Sloping off to Slovenia: Lesson 2: the pizza'n'chips technique

New frontiers for novices: Natalie Holmes heads east with her children

Lesson One: "I hate it. It was horrible. I'm not going back, and you can't make me." We were in Kranjska Gora, on a first family skiing holiday, and it wasn't going well. My little refusenik, Ruby, nine, had been thrilled at the idea of going to Slovenia. It was some time before I realised she thought we were going to Sylvania, land of furry, nuclear families of indeterminate species who bake bread and chop wood in clapboard dolls' houses.

Lesson One: "I hate it. It was horrible. I'm not going back, and you can't make me." We were in Kranjska Gora, on a first family skiing holiday, and it wasn't going well. My little refusenik, Ruby, nine, had been thrilled at the idea of going to Slovenia. It was some time before I realised she thought we were going to Sylvania, land of furry, nuclear families of indeterminate species who bake bread and chop wood in clapboard dolls' houses.

But there was something quite Sylvanian about the scene as we neared Kranjska Gora, an hour's drive from Ljubljana airport. The wooden houses dotted among the snowy slopes were strung with Christmas lights and we arrived to a glorious sunset, the mountains pink, and the clouds overhead gathering like a giant salmon mousse. New snow covered the village. Ruby and James, her brother, were overcome with excitement at the sight of it.

The nursery slopes the next morning were thronging. Slovenians love to ski, and in a country 200km across, it's easy to reach the mountains. Kranjska Gora, in the Julian Alps, is near Austria and Italy. At holidays and weekends, it is busy with Austrians and Italians milling with Slovenes, Russians, Croatians and a few British and Irish. It is a good place to learn, with extensive nursery slopes and an efficient ski school.

Or that was the theory. I thought James, six, might be a bit young until I saw the Slovenian tots whooshing around, looking as if they had not long mastered walking. I hadn't skied for about 15 years (put it this way, I don't remember anyone snowboarding) but it all came back and I was soon venturing up the quieter, higher slopes. Together with neighbouring Podkeren, which links at the top, there are 30km of runs - with four chairlifts and 12 tows - and expansions are planned. But I was travelling alone with children; for me to ski, they had to go to ski school.

Lesson two: Both children had "improved". There was no talk of not going back and much excitement about using the pommel lift the next day. It was the side-stepping up the mountain that had put them off. Hurrah for Petra, their glamorous ski instructor, with her cries of "Pizza! Pizza!" (snowploughs - the shape of a pizza slice) and "Chips!" (parallel skis).

We celebrated with a real pizza at the Hotel Kopnik. It cost about £8 to feed the three of us, with enough colouring sheets thrown in to last the week. Slovenian food tends to be solid and meaty - it's tricky for vegetarians, though not impossible - but the Italian influence (pizza, pasta, risotto) makes it great for children. And the Austrian influence (schnitzel, strudel, sachertorte) made it great for me. At our hotel, the Prisank, the breakfast buffet offered something for all tastes, whether you wanted to start with pilchards or blueberry pancakes. Slovenes eat lots of soup, good bread, meat with potatoes, gnocchi, or polenta, and stews and goulashes.

We were the only English in our large, smart hotel where groups of Russians would drink Pernod and play dice late into the night. Kranjska Gora was popular with British visitors before the federation of Yugoslavia imploded. About 250 British visitors were evacuated via Trieste when war broke out. Slovenia, where 88 per cent of the two million population is ethnic Slovene, sidestepped the blood-bath but its tourism industry suffered badly and is still recovering. "People think of Yugoslavia, they think of war," one man complained to me. "We have no war."

The fight for independence from Belgrade lasted just 10 days in 1991. Since then, it has been onward and upward. Slovenia joined the EU last May, and is expected to join the euro in 2007. It will be sad to lose the beautiful banknotes of the tolar, their short-lived currency. You can already spend euros in shops and restaurants and it is impressive to see the Slovenes switch between currencies and languages (everyone seems to have some English, plus Italian and German). They seemed an optimistic, confident people. I was starting to feel as if some of this was rubbing off. Or maybe not.

Lesson three: "I'm going home, even if I have to stow away on an aeroplane. I hate Slovenia and all Slovenians." It was all going wrong for Ruby. Still, if she refused to ski, there were plenty of other things to do. We tried the three-pool swimming centre at the Hotel Larix where the whirlpool bath did wonders for my ski-bearing shoulders, and made up for not being able to indulge in a massage (about £6 for half an hour) or sauna. We went skating, we went sledging, we went to a museum of local history (photos of turn-of-the-century women in long dresses standing triumphantly on wooden skis).

We didn't find time to ride through the snowy forests in a horse-drawn carriage, or be pulled around the pistes on a sleigh by reindeer. Nor did I manage to join in the skiing in the evening, but it made a beautiful sight from our hotel window, distant figures gliding silently down the flood-lit piste.

Lesson four: "I love skiing. I never want to stop." Hurrah! On Petra's advice, I had shelled out €32 (£22) for a shared private lesson for the two of them before their class. The unexpectedly named Stuart had worked some magic and from then on it was downhill all the way. The sun shone, the snow sparkled and we all three enjoyed getting from the top of the mountain to the bottom (and back again). On the way home, I put it to Ruby that her attitude had flipped about a bit over the week. "Well, it's a very up and down sort of sport," she said. And James's verdict? "Too much standing up." He should be so lucky.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Natalie Holmes travelled to Kranjska Gora as a guest of Inghams (020-8780 4433; www.inghams.co.uk) and stayed at the four-star Grand Hotel Prisank. Seven nights half-board costs from £369 per person, based on two sharing, including direct return scheduled flights from Gatwick to Ljubljana with Adria Airways, and resort transfers.

Ski packages can be pre-booked. For example, a six-day adult ski pass starts from £91 and six days at ski school costs £62 per person. Learn to Ski packages, which include a six-day lift pass, six days' ski & boot hire and ski school, cost £127 per adult.

Further information

Slovenian Tourist Board (0870 2255 305; www.slovenia.info). A good guide book is Lonely Planet's 'Slovenia' by Steve Fallon, (£12.99).

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