As a winter sports destination, Slovenia is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbours - yet the resorts here offer crowd-free slopes, plenty of variety and bargain prices!
Situated right in the heart of Europe, bordered by Hungary, Croatia, Italy and Austria, Slovenia is often overlooked as a destination for skiing. But those who do decide to take their ski holiday here are rewarded with beautiful alpine vistas, good cuisine, welcoming locals, and quiet slopes and ski lifts - something of a rarity in other European ski resorts.
The perfect base
I've travelled to Lake Bled countless times since 1999, and would recommend this area as the best place to base yourself for a varied and exciting ski holiday. Whilst Kranjska Gora is Slovenia's most famous ski resort, it is not its best and does not offer easy access to other resorts.
Lake Bled's picturesque setting is probably Slovenia's most photographed spot and provides a wonderful location for a holiday. Just a 30-minute taxi-ride from the airport, Bled itself is compact enought to walk around, as long as you stay somewhere central. For excellent value with fantastic facilities, you can't beat the Hotel Park or Hotel Golf. Both offer large rooms with space for a sofa and table, all rooms have large balconies, and it's possible to have a lake view for a supplement. The hotels are sister hotels, so guests can use the facilities at both of them. The Park does have its own swimming pool, but the Hotel Golf goes one better: it has a Wellness Centre with multi-level pools, flumes, bubble baths, Jacuzzis and an outdoor pool - quite an experience in the snow!
If you're on a bit of a budget, the Hotel Jelovica, at the centre of Bled's old town, is a good solid three-star with a small indoor pool. If you want to treat someone or splash out, then the Grand Hotel Toplice, situated right on the shores of the lake, is a good choice.
Hitting the slopes
Now to the skiing! Being based in Bled gives you easy access on the ski bus to three excellent ski areas: Kobla, Vogel and Krvavec. The 2009 price for a six-day Julian Alps lift pass is €138; this is incredible value, as it not only gives you access to these three main resorts but also to Kranjska Gora, Planina and other smaller slopes really only frequented by locals. There is also a small slope in Bled called Straza, which offers night skiing at the weekends if you still haven't had enough skiing after a full day.
For beginners, the best area is Vogel, above Lake Bohinj. A cable car lifts you from the shores of the lake to the base station of Vogel at 1500m. Up here, Finzgar offer great learn-to-ski sessions and the runs are wide, making it easy to progress quickly. Vogel is very quiet midweek and there are generally no queues for any of the lifts. There's also a good variety of runs. Competent skiers can ski from the top of the mountain right back down to the lake, which means you don't have to get the cable car at the end of the day. Doing this run gives you some of the greatest views imaginable.
If you become bored of Vogel, you can hop on the ski bus to Kobla, which is a smaller resort and much quieter. Generally, you feel as if you are the only one skiing, especially during the week. A run starts right at the top of the mountain and continues to the valley and village below. Again, the views up and down the valley really do make you realise why you come skiing!
Finally, Krvavec offers wide open runs atop a 1900m mountain. Of the three main resorts, this is probably the busiest, so it's perhaps best to avoid weekends. Again, as with all Slovenian ski resorts, it offers good runs for beginners and can stretch those who are competent.
If you really do exhaust these three resorts, then don't forget your lift pass covers Kranjska Gora and some smaller areas, which are all worth a visit.
Back in the winter wonderland village of Bled, there is plenty to keep you occupied at the end of a day's skiing, and if you have family members who don't ski at all, there is enough for them to do during the week. The village offers iceskating (on the lake if it's frozen), curling, walks around the lake, boating, a small island, horse-and-carriage tours and a castle perched atop a cliff towering over the lake. It's all very fairy-tale for the kids (and big kids too!). Within the village, there are also some great restaurants and pizza places. Okarina is a fantastic restaurant for a special meal or, for something more casual, follow the 'pizza' signs from the shores of the lake to find a small, cosy traditional pizzeria.
For those not skiing and wanting to go further afield, there are trips to Venice, the Postjana Caves and Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital.
Slovenia really is well worth the trip, and offers much more tham you would imagine. Compared to the rest of Europe, it's also much cheaper, and food, drink, lift passes, ski equipment and activities are all good value. I hope you enjoy Slovenia as much as I do. Once you have been, I'm sure you will continue to revisit in both winter and summer.