Affordable, accessible and (most importantly) utterly enchanting, Slovenia is fast becoming the savvy LGBT traveller’s European destination of choice, says Luke Till.
The people of Slovenia prefer to think of their country geographically as more Central rather than Eastern Europe, and their 21st century liberal values identify more with those of their Western cousins than their neighbours to the east. These welcoming values mean that, of all the countries founded from the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia is the ideal destination for LGBT travellers to explore safely and with peace of mind.
But why else visit Slovenia? After all, it rarely features on people’s lists of ‘places to go’, but it absolutely should, and I’m here to tell you why.
Firstly, Slovenia is an incredibly beautiful country. Small – roughly one hundred square miles short of our very own Wales – but perfectly formed, Slovenia packs into its borders alpine forests, glacier lakes, verdant forests, sprawling vineyards, immaculate towns and a modest but glorious 29 miles of sparkling Adriatic coastline. Such varied terrain within easily drivable distances means at certain times of the year one is able to ski in the mountains after breakfast and then snorkel in the sea after lunch, should you feel so inclined.
Nestled between Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy, Slovenia is approximately a two-hour flight from London. Its capital city, Ljubljana (pronounced loob-ee-arna, and where you’ll most likely land), is almost in the very centre of the country, meaning it’s a great base to explore from.
What to see and do
Otočec Castle is a castle hotel on a small island in the middle of the Krka River in Otočec, which is part of the traditional region of Lower Carniola, found in the south-eastern corner of the country. It is the only water castle in Slovenia; indeed the word Otočec itself in Slovenian means ‘small island’. Dating from the 11th century but now fully restored, today it is a stunning hotel and wedding venue, perfect to stay in overnight or simply visit for dinner and a walk around its grounds.
Drink wine: The area known as the White Carniola offers rolling hills and seemingly endless cottage vineyards, one of which, Sturm Winemaker, offers fantastic tours of its cellars and produce. Learn about pairing wines with food and the process of ice wine. Slovenia even produces an orange wine – a blend somewhere between white and rosé. No less than 52 vine varieties grow across 14 wine-growing districts within three regions, meaning Slovenian wine is some of the most varied in the world, so there’s plenty to choose from.
Visit a local farm: Your chance to herd sheep, ride a tractor, sample a traditional farm-to-table lunch. We played fun games at Eco Farm Totter and drank more wine on the banks of the Sava river (which makes up part of the Slovene-Croatian border) at Kozma Farmstay.
Back in the capital, a Ljubljana boat ride allows you to enjoy a drink while cruising down the peaceful River Ljubljanica Kanal, which meanders its way through the city it’s named after. It really is a superb way to see the capital from a different perspective and offers the opportunity to decide which of the dozens of bars and restaurants that line its banks you may plan on visiting once back on dry land.
Explore Ljubljana: Slovenia’s capital city consists of a maze of charming streets and is crowned with a beautiful medieval castle perched high up on a green hill, which makes it the perfect place to see excellent panoramas of the city, especially at sunset.
Slovenia’s residents are extremely friendly and LGBT tourists should feel at ease going into all bars in the capital, which encourage mixed crowds of all sexualities to socialise.
But if you want a predominantly more gay night out then Klub Tiffany is the place to head on a Friday night. As Ljubljana’s premier gay club, Klub Tiffany has been welcoming LGBT Slovenians and their friends to its dancefloors every week since 1993. It’s an indoor-outdoor complex housed in a disused military base and offers pop, trance and electro music, cheap beers and an apocalyptic Mad Max vibe complete with discarded truck tyres and old oil drums.
On Saturday nights it’s all about Klub K4, which offers lots more polish and far less grit than Tiffany with pop music and onstage drag dance performances across several floors (although we preferred Tiffany). Both clubs are a short walk from city centre.
Where to stay
Complete with impeccably designed bedroom suites, world-class fine-dining using fresh produce from its own gardens and guided tastings of superior wines in its newly converted winery tower, Otočec Castle is one of the most prestigious hotel venues in the whole of Slovenia and is found in the southeast corner of the country, close to the border with Croatia.
For the more active among us, nearby Hotel Sport offers comfortable contemporary rooms, a well equipped gym, huge indoor pool, steam room and sauna spa complex and outdoor activities.
Back in the capital, Ljubljana’s oldest continually working hotel, the Grand Union, offers four-star traditional opulence and huge bedroom suites with contemporary offerings for the modern traveller, such as gleaming rooftop pool and sumptuous massage treatments.
For an even higher level of luxury, the five-star InterContinental Ljubljana, with its soaring glass façade and exquisite rooftop bar, offers lavish rooms, exemplary service and breathtaking panoramas of the city.
When to go
Slovenia’s Pink Week takes place in late May. For more information and package deals, visit pinkweek.eu
The country’s Pride Parade takes place in June, while its Festival of Gay and Lesbian Film has been a regular annual event in the city every December for a number of years.
How to get there
Direct flights to Ljubljana leave London Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports daily with low-cost airlines EasyJet and Wizz Air offering some of the best deals.