This year, 2011, marks the 20 year anniversary of Slovenia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. There is no better time to visit this jewel in Eastern Europe’s crown. The whole year will see many special events, the adoption of new visions for development and a huge celebration to which the whole world is invited. A very special part in these gatherings will be played by Slovenian expatriates and their descendants – the biggest such gathering in Slovenian territory is planned for early July.
This year the Slovenian Tourist board plans to make it easier for Slovenians, their descendants and friends to visit Slovenia, through numerous special offers and discounts. To ensure that Slovenians, their descendants and friends throughout the world know about these offers, details are posted on the Slovenia.info website. The website, which posts special tourist deals and packages for expatriates, emigrants and their nearest and dearest, has also organised a forum for impression of relatives and former citizens. The Slovenian Tourist Board has even put together the special packages in cooperation with a range of tour operators, and will be continuously updating them. We can’t wait to get there, neither should you!
As the avid readers of Charlotte’s VVeb will know, I visited Serbia for the first time last year and was blown away by its beauty, culture, food and drink – everything this website is about! If you aren’t so sure then perhaps consider taking an organised tour and I don’t mean a bus tour… There is a lot more to touring these days than coach trips! For example, Travel the Unknown organise incredible hiking and cycling tours through Serbia’s valleys and gorges. On such a tour you can discover the ghoulish skull tower of Niš, visit a 200 year old water mill, and stop off to rejuvenate your muscles in a Turkish bath.
Plus, you’ll have the chance to experience the cosmopolitan café culture of modern Belgrade and hike through remote regions of Serbia, sampling local wines, brandies, breads, meats and cheeses along the way. While overnight you will stay in small lodges (pensions) and discover true hospitality in a traditional rural homestay.
There are currently two dates set for these tours (22 to 29 April; and, 16 to 23 September); however, if these don’t suit you, contact the company and they will organise a trip to suit your individual needs. And if Serbia doesn’t take your fancy, Travel the Unknown offers lots of other touring experiences!
Award-winning Upland Escapes offers over 40 years of combined experience in seeking out the very best and most rewarding walking in a range of landscapes. Whichever Upland Escape you choose, you can rely on finding wild, untouched uplands, wild flowers and animals and rural, rustic landscapes, allowing you and your family to really get away from it all. All Upland Escapes walking holidays are single-centre based in delightful B&B’s, local village houses, and even cave houses, allowing you to become fully immersed into local life.
You are free to walk as much or as little as you wish and there are no set itineraries, which means that our holidays are truly unique and flexible, making them ideal for families. What’s more, each Upland destination receives full support from an English-speaking Upland Manager, available 24 hours a day, on hand to provide guided walks or advice and tips to allow you to discover the area for yourself. Combining fresh mountain air with an array of activities to seek and discover, presents the perfect holiday option to revitalise the body and mind.
Upland Escapes offer walking holidays in a number of stunning European upland destinations that include the Julian Alps in Slovenia, and the Carinthian Alps in Austria.
The Julian Alps, Slovenia
In the little known corner of the European Alps of Slovenia, sits the astonishingly picturesque Julian Alps. These alps are a stunning limestone mountain range, home to Slovenia’s only National Park. This area provides spectacular scenery with evocative evidence of the fierce struggles between Austrian and Italian troops in World War One. The Julian Alps is a protected region that is home to deer, boar, wolves, and even brown bears. Wooded slopes lead down to deep gorges and ravines, where turquoise rivers, such as the pristine Soca, have carved out beautiful waterfalls and caves.
For culture, the small market town of Kobarid is home to an award-winning museum focusing on the battles of the Isonzo/Soca front between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I. The Soca river is superb for organised activities such as white-water rafting, canoeing and canyoning. It is also possible to fish for marbled trout or spend a day exploring the area by mountain bike. With a hire car, take the car-train from Most na Soci to Bohinjska Bistrica, to visit the beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj for the day. A drive to the Soca valley takes your breath away. Venture over the border and you could spend the day in the lovely Italian town of Cividales, with its medieval centre, Celtic hypogeum and 15th Century cathedral.
