Ever since Lonely Planet touted postcard-perfect Slovenia as one of its best value travel destinations of 2018, the country has been creeping up the ranks with adventure tourists, who’ve already ticked off the adrenaline-soaked treasures of the neighbouring Dalmatian Coast.
As the only country that combines four of Europe’s distinct geographical features – the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pannonian Plain (a lowland basin) and the Karst (a rocky limestone region) – Slovenia boasts landscapes so perfect, they practically ache to be hiked, canoed or traversed in whichever way you see fit.
And traverse you should – but don’t make the mistake of giving all your attention to the country’s dramatic western region (the one that’s famous for Lake Bled, the Julian Alps and Postojna Cave).
To the east lies a path less trodden by tourists, and while it might not boast the snow-capped ranges or Instagram-worthy waterfalls that form as you edge towards the Italian border, it’s just as gorgeous in its own right.
The lesser-explored part of the country is all grassy vistas, flat, rolling vineyards and neat little chocolate box villages that could be mistaken for Switzerland. Here, you can tap into another of the country’s very well-kept natural secrets too; natural magnesium-rich springs, bubbling thermal waters and destination spas.
If a slower pace of life is what you’re looking for, this pretty part of Slovenia is poised as the perfect wellness break for sports recovery or a spot of much-needed self-care.
Here are five local wellness destinations to have on your radar.
1. Best for sports recovery
Where: Terme 3000, Moravske Toplice
Slovenia isn’t as famous as Iceland when it comes to natural hot springs, but the Pannonian Sea that occupied the heart of the Prekmurje region millions of years ago has left traces of them across the country.
This family friendly spa, water park and resort is famous for its black mineral water baths; large, inky-coloured pools that spring from hundreds of metres under the ground. Locals say that submerging yourself in the water can help to treat all types of skin and inflammatory conditions, from chronic rheumatism and psoriasis to neurodermatitis.
Surrounding the two black water baths is an enormous water park – the biggest in Slovenia – with 28 indoor and outdoor pools with plenty of water attractions and slides to keep little ones entertained. At its heart is the Thermalium Wellness Centre, an indoor spa with services to pamper, soothe and pummel away the pain.
Many treatments are inspired by the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, using holistic therapies and bespoke massage techniques, although you can’t go wrong with the classic full body massage, administered with a good slathering of fragrant Prekmurje herbs.
2. Best for healing from the inside out
Where: Rogaska Medical Centre, Rogaska Slatina
Legend has it that Apollo ordered his winged horse Pegasus to strike his hoof to the earth at Rogaska, open up the Roitschocrene spring and drink from the powerful source.
These days, Rogaska is a buzzing medical centre where people trek from far and wide to drink from the famous Donat Mg water springs, a bitter mineral water with a unique magnesium content of 1000mg per litre. Three euros gets you a refillable glass in the centre’s light and airy atrium, where you can guzzle all the Donat you can drink – although it’s recommended to sip small amounts slowly, as the water can have a rather unfortunate laxative effect.
If you can stomach the metallic taste, the spa says that drinking small amounts of the water daily can help to lower cholesterol, speed up metabolism and boost immunity. The centre also has a clinical laboratory and more than 40 specialists on hand, with a medical focus on gastroenterological and endocrine diseases, and post-surgery conditions.
There are 10 hotels around the medical centre, each with its own doctor, but our recommended stay is Grand Hotel Sava, a health-focused property with more than 250 rooms, a very good spa, daily wellness activities such as healing sound baths, and several different types of sauna.
3. Best for sweating it out in a sauna
Where: Terme Olimia, Podcetrtek
Slovenians take their saunas very seriously and you’ll see why here. Half hidden in the surrounding landscape, this sprawling spa village is one of Kozjansko’s best assets – three hotels and a cluster of chic apartments surrounding the famous Wellness Orhidelia, a destination spa that’s reachable underground from all the hotels and accommodations. (The idea is that you can cleverly pad from bed to spa in your robe, without getting soaked in the rain.)
The design is modern and sleek, and draws a much younger crowd than the rest of the spas in Slovenia. In fact, the complex earned a nod of approval from the architecture world when it was nominated for a Mies van der Rohe award in 2007.
There’s a whole ‘world’ of saunas to meander between – from classic Finnish and steam varieties to high-tech infrared technology. Slovenians sauna naked (mixed gender), so you’ll need to be comfortable with ditching the swimming costume if you want the full experience – but people are generally unfazed by the spectacle, and there’s no need to feel self-conscious. Parts of the spa are also nudist-friendly and there’s even a Friday naked swim if you’re really looking to feel uber-liberated.
4. Best for wellness with the kids
Where: Thermana Lasko, Lasko
The Lasko thermal springs have a rich history dating back to Roman times, when they’re said to have been frequented by legionaries. Today, Thermano Lasko is a medical centre and child-friendly hotel with 188 rooms, a big indoor-outdoor pool area and hiking and biking trails in the local hills.
The health centre has a Certificate of Eden (excellence for disabled tourism) and specialises in back pain relief programs, post-stroke and post-lower extremity injury programs, and there’s round-the-clock medical care for guests. If you’re just looking to relax though, there’s a dreamy list of more than 200 wellness treatments to choose from, plus a standalone Ayurveda and Thai massage centre.
The little town of Lasko takes pride in its self-titled local beers, its most famous being Lasko Zlatorog, a light and tasty blonde lager. At Thermano Lasko, I tried a rather unusual but excellent beer massage that’s unique to the area, using a vitamin A-enriched butter that’s made with local hops. It’s fragrant, relaxing and leaves the skin feeling surprisingly silky soft.
5. Best for getting a green boost
Where: Vila Planinka, Zgornje Jezersko
If a cabin in the woods is your idea of ultimate wellness, this highly photographable bolthole is making a play for tourists who like their hotels to come with all the hipster trappings; locally sourced produce, roaring log fires and wifi-free rooms for an imposed digital detox.
With impressive eco-credentials and a design that brings the outdoors in, Vila Planinka might not have the medical mod-cons of other spas in the area, but it can soothe stress with something stronger, a dose of good old-fashioned mother nature.
The hotel has Jezersko on its doorstep, a pristine mountain range with snow-capped peaks. Slovenia is the third most forested country in Europe and the natural wealth is preserved with love. There are lots of different trails to take, but a 30-minute trek through flora and fauna (the hotel reception can give you a map) takes you to PlanÅ¡arsko Lake, a heart-shaped lagoon surrounded by fir trees, and a pier that looks out onto a perfect view.
On the way, you can stop at one of the country’s many ‘energy points’ – areas of natural beauty that are believed to spiritually rejuvenate the visitor.
Warm up afterwards by hunkering down in the hotel’s Swedish sauna or head straight to the bar for a lesson in local Slovenian wines. The country has three very good vino-making regions (Primorska, Posavje and Podravje), which have received a boastful number of awards in excellence.
Slovenians are particularly famous for their orange wines, which are made by applying the same methods as red wine making to white grapes – the skins are left on, producing tannins. Highly knowledgeable hotel staff can pour you a glass or two and tell you about the process. Sadly, there’s no Slovenian healing elixir to avoid feeling fuzzy the morning after, but it’s well worth the sore head. Wellness is all about balance, after all.
For more information on Slovenia and its wellness tourism offerings, visit slovenia.info.
Which of the wellness destinations would you choose? Are you a fan of relaxation holidays? Or do you like a bit more adventure?
– With PA
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