Last week we came across a photo, as seen here, and ended up learning more about the person behind it, Jerneja Fidler Pompe, or Neja, who runs Exploring Slovenia. This is a site that shares Neja’s love of the mountains in words and photographs, with support from her Instagram page. And in addition to introducing various walks, hikes and climbs in the region, Neja also runs tours enabling you to travel safely and see the best views, as found by experience locals and guides. Always curious and eager to learn more, we got in touch with Neja and asked her some questions, as follows.
How long have you been running Exploring Slovenia?
It’s been three years now. Three years ago, I had this idea to start blogging / vlogging about Slovenian mountains, climbed Mt. Storžič, created a video about the climb (as seen below), opened a channel on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and after a month also my blog and Instagram. That’s how it basically all began.
Why? Before following my heart into the mountains, I had been managing a blog and other social media channels for a well-established international IT business for years. I loved my job, I loved blogging, yet somewhat lost the passion for IT, so I decided to finally give something a go I’d always enjoyed.
If readers aren’t familiar with Exploring Slovenia, what does the website try and do, and what are three to five posts that you recommend?
In case you haven’t stumbled upon my blog Exploring Slovenia yet, let me give you a brief idea of what to expect.
Expect various outdoor ideas on what to do in Slovenia, particularly in the Alps, that range from beautiful family hikes, easy, moderate to demanding climbs in the mountains, tips on the best hikes with regard to the season, and, most of all, interesting adventures in the outstanding Slovenian backcountry.
To name a few, my favorite blog posts are the following:
Encircled by high mountains, this picturesque village offers a plethora of hiking trails: Bohinjska Bistrica as it lists quite a number of spectacular hiking ideas in Bohinj Valley, a beautiful glacial valley favored by tourists and locals alike.
Exploring a most beautiful Alpine valley of Slovenia - hiking, climbing and fly-fishing in Logar Valley for holiday ideas in Logar Valley, where I personally note one of the most genuine and memorable experiences in the Slovenian mountains.
When Velika Planina dresses in purple to help you explore an extraordinary wonder at a high-Alpine plateau close to Ljubljana, where every spring endless fields of purple crocuses flood the whole plateau, coloring it purple.
Beautiful Alpine Slovenia in a time-lapse video, where you can watch my 3-minute time-lapse video of the Slovenian mountains - a project that sums over a year-and-a-half worth of videos collected from over a hundred of trails.
Up to Triglav over its North Face and down to the Krma Valley where I take readers on a two-day adventure from one valley to another across Triglav. And of course, there are many more.
What has the experience of running the site taught you?
Probably the most important lesson I learned was to always produce excellent content. Not only in regard to providing the audience great stories, but also taking them through the places I talk about through breathtaking photos and videos. Plus, always to think of new, intriguing adventures not only for proven mountaineers, but also for average hikers that want to simply enjoy the spectacular landscapes Slovenia has to offer.
How important is Instagram to your work?
It’s nice to have it, since I do far more adventures than I have time to blog about. Therefore, most of my hikes are shown only on Instagram, with the very best and most interesting ones also on my blog. It’s a platform that can connect you with your audience in a more personal way, while it also allows you to grow your audience if you approach it the right way.
How long have you been offering tours?
I’ve been always happy to help my readers connect with a mountain guide if they needed one for a certain ascent in certain conditions, but I started offering tours myself last summer. The most popular is Triglav in all seasons and on all routes. It’s the highest mountain in Slovenia, and as such the most obvious choice either when you’re visiting the country for a week or you live there and haven’t found the courage to climb it yet on your own. Nevertheless, Triglav is indeed one of the most fascinating climbs in Slovenia and, must I say, never disappoints, not even those who’ve climbed it several times.
When is the best time of year to climb Triglav, if you’re not a regular climber, and when do you like to climb it?
The easiest time to climb Triglav is when there’s no snow on the way, meaning usually July – September. Even a little bit of snow brings extra hassle and the need to bring extra gear for snow conditions, especially when it’s combined with ice. I prefer climbing it in June, the end of September and October to avoid the crowds. I haven’t climbed it in serious winter conditions yet, when the steel cable is hidden underneath the snow, but I’d love to do that with the help of a mountain guide.
