HashOut: 2007/09/21
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Gentle Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia"Slovenia?" a would-be tourist might remark, "I don't think so. Haven't they just had a war?"

Well no, actually. Except for ten days in 1991 when Slobodan Milosevic sent troops in a futile bid to stop his smallest child from leaving the collapsing federal Yugoslav nest, this doughty little nation nestled on the sunny side of the Alps has seen no fighting and no terrorism.

Slovenia is the golden goose that got away. But in truth, it never really felt part of Yugoslavia. A thousand years of Austrian and Venetian domination have left their cultural imprint on its towns and villages; and with three distinct microclimates crammed into its 20,000 square kilometres, it can be an eerily convincing Italy, a bona fide Bavaria, even a plausible Provence, with the culinary trimmings to match.

Tromostovje and PreŇ°eren Square, Ljubljana, SloveniaIn the markets of the tiny capital, Ljubljana (population, 270,000), bosomy grandmothers selling mounds of pale sauerkraut, pumpernickel and sausage vie with wiry peasants toting the lighter far of the Mediterranean world: goat's cheeses, aubergines and forest mushrooms. And all plucked form a countryside that runs the topological gamut from snowcapped mountains, through south-facing slopes awash in grape vines and wide plains smothered by sunflowers, to a sandy strip of Adriatic coast. "It's Europe in miniature," exults Steve Fish, an expatriate London businessman who markets golfing holidays.

It's actually a kinder, gentler Europe, which has long since disappeared elsewhere. In Ljubljana there's a refreshing lack of commercialism and a surfeit of civic pride. Baby spires and turrets peek up from postage-stamp squares and pocket handkerchief promenades. The river Ljubljanica is criss-crossed by a series of tiny white stone bridges and flanked by terraces of oversized dolls' houses whose pastel facades soothe strollers and waterside diners.

There are advantages to living in a time warp. There's no smiley theme park ethos in these parts. "Why try and improve on what God gave us?" asks a local cabinet minister. "It would be like sticking Disneyland on top of Everest."
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