In the pretty town of Kobarid, next to the Soca River sits the town-based escape which takes the form of an attractive apartment in the centre of the town. The town itself has a quiet charm and several shops to buy locally-made produce such as honey, cheeses and excellent ice-cream. Some of the restaurants in and around Kobarid are rated among the best in Slovenia. For more rustic cuisine, there is great gnocchi to sample at Dreznicas Inn, and in Kosec, your host can offer delicious home-grown dishes including lamb, local cheeses and seasonal vegetables fresh from her garden. Regional cuisine includes Soca trout, venison, mountain curd cheese and cured hams. The beer is excellent and there are good red wines from the nearby Brda Hills.
When to go: July/August summer holiday
Average high: 26 degrees
Prices: Start from £290.00 pp for 3 nights including accommodation, hire car, self-guided walks and local Manager support. From £425 pp for 3 nights with additional organised walks and lavish packed lunches.
Discounts: Under 2s go free / Groups of 6 or more – one person in the party gets a free holiday (conditions apply).
No price hikes during school holiday time
The Carinthian Alps, Austria
This region is Austria’s most southernmost and sunniest spot as the river Gail carves its way down the Lesachtal, before joining the Danube. The valley is bounded by limestone summits which form the Italian borders and to the north sit the Lienz Dolomites where traditional ways of life, particularly farming, still survive to this day. In this area, the hay surrounding hillside villages are still cut by hand in August. You can explore the area by taking a walk through your village of St Jakob, with its traditional wooden barns and tall gothic church, before setting out to see working water-mills and the pilgrim church at Maria Luggau. The locals cherish their village and at it’s heart, you stay with the Ainetter family who have been looking after wearing travellers for generations. Less than 15 minutes from St Jakob, there are shops, restaurants and two swimming pools at the nearby town of Kotschach-Mauthen. Cycle-hire is available from here too, as are water sports including kayaking and rafting for the more adventurous.
Kotschach-Mauthen has two fine gothic churches and a museum dedicated to World War I fighting that took place nearby. Bicycles can be hired, which is an excellent way to explore the area and with a hire car, you can visit charming Lienz, with its town museum and 15th Century fresco cycle. Excavations are still taking place in Roman Lienz, presenting opportunity to explore and step back in time.
Food & Drink
At the Gasthof, Monika serves venison and boar as well as Carinthian kasnudeln; pasta parcels enclosing a variety of fillings. The Austrian approach to food tends to the hearty, but there are always varied salads available alongside mixed grills and sausages. Carinthias fruit trees provide fillings for all kinds of tarts and strudels. Pleasant wines are produced in the east of the region.
When to go: July/August summer holiday
Average high: 27 degrees
Prices: Start from £290.00 pp for 3 nights including B&B accommodation, hire car, self-guided walks and local Manager support. From £425 pp for 3 nights with additional organised walks and lavish packed lunches.
Discounts: Under 2s go free / Groups of 6 or more – one person in the party gets a free holiday (conditions apply).
No price hikes during school holiday time
Idyllic Ischgl, located in the Austrian Tyrol, is renowned for its ski slopes and apres-ski nightlife. However, it also makes an ideal destination for a luxury summer holiday. The picturesque mountain backdrop, with valleys and waterfalls, is the perfect place for adrenaline junkies, whether you love mountain biking, hiking, rafting or canyoning. The best bit? There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a little pampering at the numerous spas and luxury hotels. Check out the highlights below…
Most people will have heard of Lithuania; many may even be aware that Vilnius is the country’s capital city. However, it may be a surprise to find out that Lithuania actually boasts some award-winning beaches and stunning UNESCO World Heritage sand dunes. The resort towns of the Curonian Spit have been attracting tourists for many years and with the fall of communism in 1991, Lithuania’s attentions have turned to the West.
A visit to the Curonian Spit is not as simple as jumping on a plane for two-and-a-half hours, but it is well worth that extra effort. Fly with airBaltic from London Gatwick South Terminal to Riga in Latvia, and then hop on a short flight to Palanga in Lithuania. Both Gatwick South Terminal and Riga have luxurious lounges in which passengers can relax before boarding the planes. It is well worth the investment, with complementary drinks, snacks, and in Riga, an impressively well-stocked water bar with water from thirty different countries. On arrival in Palanga, simply take a taxi or public transport to Klaipeda, the region’s largest city.
