Christmas in Slovenia may seem far away, with the trees outside still a beautiful mix of green, gold and brown, the weather wet, windy but otherwise rather mild. But time moves fast and in three weeks the lights will be turned on around the country, thus begin just over a month of festive fun, with music, lights, markets, parades and more to get you through the darkest days of winter.
The month is known as Festive December in Ljubljana, and runs from 29 November to 5 January 2020. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the lights that turn up in different places each year, as designed by Zmago Modic, the artist who’s also responsible for the rain that usually appears each summer in Prešeren Square (although this year, due to renovations, there was no rain). It’s in this square, soon to be home to a giant Christmas tree, where the lights will be turned on Friday November 29 at 17:15.
The same evening will see the opening of the Christmas market, which is held in the Central Market and also along Breg embankment. Here you’ll find hats, gloves, scarves, festive foods, treats, gifts, souvenirs and so on, along with many stalls selling mulled wine and hot food. Since the city is small everything is easy to find, and the best thing to do is just wander through the Old Town, being sure to visit Prešeren and Congress Square / Zvezda Park, where there will be a (free) magical forest to explore.
The city’s official site for the month is here, and some dates to look out for are 5 December, when at 17:00 St Nicholas himself will lead a procession, while Grandpa Frost will keep the cheer going with his own parade on 26 December, at 17:00. Both provide good excuses to make the trip the Ljubljana and enjoy the atmosphere. Note that the Castle also has a full programme of events.
The lights in Maribor will start shining the same day as those in Ljubljana, Friday 29 November, but 15 minutes earlier, at 17:00, in General Maister Square. The city’s official site for the month – which is currently rather short on information – is here.
The picturesque lake, island, chapel and castle are especially magical in winter, with the scene made even more full of wonder when the lights come on at night. This year the festive season will run from November 29 until January 5, and – in addition to the usual lights and stalls – there’ll also be an ice rink with a spectacular view, one that opens 22 November and closes 1 March. The official website is here with more details, and note that if you’re in the area on Christmas Day then you have the chance to join other brave souls and go for a swim in the lake.
Of course, not everyone likes the cold and snow, even in December, in which case a festive trip to the mild climate of the Slovenian coast is recommended. All the towns here will have lights to enjoy, starting on 29 November, but if in Portorož then head to Christmas market in the park of Hotel Kempinski Palace Portorož, while in Koper the Old Town will come alive to a series of events call Magical December, usually including an ice rink. Finally, in Piran the centre of festivities will be Tartini Square.
Ljubljana Free Tour has an eye-catching name, but what’s the business behind it, and does it really work? We sent some questions to the group, who were kind enough to answer.
Look for the yellow umbrellas
How long has Ljubljana Free Tour been running?
Since 2009. It was a difficult start as hotels would not work with us due to their belief that if something is free, it can’t be very good. We have over the years gained an impeccable reputation for quality, and today most hotels recommend us to their guests and call us as soon as they run out of fliers. Today free tours run 365 days a year, no booking is required. The service is always available regardless of weather.
Where did you get the idea from?
The Free Tour concept began in Berlin, in 2007. We were there that year and took a free tour not knowing what to expect. We were absolutely shocked .. not by the free concept, but by the quality of tour. The tour was engaging, informative, funny, fluid and simply changed our whole perception of “tours”. The guide had to work hard to earn their tips and did a great job.
Who are your guides?
All guides are local guides with a valid Slovene guiding license, a must in Slovenia. They are all academics and for many guiding is their second job. Our team includes university and college lecturers, academic researchers, school teachers, special education specialists, a sociologist, a historian, an archaeologist and even a street performer. They are all highly knowledgeable yet entertaining, true professionals who are able to deliver quality tours in an entertaining and fun manner. With over 3,000 reviews on TripAdviser alone, it is easy to see the great job they do.
How do they get paid?
On free tours guides earn only the tips they receive from guests. This ensures they will always do their best to deliver a great tour. The better they do the more they can earn. The sound of happy tourists applauding our guides can be heard across town on a daily basis. Contrary to belief, even though they make money by tips, all their earnings are properly declared.
You also organize paid tours – how are these different?
The idea is simple. Guests come on morning free tours, are impressed by the quality of tour they receive, and opt for a paid tour in the afternoon. At present, the only regularly running paid tour we have is the Communist Tour, which runs several times a week in season. In this case tourists arrive at the meeting point and pay €12 to participate in the tour. We know that without our reputation, no one would come. Like our free tours, no prior booking is required. We have enough guides on site to split large numbers into smaller groups. And of course, like any agency, we also offer various private tours in 10 different languages – including Russian, Chinese and Japanese. Private tours are mostly paid in advance.
