Affordable skiing in Slovenia
As I zip down empty pistes, winding between picturesque snow-laden spruces, I wonder why on Earth I usually bother battling crowds in French or Swiss resorts, paying a hefty price for the privilege.
The Julian Alps in the northwest corner of Slovenia, with the three ski resorts of Krvavec, Vogel and Kranjska Gora, are delightful and cheap. Passes cost $40 a day. A beer will set you back $2.75. A main course at a decent restaurant is typically $8 to $20. Car hire is about $110 a week.
A rental car is essential for exploring, and it’s a good idea to base yourself in, or near, the town of Bled, by beautiful Lake Bled. Free shuttle buses run from the town to each resort, but it’s liberating to have your own wheels. And Bled is an interesting place to stay, with the island in the lake home to the country’s oldest castle. The first ski resort we visit is Krvavec, Slovenia’s second largest and popular with city slickers from Ljubljana, the capital. Its 30km of wide slopes range from easy blues to more challenging red and black runs (but on the easier side of both), and it’s said to have the best snow in the country. This may not sound extensive compared with a typical western European resort but the range of runs is pretty impressive.
Staying near Bled or Lake Bohinj (about 16km to the southwest) means you can explore more of this mysterious country and generally eat better food than at the ski resorts. For example, in the pretty village of Cerklje na Gorenjskem, near Krvavec, is Dvor Jezersek, a lovely 18th-century former wine cellar that is now a family-run restaurant. The local wine is excellent and the local rocket fuel, Krucefix, will warm the coldest cockles.
The cuisine in Slovenia, which has influences from the bordering countries of Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia, ranges from the beige (meat, creamy sauce, potatoes and dumplings) to the more Italian (pizza and pasta). At Dvor Jezersek, however, the cuisine is modern Slovenian. I try a type of focaccia topped with pork crackling, followed by a baked-dough pudding with spiced apples.
On the first night we stay at Bohinj Eco Hotel on the edge of Triglav National Park, with views of the Bohinj mountains from the glass-roofed swimming pool. It is also close to Lake Bohinj, a place so charming that Agatha Christie declared it “too beautiful for murder”. Remoter still than Lake Bled, its shores are home to tiny churches, fairytale bridges and mountains covered in more snow-topped spruces. The next day we head to Vogel, at 1800m one of Slovenia’s higher resorts, with 22km of pistes, plus views over Lake Bohinj.
This resort is where I really fall for Slovenia. The treelined pistes running through dappled light are wide, covered with deep fresh snow, and pretty much empty. Snow cannons are forbidden and there’s an otherworldly, unspoilt feel. Slovenians are a nation of alpine sports lovers. But it’s not all about skiing; snowbiking, ice-climbing and snowshoeing are popular too. After a morning’s skiing, we drive to the Pokljuka Plateau to learn how to crosscountry ski. While this pursuit may look like sliding around in slippers on a hardwood floor, it is, I can report, very hard work.
Backsides and thighs fully worn out, we dine at Rocnjek farm, in between Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, enjoying a feast of gamey sausages, goulash, dumplings and hunks of pork. Bellies full, we head to the nearby Hotel Jelka, a chalet-style establishment that, being made entirely from pine, feels like sleeping in a sauna. After dinner we pack a bottle of schnapps and go on a night hike through knee-high snow in a spruce forest — a snowy version of Where the Wild Things Are. With only the moonlight to guide us, and complete silence, it is blissful.
The next morning brings an early departure to Bled’s third resort, Kranjska Gora, which, after sleepy Vogel, is a throbbing metropolis. Compared with western European resorts, however, it’s a small and magical alpine village that looks like a German Christmas market, all wooden chalets and log fires. Three days, three resorts, two lakes, a few castles and a lot of cheap beer later, I’m a convert to Slovenian skiing. It’s an intriguing country; a cheap, fairytale-like playground of ski. Chamonix? Verbier? I’m not so sure any more.
Skiing in the Julian Alps, top; views of the Bohinj mountains from Bohinj Eco Hotel, above left; beautiful Lake Bled, above right