This name was given to Slovenia by a famous British weekly newspaper, the Telegraph, back in 2004. At that time, they published an article with the title “Small is beautiful in the ‘Switzerland of the Balkans’,” which changed the opinion of all the English-speaking communities about the small Slavic country. This comparison defined the Slovenian image for tourists. Moreover, it still has an influence on some tourists who decide where to spend weekends.
Slovenia is called “Balkan Switzerland” because of several reasons these countries have in common. Generally speaking, they both are small European, Alpine countries with similar nature and both are the most successful countries in their regions.
As it was 2004, Slovenia just entered the European Union. The Western world wasn’t acknowledged so well about former socialistic countries of Eastern Europe. In that year, the EU replenished with such states as Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Thus, the new world was open to Europeans. They discovered places and compared them with already known ones. That’s how one Alpine country got the surname of another Alpine country. In this article, let’s consider the reasons why Slovenia is often called “the Balkan Switzerland,” as well as similarities and differences.
Slovenia is the only Alpine country among all the Slavic nations. This brings uniqueness to them. On the other hand, as it’s not common, people don’t expect to find true Alpine nature in one of such states. Moreover, the linguistic mix-up between Slovenia and Slovakia brings even more confusion. While Slovakia is famous for its Carpathians, Slovenia is an Alpine country.
Two-thirds of Slovenia is covered in the mountains. The highest mountain in Slovenia is Triglav, with 2,863.65 meters of height. Moreover, the mount is depicted on the national coat of arms of Slovenia. By the way, it is a life-hack how to recognize Slovenia from Slovakia. Just look for a mountain on the flag.
In its turn, Switzerland is the same Alpine country. On the one hand, the mountains there are twice as tall. The highest peaks of Switzerland are Dufourspitze (4,634 m), the Dom (4,545 m), and the Liskamm (4,527 m). On the other hand, the landscapes seem similar in appearance.
The nature of both countries is equally picturesque. That’s why English journalists were impressed after visiting Slovenia. Swiss and Austrian standards of nature were already well-known, but the Slovenian ones became a discovery for them.
Both countries are the wealthiest countries in the region where they are situated. Of course, everybody knows about Switzerland. It is the country of the best banks, cheese, chocolate, and watches. An average Swiss citizen gets one of the highest salaries in Europe. The country obtained neutrality in the times of WWI and WWII. Because of this factor and the famous Swiss bank system, the Swiss franc is one of the best-known safe and stable currencies in the world. Thereby, this country doesn’t need to be presented.
Of course, the Slovenian economy is not so close to the Swiss one, but it is the most successful in its own region (the Balkans and Slavic European countries). Moreover, Slovenia is a much younger country than Switzerland. The last data shows that Slovenia’s nominal gross domestic product is 54.154 billion US dollars. On the other hand, its GDP (PPP) per capita is 38,506 international dollars. That makes Slovenia the wealthiest country among other Slavic ones.
Moreover, the average monthly net wage in Slovenia is 1175 euros. This is the highest number not even among Slavic states, but also bigger than in Portugal, Greece, and Malta. Among post-Yugoslav states, the second place is taken by Croatia, with almost 900 euros per month. This is the normal average salary for all the Slavic countries that are members of the European Union, except Bulgaria. Both Slovenia and Croatia were the wealthiest republics in Yugoslavia, and now they are members of the EU.
Switzerland is a federative state (however officially the country is called Swiss Confederation), hence it consists of different federative units, each with its own national language: German, French, or Italian. Romansh is recognized as a national language.
Thus, the country has a common historical, linguistic, and cultural heritage with all the neighboring countries: France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Lichtenstein, which is often called one more Swiss canton because it uses the Swiss franc as the main currency as well.
Moreover, every country wishes to have good relations with such powerful, wealthy, and prosperous countries as Switzerland, especially its neighbors.
In Slovenia, the situation is quite similar. Historically, most of the territory of Slovenia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Therefore, a lot of Slovenians knew German as their second language, even had families there. The situation in Italy was similar. After the Second World War, Italy got some of the Slovene ethnic territories. In general, 327,000 Slovenes started to live in Italy at that time.
Thus, after Slovenia became an independent country, the Western neighbors accepted it immediately. First of all, the European Union helped to regulate the Ten-Day War that happened after Slovenia’s independence proclamation. After this, Slovenia started to take active steps in the direction of the EU and NATO. The neighbors favored this and helped Slovenia in its development.
Slovenia and Switzerland are small countries. It doesn’t take long to reach from one part of the country to the opposite one. Slovenia, with an area of 20,273 square kilometers, takes 11th place among European countries. Furthermore, when we omit island states like Cyprus and Malta, it becomes 9th. Moreover, the first six of the list are the microstates, with an area up to 1000 square kilometers, such as Vatican City, Andorra, San Marino, etc. Therefore, from the continental, undisputable states with territory above 1000 square kilometers, Slovenia will take third place after Luxembourg and Montenegro.
Switzerland is a little bit bigger. Its area is twice larger, with 41,285 km2 in total. However, it can still be recognized as a small country if compared with such giants as the United States of America, the Russian Federation, or China. Even in Europe, Germany and France can fit inside almost nine Switzerland-like countries. This brings a lot of benefits for citizens, such as easy traveling possibilities.
Differences between Slovenia and Switzerland
Of course, the two countries are not identical. At first glance, countries seem to be similes, and Slovenia is just a “younger version” of Switzerland. Partially yes, partially not.
First of all, Slovenia is cheaper. We talked about the salaries of people that are living in the countries. But what about tourists? This becomes a true argument, if a person wants the usual weekend or vacation in the mountains, with skis, or in thermal pools, then Slovenia is a cheaper option with the same quality. On the other hand, here you won’t feel that indigenous “Swiss air feeling”. Usually, Austrians and Italians prefer going to Slovenia for mountain vacations.
Secondly, Switzerland is a federation, whereas Slovenia is a republic. This is defined by the factor that Switzerland is a multicultural country, while Slovenia is the most ethnically uniform country among other post-Yugoslav states. This factor played a big role in Slovenian separation from Yugoslavia. They had only Ten-Day War with a relatively small amount of casualties if compared with Croatia and Serbia.
Third, Switzerland is more independent in terms of European Union integration. Now, Slovenia is a part of the EU, Schengen Area, and it is using the Euro as its main currency. On the other hand, Switzerland is not a part of the European Union, and the country uses its own currency. This makes the country less dependent on other countries as well as their economy is more protected. Moreover, Switzerland still remains neutrality, the country is not a part of NATO. Therefore, it has quite a strong army as well as obligatory military service. In its turn, Slovenia doesn’t have such, and the army here is based only on the contract form.
No Better Option, Each One is Unique
The comparison of Slovenia with Switzerland done by journalists from the Daily Telegraph was pretty accurate. It helped people who just saw a big list of countries joined the EU to differentiate them and keep the associative similarities in mind. In fact, Switzerland and Slovenia have a lot in common. They both are Alpine countries as well as they both are small and successful. Moreover, Slovenians do like such a comparison with the great country in the heart of Europe.
Of course, if you just want to have regular vacations with mountain activities, you should choose the cheaper ones, but with the same quality. On the other side, if you really want to discover new cultures, new languages, and some other styles of living, it’s better to visit both of them. The atmosphere will be unique in each case. Maybe, even for people from Western European countries, Slovenia will open more new discoveries, as well as for Eastern Europeans, Switzerland would be the “brave new world”.
Thus, traveling is not about how much money you can spend somewhere, but about the emotions, you bring from those places. And emotions are free of charge.