October 22, 2020

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Foodies welcome

Where to stay in Slovenia for a tranquil European ‘air bridge’ holiday

Grad Otočec – one of Slovenia’s best hotels

Please note our writers visited Slovenia prior to the coronavirus pandemic

Often touted as ‘Europe’s most relaxing country’, Slovenia’s draw is undeniably alluring. The incredible mixture of climates here brings warm Mediterranean breezes up to the foothills of the Alps, where it can nonetheless snow even in summer, and more than half of the country’s total area is covered in forest. Though Slavic to the core, its cuisine, culture and architecture have been greatly influenced by its neighbours, Italy, Austria and Hungary.

Slovenia has also just been confirmed as an air bridge destination for Britain, meaning that a peaceful getaway to its spectacular landscapes (and hotels that make the most of their settings), plus store of attractions and activities – from Venetian coastal towns to white-water rafting – is possible without quarantine at either end, and with no other restrictions in place. Read on for our top five hotels there in amazing locations, including capital Ljubljana and Lake Bled.

Guests are cosseted by nature in this deeply romantic hideaway. It’s set in a bucolic, remote mountain valley in northern Slovenia, in the small village of Jezersko. The hotel’s style is in keeping with its surrounds; an abundance of rough, finished local woods reflect the swathe of forest outside, accented by hanging exposed lightbulbs, lush throws and wood-burning fires that lend it a cosy mountain lodge vibe. Hiking and biking await just outside as does the current zeitgeist-fitting, soul-affirming activity of forest bathing. There is a small spa, which is home to a sauna that gazes out into a forest where you might just catch sight of deer, and massages are available. The restaurant also delivers gorgeous valley views from its floor-to-ceiling windows.

• The best hotels in Slovenia

Hotel Grad Otočec occupies an enchanting castle on a small islet in the Krka river. The witch-hat turrets and square battlements of the 13th-century castle rise in the haze like a floating mirage during the day, while the slow rumble of the water provides the perfect lullaby at night. The interiors were entrusted to Slovenian ‘starchitect’ Jani Voselj, who paid particular attention to preserving and enhancing original features, employing local stone, pine and oak. Everything – from the beds to the plasma televisions – is on the large side, turning even the standard rooms into ostentatious apartments. Furthermore, Grad Otočec is home to arguably the best – certainly the most atmospheric – restaurant in the Novo Mesto border region and has an extensive wine cellar.

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Ljubljana’s tallest five-star hotel is modern and sophisticated, with lots of dark wood, marble and Mediterranean stone, plus sweeping views of the castle and Julian Alps from the upper floors. Floor-to-ceiling windows and clusters of sculptural light bulbs keep things bright, while plush furnishings and cushions in rich teal and mustard add more pops of colour. The 18th-floor Saruna spa is a real highlight, with an indoor pool, hot tub, steam room and two saunas. The 20th-floor B-Restaurant (named after Slovenia’s Carniolan honey bee) undoubtedly has some of the best food, and views, in the city. It is managed by Michelin-starred chef Alfredo Russo and headed up by Komnen Bakić, with a fine-dining menu that combines traditional Italian recipes and Slovenian ingredients.

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This exceptional four-star property is one of Piran’s finest, overlooking the Gulf of Trieste on a pedestrian promenade, with access to the sea on its doorstep. Waterside cafés line the seaside promenade, with a dozen more tucked along cosy alleyways. Though parking isn’t permitted in the town, it’s compact and getting around on foot is supremely enjoyable, plus bicycles for hire make it exceedingly easy. The hotel’s restaurant offers sumptuous Mediterranean and Slovenian cuisine, but definitely head for Heaven Terrace, the rooftop bar, for pre- or post-dinner drinks, ideally as the sun sets over the bay. There’s a spa that specialises in salt and mud therapies, and aroma treatments and rooms are pleasingly minimalist, with blonde wood furnishings and bright yellow accents.

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A stay here is a step back in time. Swing open your room’s large windows and listen to the bells of the Baroque church on the island in the lake’s centre as you gaze out at the water and the castle opposite. Take a seat on the restaurant terrace and imagine dining with world leaders past as you tuck in to the daily four-course menu. Beneath the hotel, on the shores of the lake, is the private boathouse, an idyllic place from which to set out on a rowing boat across the water. Boat hire is free to hotel guests for one hour each day. The private tennis court is also free for an hour a day and there is a small spa area with sauna, steam room and whirlpool. It does not get better than Vila Bled for a dreamy setting in the Slovenian mountains.

Contributions by John Malathronas, Robin McKelvie, Victoria Monk, Simon and Susan Veness