How do you feel about the way tourism is developing in Slovenia?
I love the fact that Slovenia is becoming more recognized in the world and more people are coming to see our wonderful country. In regard to service providers, particularly those working in mountaineering tourism, I like the fact that most of them are well-trained and internationally licensed mountain guides, thus assuring top-level safety and service.
How would you like tourism to develop in the future?
More boutique small groups with respect for our land who visit Slovenia to enjoy incredible landscape, good food, and rich culture, while on the other hand also receive a great service. While I love the fact that the Slovenian mountains are accessible to anyone with the desire to climb them, it would be nice to add more service to the mountain huts for the more demanding guests. I would also love to see more mountain huts open all year round, more options in the food menu, nicer bathrooms with a possibility to shower, heated rooms, etc., which could as well be offered as an extra service as long as it’s available.
Finally, away from hiking and “work”, can you recommend a few things to our readers.
Places: Anything hidden from the main tourist attractions. I really love the Logar Valley for its beautiful landscapes, rivers, waterfalls, and, most of all, welcoming people. While the most memorable experience for me was to fly over the Julian Alps in a hot-air balloon.
Food & drink: Organic herbal tea made of flowers picked in the mountains, roasted lamb and potatoes, beef and mushroom soup, apple strudel, chocolate štruklji (served in the mountain hut Kofce in the Karawanks).
Sports events: Marathon Franja, Goni Pony, and Juriš na Vršič
Books: Čefurji Raus (Vojnović), Alamut (Bartol)
Movies: Gremo mi po svoje and Houston, imamo problem.
Music: Siddharta – Ledena, Napalm 3, Sfinga, Narava; Lamai – Spet te slišim.
STA, 23 January 2019 - Conventa 2019, the 11th exhibition for convention tourism in SE Europe, got under way at Ljubljana's Gospodarsko Razstavišče fairgrounds on Wednesday. The two-day meeting features 125 exhibitors from 15 countries and 178 invited guests from 44 countries.
Miha Kovačič, one of the chief organisers, told the press that Conventa's focus was on countries in Eastern and SE Europe. These are considered as developing and exotic destinations and are in high demand among the organisers of business trips.
He said that the meeting had become a must for many operators in the region, while the idea is also to attract as many new clients as possible each year so that new ties can be forged. As many as 90% of the foreign organisers of business meetings are new to Conventa this year.
The biggest increase was recorded among exhibitors from the Western Balkans, which is a result of a stabilisation of the region, Conventa co-founder Gorazd Čad also noted.
Meanwhile, Karmen Novarlič of the Slovenian Tourist Board highlighted the major potential that congress tourism holds for Slovenia.
An average convention guest spends at least three-times as much as a holiday guests, with a 2018 survey for Ljubljana for instance putting the average daily expenditure of convention guests at EUR 511.
The other key advantage of convention tourism is that it is not tied to the main tourism season. Two thirds of such guests come to Slovenia in periods other than the summer season.
Novarlič expects the industry to continue growing in Europe, with Slovenia having worked in recent years on being discovered as a convention destination.
Presenting a challenge in Ljubljana for example are conference as well as hospitality capabilities, as well as the capabilities of the Ljubljana airport.
The capital can presently host events with around 2,000 participants, provided that venues and hotels operate in a coordinated fashion, Jan Oršič of the Ljubljana Congress Office illustrated.
STA, 23 January 2019 - Ljubljana Castle, the capital's main tourist attraction, welcomed 1.316 million visitors in 2018, 57,000 shy of the record posted in 2017. The number of visitors to use the castle funicular on the other hand continued to grow, by another 7.4% to reach 539,000, the castle operator said on Wednesday.
Almost 73% of the visitors were tourists from abroad. Standing out are visitors from Italy, Great Britain, the US, Germany, Korea, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Croatia and Taiwan.
The round and triangular openings had different purposes. Photo: JL Flanner
The city-owned operator is also proud of the programme organised at the castle, with 551 events taking place last year, including the first grape picking in the vineyard planted on Castle Hill in 2016.