Aside from the usual sights of Ljubljana, what else do you cover?
Our Classic City free tours visit the main tour sights in the centre and Old Town. However, it’s the structure, content and stories we deliver that differentiates us from other tours in town. There is so much to tell and we believe tours must give added value compared to guidebooks. Tours should be informative and fun.
In addition to the Classic City, we also offer an “Old Town & Castle” Free Tour which run several times a week in season. This tour visits further sights in the Old Town (beyond those on the classic city tour) and continues with a walk up to Ljubljana Castle, where we tour the inner courtyard and some towers.
In addition to classic city tours, we also offer niche tours such as the Communist Tour, Jewish Heritage Tour, boat tours and custom made tours for guests with specific interests.
Do you have any special plans for the winter season?
We are always checking options for adding new tours and have several tours ready in the drawer. Many consider us the best in town and we prefer to concentrate on what we do best … Ljubljana walking tours.
Where can people learn more?
For more information our website would be a good place to start. Elsewhere, on TripAdvisor we’ve been ranked as #1 out of 155 tours in Ljubljana for about eight years in a row. We've even gained Hall of fame status for exceptional quality. I guess we can let over 3,000 reviews speak for themselves.
Anything else you’d like to say?
We believe what we do contributes greatly to the promotion of Ljubljana and Slovenia. Think of it, many of our participants are backpackers who would otherwise never go on a paid tour. Now, instead of simply wondering around town clueless or drinking away their afternoon, we take them on a historical trip of town, inject them with some local culture and infect them with a love for Ljubljana and the country as a whole. We make their visit better and they take that back home with them. It is wonderful promotion for Slovenia and assists in shaping the perception of the country abroad.
It seems a lot of journalists and photographers, bloggers and Instagrammers visited Slovenia over the summer, with their content now coming online. Much of this is just people posing at Bled and Dragon Bridge, but the latest high-end offering is from National Geographic, presenting a 10-day road trip that takes in much of the country. While missing out on the delights of the south east, the tour takes in the following locations, and thus with any luck will help expand tourism outside the usual hotspots and inspire visitors to spend more than the usual one or two days in the country:
Day 1: Ljubljana – Paddleboarding, the Old Town, fresh water and the Castle
Day 2: Alpine Slovenia – Bovec and Hiša Franko
Day 3: Maribor – Lent and the Old Vine House
Day 4: Logar Valley and Rinka Falls
Day 5: Pannonian Slovenia – Podčetrtek and thermal spas
Source: Google Maps screenshot
Day 6: Lendava and the Vinarium Tower
Day 7: The black waters of Moravske Toplice
Day 8: Portorož and Piran
Day 9: Škocjan Caves
Day 10: The saltpans of Sečovlje Salina Nature Park and some time at the Thalasso Spa Lepa Vida
The story was produced as part of National Geographic’s series of partner content with the aid of the Slovenian Tourist Board, and you can find more of those stories here, along with some of the great pictures the publication is famous for, here. If they work as intended then they should help expand tourism outside the usual hotspots and inspire visitors to spend more than the usual one or two days in the country.
New figures from SURS show that both arrivals and overnight stays rose by around 8% year-on-year in August, with more than one million of the former and 2.9 million of the latter. Foreign tourists accounted for 78% of all overnight stays, with the largest group coming from Germany (16% of all overnight stays, or just under 365,000), followed by visitors from Italy (13%), the Netherlands (9%), France (6%) and the Czech Republic (just under 6%).
The top attractions, in terms of nights stayed, were mountain resorts (37% of the total, or 1,074,552), followed by coastal resorts (21%), health/spa resorts (16%), and the city of Ljubljana (11%).
When choosing where to spend the night 33% of such stays, over 956,000, were in hotels, followed by private rooms, apartments and so on at 25%, and camping sites at 22%.
So far this year, up to the end of August, 11.8 million overnight stays have been recorded in Slovenia, on the back of 4.5 million arrivals, up 4% and 6%, respectively, on the first eight months of 2018.
More detailed data on tourist arrivals and overnight stays can be found on SURS
STA, 23 October - The Postojna Cave is planning to put on display almost two dozen olm offspring that hatched three years ago, yet under very strict conditions, the cave operator has announced.
Of the 22 Proteus anguinus offspring, as many as 21 animals have survived, which scientists consider an amazing achievement.
