Home to traditional Christmas markets, stomach-warming foods and joyful entertainment for the whole family, head to Slovenia for a festive spirit break through its snow-covered cities...
Fancy really getting into the Christmas spirit this year? If only a festive wonderland existed that is kissed with snow, whose cities buzz with seasonal cheer and whose markets burst alive with tempting festive foodie delights. Well the good news I can report - as a travel writer who has visited over 100 countries – is that such a country does exist and it’s Slovenia. Grab a glass of mulled wine and get cosy now as you discover 8 magical reasons to savour Slovenia over Christmas and New Year.
Forget the little dribble of snow that makes bookmakers nervous, but barely offers enough to make a decent snowball, in other parts of Europe. Slovenia offers the real deal with proper snowfall – you will see it sprinkled on her chocolate box pretty mountains as you fly in and find it gracing her cities too. That lacing of snow makes all the difference and you will feel like you are walking around inside a Christmas card rather than just sending them and dreaming of distant snow.
Slovenia’s Christmas Markets are up there with anything that Germany can offer. The most famous are in the capital city of Ljubljana. Here the banks of the lifeblood River Ljubljanica come alive with all manner of festive stalls as part of the Festive Fair. You can savour everything from hot teas and mulled wine, through to grilled meats and chunky sausages. There are plenty of sweet treats too. You can also buy unique gifts, the kind that you just cannot get back home, like handmade crafts and seriously cosy hand knitted jumpers, gloves and hats. Your friends and loved ones will be glad you popped out to Slovenia.
Even the most dour Scrooge is sure to be converted by Ljubljana in the run up to Christmas. Scrooge will be happy too that you can have fun for free. The city’s spectacular Christmas lights are justifiably famous. They are conjured up by legendary local artist Zmago Modic, who helps weave seasonal magic into the streets and its grandest buildings, with overhead lights and installations all part of a jaw-dropping collage. It’s not all just showy glitz, as there is plenty to see and do too. A multitude of free concerts and festive family events ripple through the city’s squares in the build up to the big day.
Slovenia’s second largest city of Maribor is no slouch at Christmas either. Magical December sees the whole city get into the festive spirit with a focus on the picturesque streets of the old town. Trg Leona Stuklja Square boasts concerts and a Christmas Village; Grajski Trg Square festive fairs, concerts and parties; Trg Svobode Square festive fairs and an ice rink; and Vetrinjski Dvor Mansion also hosts concerts, a variety of family friendly events and other entertainment. A Maribor highlight is the Fairy City with music, street theatre, puppets and childrens’ movies. There are also free festive walking tours and plenty of opportunities for snaring great gifts.
This lesser-known city is charming and deeply historic. Celje is also a star when it comes to its Christmas festivities and the city really puts on a spectacular light show. Wander the streets and you can encounter elves, fairies and even the man himself, Santa Claus. Delve for foodie goodies and gifts into the little fairytale houses of the Christmas and New Year’s market, then enjoy outdoor concerts, or a romantic carriage ride through this fairytale landscape. You can pop over on a day trip from Ljubljana, but I recommend lingering longer.
Where do we start? Slovenia offers a multitude of unique experiences. How about delving into the underground netherworld of the massive Postojna Caves to experience their famous Living Nativity Scenes on a 5km adventure that is one of the world’s most thrilling festive experiences with 16 scenes and musical performances, with 150 performers involved in this subterranean extravaganza? Or what about attending the ‘Sinking of the Christmas tree’ at dreamy Lake Bled and then skating on the frozen waters afterwards in the shadow of fairytale Bled Castle?
Maybe you would prefer to hide away in a cosy mountain cottage, or just chill out in one of the termes (health spas) that dot the country enjoying a massage that will soothe away any seasonal stress. If snow is not your thing flee down to the Adriatic coast where the striking city of Piran stages its own Magical December festivities.
December sees a tempting array of festive treats appear on menus and at food stalls. The sweet toothed will love the rolled dough potica cake, a seasonal gem found in all 24 of Slovenia’s gastronomic regions with everyone doing their own take. Tasty cakes and bountiful biscuits overflow from the Christmas market stalls too. Pork is popular as a festive dish throughout the country, again served in myriad ways, from slow cooked roasts to chunky sausages. An unusual foodie treat are the capons. These young roosters are reared to no older than eight months and are unlike any other chicken I’ve ever tried – absolutely delicious!
New Year’s Eve is a huge event all over Slovenia. Massive celebrations burst across Ljubljana’s three main squares in the biggest festivities, with everything from performances by talented local rappers through to full blown rock. Events earlier in the day are designed to appeal more to families. The culmination of the day comes with an epic fireworks display over Ljubljana Castle. In Maribor the biggest party – which is said to have a heritage even longer than Ljubljana’s festivities – is on Leon Stukelj Square, while in Celje Krek Square is the place to go to dance your way into the New Year. The cities of Kranj, Novo Mesto and Piran are also renowned for being great fun places to spend New Year. What are you waiting for? Come on in and join a festive party guaranteed to get you in the spirit.
This article was supported by the Slovenia Tourist Board (www.slovenia.info) but it is impartial and independent, just like all Wanderlust editorial.