By Luke Jones, Julia Stanley, and J.B. Leedy

Slovenia, the land “on the sunny side of the Alps,” has something to offer everyone. Roughly the size of New Jersey and with more than 2 million people, Slovenia has a wealth of mountains, vineyards, caves, rolling hills, and waterfalls. The first former Yugoslav republic to become independent, Slovenia is a member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and enjoys a high standard of living. With good infrastructure, a highly educated workforce, and a deep commitment to democratic values, Slovenia is an ancient land with a modern outlook.

Littered with archeological sites documenting the presence of early inhabitants from as far back as the Stone Age, Slovenia has been absorbed into various empires over the centuries, making the survival of a strong Slovene identity and language quite remarkable. Under Roman rule in the early part of the first millennium, Slovenia hosted several prosperous Roman settlements, traces of which can still be seen in the capital, Ljubljana, and around the country. Slovenia became part of the Holy Roman Empire in the ninth century, ultimately spending several hundred years under Habsburg rule, with a brief Napoleonic interlude under which the use of the Slovene language was permitted. At the end of World War I, the Slovenes joined with fellow Slavs to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. World War II saw the country split by the warring powers, from which Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Partisans emerged victorious, forming the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia with Slovenia as one of its six republics. After Tito’s death in 1980 and the subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia, Slovenia held a referendum on independence in 1990 and formally declared statehood the following year. 

Embassy Ljubljana’s chancery is housed in a 19th century neo-Renaissance villa designed by Vienna architect Alfred Bayer as a residence and studio for artist Heinrich Wettach. The U.S. government purchased the building in 1994, and it became the new embassy in 1999 following renovation. Photo by J.B. Leedy
Embassy Ljubljana’s chancery is housed in a 19th century neo-Renaissance villa designed by Vienna architect Alfred Bayer as a residence and studio for artist Heinrich Wettach. The U.S. government purchased the building in 1994, and it became the new embassy in 1999 following renovation. Photo by J.B. Leedy

In the running for the world’s quaintest American embassy, Mission Slovenia is housed in a neo-Renaissance villa that dates back to 1897. In 1970, the United States Information Service (USIS) established an office in Ljubljana as one of four USIS posts in the former Yugoslavia. The embassy was formally opened Aug. 25, 1992, and relocated to the current chancery in December 1999. Embassy Ljubljana is a small but energetic and engaged mission, composed of approximately 30 Americans and 50 local employees.

Strengthening the defense relationship with this important NATO ally remains among the embassy’s highest priorities. The Slovenian Armed Forces consistently participate in NATO, EU, and United Nations (U.N.) missions, and U.S. Forces welcome opportunities to train in Slovenia with their professional and highly capable counterparts. The country’s reliable infrastructure and strategic location make it key to military mobility in the region, and the government’s recent commitment to increasing investment in defense and security will ensure that Slovenia remains a credible NATO ally in the years to come.

Among the shared U.S.-Slovenia goals is the desire to bolster trade and investment between the two countries. American companies are already substantially invested in the Slovenian economy, and Slovenian businesses are increasingly finding a market for their innovative products in the United States. Slovenia has a long history of excellence in engineering, aerospace, science, and technology, spawning more recent opportunities for collaboration in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and biotech. Embassy Ljubljana works tirelessly to foster ties between Slovenian and American entrepreneurs and experts in these fields, as well as traditional manufacturing and niche industries such as natural products. 

As a businesswoman herself, Ambassador Lynda Blanchard sees limitless potential for economic ties between our two countries.  

“I’ve always said my job as the ambassador is to connect people, and it’s exciting to play that role here because Slovenia’s culture of ingenuity and innovation is a natural fit for the broad business applications and production capacity American companies have to offer, ” she said.     

