Summer luvin’… it happened so fast. It seems like only last week that I was sunning myself by the Ljubljanica river, eating strawberry and mascapone tart washed down with an artesan ale at Tozd bar, and my only dilemma was choosing between the castle or Tivoli park for an afternoon stroll. Whereas now here I am back home, buried under piles of unanswered emails as numerous as the sodden brown leaves outside my door that are testament to the gloomy onset of autumn. Yep, those hazy summer days sure drifted away pretty quick.
It was not a week ago, but in June in fact that I was invited to take part in a blogtrip to Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, along with some prestigious fellow travel bloggers in the form of The Travel Mob. And whilst I had done the equivalent of stalking the city’s Facebook profile to check if she was cute or not (she was!), I did not realise that I was going to fall so head over heels in love. Thanks to our blogtrip I got to spend eight days up-close and personal with this ravishing Central European beauty, all the time independently exploring all the cool stuff I thought you, the UTB readership, would be interested in. This included the city’s innovative Libraries Under The Treetops initiative, the legacy of the Rog bicycle and factory (I’m a sucker for anything to do with Communist nostaglia, and hopefully you are too!) and the chance to try stand up paddle boarding on the Ljubljanica river. Amongst many other things!
Maybe some of those stories, published right here over the last few weeks, have already piqued your interest in this diminutive, oft-neglected capital? However, if none of them have quite convinced you to start searching for flights just yet, then do yourself a favour and check out my eight reasons why you should visit Ljubljana and begin your own romance with this wonderful destination.
1. Lonely Planet Loves Ljubljana
Just before we set off on our own Slovenian Odyssey we were buoyed by the news that none other than LP had voted Ljubljana as their second hottest European destination for 2014, saying that it is “already one of Europe’s greenest and most liveable cities, boasting a friendly cafe culture by day, and vibrant nightlife after the sun sets… Plus it makes the perfect base with plentiful, inexpensive buses radiating out of the city to the rest of Slovenia, which is as picture-perfect as Switzerland but much easier on the wallet.” The travel press are a-twittering…
2. For A Small City, It Packs A Big Punch!
A city of only 270,000 or so people, Ljubljana is one of Europe’s smallest capitals and as such you might be worried about running out of things to do during a long weekend. Don’t be. The castle, Roman ruins, art museums, Tivoli park and riverside walks should keep you occupied for a day or two at the very least (especially as you will naturally slow down into the infectiously lazy pace of this languorous town), whilst there are literally a dozen or more great day trips to choose from. The most popular is to Lake Bled, a fairytale aquascape that adorns many a Slovenian postcard, but the coastal resorts of Piran and Portoroz are also as pretty as a picture, whilst the Skocjan caves are one of several UNESCO listed treasures within striking distance (Monica of The Travel Mob, managed to fit in several of these in one epic day trip). For all options worth considering The Visit Ljubljana website is the best resource.
3. The Food, Glorious Food (…and Wine …and Craft Beer!)
Foodies will have a field day in Ljubljana, a place where quality seems to be matched only by affordability: I’ll go out on a limb and suggest you’ll be hard pressed to eat as well for as little anywhere else in Europe. The local cuisine draws heavily on neighbouring influences from Austria, Hungary, Italy and the Mediterranean, and in every restaurant we visited we found that the emphasis was on using seasonal, locally-sourced cuisine, with many chefs owning their own vegetable gardens. Slovenian wines are little known outside the country, because they don’t produce enough to export them – the domestic demand sees them all gobbled up! – but they are simply fantastic, and you’ll find most waiters are as knowledgeable as their Italian cousins across the border, and will help pair them perfectly with your meal. Want to try traditional Slovenian cuisine? The Taste Ljubljana initiative (we attended the launch day!) enables travellers to try nearly thirty authentic recipes at fifty places around town, and you can pick up a book with the recipes and participating restaurants at any of the tourist offices around town. Argh, ran out of space to mention the great craft beers!
4. It’s “The New Berlin”…
…well the new mini-Berlin maybe, given that the Slovenian capital is less than 10% the size of the German one. This was the hypothesis of the hipster-in-chief at Travels of Adam, who found that the creative energy and redevelopment of the city mirrored that of his own home town in Germany; its troubled recent history forceing it to forge a new post-Yugoslavia identity. Check out his guide on cool things to do, for a flavour of what makes Ljubljana a hip place to visit right now.
