The Endless Sky Above a Small Country
Slovenia has a long and rich aeronautical tradition: in 1909, just 6 years after the Wright brothers took to the skies, Edvard Rusjan completed his first motorised flight onboard Eda 1. Since then, aviation has been an integral part of the Slovenian spirit.
Scattered around Slovenia today, you'll find 3 international airports, 12 sport airfields, 43 landing strips and over 100 points for hang gliders and paragliders to takeoff. Over 4,000 pilots use these facilities to hop into the wild blue yonder. From above, they say, the landscape is breathtaking and, on a clear day, almost the entire country comes into view. A rare opportunity to see every mountain, lake, valley and town in a single moment... and without having to crane one's neck to peer through the tiny holes passing for windows on large passenger jets. Smaller aircraft, particularly those used for sightseeing, have much larger windows that allow the scenery to come to you. They also fly at speeds that allow close fly-byes giving you more than just a fraction of a second to take a look or a unique shot. After all, the aim of these flights is not to get into the air and back, but to actually see something, so every airborne moment is dedicated (within safety limits) to this single purpose.
There is a diverse range of panoramic flights on offer from almost every one of the sport airfields, especially those near important tourist locations like Portorož on the coast and Lesce near Lake Bled. From those two airfields alone, it is possible to cover almost every corner of the country. However, if you have a specific sight in mind then it would be cheaper to choose its nearest airfield (see the map), thus reducing unnecessary flying time. There are three standard sightseeing packages: short range that covers the nearest major attraction (Sečovlje salt pans from Portorož or Lake Bled from Lesce); medium range that take in the top-rated attractions in the area (Sečovlje, Piran and other coastal towns from Portorož; Lake Bled and Mt Triglav from Lesce); and long range excursions that cover a wider area (the Slovenian coast and hinterland from Portorož; the Julian Alps from Lesce). Depending on the package chosen, these flights can last from 15 minutes to one hour and are usually taken in 4-seater planes such as a Cessna or a Piper. These are the most commonly flown light aircraft in the world and are renowned for their unsurpassed reliability, comfort and safety. Larger planes are available for groups of 4 or more, however, there are significantly less of these craft and it may be easier to arrange two planes rather than one or to simply use one plane twice.
Prices do vary between operators, but should be around EUR 220 per hour per plane for a 4-seater (pilot and 3 passengers) and around EUR 360 for the larger, 6-seater craft. A typical 15-minute flight to the closest attraction should set you back about EUR 70. Prices may be slightly lower from airfields further away from the main tourist centres. Some smaller airstrips also offer flights in ultra-light aircraft or motorised hang-gliders, both of which carry a pilot and one passenger. At a price of around EUR 100 per hour this is a terrific option for the solo adventurer or photographer.
Balloons and parachutes
Of course, planes are not the only way to enjoy the superb panorama. Balloon or paragliding flights are always a unique way to stir the emotions. Silently gliding across the sky makes ballooning the perfect way to fully appreciate the romance of the early morning or late evening light, while paragliding remains unrivalled for its sheer simplicity, exposure to the elements and unimpeded views. Both offer the sensation of flying as well as a bird's-eye view; thus making ballooning and especially paragliding, perfect options for those who not only want to see what our feathered friends do, but to actually feel like one of them.
Details about these aeronautical activities - as well as the scenic flights - can be easily obtained via the internet, adventure sport agencies, tourist information centres and at some hotels. Prices are around EUR 105 per person for a 1-hour balloon flight and EUR 75 per person for a 30- to 60-minute tandem paraglide. The adrenaline rush of tandem paragliding can be amplified with the inclusion of a few aerobatics, some of them unique! It is hard to determine where your stomach is when you see the glider fly forward while you feel you are going backwards! To experience this for yourself, you will need to push EUR 100 in the direction of a highly-skilled pilot.Another adrenaline-packed activity is parachuting, which is regularly confused with paragliding despite having little in common. Actually, a one-minute free fall at almost 200 kilometres per hour is likely to have very little in common with almost anything you have ever tried before. It is not for the faint-hearted, yet those who feel that hurtling at an alarmingly rate towards the varied patterns of Slovenia's landscape would be fun can pay EUR 160 for the privilege. Most jumps are taken from above Lesce, Slovenj Gradec, Novo mesto, Bovec and Maribor airfields at altitudes varying from 3,000 to 4,000 metres above sea level. If a friend of mine is to be believed, the 1,000-metre difference doesn't matter at all...