03:32 - Source: CNN
Melania Trump: From Slovenia to the White House

Story highlights

Melania Trump's native country is located in central Europe

Tourism is up in Slovenia compared to last year

CNN —  

The central European nation of Slovenia is celebrating a milestone this week at a time when its profile has risen considerably, thanks to American first lady Melania Trump.

On Friday afternoon, Slovenian Ambassador to the United States Dr. Božo Cerar, will commemorate the 25th anniversary of US recognition of the European nation, planting a Linden tree in the National Arboretum in Washington.

Slovenians are “very proud” that Trump is first lady, Cerar told CNN recently. She has helped the nation’s visibility considerably, he said, noting that Americans no longer mix his country up with Slovakia, a “huge improvement.”

“Slovenia’s recognisability in the world has been growing stronger since 2015, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy,” Slovenian Tourism Board public relations manager Rebeka Kumer Bizjak told CNN via email.

And, perhaps as a result of new found curiosity and intrigue around the mysterious and private first lady, tourism in her native country is on the rise.

In January 2017, tourism in Slovenia was up 8% compared to January 2016, according to the Republic of Slovenia Statistical Office.

And, per Bizjak, American tourism in particular was up 11% from January to October 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.

courtesy Park Skocjanske

Where in the world is Slovenia?

Slovenia is a small country about the size of New Jersey, bordering Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, with about 30 miles of coastline on the Adriatic Sea.

The first lady was born in the town of Sevnica, pronounced Sev-nee-tza, slightly over an hour east of capital Ljubljana.

“I was born in Slovenia, a small, beautiful and then-communist country in Central Europe,” Trump said in her remarks at the Republican National Convention last summer. “I am fortunate for my heritage, but also for where it brought me today.”

17:23 - Source: CNN
Melania Trump and Donald Trump at RNC

Her home country has a long history under many different governments. It was part of the the principality of Carantania, it existed under the Celtic Kingdom of Noricum, it was a Roman province in the Roman Empire, and it was governed by Habsburg and Austria-Hungarian rule, per government handouts. Following World War One, the country became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and after World War Two, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

But in June 1991, Slovenia declared independence and in 1992 became part of the United Nations. Slovenia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

2017 marks the 25th year of Slovenian recognition by the US government.

Slovenia currently boasts an economy supported by information technology, the pharmaceutical sector, car technology and agricultural production, according to brochures provided by the Slovenian embassy. (Trump’s grandfather reportedly created the Raka red onion after accidentally cross-breeding two onions, per New Yorker.) The country’s burgeoning tourism industry boasts fly fishing, hiking, wine tasting, cycling, and rafting.

“After all, Slovenia is still a relatively undiscovered part of Europe, which makes it genuine, authentic and richly traditional, but also a modern, innovative, and, due to its size, easily manageable destination,” promotional pamphlets from the Government Communication Office read.

Melania’s native town Sevnica is located at the country’s Sava and Mirna Rivers, a lush, green town with rolling hills, castles, vineyards, and orchards, according to a brochure from the Doživljaj Posavje Tourist Agency. Sevnica boasts “the mother of salami festivals” and the town also holds the records for largest bonfire, part of the traditional Bonfire Eve celebration, per the brochure.

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Trumps in Slovenia

Shortly after their January 2005 wedding, the newlywed Trumps sat down with CNN’s Larry King, who asked Trump whether he’d been to Slovenia.

Trump said his first – and only – trip to the European country was short-lived.

“I was there about 13 minutes. It’s a beautiful country. I landed, said, ‘Hi, mom, hi, dad; bye.’ Boom,” he said, gesturing out behind him.

It’s unclear whether Melania has returned with their son, Barron, 11. But her parents still have a home in their native country, splitting their time between Slovenia and New York. Trump’s sister, Ines, now lives blocks away from Trump Tower at the Trump Park Avenue property.

Upon his 2016 election victory, Trump spoke to Slovenian President Borut Pahor, who offered the then-President-elect his congratulations, per a release from the presidential transition team.

The Slovenian embassy partnered with Sister Cities International to host an inaugural gala in Melania Trump’s honor January 17. Though she was unable to attend, she was touched and deeply moved by the gesture, Cerar said.

Whether the Trump administration chooses to more fully engage with – or even visit – Slovenia remains to be seen.

02:13 - Source: CNN
Art sculpture in Slovenia

The first lady’s homeland

In addition to tourism ventures, a variety of Melania-inspired goods have sprung up in the country.

Jars of honey bearing the first lady’s image are on display at a Sevnica tourist information center. (Beekeeping is a surprisingly popular hobby, with 4-in-1,000 slovenians participating in the craft.)

The “First Lady” brand of wine, salami and tea has also taken off. Sold at Sevnica Castle, the first 300 bottles of the wine sold out in two days, Decanter reported last month.

The Julija bakery in Sevnica sells a “Melania Cake.”

“We watched her and we wanted to create something as beautiful as she is,” owner Nuša Vidmar told Politico EU. “We wanted to honor Melania and celebrate her success … The best way to mark the occasion was by making the cake.”

A band called Ansambel Slavček, from the nearby municipality of Straža has found fame with their catchy song “Melanija,” performing the song on national television, on a variety show called “Ena po domače.”

And at an aromatherapy store called Aromatica in the capital city of Ljubljana, Urša Mravlje, is selling “Melanija” soap, which was recently profiled in Vogue. Trump’s former classmate Urša Mravlje created the soap.

“She was good-looking and natural like our soap,” Mravlje told Vogue.