An important trend noted is the dispersal of visits beyond the main season, with visitor figures exceeding 1,000 in eight of the 12 months.
Moreover highlighted were the operator's first six months in the capacity of the manager of Ljubljana's famous Celica youth hostel. The room-occupancy rate stood at 81% and 54 art events took place at the hostel in the second half of the year.
Ljubljanski Grad expects to finish 2018 in the black, assessing revenue at EUR 5.9m. It pointed out that the share has been increasing of market-secured revenue, the estimate for this year being 82%.
Related: What’s on in Ljubljana
22 January 2019 – The village of Slapnik in Goriška Brda has been abandoned for decades, but is set to get a new lease of life this year with the news that the BBC is to renovate some of the buildings and film a reality show there.
Slapnik, a settlement with 17 houses that once had around 80 residents, mostly farmers, lost its population to larger towns in the region, as well as to immigration to the US and Australia after WW2. Since 1985 is has been designated as part of Slovenia’s immovable cultural heritage, and become a curiosity for visitors, and those interested in the region’s architecture in particular.
According to Delo, the British Broadcasting Company will film a show in the village in which couples from around Europe will live in the renovated houses. Further details remain unknown, but it’s expected that around 20 episodes of the series will be filmed.
Slapnik, and the region in general, is expected to benefit from the attention, while the renovated buildings will provide more opportunities for further commercial activity in the village. A municipality official, Anita Manfreda, told the media that after the renovation and filming, expected to last two or three years, there are proposals to develop the area into a resort for guests wishing to relax in the peace and quiet of the countryside.
STA, 17 January 2019 - Its waters sparkling in the sun, the Alpine Lake Bled is considered the epitome of picture-perfect and millions have photographed the vista with the island and the little church perched on top. But look below the glistening surface, and the picture is much murkier.
The lake ecology has been deteriorating, mostly due to the surge in swimming, fishing and boating, and rapid development of the lake shoreline. The lake water has long been designated as good or acceptable, but by 2021 it may fall afoul of the water quality standards prescribed by the EU, according to the Environment Agency.
For waters to improve, it is necessary to reduce the intensity of the use of the lake area. "A sustainable improvement and stabilisation of the situation in the lake can only be achieved by removing the causes of pollution and by taking measures to reduce the intensity of the use of the lake area," said Špela Remec Rekar a limnologist (inland water researcher) at the Environment Agency who has been monitoring Lake Bled water quality for several years.
She notes that the number of tourist nights in Bled had almost trebled between 1994 and 2016. Traffic on and around the lake has surged, and there are more and more swimmers and fishermen. Infrastructure, including sewage, has not been keeping up with the increase in visitors.
Remec Rekar said that aside from improving sewage, traffic around the lake should be scaled back and the bird population reduced. But the most important measure would be to ban the feeding of fowl and fish.
Fish feeding has been a major factor in the deterioration of water quality. The law stipulates that each fisherman may bring in five kilo of carp fodder per day, which for Lake Bled amounts to over ten tons of nutrients being introduced to the water each year. This drives up phosphorous levels and supports the development of dangerous cyanobacteria.
The municipality is aware of the problem and is already mulling limiting carp feeding, but it says this is a process. "We have to join forces with all stakeholders and determine what is possible, sensible and feasible," said Tomaž Rogelj, the director of the Bled Tourism Office.
Last year the municipality bought an electric boat for cleaning the lake surface, which removes organic waste such as leaves as well as man-made pollutants. But Remec Remškar says that given the size of the problem, this is a negligible improvement.
STA, 14 January 2019 - Slovenia is not perceived as a destination with offerings for discerning guests willing to pay more. This follows from an analysis of online communication conducted by the Slovenian Tourist Board (STO).
The STO has analysed online opinions, questions and demand by travellers and tourists in Slovenia's target markets Austria, Germany, Italy, the UK, France, Switzerland and Benelux countries.
"Based on the latest research we find that Slovenia is perceived as a destination different from mass tourism but not as a destination with offerings for discerning guests or a destination where visitors are willing to pay more, nor even as a destination offering unique accommodation or experiences, which is the biggest challenge of Slovenian tourism," STO said.
