Felicity Long
Felicity Long

We were standing in the picturesque Slovenian town of Piran, looking out at the Adriatic Sea toward Croatia, when our terrific guide, Jani, suggested that before too long Croatia would be an afterthought for tourists on their way to his country.

Although the rivalry is good natured, and Jani was at least half-joking, I replied, "Be careful what you wish for." After all, tales of overtourism have become increasingly rampant in the industry, especially in Europe, and in some countries this influx of visitors has been fairly recent.

Who would have thought that Dubrovnik, for example, a war zone during the Balkan conflict in the 1991 civil war, would become so popular that the mayor would be looking to limit the number of cruise ships that can call at its port?

And in Iceland, tourism went from "Which country is that again?" to overtourism in less than a decade, prompting local officials to focus their strategies on managing the incoming tide.

Unconcerned, Jani shrugged off my comment cheerfully, explaining that Slovenian tourism is being careful not to attract more people than the country can handle. The destination can't be overrun with tourists because they don't have room to put them was his reasoning.

Since that approach hasn't necessarily worked elsewhere, it's unclear whether Slovenia will dodge the too-much-of-a-good-thing bullet, but I do think that emerging European destinations are watching and learning from the experiences of their neighbors.

Why am I so sure Slovenia will be the next big thing?

For one thing, it's a showstopper. The country, roughly the size of New Jersey, boasts snow-capped Alpine mountains, dazzling underground caves, atmospheric castles, sparkling lakes and even a bit of picturesque coastline.

For another, the cuisine, which has drawn international attention thanks to the fame of Ana Ros, star chef on the Netflix series "Chef's Table," is some of the best I've experienced in Europe in years. Particularly if you like fish, including sushi-grade tuna and trout; potica pastry, which comes in sweet and savory versions; and white wines, which range from pretty good to amazing.

Finally, while most visitors spend time in the picturesque capital of Ljubljana, there are other sites that are easy to get to, like Bled and Piran, that are appealing in their own right.

Looking at the arrival data, the transition to A-list status is already well under way. As of August, total arrivals were up nearly 15% over August 2016, and the spike from the U.S. was a robust 25.2% for that same period.

Put another away, in 2016 more than 81,000 Americans visited Slovenia, compared with 47,169 a decade earlier.
One slight drawback is the lack of direct air service from the U.S. (we flew to Ljubljana via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, and other options include transfers through such major European hubs as Zurich, Munich and Frankfurt), but be assured that no matter how you get there, it's worth the effort, and you won't be alone.


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