5. Other Bloggers Can’t Stop Talking About It!
It’s not just me and the other members of The Travel Mob that were scribbling up loving odes to the Slovenian capital this summer. It seems that every blogger who has ever dallied by the Ljubljanica river has also felt the warm stirrings of what might just be a lifelong affection. Check out what these top travel writers had to say:
“Ljubljana, a quiet, beautiful capital city that has much to offer visitors… There’s literally everything you could possibly want from a city – a range of things to do, GREAT food, and a river. Who doesn’t love a city river?” by Wanderful World.
“The heart of Ljubljana is pedestrian friendly and compact. After a day of walking around the city, I returned to my hostel with a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. That feeling… just like when you know you’ve made the acquaintance of someone special,” by Budget Traveller.
“What appears, upon first inspection, to be a soulless relic of the former Soviet Bloc is perhaps the most arrestingly charming city in all of Europe.” by Leave Your Daily Hell.
“Never before in all my travels have I been welcomed so enthusiastically into strange streets, protected from the cold with such warmth and hospitality and treated as such a good friend despite having never met before,” by Wandering Earl.
6. The People Are Great!
From our first ever meal, a home-cooked vegetarian repast courtesy of Slocally travel, to the guys at Luxury Slovenia who took us on an impromptu champagne-fuelled boat ride, we met tremendous Slovenian people who went out of their way to share their love of the city and country with us and ensure we had a great time. The service we enjoyed in hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars always felt genuine, and the great people who acted as our tour guides, also hung out with us as friends later. Needless to say, I also met some cool folk during my nightlife adventures, who were keen to share a drink and offer me their local tips. Overall I’d say that Slovenes are a little more shy than most Europeans, but once you get talking you should make friends easily! For more on Ljubljana by the Ljubljanistas themselves, check out this video.
7. You Can Get There Surprisingly Easily
When I first Googled for flights to Slovenia I started to worry… it seemed that there were no direct flights from Barcelona at all, and indirect flights were all very costly with long layovers! A panic-stricken email to my Slovenian friends pointed me in the direction of GoOpti, a transfer company that can connect you quickly and cheaply with a dozen nearby airports including Venice, Zagreb, Bergamo, Milan, Bologna, Munich or Vienna, considerably increasing your options and chances of getting a nicely affordable flight. Their shared transfer system is really cheap, easy and effective, the only negative being that you may have to kill a couple of hours in the airport, depending on timing. Otherwise Easyjet and Wizzair both fly from London, whilst local carrier Adria airlines flies to Manchester, and twenty other European cities, including Paris, Munich, Brussels and Warsaw.
8. We wrote a FREE LJUBLJANA E-BOOK just for you!
A great destination is always made greater with the aid of an insightful travel guide, one which will point you in the direction of that hip cafe selling cold brew coffee, that funky jazz bar with a mean selection of craft beers or that little spirits shop selling Slovenian schnapps, ie. those special places that will make you love the city all the more. The Travel Mob’s Guide to Ljubljana features all the favourite hang outs of each of the Mobsters, along with photos and location map, and is available both online, and in interactive E-book form, completely free.
So there you go, time to check your passport expiry date, brush up on your Slovenian (you’ll get by just fine in English, but hey, a hvala here and there never hurt anyone right?) and reserve your place on a jet plane heading just south of the Alps. Kudos to anyone who raises a glass of Lasko beer to my health at the top of the Neboticnik art deco skyscraper whilst there…
Other News on Urban Travel Blog
What else have the Urban Travel Bloggers been up to this summer? Well Ben Rhodes spent a jolly time raving it up at the Essentials Festival in Budapest, where he also found time to write up his top five favourite rooftop bars in the city. Statesider and young urban philosopher, Duval Culpepper, has filed his personal district guide to Beacon, New York; and last, and probably least, I recounted another tale from my adventures “On The Road” in Brazil earlier in the year… this one was about how I spent four days discovering the idyllic island of Ilha Grande near Rio de Janeiro. (Ok three days discovering, one day being violently ill!).
That’s it from me for now. If you haven’t become a millionaire, found the love of your life or simply been told how great you look by a random stranger on the street recently, it’s probably the bad karma you have from not subscribing to this very blog, or at least following on Facebook and/or Twitter. Easily remedied, no?