PARTY ON!

IN SLOVE­NIA FOR ITS AN­NUAL PINK WEEK, CARY GEE DIS­COV­ERED A GLIT­TER­ING CEN­TRAL EURO­PEAN GEM

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Be hon­est. What’s the first thing you think of when I men­tion Slove­nia?

Maybe you’re try­ing to re­mem­ber ex­actly which bit of the for­mer Yu­goslavia it is, or, think­ing, didn’t I once see Slove­nia in the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test, ca­vort­ing to an ac­cor­dion in natty peas­ant chic? Maybe you’ve a vague rec­ol­lec­tion of see­ing Slove­ni­ans whizzing down the piste at the Win­ter Olympics or know some­one who went to Ljubl­jana for their stag do. If that’s all you know, then you need to read this.

We flew to Slove­nia to enjoy Pink Week, a trip or­gan­ised by the lovely chaps at lux­u­ryslove­nia. eu, for whom, ap­par­ently, no de­tail is too small to be over­looked, in or­der to present Slove­nia as a must-visit des­ti­na­tion for LGBT trav­ellers. To be hon­est, Slove­nia is a pretty easy sell.

Stretch­ing from the Alps to the Mediter­ranean, Slove­nia is a glit­ter­ing cen­tral Euro­pean gem. Bor­dered by Croa­tia to the South, Aus­tria to the North, and Hun­gary to the East, it is per­haps to its north-western neigh­bour, Italy, that Slove­nia bears the clos­est phys­i­cal re­sem­blance.

The view from the pool­side ter­race of our first des­ti­na­tion, Ho­tel Gredic, near the small town of Do­brovo, a mod­estly pro­por­tioned 16th-cen­tury cas­tle that has been lov­ingly trans­formed into a lux­ury ho­tel, could eas­ily be a view of nearby Tus­cany, un­sur­pris­ing given that Italy is, in fact, just a five minute walk across the near­est vine­yard.

Vine­yards stretch in ev­ery di­rec­tion. No space in this small repub­lic of fewer than 3m in­hab­i­tants is con­sid­ered too small or too un­pro­duc­tive to grow grapes, and the re­sult­ing wines are fab­u­lous. There is a huge cel­lar be­neath the sur­face lux­ury of the Gredic, boast­ing wine to suit ev­ery pal­ette.

Not sure if you’d pre­fer a lo­cal red or one of the ma­jor­ity white wines? I’d rec­om­mend the sparkling Re­bula — think of a fine dry prosecco, then halve the price tag — you can al­ways take part in a wine quiz which the ho­tel Som­me­lier will host for 25 eu­ros per guest. I can think of few more en­joy­able ways to im­prove your knowl­edge. Ours was a riot of com­pe­ti­tion and threw up more than a few sur­prises, none more sur­pris­ing than the fact that such great wine can be en­joyed at such low cost.

Of course, it’s not strictly nec­es­sary to dine well in or­der to drink well. Nonethe­less the Brda re­gion of Slove­nia boasts some se­ri­ously good cui­sine, and most lo­cal hostel­ries will of­fer a taster menu, of­ten in­clud­ing the fa­mous lo­cal “white Po­lenta” as an ex­cuse to show off the con­tents of the cel­lar. For­tu­nately the moun­tains and forests (which cover 70 per cent of the Slove­nian land­scape) of­fer am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to work off the in­evitable weight gained from such con­sis­tently de­li­cious tucker. If you really feel too fat to hike then hire a car and ex­plore the pic­ture-per­fect vil­lages such as Smartno which are strung atop moun­tain peaks like jewels on chains. Roads here are all but de­void of traf­fic, just keep a look out for trac­tors and be sure to buy some cher­ries, the sym­bol of Brda, from the road­side. They’re de­li­cious.

Af­ter all that glut­tony you may need to a few days in a spa. We spent a night at the Bal­nea Well­ness Cen­tre in Dolen­jske To­plice. Slove­ni­ans have been re­cu­per­at­ing at this ther­mal spa for ever, and it’s easy to see why. We stayed at the his­toric Bal­nea ho­tel, in a bal­conied room as large as my Lon­don flat. A glass tun­nel leads di­rectly to an out­door and an in­door pool, sauna, steam and treat­ment rooms, or if you really can’t be both­ered with all that “well­ness” enjoy an ex­cel­lent lo­cal beer in one of the many pubs min­utes from the ho­tel. At 2 eu­ros for a large draft beer mine cer­tainly made me feel bet­ter.

