season. Since this is in Slovene and behind a paywall we’ve put together the main points below, as the slopes get ready for their first customers in the next few weeks, weather permitting. On that point, note that the last day for pre-season discounts at most places is November 30, so act now if you want one of those.

RTC Krvavec is set to open on Friday, November 30, and for this year the centre has worked to increase skier safety, with more fences and other protective equipment, as well as enhance the resort’s entertainment programme. Looking to the future, Krvavec will add a wellness centre, swimming pool, glamping area and bungalows. Website

Related: Krvavec - skiing just outside of Ljubljana

Cerkno, now under the majority ownership of Postojna Cave, is aiming to open December 1, and this year visitors will see more activities on offer for children and families, as well as the resort now being a pet-friendly one. Website

Golte will officially open on December 8, and this year the centre has new apartments for guests to stay in. Website

Vogel, a rare mountain resort that sees more visitors in summer than winter, plans to open the slopes on December 15. The site’s capacity is up this year due to the new ski-lift that’s been installed, while further work is being done on the resort’s restaurants. Website

Maribor’s closest resort, Maribor Pohorje, is scheduled to open on December 14, and earlier if the weather brings snow. If not, the resort has invested in new snow cannons and snow-making equipment to keep the slopes white, and has also added a new toboggan run. Further improvements in the near future are a new chairlift system. Website

The season is expected to start on December 19 at Rogla, with this year’s innovations being the renovated Rogla Hotel, a covered conveyor belt, an a parking area with space for up to 40 motorhomes. Website

Kranjska Gora is also opening on December 19, and this season the resort will have new snow cannons and a new ski lift. Attempts to build a gondola to the top of Vitranc are still on hold until a building permit is obtained. Website

Related: Winter in Kranjska Gora

Kanin/Sella Nevea, the highest ski resort in Slovenia, and one that goes over into Italy, will open with the first major snowfall, and at the time of writing had already received around 60cm on the upper slopes. When the place does open, with skiers advised to check the website for news, there will be renovated cable cars to take people to the top. Website

26 Nov 2018, 12:50 PM

The lights get turned on in Ljubljana at 17:15, Friday November 30 (2018), and in recent years an increasingly popular place to see this happen is not where the switch is flicked – the still busy Prešeren Square, by the tree – but instead up at the Castle, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the action and then go down and experience it close up, two ways to see the city in one trip.

But it’s not just views of the city that Ljubljana’s top attraction offers during advent, as the place also has seasonal activities of its own in addition to all the usual ways to enjoy it (as laid out, for example, in Ten Ways to Enjoy Ljubljana Castle).

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The courtyard from the Viewing Tower in an earlier year. Photo: Miha Mally, www.ljubljanskigrad.si

This Friday thus also marks the start of the festive fair in the Castle courtyard, which will have decorations and stalls selling seasonal food and drinks, including mulled wine in case you forgot to bring gloves. The same day will also see the display of life-size wooden sculptures making up a Nativity Scene, which can be visited until January 6 in the Lower Lapidarium.

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Photo: Miha Mally, www.ljubljanskigrad.si

Starting a week later, on December 5, is a new exhibition in the Pentagonal Tower, the original entrance to the Castle. This appeals to the Christmas message of helping the poor, sick and unloved, and will give you the chance to adopt a UNICEF rag doll. For a donation of €20.00 UNICEF is able to vaccinate one child against six contagious diseases, while you’re able to take home a charming doll for yourself or as a gift.

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The dolls in the Pentagonal Tower. Photo: Nada Žgank, www.ljubljanskigrad.si

A little closer to the big day is Awaken the Dragon, a free architectural projection and 3D mapping experience that will bring to life the story of the Ljubljana Dragon. This is a new attraction at the Castle, and can be seen every day, from 21 December 2018 to 2 January 2019, between 17:00 and 20:00.

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Awaken the Dragon will use the Castle as a projection screen. Photo: Miha Mally, www.ljubljanskigrad.si

On December 22, a Saturday, there’s Festive Dancing at the Castle from 20:00 on, with Latin American and festive music. Tickets include a ride up and down on the funicular, and entrance to the viewing tower, with more details here.