Although Klaipeda is quite industrial it is home to a particularly quaint old town and luxurious hotels, none of which has a particularly hefty price tag. Located in the up-and-coming port district, The Old Mill Hotel is one example of a brand new hotel, with lavish rooms, which does not come at a high price. With great public transport links to the resort towns of the Curonian Spit, Klaipeda is an ideal destination to base oneself. However, the city itself does have some interesting attractions, including the air-raid shelter at Memel-Nord where a rather animated local guide talks visitors through the history of the region and then demonstrates amber fishing. Lithuania is renowned for its amber. After dark stormy nights it is even possible for amateur amber enthusiasts to find small pieces washed up on the beach, but to be truly wowed, watch the pros.
Just a short ferry journey from Klaipeda visitors will find the Sea Museum which boasts an aquarium, dolphin shows and even a giant performing sea lion, named Pirate. A trip to Lithuania’s most visited museum will certainly keep children amused. Similarly, visiting Klaipeda’s castle ruins and watching members of the local war society re-enact marching, shooting and even firing canons will keep children thoroughly entertained and enthralled.
While wandering the streets of Klaipeda, for a truly authentic Lithuanian experience look out for local festivities. During festival times traditional, local folk bands play music and dance in the street. Even outside the festivals there is a great deal of merriment to be had in Klaipeda. To take in the city as a whole a beverage or two must be consumed from the top of the recently refurbished Amberton Hotel. The new block is one of the highest buildings in the area and gives visitors a 360-degree panoramic view of the city, port and surrounding countryside.
However, for those who want to embrace laid-back Lithuanian life, take a short ferry ride to the Curonian Spit and stay in one of the resort towns, such as Nida. With its UNESCO World Heritage status, Nida is particularly strict with any new buildings and even refurbishment. All buildings are painted in certain colours, generally red, white and blue. Nevertheless, essential regeneration is taking place in Nida, and hotels such as Nidus have been thoroughly renovated to provide visitors with a comfortable place to stay.
Walking around Nida is the best way to see the sights. Visits to the lighthouse on Urbo hill (an area which during summer months plays host to a summer cinema festival) and a trek up the Parnidis dune are well worth the hard work on the thighs. From both vantage points visitors cannot fail to be impressed by the spectacular views. It is here in Nida that the real Lithuania can be found – here that countryside and the seaside are combined. This is, quite simply, visually spectacular.
Heading on to the beach, facing the aggressive Baltic Sea, is the only way to start the morning. While the wind whips through your hair and the sun beats down on your face, join in with the locals at the free
summer yoga sessions. Nevertheless, there is something for adrenaline junkies too. Irklakojis offers blokart (land-sailing) sessions, as well as kayaking, sailing, hiking and cycling tours. The provisions for cycling, be it on a tour or independently, are impressive in Nida and the surrounding resort towns. To take in the dramatic amalgamation of coast and forest hire a bike for the day and cycle the 50 kilometre cycle path which will take you through the pretty resort towns of Nida, Pervalka and Juodkrante. If in need of refreshments, stop off in Juodkrante to enjoy a refreshing Svyturys beer on board the town’s very own pirate ship.
During a stay in Nida a boat trip is a must. Local boat tours take tourists right up to the border of Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave. It is from the sea that it is finally possible to comprehend just how impressive the sand dunes are. Walking through the white sand of the Dead Dunes (do not stray from the path, as they are protected and hefty fines can be incurred if caught doing so), located between Pervalka and Juodkrante, may be as initially breathtaking as the Sahara desert but it is only from the sea that their sheer scale can be grasped.
For an awe-inspiring holiday consider visiting Lithuania’s Curonian Spit. Whether searching for a holiday with real value for money, rest and relaxtion or an action-packed adventure, Lithuania’s Curonian Spit has something to please everyone.
Flights: airBaltic fly directly from London (Gatwick airport) to Riga and Vilnius and offers connecting flights to Kaunas and Palanga. Prices for flights from London to Vilnius start at 57 EUR per person including all taxes if purchased online at www.airbaltic.com.
Airport: To book your place in the No 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick South Terminal visit www.No1Traveller.com.
Try something different this summer and stay in any of the 200 tourist farms spread across the Slovenian countryside. Staying at a tourist farm gives travellers a real insight into the customs and traditions of Slovenian life, plus a chance to get closer to the country’s nature and landscapes.
Tourist farms are genuine working farms that welcome help from their guests – including children. Some jobs which guests can get involved in include fruit picking, egg collecting, mushroom picking, grape harvesting and animal feeding. As well as traditional bed and breakfast accommodation, evening meals are also available. These are usually traditional homemade Slovene dishes that are produced from fresh organic ingredients, grown on the farm’s land.
Being based in the Slovenian countryside offers the perfect opportunity for holidaymakers to make the most of Slovenia’s outdoor activities including hiking in the Julian Alps, rowing on Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, white-water rafting and kayaking on the Soča River, or horse riding and mountain biking in the Triglav National Park. With over 7,000km of marked mountain trails in Slovenia which vary in difficulty and length, there are also options for everyone from gentle walkers to serious hikers.
With a wide and varied mix of tourist farms, visitors will find something to suit all tastes and needs. The Hlebec tourist farm in the hamlet of Kog, in northeastern Slovenia close to the Croatian border, is the perfect base for travellers wanting to explore the eastern wine routes. The farm is owned by the Hlebec family, who cultivate 20,000 vintage vines to produce Renski, Laski Rizling, Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines. There are seven bedrooms and guests are served traditional meals specially selected to complement the different wines.
Travellers in search of an active break in Slovenia’s mountains and national parks might like the Pr’Gorjup Farm near Lake Bohinj. The farm is located on a wooded mountain plateau and boasts panoramic views across the valley. The farm has four guest bedrooms and offers home grown produce including traditional Bohinj meats and cheeses. The Pr’Gorjup Farm is within easy reach of excellent hiking and mountain biking trails, horse riding and canoeing on Lake Bohinj.
Mountain Paradise is currently offering £200 off new wildlife watching tours in the Slovakian Tatras meaning you only need spend £995 for a week or £699 for a short break in a spectacular region with incredible wildlife. The High Tatras are unspoilt and one of the smallest mountain ranges in the world. They are situated in the northern part of the Slovak republic on the border with Poland. The region is rich with flora featuring almost 1400 species of plants. However, the real ornament of the Tatras is the Cedar pine. It is an alpine species of pine tree, which grows on the steepest parts of hillsides. Wildlife is also in abundance; above the rocky relief of the Tatras you can often see a Golden Eagle and Chamois and Marmots are both endemic to the area. Wolves and brown bears can also be found in the Tatra’s forests.
Mountain Paradise, (www.mountainparadise.co.uk0161 408 8988) is offering exhilarating wildlife tours in Slovakia’s Tatra Mountains for the first time this summer with a special introductory discount of £200 off of a week’s stay and £100 off a short break if booked by 30 June. Packages start at £995 for a seven night holiday and £699 for a three night break. Packages comprise: return flights from London, Luton or Manchester, airport transfers, full board accommodation in private rangers’ cottages and in chalets, transport to wildlife locations, two days of wildlife watching on the short break and five on the week stay.
These unique tours, led by expert guides and mountain rangers, take participants to areas of the Western and Belianske Tatra National Park previously inaccessible to tourists. They offer the chance to see a selection of Slovakia’s abundant and diverse wildlife including: brown bears, wolves, roe and red deer, the elusive lynx and the endangered Tatra chamois. Pine martins and many birds of prey including golden eagles and falcons also inhabit the area. The tours run on selected dates between June and October.
Mountain Paradise does not use animal hides or bait the wildlife instead they rely of the expertise of the rangers to track animals ensuring that clients see them in their natural habitat. The company also restricts numbers to six per guided group. The tours are part of the bear research programme being carried out by Tatra foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that provides funding for conservation initiatives throughout Tatra Mountains National Park. Clients will be able to see the results of some of the bear research while on these tours. Mountain Paradise will also donates £100 to the Tatra Foundation for every booking made.
The wildlife tours require a moderate level of fitness as they feature walks of approximately three hours around the valleys of the Tatra National Park with ascents and descents during wildlife watching. The holidays are not suitable for children under the age of 14.
Despite being in the Euro zone, Slovakia represents excellent value for money with a pint of beer, a vodka, soft drink or large sandwich costing only €1, a main course in a restaurant around €3 and an ice cream just €0.50. Slovakia is just 2-hours by air from the UK (flights from London, Luton or Manchester) and the short transfer to the mountains means that holidaymakers spend the maximum amount of time on location.
Mountain Paradise’s 2009 wildlife tours are running on the following dates:
27 June to 4 July, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
14-17 August, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
22-29 August, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
29 Aug-5 Sept, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
5-12 September, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
12-19 September, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6 £1200 after
25-28 September, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
2-5 October, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
9-12 October, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
17-24 October, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
24-31 October, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after