Slovenia’s Laid Back Capital: Ljubljana
July 10, 2015
For six years my husband and I made our home only an hour from the border, and two hours from the capital, of Slovenia. This tiny country offers gently rolling hills and lush valleys, tucked between Austria to the north, Croatia to the south and Italy to the west. Barely the size of New Jersey, Slovenia was spared the destruction suffered by the other republics of Yugoslavia during the 1990s civil war. A member of the European Union for more than a decade now, Slovenia adopted the Euro as its currency in 2007. That translates into fewer “deals” than before, but the country still presents good value and is certainly a fascinating place to spend a few days.
You can fly directly into Slovenia’s capital, the sophisticated and beautiful city of Lubljana (pronounced “loobiana”), or use Italy’s Trieste airport and make the easy drive over the border (about 90 minutes). Ideally, stop on the way to visit the Lipizzaner Stud Farm, with it’s interactive museum that opened only a few years ago. The gorgeous milky-white fairy tale horses have a history well beyond the Vienna Riding School! Also well worth a planned stop is one of the many fabulous wineries in Brda. These scenic, rolling hills produce the country’s best white wines, many of them rivaling those of Italy which is just a few miles away.
Plan to arrive in Lubljana in time to check into one of the boutique hotels (we know the best ones!) and relax for a couple of days in this largely English-speaking city. Don’t miss the funicular ride up to the imposing Ljubljana Castle, where on Saturday you’re likely to witness a local wedding. The Time Machine Tour in the castle is a fun one to do with the kids (meet six costumed characters from different time periods). Sunday morning features Ljubljana’s fun and famous (at least among locals!) Antique Flea Market, sprawling along the shores of the Ljubljanica River in the center of town. Many of Lubljana’s shopping streets are pedestrian-only, which makes it a pleasure to explore the many unique offerings (handmade lace from Idrija, many products made from hemp). Getting around the capital is easy, since nearly everyone under age 30 speaks fluent English. Another strength of Lubljana is its university population — nearly 50,000 of the city’s 280,000 residents are students. The university is nearly 100 years old and highly respected. The creativity and energy of these young people is felt throughout the city.
Excellent wine bars and restaurants abound, with Slovenian food incorporating elements from Italy, but also from middle Europe. The marriage is a happy one. Try struklji (sweet or savory pastries), hearty jota soup (beans, meat cabbage), zlikrofi (Slovene ravioli; can have meat or even plum filling), and gibanica cake (poppyseeds, walnuts, apple – yum!). If it all sounds a bit heavy, don’t worry as the “big city” eateries offer dozens of delicious salads and lighter foods. We had a lot of fun a few years back pinching the zlikrofi into all kinds of weird shapes on this wonderful trip!
Not to miss when in Lubljana is a day tour of Lake Bled, a bit touristy but oh-so-beautiful. The walk around the lake (about 4 miles, flat) is charming, or have one of the locals row you out to that tiny, picture-perfect island in the middle of the lake.