Slovenia may be a small country, but it has an astonishing diversity of landscapes. You can decide to spend time in the mountainous north with spectacular peaks of the Julian Alps, the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, and the Karavanke. Towards the north-east, the green slopes of Pohorje massif traverse to lowlands, which are part of the Pannonian plain. Most of the southern Slovenia is a karst area where you can admire karst phenomena: caves, intermittent (seasonal) lakes, sinking rivers and collapse dolines (former caves where the ceilings have collapsed). Towards the south-west, the climate and vegetation suddenly change to submediterranean, and soon we reach the Adriatic Sea. The distances are really small. Within a single day, one can easily swim in the sea in the morning and stand on a top of a mountain by the evening.
The diversity of climate, soil types, landscapes and habitats result in an exceptional diversity of plants and animals. Despite its small size, Slovenia is one of the biodiversity hotspots of Europe: while it covers only 0,0004 % of the Earth and 0,014 % of the terrestrial part of the Earth, more than 1 % of all known species and more than 2 % of land species are found in this tiny country. There are more than 800 species, which occur either only in Slovenia (strictly endemic species) or in a small region of Slovenia and bordering countries (broadly endemic species). Many of these special species are highly specialised cave animals, which have entirely adapted to life in the subterranean world. The high biodiversity of Slovenia is also reflecting in the large proportion of the national territory, which is designated as Natura 2000 areas – more than 35 % of the territory belongs to this European network of sites of conservation importance.
Slovenia is known as a green country, not surprising when almost 60 % of the land is covered by forests. Most of the forests are managed for wood production, but still, they provide good habitats for forest animals. In the north of Slovenia, we can admire mountain forests with different tree species changing towards the tree line. In the south of Slovenia, between Postojna and Cerknica (in the area of Green Karst), we can experience the mightiness of the largest forest complex of Central Europe, extending on 40.000 hectares. If you want to get a feel of a virgin forest, you should head south-east. Near Kočevje, there are several forest reserves with mighty old trees. As these are nowadays strict forest reserves, you can only walk on over a path on edge, but enough to get a feel of a forest unimpacted by man.
Here is some more information on the Green Karst.
Due to the intensive management of land and forests, large carnivores have disappeared from many parts of Europe. But in the vast Slovenian forests brown bear, wolf, and lynx still find a place to live. The populations of wolf and lynx are quite low, so the chances to encounter them in nature are rather small. On the other hand, bears are quite common, in particular in the south-western part of the country. In fact, with the bear population estimated at 600 individuals, Slovenia maintains one of the largest densities of bears in Europe. If you pay attention, you may well encounter bear tracks in the mud, droppings on the forest floor or scratch trees with bear hairs glued in the sticky resin. If this is not enough and you really want to see the bear we can include a bear-watching excursion in our private tours for you.
While the north of the country is mountainous with several peaks over 2000 metres, the inland is hilly with most hilltops between 1000 and 1500 metres. Hiking paths are well marked to the majority of hills (find maps here). From many hilltops there are spectacular scenic views and, in particular hills with grassland tops, also harbour a high diversity of plants and animals. Many hilltops have mountain huts with simple accommodation and food (see the list of huts). These areas are an excellent choice for a holiday hike, as summer temperatures on higher altitude tend to be very pleasant. On a clear sunny day you can have a view over the whole country – see Mt. Triglav, the highest peak of Slovenia in the Julian Alps to the north as well as the Adriatic Sea towards the south-west.
There is little surface water in the karst area, but it is exactly water which is shaping the landscape. Karst is predominantly formed on limestone bedrock. Water is slowly dissolving limestone, but in thousands of years, this has created cracks, holes, and many caves. Various processes contribute to the development of cave formations like stalagmites, stalactites, curtains and pillars of rock. On the surface, the path of streams in karst areas can be quite mysterious. Rivers can disappear in swallow holes or caves and reappear on the other side of hills. In periods of heavier rain or melting snow, streams fill up with water and flood the plain, forming temporary lakes. Rivers can also flow through the underground, where water has carved gorges with large chambers. When you visit Slovenia, take the time to go for a guided tour to at least one show cave.
Slovenia is scarcely populated. There are about 2 million inhabitants in the entire country, so only about one-quarter of the of the population of London! Because of a low density of cities, there is also less light pollution. As soon as you go out of cities or villages, you can see thousands of stars in a night sky. In the midsummer, with a peak around 12th August, we have a great chance to observe the Perseid meteor shower. This happens when our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, the parent of the Perseid meteor shower. Debris from this comet litters the comet’s orbit. The pieces from Comet Swift-Tuttle slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at very high speed, lighting up the nighttime with fast-moving Perseid meteors.
If you live or work in the city, you might want to spend your holidays in remote areas away from city noise. In Slovenia, you don’t need to travel to outback corners to find silence and peace. There are various types of accommodation available in the countryside, where you can enjoy the full comfort of lodging right next to nature areas. There you will find the quietness, which will help you relax and regain inner strength during your holidays. In Slovenia, despite that majority of forests are privately owned, you are allowed to access any forest on forest tracks. It is also allowed to stay in the forest after the sunset, so you can even sit under the trees and enjoy the sun setting behind the hills.
You can go snorkelling or diving in the Slovenian sea, but have you considered doing the same in an inland river? Slovenia is one of the most water-rich countries in Europe. It has 27,000 km of rivers, streams, and other watercourses. It also has numerous thermal springs and mineral springs, and several large lakes. In many inland streams and lakes, the water is crystal clear and you can easily see fish swimming. Compared to other European countries the water quality is relatively good in Slovenia, and it continues to improve because of numerous wastewater treatment plants were constructed in the recent years. Slovenia’s streams and rivers are home to a surprising diversity of freshwater fish: more than 100 different species can be found here. These include the large marble trout, prized by naturalists and sports fishermen alike, as well as small and colourful minnows and loaches.
The Green Karst region in Slovenia is inhabited since the ice ages. Farming, hunting and wood production all left traces in the landscape. Did you know that the current motorway between Ljubljana and Koper roughly follows the route of the ancient cart road which connected central Europe with the Adriatic sea? This strategically important area has been disputed throughout the ages, which is why there are numerous castles and interesting fortifications which you can visit.