Heading for a summer's weekend break in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, I travelled in:
- Stone Capri pants
- White bamboo t-shirt
- Brown jacket
- And carried my Healthy Back Bag
I took, packed into a carry-on bag only:
- Blue & white Capri pants
- Green lacy sleeveless top
- White long-sleeved linen top
- Yellow-multi short-sleeved tunic top
- Camel glittery top for evenings
- Yellow cardigan
- Brown cardigan
- Toms shoes
- Crystal toe sandals
- Lightweight raincoat
- Sun hat
- Scarf instead of jewellery
- