Don't let on about the truffles
Observations on Slovenia
If you have no idea where Ljubljana is, Slovenia as a nation forgives you - and rather hopes you remain blissfully ignorant. As a customs officer recently said to me on arrival: "Even well-educated Europeans think we are Slovakia. Which, I'm sure you realise, is another country entirely." With a population of two million, sandwiched between Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia, self-satisfied and quietly prosperous little Slovenia has never quite put itself on the map. Some would have things stay this way. But on 28 April, Ljubljana joins easyJet's destination list for an irresistible £80 return.
All over the capital, Slovenes are bracing themselves for the onslaught of British weekenders. The easyJetters, it is acknowledged, will drink too much and talk loudly about how cheap everything is. Be warned, however - the Slovenes are Europe's greatest polyglots: everyone speaks and understands English perfectly.
Logistically, Ljubljana is ready. It has great hotels, picture-postcard canals and bridges, a gorgeous sprawling park, restaurants and bars galore. Mentally, it is still in denial. Slovenes quietly wonder if a low-cost airline is "in keeping with Ljubljana's self-image". They have so far kept it to themselves that their cuisine, landscape and culture are not much different to Italy's. Truffles, parmesan and prosciutto are all produced locally to an amazing standard. Slovene wines have to be tasted to be believed. The local bon vivant assigned to me by the tourist board for a tour of Ljubljana's wine cellars wore a tortured expression. He wanted to talk it all up, but I could tell he didn't really want anyone to know about it.
I talked to a Ljubljana financier who owns a yacht, a city residence, a country house and a ski pad - all accessible in less than an hour. This is fine as long as it is for Slovenes, he said, but it won't be so great if every Brit with an eye for £10,000 holiday homes gets in on the deal. Foreign investment is one thing, but marauding holidaymakers - no thanks. "I don't care what a housewife from Suffolk thinks about Slovenia," he said. Too late, though: now every Suffolk housewife with £80 will be heading for his favourite restaurant, where truffle pasta is served for £5 a plate. Perhaps, with Slovenia also joining the EU on 1 May, he will alarm the British press by coming to London.