Slovenia and Croatia
Slovenia and Croatia are both part of the former Yugoslavia, a country that existed to Italy's east throughout much of the twentieth century. Slovenia was the first of the former Yugoslavian states to declare independence and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004. Croatia took a bit longer to stabilize to Western standards, and NATO offered the country membership in 2009.
These areas made headlines worldwide during much of the mid-1990s, when the Bosnian War erupted in the former Yugoslavia territories. News reports used words such as “massacre” and “genocide” with alarming regularity, and the resulting impression left in most travelers' minds was that Slovenia and Croatia were areas best left alone. Today, each country is working hard to rebuild itself within the European and international communities, and that includes offering some interesting tourist options.
Slovenia's škocjan Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, added to the list in 1986 as an “exceptional system of limestone caves.” They include many of the world's largest known underground chambers, including underground waterfalls.
The caves are protected as part of a national park that includes an educational walking trail, workshops, and exhibitions. Guided tours of the caves are available year-round, though there are far more tour times available in June, July, August, and September than during any other time of the year. During the coldest winter months, depending on demand, the three scheduled daily tours are sometimes reduced to two.
A museum is located within about ten minutes' walking distance of the park information center, though the museum is open only from June through September. You can learn more and see schedules and rates for your travel dates at the park's official website,
If you have time to visit only one city in Croatia, consider Dubrovnik, “the Pearl of the Adriatic.” Its old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, first added to the list in 1979 and then given an extension in 1994, after extensive work to repair the damage done during the Bosnian War. It is renowned for its Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque churches, as well as its palaces and fountains — much of which were of course influenced by the same architectural movements that you will have discovered in Italy.
Because rebuilding efforts are ongoing, your best bet is to ask a travel agent or local hotel concierge which monuments or churches are ideal for visits during your chosen travel dates. No matter when you travel, rest assured that you will find many of the same sites that have enchanted visitors for centuries.