Beyond its borders, Slovenia is a regional leader on energy and security issues. The country is dedicated to helping states in the Western Balkans strengthen democratic institutions, increase economic development, and contribute to collective defense. It is also a member of the Three Seas Initiative, a forum facilitating the development of energy and infrastructure ties among 12 nations in eastern, central, and southern Europe. The country is a leader in hydropower and emerging technologies for alternative energy, exploring prospects for continued energy diversification through adoption of next generation nuclear technology.

Given its relatively small population and geographic proximity to countries speaking a multitude of languages, the majority of Slovenes are multilingual and fluent in English. This creates extensive opportunities for bilateral cooperation education and culture. The embassy has made a concerted effort to initiate university partnerships, highlight the shared love of space exploration (four current and former the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] astronauts are Slovene-Americans), and reinvigorate the natural affinity Slovenes have for American music, film, and performance art. Slovenes as a people are deeply committed to human rights, environmental protection, and building a more just society, affording the embassy ample opportunity to engage with journalists, NGOs, and the academic community on shared priorities.

Ljubljana’s consular team serves the relatively small expat community, but also an increasing number of American tourists are drawn to Slovenia for both quiet charm and high-adrenaline alpine adventure. Likewise, Slovenian citizens take advantage of the visa waiver program for frequent travel to the United States for business and pleasure, with a special reverence for U.S. National Parks. Slovenia’s stunning and iconic Triglav National Park (named for the country’s highest peak, which is featured on its flag) is a sister park of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Ljubljana is one of Europe’s most walkable and bikeable cities, with snow-capped mountains providing a picturesque backdrop to a postcard perfect old town meticulously designed by famed Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik.

Slovenia is extremely family friendly, and its compact size makes all the country has to offer easily accessible within a short drive. On a nice day in the spring, one can ski in the morning, then take an afternoon swim in the Adriatic Sea. Slovenes are avid hikers and mountain bikers, so the trail options are virtually endless. Its rushing rivers and crystal-clear mountain lakes are ideal for fishing, rafting, kayaking, or paddleboarding. In winter, embassy families generally hit the slopes at Krvavec, a mere half hour from town, or one of the many other ski resorts nearby.  

A rising star on Europe’s culinary scene, Slovenian chefs excel at using organic, farm-to-table, local ingredients to create contemporary takes on traditional dishes. Many of its finest restaurants are scattered throughout the country’s wine regions, producing high-quality red and white wines from native varietals.  

Slovenes welcome every opportunity to celebrate their culture, with communities hosting events throughout the year dedicated to everything from sheep to chestnuts with plenty of beer and accordion music to go around. The Carniolan honey bee is an equally integral part of Slovenian culture. Boasting the highest per capita number of beekeepers in the EU, Slovenia led the drive to have May 20th declared World Bee Day by the U.N., and the array of specialty honey products available is staggering. 

For travelers, weekend trips to Croatia, Italy, Hungary, and Austria offer a wide array of quintessential European experiences, all within a two-hour drive.  

“In my first year as the ambassador, we’ve had the opportunity to explore the region as a family,” said Blanchard. “But from the very first time we crossed the border back into Slovenia, we said it already feels like we’re coming home—the country is so beautiful and people so warm and welcoming.”

Maribor Town Hall and the Plague Column are shown in the central square of Lower Styria, a traditional region in northeastern Slovenia, April 29, 2018. Photo by Roman Babakin
Maribor Town Hall and the Plague Column are shown in the central square of Lower Styria, a traditional region in northeastern Slovenia, April 29, 2018. Photo by Roman Babakin

There is so much to see and do in Slovenia that a tour here inevitably seems too short.  Slovenia’s healthy approach to a work-life balance creates an ideal environment for embassy staff to engage in meaningful policy work on priority issues during business hours, then turn out the lights and go explore.  

Luke Jones is chief of the Military Coordination Office, Julia Stanley is a former-general services officer, and J.B. Leedy is a public affairs officer at Embassy Ljubljana.

Map of Slovenia produced by the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues.
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