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Slovenia: Alpine Ecotourism

Slovenia is one of most pristine alpine ecotourism destinations in Europe. Under the yolk of communist Yugoslavia from World War II until the 1990s, Slovenia remained relatively undiscovered. As a result, it missed the onslaught of tourism that besieged Europe during the post world war period.

Since Slovenia gained its independence at a time when ecology and conservation were already buzz words in the general lexicon, efforts were made from the onset to create a best-practices model for sustainable tourism. This green approach to tourism, as well as the unspoiled beauty of this alpine country, has lead Slovenia to win the EDEN award (European Destinations of Excellence) for three consecutive years, from 2008-2010.

Land of Water

Slovenia is a diverse land of glaciers, waterfalls, caves, karst formations, and--where its landmass dips down to meet the Adriatic Sea--beaches. However, Slovenia is most well known for its many glacial lakes, and its number one tourist destination (and iconic photo image) is Lake Bled.

Lake Bled lies supine at the base of the towering Julian Alps. At Bled's center is the small island of Blejske Otok, upon which sits the Church of the Assumption and the medieval Bled Castle. Green transport to the island is available, and for a few cents, you can find yourself skimming across the glassy surface in a Plenta: a man-powered water taxi.

Mountaineering - Above the Fray

Triglav National Park has a rich geological story locked within its bedrock and limestone. There are fossil depositions, above-ground karst forms, as well as over 6000 underground limestone caves that have been cored deeply into the belly of these mountains by the constant movement of water.

Bordering the Italian Alps, this park provides green travelers with one of the most spectacular mountain tourist destinations in Europe. It's almost humbling to hike through these high alpine meadows beneath the looming spires of the Julian Alps. In spring, flowers explode across the green mantle of the earth, and if you're lucky, a soaring golden eagle may throw its shadow across your path. Lynx, Chamois, and Ibex sheep, are just some of the fauna that resides at these high altitudes.

For a somewhat gentler mountain hiking experience, visit Logarska Dolina Landscape Park in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. This glacially carved valley was established as a protected area in 1992 when local land owners formed a coalition with goals of protecting the natural environment through sustainable tourism and resource management.

Logarska Dolina is the departure point for hundreds of hiking trails. Hiking is the reason to come to here. There are no roads, atomobiles, or bicycles allowed in the park. Many choose to hike to one of the 80 waterfalls that release their churning snow melt into this U shaped valley. Rinka is the highest and the most popular waterfall.

Plumbing the Depths

Since 1986, the Skocjan Caves Regional Park has been listed as a "preserve of outstanding importance" by the UNESCO world heritage center. In 1999 it was included on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance as the world's largest underground wetland.

Many of Slovenia's caves are the result of the Reka River watershed which flows underground for some thirty-four kilometers, eating its way through the limestone corridors, forging new openings and gorges as it goes. The 11 caves of Skocjan form a vast network of cathedral-like chambers, swallow holes, and waterways. These caves are also home to Proteus anguinus, the blind pink salamander listed on the IUCN red list.

A Farm Stay - the Slovenian Ecolodge

Slovenia's organic gardening movement began in earnest after the country gained independence. Since that time, subsidies have been provided to farmers who produce organic food through sustainable biodynamic practices.

A farm stay is great low-impact green lodging option and an opportunity to taste the freshest organic food that Slovenia has to offer. Moreover, it is an opportunity to experience first hand, the Slovene culture and its simple, healthy, agrarian lifestyle. These farm houses are approved, licensed, and held to a high standard by the Slovenia Tourism Board (STV).

Slovenia Green

The Slovenia Tourism Board is an organisation committed to fostering sustainable tourism in the county of Slovenia. Green is definitely a large part of the STV's mission statement. On the flip-side, their mission also includes the marketing and expansion of Slovenian tourism. While these two goals may appear to be warring bedfellows, so far, it seems that SVT has struck a successful balance between the two. Slovenia today, is a success story of sustainable tourism.

Photos from Flickr: Feature Image (Mountain Hut) & Triglav by 29cm; Bled Lake, Bled Castle by mirci.

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