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SLOVENIA

Introduction
It's been referred to as a pocket-size country, but Slovenia is perhaps more justly thought of as Europe's first "boutique destination." Crammed with jaw-dropping scenery and packing in more history than its marginal 20,273 sq. km (7,906 sq. miles) should allow, this tiny central European nation is studiously being developed as one of the finest tourism destinations on earth. You may have trouble pointing it out on a map, but with just over two million inhabitants, smart little Slovenia is already setting the tone for fashionable travel; in 2007, visitor numbers exceeded the country's population.

Only recently discovered by a select group of globe-trotters who've tuned into tales of its idyllic beauty, Slovenia is considerably more tranquil and sophisticated than any other destination cast under the "Eastern European" banner, with almost none of the hang-ups associated with its former Communist connections; 18 years after gently wresting itself from Yugoslavia, there's a fresh exuberance of spirit here suggesting a nation not only still enjoying its independence honeymoon, but simultaneously relishing a distinct cosmopolitanism that results from the myriad influences of its contact with diverse cultures.

Its good looks have drawn comparisons with Switzerland, a country that is twice its size, and while there are similarities, Slovenia's relative anonymity and lack of pretense mean that you can still enjoy yourself here for fewer euros. In fact, considering how much beauty is packed into such a compact space, it's got to be said that Slovenia offers tremendous value. Imbued with fantastic, scraggy mountains, turquoise rivers and silver lakes, vast subterranean caves, and just enough medieval castles to conjure up a fairy tale or two, Slovenia is one of those destinations you wish you could make your regular weekend getaway.

Visitor Information

The Slovenian Tourist Board, Dunajska cesta 156, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia (tel. +386/1/589-1840; fax +386/1/589-1841), is incredibly organized, pitching every aspect of the country on its excellent website (www.slovenia.info), from which you can download or order over a dozen different brochures.

Entry Requirements & Customs

Citizens of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand do not presently require visas for stays of up to 90 days. Check the Foreign Ministry website (www.mzz.gov.si) for any updates on visa and entry requirements. Visitors to Slovenia are exempt from Customs duty on items intended for personal use; additionally, you may import 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, 2 liters of wine, and 1 liter of spirits, as well as 50 grams of perfume or .25 liters of toilet water. Visit www.carina.gov.si if you have any queries in this regard. There are no restrictions on cash brought into the country.

Money

Slovenia started using the euro in January 2007. Exchange facilities are widely available, as are ATMs and credit card facilities; you can swipe your card almost anywhere, including at gas stations.

Getting There

By Plane -- Slovenia's national carrier, Adria Airways (www.adria.si), has regularly scheduled flights over 20 European cities. Your best option for a reasonably seamless flight from North America or Australasia is Air France (www.airfrance.com), via Paris, which has flights from most major cities, and up to four daily flights to Ljubljana with its short-haul carrier, Régional. Flight time from Paris is about an hour. It's also worth checking out flights with Austrian Airlines (www.aua.com) and Lufthansa(www.lufthansa.com). British low-cost airline easyJet (www.easyjet.com) flies to Ljubljana from London's Stansted airport daily; the London-Ljubljana flight is 2 hours. Czech Airlines has flights from Prague, Malev flies from Budapest, and Turkish Airlines arrives from Istanbul. You could also consider flying to Venice or Trieste in Italy, and then getting a train or car for the short trip to Slovenia.

By Train -- Daily services connect Slovenia (usually by way of Ljubljana) with larger cities in neighboring countries. Venice (245km/152 miles), Vienna (385km/239 miles), Zagreb (135km/84 miles), and Budapest (491km/304 miles) are all an easy train ride away.

By Car -- You'll have little trouble driving into and around Slovenia. Be aware that border crossings with Croatia can get jam-packed in the summer; there is a great deal of vacation and business traffic passing in and out, and its entry points can get crowded.

