Getting Oriented

Few people ever wonder how the Alpine peaks of Austria turn into the Adriatic coastal resorts of Croatia, and this oversight makes Slovenia one of Europe's best-kept secrets. Just half the size of Switzerland, the country is often treated as fly-over—or drive-through—territory by travelers heading to better-known places in Croatia or Italy. That's good news for anyone choosing Slovenia as a destination in its own right. It means fewer crowds—even in the peak summer touring months—fewer hassles, and in many ways a more authentic travel experience.

Ljubljana, the capital, takes its place in the geographical center of the country, magnetizing entrepreneurs, artists, students, and internationals into making it a funky modern city coated in Habsburg decor. An hour's drive from both the coast and the Alps, Ljubljana is well connected to the rest of the country by a modern highway system and decent rail connections. The towns of Maribor and Ptuj, embedded in green hills rich with thermal waters and spas, lie to the northeast. Just north of Ljubljana, the Julian Alps give way to the mesmerizing lakes of Bled and Bohinj, as well as some excellent skiing and hiking resorts such as Kranjska Gora. To the west of the lakes, the turquoise river Soča starts its Adriatic-bound flow yielding sights that must be seen—or better, rafted—to be believed. The Soča brings us to Goriška Brda in the far west, Slovenia's prime wine-growing region, and further down to the short but memorable Adriatic coast. There, the intact Venetian jewel of Piran holds its own with the more renowned cities in Italy and Croatia.

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