The baby dragons, as they are sometimes lovingly referred to, are growing up in an underground laboratory developed especially for this purpose.
Since Proteus anguinus' larvae are extremely vulnerable and susceptible to various infections, special conditions had to be provided to increase the chances of their survival.
The scientists working for Postojnska Jama are thrilled about the 92% survival rate and the offspring's fast development.
As many as 64 eggs were deposited in 2016 by what is due to its fair complexion often termed "human fish", but the chances of any larva hatching and surviving were minimal.
Statistics show that out of over 100 eggs deposited by a female olm in its lifetime in a natural environment, only two offspring would fully grow up.
While measuring 1.7 centimetres when hatched, the baby dragons are now already 12 centimetres long, so they will soon be transferred to larger aquariums.
"We were worried about how they would accept food, how they would 'socialise'"... A single mistake could result in losing all the 22 precious baby dragons," the company said in a press release on Wednesday.
What do olm eat? How long can they live? How many toes do they have? Learn all this and more here
The city of Ljubljana is a photogenic one, but if you see a lot of pictures then pretty soon your eyes will glaze over from the repetition of the same colourful buildings, the same picturesque bridges, and the same man playing the accordion in Prešeren Square.
On top of the Emporium building, looking down at Prešeren
Roman remains at Gosposvetska ulica
A new exhibition, on at Ljubljana Castle until 12 January, 2020, shows the city from some other perspectives, offering views you don’t see every day. Called (Ne)Znana – (Un)known – the striking and original photographs, shot by Domen Pal, Branko Čeak and Jože Maček, take you from the heights of the city to the sewer pipes beneath it, from painted ceilings to a child on a sled in Tivoli, and much more besides.
Red corner in Hotel Union
The project started out with some assignments for National Geographic Slovenia, and will continue into the future. For now, you can see these and other photographs in the "S" Gallery, Ljubljana Castle, open from 09:00 to 20:00 and free to enter.
The National Gallery
More details are here, while you can test your knowledge of the country’s most-visited tourist attraction with our guide to 25 Things to Know about Ljubljana Castle, or find out 25 Things to Know About Ljubljana itself
At the exhibition. Photo: Miha Mally
Slovenia’s attempts to get visitors to stay longer, and visit more places than Ljubljana and Bled, are seeing new offers and attractions being launched around the country. One recent opening is the range of “Bike Slovenia Green” tours, which take you from Kranjska Gora to Koper, as detailed here, while another is the 270-km long Juliana Trail. This is a circular route in 16 stages, with the highlights including Triglav National Park, Bled and Bohinj Lakes, Soča River Valley, Radovljica, Kranjska Gora and Pokljuka Plateau.
As the accompanying press release puts it:
To find, walk, learn and explore the unknown diversity, to offer and use what is unknown to others; this is the Juliana Trail. A trail of a personal pilgrimage to oneself, to pristine nature and its magical beauty, into the diversity of the landscape and biodiversity, to hidden and unknown places with magical power (rivers, lakes, waterfalls, forests, exceptional trees, colourful flowers, rocks of unusual shapes), and last but not least: to culinary, cultural and historical treasures.
The Julian Alps Hiking Trail is planned so it’s possible to spend the night where a stage starts or ends, along with opportunities to buy refreshments. Moreover, where possible stages start at railway stations or bus stops, the route more accessible to all and encouraging the use of public transport.
All the following images are screenshot from the embedded video
The average length of the 16 stages is 17.5km, assessed at taking between 4 and 5 hours and rated as non-demanding. The list of stages is shown below, while more details on each stage can be found here, or on the related PDF guide. There’s also an app due to launch in late October, while more information is coming on the Julian Alps webpage in November.
STA, 16 October 2019 - Foreign tourists who visited Slovenia in April and May spent an average EUR 178 a day in the country, with tourists from non-European countries spending more, EUR 264, the latest statistics released on Wednesday show.
The sum was spent on accommodation, food and drinks, fare around Slovenia, leisure and the purchase of other goods or services, the Statistics Office (SURS) said.
In Slovenia's capital Ljubljana, the sum was the highest, amounting to EUR 249, whereas tourists visiting municipalities in mountainous areas spent the least, EUR 129.
An average Austrian tourist spent EUR 135 a day in Slovenia, an Italian spent EUR 126 and a German tourist EUR 124.
Hotels proved to be the most popular choice for tourists in the spring, with four in five foreign tourists choosing them as their accommodation.
As many as 80% of the tourists who were accommodated at hotels were in Slovenia on a private visit and 18% on a business trip.