Getting Around

By Car -- Slovenia's size makes driving here very attractive; besides, you'll be able to get into many smaller villages unnoticed by those on trains and buses. Drive on the right-hand side and pick up a road map (from Tourist Information centers at the airport and in Ljubljana). On expressways, the speed limit is 130kmph (81 mph); on highways, 100kmph (62 mph); on secondary roads, 90kmph (56 mph); and in built-up areas, 50kmph (31 mph). Keep your headlights on at all times, wear your seat belt, and do not use your cellphone while driving. Carry your driver's license and insurance documentation at all times. Gas stations are ubiquitous; you can pay for gas using most credit cards.

Since June 2008, travel on Slovenian highways and expressways requires that all vehicles are in possession of a vinjet (vignette) sticker. Available at gas stations and valid for 6 months, they cost 35€ ($22) and mean that drivers no longer need to stop at toll booths (they've been decommissioned). If you rent a car, ask if the vehicle comes with the license; most do, but you will be fined between 300€ and 800€ ($186-$1,016) if you're caught driving on highways without one. Visit the website of the Automobile Association of Slovenia (www.amzs.si) for information about traffic and details of what to do in emergencies. This is also a good place to get the lowdown on Slovenia's complicated parking rules; you can also call their Information Center (tel. 01/530-5300). For road emergencies, call tel. 1987; you'll get immediate roadside assistance and a towing service if necessary. You can also call their breakdown assistance hotline (tel. 01/530-5353). For up-to-date traffic information, call tel. 01/518-8518 or 080-2244.

By Train -- Slovenia's train network is fairly extensive and reliable; it's also inexpensive. InterCity ("IC") trains are faster than potniski, or slow trains, which stop at every backwater village. English timetables are available at www.slo-zeleznice.si. Usually you'll be able to purchase tickets for domestic journeys at the station just before departure. Ticketing staff is incredibly helpful.

By Bus -- Buses are slightly more expensive than trains, but the network is more extensive, allowing access to more remote destinations; they're also more frequent (except at weekends in some areas). Buses are operated by a number of local companies, and the larger towns have stations with computerized booking systems.

By Bike -- Slovenes love cycling and it's possible to rent bikes in most towns for countryside exploration. Cycling is also popular within cities and towns; in Ljubljana, where parking is problematic and distances are quite short, bikes are definitely the easiest and most economical way of getting around. While riding on highways is not permitted, you'll discover a vast network of bike trails that will take you through some of the most spectacular terrain in Europe.

Tips on Accommodations

Accommodations range from average to superb. There's a five-star classification system loosely reflecting the quality of hotels, but it certainly doesn't give a clear indication of price, which is dependent on demand. June through August is considered peak vacation season, when you should reserve accommodations well in advance, especially on the coast; the exception to this is the ski resorts that fill up between December and February.

To avoid high hotel costs, consider staying at a penzion or a small, family-run hotel; these might be referred to as gostisce. There are an increasing number of upper-end establishments, particularly in resort towns, spas, and in the capital. The country's hostels are among the very best in Europe.

Tips on Dining

Generally, you'll be choosing to eat in either a restavracija (restaurant) or a gostilna,which is more like a tavern with down-to-earth atmosphere. If there are accommodations attached to the tavern, they will probably be called a gostisce, making them a real "inn." Okrepcevalnice are snack bars where you can get in-between fillers or light meals. Meat (including horse) and fish feature heavily on the Slovene menu, and -- depending on where you are -- the cuisine shows some Austrian, Hungarian, or Italian influences; in Ljubljana there are a wide range of international dining establishments. Note: Like Italy, many upmarket restaurants in Slovenia add a "bread and cover" fee to your bill -- in short, a 1€ to 3€ ($1.25-$3.80) cover charge that you must pay for the mere privilege of sitting at the table.

Tours & Travel Agents

Based in the U.K., Just Slovenia (tel. 44/1373/814230; www.justslovenia.co.uk) arranges reliable all-inclusive personalized trips to Slovenia. Another British outfit is Slovene Dream (tel. 44/20/7737-3054; www.slovenedream.com), which books tailor-made itineraries and accommodations at individually selected properties across the country. You will also discover links to various other agencies on the Slovenian Tourist Board website (www.slovenia.info).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.