Dragons, romance and carnival: 10 reasons to visit Slovenia in 2015

The capital city Ljubljana is toasting a double anniversary: two millennia since its foundation and 120 years of renewal after a huge earthquake.

A rare performance of Slovenia’s oldest literary work will bring drama to the town of Skofja Loka, while carnivals and wine festivities unfold in Ptuj and Maribor.

This rich calendar, as well as the timelessly beautiful landscapes, makes Slovenia almost unmissable in 2015.

Ljubljana’s millennial anniversary

At about 300,000 inhabitants, Ljubljana is small for a capital city.

But its history is epic: Ljubljana is celebrating 2,000 years since its foundation as a Roman city.

This year sees an additional anniversary, as locals toast 120 years of reinvention since Ljubljana was rocked by a huge earthquake.

The 1895 tremors destroyed 10% of the city’s buildings. During its rebuilding, the Vienna Secession period brought new architectural styles to this baroque city.

Modern Ljubljana is beautiful enough to rival Vienna or Prague.

Its geranium-pink Franciscan Church in Preseren Square overlooks the interlacing Triple Bridge, with a backdrop of the Julian Alps.

But Ljubljana’s dragon emblem truly sets it apart.

Some folklore links the dragon to a monster subdued by Jason and the Argonauts. A more likely source is the dragon-slaying Saint George, patron of Ljubljana Castle’s chapel.

These fire-breathing beasts glower from Dragon Bridge, adorn the city’s coat of arms and top the castle.

Ptuj’s pagan carnival

Saint George also points his lance in the northeasterly city of Ptuj.

In 2013 a dedicated open-air museum in Sentrupert began to showcase the kozolec and its history.

To most local people they’re much more than a farming tool: they’re a tangible reminder of expert craftsmanship, eliciting powerful nostalgia for Slovenia’s past.

The Land of Hayracks, Dezela kozolcev Sentrupert, d.o.o., Sentrupert; +386 8 20 52 855

Piran’s fusion food

Squeezed between Italy and Croatia, Slovene Istria has the vibe of the Italian Riviera.

The star attraction of this 43-kilometer stretch of coast is Piran, a grand coral-roofed city lapped by the Adriatic’s navy blue waters.

Here in Slovenia’s most southwesterly tip, Italian and Slovene are both official languages.

The cuisine too has different influences.

Istria is known for rich olive oils and sweet Malvasia wine.

Italian flavors come through in pastas and risottos scattered with shellfish.

Croatian staples are also popular, such as octopus salads and gulas (stew).

In this same region, salt is panned from the Mediterranean’s most northerly salt flats in Secovlje in a method unchanged for seven centuries. As in so many places in Slovenia, tradition reigns supreme.

Midsummer brings most of Piran’s visitors, but shoulder season (April-May and September-October) has lovely weather without crowds.

Anita Isalska is a digital editor and travel writer specializing in European travel, especially offbeat travel experiences.