Three quarters of those who visited for private reasons were in Slovenia on a holiday, whereas the share of those who were here on business was the highest in Ljubljana, at 30%.
The majority of tourists book accommodation on their own; in April and May 31% of foreign tourists did so directly at the hotel of their choice, 26% used online options and 25% had the help of a travel agent.
Of the foreign tourists accommodated at hotels, 45% visited Slovenia with a spouse or partner, 22% travelled on their own, 11% with their family and just as many with friends.
The majority of the tourists accommodated at hotels came from Italy (15%), followed by Austria (12%) and Germany (8%).
As many as 93% of Italian tourists and four in five Austrian and German tourists visited Slovenia for private reasons, SURS data also shows.
Central bank figures, released on Tuesday, meanwhile show that revenue from foreign tourists visiting Slovenia continued to grow in August.
It rose by 1.3% to EUR 398 million over August 2018 and totalled EUR 1.91 billion in the first eight months of the year, a rise of 3.2% year on year.
In 2018, the country's revenue from foreign tourists reached EUR 2.71 billion, up almost 12%, while Slovenia's goal is EUR 3.7 to 4 billion until 2021.
More details on this data can be found here
Bike Slovenia Green is a project developed by the Slovenian government, EU and Visit GoodPlace – a sustainable travel agency. It presents a growing a series of one-day cycling loops, of touring level and with low technical difficulty, that allow people to see the diversity of the country at a slower and more relaxed pace. Only destinations that have obtained the Slovenia Green certificate are able to take part in this project, a status gained when a location meets certain standards with regard to sustainable development.
There are already 12 such tours available – seven of Ljubljana and its surroundings, and others of Goriška Brda (focusing on winemaking), Cerkno (green nature), the Vipava Valley (castles), Komen – the Karst (stone, wine and pršut / prosciutto), and Bohinj (the Julian Alps). At the start of November, these will be joined by a new long-distance, multi-stage itinerary that connects seven locations, with the route taking riders from the mountains of Kranjska gora to Koper on the Adriatic coast, with a break in the middle for a train ride, as seen in the map below.
We can’t currently embed the map – sharing hasn’t been enabled – but you can visit it here
Done in five legs, from Kranjska Gora to Bled, Bled to Bohinj, Bohinj to Kanal ob Soči (by train), Kanal to Šmartno (with its wine), Šmartno to Lipica (with its horses), and then Lipica to Koper by the sea.
If they are the same as the current tours, then they can be done guided or self-guided, with €14 for the latter getting you a navigation pack with GPS tracking. More details can be found here – although note that the new tours do no launch until 1 November 2019.
If you’re not a frequent flier maybe the Adria Airways collapse feels rather abstract, but a study by ForwardKeys, a travel analytics firm, claims that it cut 59.7% of international seat capacity to and from Slovenia, and the loss of direct flight connections with 24 countries, figures that make the disruption easy to imagine.
The study noted the loss of regular flights from Slovenia to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Season flights to and from Estonia, Georgia and Greece are also unavailable, while Adria’s collapse cut the irregular services to and from Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Romania and Ukraine.
The report, which can be found here, also states that key source markets like Austria, Germany and France has also been affected, as Adria Airways accounted for 99.6%, 87.3% and 50.8% of seat capacity on flights for these countries.
The Treetop Walk is a forest trail, built at the level of the treetops level rather than on the forest floor, and set on the green hills of the Pohorje alpine massif in Central Styria.
More precisely, the Treetop Walk is built on Rogla hill with an elevation of 1517 metres, which also hosts one of Slovenia’s most popular ski resorts.
The Pohorje Treetop Walk is just over a kilometre long in total and includes a 37-metre high tower with a view of all the surrounding hills, Kamnik-Savinja Alps and even Triglav.
The Walk is fully barrier-free, and hence stroller and wheelchair friendly. The path to the tower climbs gently with a maximum climb of 2-6% and transparent meshes along the sides of the walk ensure perfect visibility for wheelchair users and young children.
There are several information stations on the way, where visitors can learn about the flora and fauna of the environment below them.
Less mobile visitors have the option on obtaining a wheelchair for free at the ticket office. Dogs are not permitted, and your pet will have to wait for you in the kennel by the entrance.
Each year new content is planned to be added to the existing structure, starting with a 40m-long toboggan, a slide from a tower back to the walkway, expected for spring 2020.
Opening hours are adjusted to the daylight hours. You can find more information on the walk, tickets and opening hours at the Pohorje Treetop Walk’s website.