Q: “Where was your favourite place in Europe, Ang?”
“Ljubo doma, kdor ga ima.” – Slovenian
“Home, sweet home.” – English
Definition: The place we live, is preferable to all others.
And yet, most of us have never heard of this tiny utopia, tucked away in Central Europe. I’m certain this is about to change.
Sharing borders with Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary, the diverse influences are absorbed in every corner of this small country. After boldly being the first to declare independence from Yugoslavia in 1990, Slovenia has since powered ahead with ties to Western Europe to form a strong economy and solid democracy – arguably positioning itself as one of the safest and stable members of the European Union.
But – you don’t care about politics. You care about what’s on offer here, so let me take you exploring in Slovenia’s capital city of just 280,000 people: Ljubljana.
Ljubljana (pronounced lub-lana) is primarily built around the main artery that connects all of Slovenia – the Ljubljanica River. You can eat on it, you can drink on it, you can sail on it, you can ice skate on it – you can even stand up paddle board on it! Be sure not to miss an afternoon of gluttony at the many bars and restaurants that line the Petkovšek Embankment, as well as track down the famous Dragon Bridge.
What most people don’t know is that it was once essentially used as a dumping ground from the Stone Age right through to the Renaissance. Approximately 15, 000 relics and artifacts have been pulled from the Ljubljanica – essentially securing its status as a wet dream of sorts, for treasure hunters and archaeologists.
My favourite thing to do to get a feel for a new city is to explore the local market scene – it’s the easiest way to find a cheap meal and to blend into the crowd away from the tourists (not that you will find many of those in Ljubljana anyway).
Central Market: Every day, closed Sundays. If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist! Fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, fish, wine, souvenirs and flowers.
Art Market: Saturdays. Paintings, sculptures and jewelry, this is where the local artisan community comes together to show off and sell their work.
Open Kitchen Market: Fridays. Very popular with the locals, this institution is where you go to sample local Slovenian and international food and booze.
Antique and Flea Market: Sundays. As an avid thrift shopper, this was HEAVEN. Filled with everything from old furniture to post-war memorabilia, if you have time to dig – this is where it’s at.
Once a military barrack, just outside the Old Town centre of Ljubljana I stumbled upon the “Alternative Cultural Centre”. A literal art installation, every corner of this part of the city has been transformed by 200 volunteers/underground artists/squatters in an effort to save it from being torn down.
You’ll be forgiven for initially thinking it to be nothing more than a sketchy part of town, but these days it’s home to pop up events like concerts and events for the local university students. It’s a miracle what Millennials can come up with when we all work together!
You know how there’s always one ultra touristy thing that simply must be done in every city or town? Bonza, this is your winner.
Constructed in the 11th century, it’s old – REALLY old. However, being almost 300 metres above sea level, it’s also got the best view in town. If strolling up a vertical hill is not your jam, never fear – there is also a funicular to scoot you up to Castle Hill for minimal exercise. No judgement, I get it.
Like most smaller Central and Eastern European cities, Ljubljana is home to a wonderfully preserved section of the city – in this case, a “life in the slow lane” coffee culture, town squares, Baroque architecture and of course, a healthy dosage of old school romance.
Take a stroll down Križevniška Street and it’s surrounding cobblestone laneways mid afternoon, to get a sense of everyday life for the friendly locals. Yes – they ARE friendly, despite everything we think we know about Slavic culture. Be sure not to miss the Love Lock Bridge and to grab yourself a Union beer before you head home.
I’m cheating here, as it’s technically a 50 minute drive out of the city – but- MY GOD, PLEASE GO HERE.
As soon as you escape the “city” of Ljubljana (if that’s what you want to call it) – it feels like Austria. On the short drive to Lake Bled, the Julian Alps dot the skyline, so if you can imagine Slovenia in the spring, you might also envision yours truly belting out hits from “The Sound Of Music”.
Once you arrive, you will quickly notice the small medieval castle perched on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. This is Castle Bled, which you can also rent a rowboat to for further adventures.
If you find yourself with time on your side, drive the additional 15 minutes west to Lake Bohinj. It’s just as pretty, a little more wild, and a lot less tourists.
If time is on your side, be sure to check out:
- Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city. Picturesque Renaissance-style town only 1.5 hours from Ljubljana, nestled in the heart of the wine region.
- Tivoli Park, Ljubljana. Find your inner Disney Princess and serenade the squirrels.
- Attend a concert at Križanke, Ljubljana. Ancient outdoor venue in use since the 12th century, now home to a summer theatre.
- Chill. Ljubljana and in fact most of Slovenia is quite laid back, so they appreciate the same from their guests. Think of it as one big country town.
P.s. if you haven’t googled what the title of this article “Skrivnost” means yet – it’s Slovenian for “secret”.
© All text and images by Angela Wallace