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|Introduction to Slovenia
Rich in resources, naturally good looking and persistently peaceful, Slovenia has been doing just fine since its break from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. No longer the undiscovered, bargain gem that it was, Slovenia still remains a wonderful antidote to much of Europe's crowds and high prices.
Many of its cities and towns bear the imprint of the Habsburg Empire and the Venetian Republic, while up in the Julian Alps you'd almost think you were in Bavaria. The relative affluence of this country on the 'sunny side of the Alps' is immediately apparent.
Except for a brief period in June and July 1991 when Yugoslavia attempted forcibly to prevent Slovenia from leaving its fold, there's been no fighting, no war and no terrorism in Slovenia. While Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo became embroiled in the bitterest conflict in Europe since WWII, Slovenes got on with making a good fist of their independence and keeping out of the limelight.
Full country name: Republic of Slovenia (Republika Slovenija)
Area: 20,273 sq km
Population: 1.93 million
Capital City: Ljubljana
People: 88% Slovenian, 3% Croat, 2% Serb
Language: Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, German, English
Religion: 72% Roman Catholic, 4.3% atheist, 2.4% Eastern Orthodox Christian, 1% Muslim, 1% Protestant
Government: parliamentary democratic republic
Head of State: President Janez Drnovsek
Head of Government: Prime Minister Janez Jansa
GDP: US$37.06 billion
GDP per capita: US$19,200
Annual Growth: 3.5%
Major Industries: Textiles, manufacturing, timber products, agriculture
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Germany, Italy, France, Austria), Croatia
Member of EU: Yes
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Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the USA and most European countries do not require visas for stays of up to 90 days. Citizens of other countries can get 90-day visas in advance at any Slovenian embassy or consulate, or 30 day visas on arrival.
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1
Dialling Code: 386
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The International Summer Festival is the nation's premier cultural celebration, featuring music, theatre and dance performances in Ljubljana and Bled during the months of July and August. Maribor's Lent Festival, in late June or early July, celebrates folklore, culture and music. The Cows' Ball (Kravji Bal) in Bohinj is a kitschy weekend of eating, drinking and folk dancing in mid-September to mark the return of the cows to the valleys from their high pastures. It doesn't get any more Slovenian than this.
January and March bring ski competitions - the January Women's World Cup Slalom and Giant Slalom Competition is one of the major ski events for women, held on the slopes southwest of Maribor. In March, the Ski Jumping World Championships host three days of high flying in Planica. In between the two, there's a rite of spring called Kurentovanje, held every February for 10 days up to Shrove Tuesday. This is the most popular Mardi Gras celebration in Slovenia; most of the festivities are centered in and around Ptuj.
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|Best time to Visit
September is an excellent month to visit because it's the best time for hiking and climbing, and the summer crowds have vanished. December to March is high-time for skiers, while spring is a good time to be in the lowlands and valleys because everything's in blossom. Try to avoid July and August, when hotel rates rise and there are lots more tourists, especially on the coast.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Slovenia's still much cheaper than neighbouring Italy or Austria, though prices are increasing. To travel in comfort and style, expect to spend around US$100 a day; those happy to stay at guesthouses and eat at medium-priced restaurants should get by on US$70 a day. Those putting up at hostels and eating at self-serve restaurants can cut costs to around US$35.
Nearly all prices are in tolars, but some hotels, guesthouses and campgrounds quote rates in euros. It's simple to change cash and travellers cheques at banks, post offices, travel agencies and any menjalnica, the ubiquitous private exchange offices. There's no black market, but exchange rates can vary. Banks take a commission of 1%, while tourist offices, travel agencies, exchange bureaus and hotels take up to 5%.
Credit cards are accepted at upscale restaurants, shops and hotels, but elsewhere you must use cash. Only a few of Slovenia's ATMs are accessible to foreign account holders, but more and more are coming online. Credit card holders can get cash advances in tolars from some banks.
A value-added tax (replacing the 'circulation' tax) is now added to the purchase price of most goods and services. Many hotels in Slovenia levy a 'tourist tax' on overnight visitors of about US$2. Tipping is not compulsory, but no one will chase you out of the restaurant for leaving a 10% gratuity.
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Ljubljana is a smaller Prague without the hordes of tourists. By far Slovenia's largest and most populous city, this charming place feels like a clean, green, self-contented town rather than an industrious municipality of national importance.
Ljubljana began as the Roman town of Emona, and legacies of the Roman presence remain throughout the city, but contemporary Ljubljana has a vibrant Slavic air all its own. The 35,000 students who attend Ljubljana University keep the city spirited and young.
There are several bustling beach towns along Slovenia's short Adriatic coast. Italianised Koper has a medieval flavour despite the surrounding industry, container ports and superhighways, and pretty Piran is a gem of Venetian Gothic architecture with narrow streets.
The Maritime Museum, in a 17th century harbourside palace, has compelling exhibits on seafaring and salt-making, which have been important to Piran's development over the centuries.
The nicest beach along the coast is nearby at Fiesa. From its clean sands and boat-restricted waters you can see Trieste's Miramare Castle.
Piran is 17km (10.5mi) southwest of Koper, which in turn is 163km (101mi) southwest of Ljubljana. Bus service to both towns is frequent from Ljubljana and Trieste; buses also conveniently link all the coastal towns. A train also links Koper to Ljubljana.
Adrenaline seekers in Slovenia head for three-headed Mt Triglav (2864m/9394ft), the country's highest peak. It presides over the Julian Alps, which cut across Slovenia's northwestern corner into Italy. The Alps are visited by hundreds of weekend warriors, not all of whom are on ambitious treks.
Early Slavs believed the mountain to be the home of a three-headed deity who ruled the sky, the earth and the underworld. Since the days of the Habsburgs, the 'pilgrimage' to Triglav has been a confirmation of Slovenian identity. Today Triglav figures prominently on the national flag.
The large underground Skocjan Caves lie below the desolate land of the Karst region. Millions of years ago this area was covered by a deep sea which left a thick layer of limestone deposits. Visitors can pass through these spectacular deposits thanks to an artificial tunnel built in 1933.
The tunnel passes through the Silent Cave, a dry branch of an underground canyon that stretches for half a kilometre. The first section, called Paradise, is filled with stalactites, stalagmites and flow stones; the second part, called Calvary, was once the river bed. Silent Cave ends at the cavern known as the Great Hall - a high jungle of dripstones and deposits. The caves are home to 250 varieties of plants and five types of bats.
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