The analysis found that destinations regularly perceived as "boutique" by online users are Paris, Venice, Italy, Greece and far-away islands and countries.
Slovenia is mentioned as such only in editorials or specialised articles, while users only rarely associate elements of exclusivity with the country.
When they do, the expressions they use are small, magical nature and a hidden gem. Suggestions of perception of exclusivity also appear in connection with the country's cuisine or glamping.
The users also mentioned some unique Slovenian sights such as the Postojna Cave.
On the down side, Slovenia is labelled as unnoticeable, overlooked, uninteresting until experienced and untouristy. Also mentioned was a mix of different styles and inconsistency of offerings.
Positive impressions refer to the quiet, beauty of nature and accessible prices, while negative ones mention crowds in some destinations and underdeveloped tourism such as in the fields of infrastructure or a lack of museums outside Ljubljana.
The most common key words associated with Slovenia are Bled and nature. The lakeside town is so popular that some tourists know Bled while they do not know the country it is located in.
Visitors most often recommend visiting the western part of the Alpine macro-destination. including Bled, Bohinj, and the Soča Valley, Postojna Cave, Ljubljana and Piran. They are disappointed by Portorož, Celje, Škofja Loka and Maribor.
The food is deemed as satisfactory with some above-average exceptions, while accommodation is perceived as not luxurious.
The most exceptional experiences associated with Slovenia are canyoning, visiting a vineyard, visiting caves, paragliding, cooking classes and food tours.
All our stories tagged tourism can be found here
Slovenia has a short coastline, far overshadowed by its neighbour to the south. But the little access to the Adriatic that does exist is an attractive and rather varied place, from the glitz, casinos and marina of Portorož to the green tranquillity of Debeli rtič (“the fat little cape”), on the Ankaran peninsula and just a short walk (or swim) from Italy.
It was declared a landscape park in June 2018, and while the area already has several nature reserves, on land and at sea, this one is a welcome addition to keeping part of the coast in a relatively pristine condition. A new website, in Slovene, Italian and English, has been set up to promote Debeli rtič and teach people how to behave when visiting.
The natural attractions of the area include flysche cliffs, with the same rock creating a shallow seabed that gives rise to a high level of biodiversity, with rare and endangered animals such as coral loaf, fan mussel, and long-snouted seahorse. Slightly further inland the landscape park is home to more than 200 different plant species, as well as vineyards and small area of oak forest, which once covered the whole peninsula. Slightly less picturesque, but no less valuable in terms of ecosystems, there’s the soft, wet land of St Nicholas Mediterranean salt meadow, with much for botanists and naturalists to enjoy, as well as anyone else who likes a relaxing walk in the sea air.
Related: Ljubljana Day Trips - the coast
STA, 8 January 2019 - Slovenian ski resorts are fairly happy with the way the season has been running so far despite what has been a serious lack of natural snow. Some have however been struggling, in particular the two high-altitude resorts Kanin and Vogel in the north-west, which do not have major artificial snow-making capabilities.
"Considering the conditions, we're relatively content," the head of the association of ski resort operators Ernest Kovač told the STA.
He explained that visitor numbers are comparable to last year's in most major skiing centres in the country owing to what was a relatively early activation of snow cannons.
The number of skiers is even up slightly at some of the resorts with artificial snow-making capabilities, but no centre has so far been able to open all the available ski lifts. Rogla in the north-east has come closest, having activated almost all of its slopes.
Things are more problematic at smaller centres as well as at Vogel, the ski resort above Lake Bohinj, and Kanin, Slovenia's highest-altitude ski resort.
Located on the Italian border and looking for a boost after it was reopened in late 2016, Kanin has seen a 25% to 30% drop compared to the 2017/2018 season. Situated at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, the centre has borrowed a snow cannon to start making artificial snow for the first time in its history.
Vogel has seen 32 skiing days this season, down almost 50% compared to last year. The Vogel cable car has transported 7,300 people this season, which compares to 27,000 at this point last year. The centre's representatives however remain optimistic, arguing some snow and a few sunny days could still turn things around completely.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
13: Idrija Adventure
The full story on Radio SI can be found here