The Christmas events come to a peak on December 24, when you can visit the Chapel of St George for Christmas Holy Mass, starting at 22:00, with the service enhanced by festive songs performed by the Choir Megaron. However, note that this chapel is a small one, and seating will be rather limited if a crowd turns up.

The month and year then end on December 31, when the fireworks that light up at the sky at midnight will be taking off from the Castle, encouraging oohs and ahs from the crowds in the city who have come out to enjoy the various concerts in squares around town.

In addition to these seasonal events the Castle continues with it’s regular Friday night jazz concerts, with the schedule here and more details, including video, found by clicking the artist’s name. There’s also more on dragons, those from Ljubljana and elsewhere, with the exhibition The Dragon of All Dragons continuing until January 6 2019. In short, while a trip to the Castle is rewarding anytime you’re in the city, in the last month of the year there’s even more to see and do at the top of the hill that watches over Ljubljana, when it’s open from 10:00 to 22:00. And if you're in town and want some other things to do, beyond the Castle, then check out our latest What's on guide... here

Related: 25 things to know about Ljubljana Castle

21 Nov 2018, 13:00 PM

Saint Nicholas (Miklavž) in Slovenia

The night air is filled with the cold vapour of tiny breaths as children gather in Prešeren square, eagerly awaiting the first of three presents they will receive over Christmas. The trees glisten with colourful lights and parents sip mulled wine to keep warm. The children are gathered around an old man with a long white beard, carrying a long golden staff and handing out sweets, fruit and other small gifts. You could be forgiven for thinking that this man was Santa Claus, but in fact this isn’t the jolly, red-faced man that most of us expect to squeeze his portly figure down our chimney on Christmas Eve, but this is in fact the real Father Christmas: Saint Nicholas.

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The Mayor of Ljubljana with Miklavs in Ljubljana centre. Photo: © Ian Middleton

Every year, on December 5th at 5.00pm, Ljubljana plays host to the Saint Nicholas procession, which marks the first of the three traditions of Christmas in Slovenia. Saint Nicholas is the universal name for Nicholas of Myra, a Christian Saint of the ancient town of Myra; a region in modern day Antalya in Turkey. He was born in AD270 and died 6thDecember, AD343. The Saint was renowned for his generosity. Legend says that he put coins into the shoes of people who left them in front of their house. He was especially revered for saving three girls from prostitution by providing them with dowries so they were eligible for marriage.

Related: Where and when to find Miklavž in Slovenia (2018 edition)

Even though he is a famous figure all across the Christian world, his image has been especially entrenched into Slovenian culture. Known here as Miklavž, tradition says that he comes from heaven on the eve of his death, 5th Dec, and bestows gifts of sweets, fruit and biscuits upon the children. He is accompanied by a flock of angels, who assist him to disperse the gifts to all the children who have been good that year. He is closely followed by parklji ‘the trotters’, the personifications of the devil who come and scare the bad children. The angels are also there to protect the bad children from the devil and warn them to be good in future years. The procession begins in front of the town hall in Mestni Trg, and continues on to Prešeren square where he addresses the crowd before disappearing into the Franciscan Church. Miklavž is depicted as having a long white beard and wears a long white Christian robe and a bishop’s hat.

The tradition of Miklavž isn’t limited to this procession, however. In the homes across Slovenia children put a shoe or stocking inside or outside their bedroom on Dec 5th and awake the next morning, in essence Saint Nicholas’ Day, to find it filled with food; typically the carob bean, mandarins, dry fruits such as dates, chocolates and other small snacks.  The belief doesn’t promote lavish spending, but rather small, humble gifts totalling no more than a few euros.

