Snow good

Af­ford­able ski­ing in Slove­nia

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION EUROPE - HARRIET AD­DI­SON Harriet Ad­di­son was a guest of the Slove­nian Tourist Board. • slove­nia.info • slove­ni­aforyou.com/win­ter­sports

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

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