Slove­nia’s econ­omy is es­sen­tially ru­ral, and no sight ex­em­pli­fies this more than the sight of hay dry­ing in a tra­di­tional Slove­nian hayrack. Ev­ery field not given over to wine pro­duc­tion boasts at least one. You can look at them, and think ahh, cute, you can lunch un­der one, you can even get mar­ried in one — and that means you too. This year Slove­nia be­came the first for­mer com­mu­nist coun­try to al­low its cit­i­zens to en­ter a same-sex mar­riage. As a coun­try Slove­nia has come a long way re­mark­ably quickly. At no point dur­ing our ad­mit­tedly brief stay, did we, as a group of LGBT trav­ellers, feel any­thing less than wel­comed by the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. English is widely spo­ken and you’re as likely to re­ceive a wink from your waiter here as you are any­where else, though I doubt your waiter would be as easy on the eye any­where else!

This was as true in the vil­lages as in the cap­i­tal, Ljubl­jana. Oc­cu­pied var­i­ously by Ital­ian fas­cists, Nazis and com­mu­nists Ljubl­jana has sur­vived them all. It even sur­vived a dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in 1895, fol­low­ing which it was re­built in the Vi­enna Se­ces­sion style.

From ev­ery view­point it’s ex­quis­ite. Bars and cafés line the banks of the ver­dant Ljubl­jan­ica River that flows through the city, and, in the ab­sence of cars which are banned from the city cen­tre, cre­ate one long ter­race. Pick a spot, and soak up the at­mos­phere. Stroll around one of the many mar­kets lo­cated off the main drag, or climb the steep in­cline that leads to the cas­tle which over­looks the city.

Hap­pily our ho­tel, the Van­der ur­ban re­sort boasts a roof-top pool and ter­race which of­fers a pri­vate view of the cas­tle so we didn’t have to. Imag­i­na­tively crafted from a row of town­houses the Van­der of­fers the ul­ti­mate in bou­tique chic. Lo­cated in the heart of this vi­brant city the Van­der’s cool dé­cor creates the per­fect oa­sis from which to visit Europe’s cosiest cap­i­tal. (Pop­u­la­tion 300,000). Ev­ery com­fort is pro­vided at a frac­tion of the cost you might ex­pect to pay for a sim­i­lar ho­tel in a more “glam­orous” city lo­ca­tion.

Al­though small, Ljubl­jana’s gay scene is in­creas­ingly vi­brant, as you would ex­pect from a city with a rel­a­tively youth­ful pop­u­la­tion. Pink Satur­days are held at Klub K 4 (Ker­snikova 4, klub4.org), and gay club Tif­fanys of­fers a space to drink and dance. There is a men only sauna (Gym­na­sivm, Ulica Po­horskega Bataljona 34, klub-libero.si) and in Novem­ber the city hosts Europe’s old­est LGBT film fes­ti­val (es­tab­lished 1984). How­ever, as when vis­it­ing any un­fa­mil­iar city it’s al­ways wise to ex­er­cise a de­gree of cau­tion.

Pink Week wraps up with the Dragon Ball, a glit­ter­ing din­ner and dance that takes place in yet an­other of Ljubl­jana’s stately pro­por­tioned ar­chi­tec­tural gems.

Slove­nia might be dif­fi­cult to pin­point on a map, but once you’ve found it, it’s un­likely that you won’t re­turn. I’m plan­ning my next trip, al­ready, when I will eat and drink less, take part in the cy­cle marathon from Ljubl­jana to Goriska Brda in cel­e­bra­tion of the Slove­nian cherry fes­ti­val and hike through the forests in search of bears. Maybe...

“Vine­yards stretch in ev­ery di­rec­tion and no space is con­sid­ered too

small or too un­pro­duc­tive to grow

grapes, and the re­sult­ing wines are

fab­u­lous”

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