You’ve probably never heard of apitourism, or even considered “bee tourism” to be a thing. But it is, and it’s a travel trend swarming all over Slovenia.
While bee populations in countries such as the US are dwindling at an alarming rate, Slovenia is the only EU member state to have officially protected its prized bee race. They have over 10,000 beekeepers, 12,500 apiaries and nearly 17,000 hive colonies.
We say ‘prized’ because the Carniolan honey bee is known for its friendly nature (they rarely sting) and hardy characteristics (they can survive sub-zero temperatures). Which explains why they sell 30,000 of their Queen Carniolan bees to European countries each year.
One of the first countries to certify apitourism providers and also the European Green Capital in 2016, Slovenia's sustainability is going from strength to strength. This year on the 20th May the first World Bee Day will take place – an initiative driven by the Slovenian Tourist Board – marking the country's ongoing attempt to save the declining bee population and promote its country's long history of beekeeping.
So how can you get in on the action? Here are five ways to get up close and personal with Slovenia's bees.
Thanks to its rich diversity of flora and expertise in mobile beekeeping, Slovenia produces around 2400kg of honey each year.
Visit Marko Cesar, of the family-run Cesar brand, at his home near Maribor and you can sip on the country’s only sparkling chestnut honey-based wine. Elsewhere, you can sample liqueurs, mead, vinegar, beer and goats cheese, all made from honey.
Further west at the quaint Restaurant Lectar in Radovljica you can watch traditional honey bread hearts, or lectarstvo, being made; many biodynamic farmers flavour theirs with cinnamon, ginger, blueberry and chocolate.
Nineteenth-century physician Filip Terc was ridiculed for claiming that bee venom could cure arthritis. But apitherapy is now recognised by the Slovenian Beekeeper’s Association as a legitimate form of homeopathy.
You can learn about the bacteria-fighting properties of propolis and the ‘curative’ effects of royal jelly on high blood pressure on an apitherapy tour.
Those with asthma can inhale ‘healing aromas’ from the hive while anyone feeling a little weary can try honey massages, beeswax thermotherapy – claimed to boost circulation and treat skin disorders – and a nap on special beehive beds, whose vibrations are said to induce calm.
Whether you’re a beekeeping pro or simply want to learn more about the api-industry, Slovenia offers various ‘apicamps’ on Queen breeding, the apiculture science and traditional AZ hives.
You can join lectures in honey production, bee feeding and everything from comb wiring to obtaining propolis and royal jelly. Or if you want to do some serious swotting-up, you can head to the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association in Lukovica – home to a honey laboratory and apiculture Library.
The apitourism trend has done wonders for highlighting new forms of eco-conscious travel. And many companies like ApiRoutes are using this niche industry to shine the spotlight on an array of eco and socially conscious accommodation and tours.
If you do one thing, check out the remarkable Trnulja Estate – a 100% organic farm with charming bio-apartments and excellent green credentials. Tanja Arih Korosec, Director of AriTours, says: ‘Tourism is becoming more about sustainability and if we can [use apitourism] to encourage tourists to act in a more sustainable way, other countries will follow."
During the mid-eighteenth century, Slovenia was rich in rural folk art, which appeared on many of the country’s traditional stacked AZ bee houses – it was believed that the motifs helped the bees navigate back to their hives.
Visit the Slovenian beekeeping museum in Radovljica to see 600 of these original hand-painted panels or take an excursion to the beautiful village of Selo to meet Danijela Ambrozic, who offers traditional api-artwork workshops from her beekeeping farm.
For more information on AriTours and ApiRoutes, visit Aritours.si and Apiroutes.com. Find more travel information on the Slovenia Tourist Board site at slovenia.info. WIZZ flies from London Luton to Ljubljana. For more information visit wizzair.com.
Discover more of Slovenia with The Rough Guide to Slovenia. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Top image: Bees and flowers in Slovenia © Jošt Gantar.