By Noah Charney
On the morning of my wedding, in the tiny alpine village in Slovenia in which my fiancée grew up, I walked with my best men and a trail of 100 guests up the curling road to the tiny Baroque church on the hilltop. As I turned the bend, I was stopped by a rope strung across the path. A cluster of stern and angry people I’d never met stood blocking my way. They carried Medieval-looking implements: A long rusty saw, an ax, an old scythe and a wooden pitchfork. If I was planning to marry my Slovenian fiancée, I first had to pass the “tests of manliness.”
Slovenia is a gorgeous country, lying just east of Venice and south of Vienna. Full of cliff-top castles, mysterious caves, waterfalls and alpine fields, it looks like the backdrop for Grimm’s fairy tales. The most culturally and economically advanced of the former Yugoslav Balkan states, it weathered the Balkan Wars unscathed, and thrived within the Habsburg and Napoleonic empires, under which it was known as Illyria. Slovenia’s prosperity earned it the EU presidency in 2008, and its adherence to tradition and government-protected industry makes it, both economically and socially, the sort of unprepossessing country that Western powers may come to envy.