Santa Claus in Slovenia

It’s actually from the story of Saint Nicholas that the modern day Santa Claus comes. His story was blended with the beliefs of other countries, and also pagan gods, to create the variations we see today around the world. The British created Father Christmas, who was blended with the Dutch Sinterklaas by the British and Dutch colonists in America to create the American Santa Claus. Various stories and publications further personified the image of Santa and the commercial image we see today was proliferated by a Coca Cola advert in 1930 in the USA. This image of Santa spread around the world and like most countries Slovenia embraced this belief, calling their Santa, Božiček. The Christian Saint Nicholas and the commercial Santa were discouraged during the Socialist era under Yugoslavia, but were revived shortly before independence. Slovenian children now get to experience the more modern commercial Christmas where the gifts are brought on the eve of the birth of Christ. But one difference here is that many families have their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, before going to holy mass. While the main meal is much the same as elsewhere, a unique desert served after dinner is a nut roll called Potica.

The Christmas customs here remain much the same as around the world; families decorate their homes and trees and children in schools compete to make Christmas Cribs, small boxes with dolls depicting the nativity. The most famous and elaborate depiction of the nativity is found in Postojna Caves. Over the Christmas week the banks of the Ljubljanica come alive with open-air bars selling hot food and drinks, including mulled wine to keep you warm on the freezing cold nights. The centre is lavishly decorated with a myriad of coloured lights, all of which are ceremoniously switched on at a big event on 3rd December at 5.00pm to not only mark the beginning of the Christmas period, but also to coincide with the birthday of France Prešeren.

Grandfather Frost (Dedek Mraz) in Slovenia

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Dedek Mraz procession in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo: © Ian Middleton

December 31st sees the arrival of the third of Slovenia’s gift-bearers. Prior to 1991 the commercial Santa was not popular here. Historically, Saint Nicholas was commemorated. During the years under Yugoslavia though, all religious and commercial celebrations were frowned upon, but rather than ban them completely and be made to seem like the killjoy, the authorities replaced them with the Russian communist Ded Moroz, which was translated into Slovenian as Dedek Mraz, literally Grandfather Frost, but sometimes referred to as Grandfather Cold.

Dedek Mraz originated from the pagan culture of the Eastern Slavs, but became entrenched into Russian communist society as an alternative to western beliefs. Unlike Santa, Grandfather Frost doesn’t sneak presents to the children during the night, but hands them out personally at gatherings on New Year’s Eve. During the Socialist years companies would arrange a special event in a hall. The workers would bring their children and they would meet Dedek Mraz and be given a gift. But this gift-bearer is in stark contrast to the jolly fat Santa, being slim and wearing a long white coat and brown furry Russian kučma hat.

The break-up of Yugoslavia saw the open return of Miklavž and Santa, but Grandfather Frost was not tossed out with the rest of the Former Yugoslavia’s ways, but integrated into the new ways, thus providing Slovenian children with the providence of three days over Christmas where they receive presents. Dedek Mraz is believed to have his home under Triglav and emerges close to New Year’s Eve to visit children all across Slovenia.

From Dec 26th to 30th Dedek Mraz will ride through Ljubljana on his carriage pulled by two Lipizzaner horses and appear in Krekov trg, Ciril-Metodov trg, Stritarjeva ulica, Prešernov trg, Wolfova ulica and Zvezda Park.

Today many families follow the tradition of all three, and rather than being the enemies of the old ways they have been harmonized and each has retained his place in Slovenian Christmas tradition.

The week of celebrations along the Ljubljanica culminate in a climatic display of fireworks launched from the castle overlooking the old town and city centre. Crowds gather in Prešeren Square and along the river to view this spectacle and see in the New Year with wine, champagne and music.

Related: Turning on the Christmas Lights in Slovenia - when and where to see them

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Fireworks from the Castle above the Old Town in Ljubljana, Slovenia for New Year’s Eve 2007/2008. Unfortunately fog obscured the Castle. Photo: © Ian Middleton

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Dedek Mraz procession in Ljubljana. Photo: © Ian Middleton

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Dedek Mraz procession in Ljubljana. Photo: © Ian Middleton

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Also known as Grandfather Cold or Grandfather Frost, this tradition was used by the communists as a replacement for the western Santa Claus. The tradition comes from an ancient Russian Legend of Ded Moroz, and he wears a white outfit and Russian Kuchma Hat. Photo: © Ian Middleton

You can enjoy more of Ian's travel writing and photography elsewhere on Total Slovenia News, or on his website.

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