This Tiny Country Is the Green Heart of Europe
From black-water hot springs to underground glacier rivers to mountain waterfalls.
As anyone who’s ever seen Planet Earth likely knows, it’s harder to find large swaths of untouched nature in Europe than on other continents. There are plenty of cute towns and bustling cities, sure—but vast wilderness, not so much. That’s why any patch of nature is precious; and in this arena, Slovenia particularly shines.
Nicknamed “the green heart of Europe,” Slovenia is packed with pristine outdoors concentrated in a small area. It may be a tiny country, but it’s full of forests, canyons, marine reserves, lakes, and rivers. After the Dutch nonprofit Green Destinations recognized Slovenia as a green hotspot in 2016, the status has grown into a stamp of pride, and now over 40 percent of its territory is protected land.
For visitors, that means beauty, escape, relaxation, and adventure. Stretching from the Alps to the warm coasts of the Mediterranean, you’ll find salt pan mud baths, thermal pools, rock climbing, canyoning, kayaking, and hiking. Here’s how to immerse yourself in Europe’s green heart.
Trek to waterfalls and peat bogs
Triglav National Park is Slovenia’s largest protected natural reserve, and it’s full of magnificent views of the Julian Alps, goat-grazing valleys, millenary trees, pristine brooks, and blue lakes that reflect the sky. Trekking trails unwind through the Pokljuka spruce tree forest, an area on top of the Karst plateau dotted with glacier fossils and peat bogs. Locals swear that spending one day here regenerates body and mind.
Other park paths lead to the mesmerizing, 170-feet-high Pericnik waterfall. Once you walk around the cascades, you can continue onwards to the even taller Savica waterfall (at 255 feet), which gushes out of the rock from two openings, making it a double spectacle.
Within the park are also deep canyons that were once carved by rivers, such as the Tolmin and the Great Soča gorge. The latter ends in a tropical-like, blue-curaçao-colored pool. It’s freezing, but if you like an ice-cold refresher, take a plunge.
Boat or bellyak on lakes and rivers
The rivers in Slovenia zig-zag across the land, creating fascinating gorges, tumbling waterfalls, deep pools, and even underground caves with subterranean glacier streams. These waters are ideal for adventuring.
The Soça Valley is the first natural water park to check out, with its emerald-blue rivers and rapids of varying difficulty levels, ideal for both kayaking and rafting. Or head to the Savinja River, where you can glide down a ravine surrounded by ragged mountain peaks. For an easy day of drifting, check out Bled Lake, where you can enjoy relaxing boat rides on calm water surrounding the idyllic town of Bled.
If you want a more exciting experience, the Sava river is ideal for canyoning down natural slides, jumping into pools, and going tubing. You can also choose to bellyak, which consists in lying facedown on a board and using your arms as paddles.
The Skocjan Caves Park offers a different kind of guided tour. This UNESCO World Heritage site features the world’s deepest subterranean river canyon, where the Reka River dips underground. Here you’ll find a maze of tunnels and rock arches covered in stalactites, almost looking like a work of art.
Climb up rocks like a mountain goat
Many Slovenes are so skilled at rock climbing, they affectionately call each other “goats.” Considering all the mountains spanning the country, many learn how to cling to steep, rugged cliffs from a young age. Here, climbing is more than a sport, it’s a philosophy that cleanses body and mind. So it’s no surprise that there are 113 open-air, natural sites to choose from to scale vertical heights.
Half of the country’s climbs are located in Karst Edge, a huge limestone plateau dating back to prehistoric times that overlooks the sea. That means you can stretch your muscles and work on your tan at the same time. This rock climbing paradise has routes and crags of various levels of difficulty.
If you’re looking for intensity, in the Granski Gora region, the steep mountains above the village of Dovje have tough climbs over a beautiful view of the fluorescent-green Vrata valley. But don’t fret if you’re a beginner; the via ferratas offer more secured climbing trails, like the one above Lake Bohinj.
Soak in black mineral water
If you’re more into relaxing, indulge in some self-pampering at the many cozy hot baths and thermal water centers set in stunning natural surroundings. These open-air spas offer tailored therapeutic programs in bubbly pools, salt pans, and forest streams.
Step into a centuries-old, pitch-black pool at the Moravci springs. It might look creepy at first, but the mineral-rich waters here will soothe your aching bones and make you feel reborn. The pool’s dark color is due to a rich concentration of underground minerals, and the water temperature, at 98 degrees fahrenheit, is the warmest natural thermal pool in Europe.
Terme Krka on the coast features seawater baths, sea mud wraps, and sea salt peelings. Cover yourself in nutritive salt pan mud at the Lepa Vida Thalasso Spa, where guests are offered traditional sea water treatments in a unique natural setting surrounded by prehistoric salines.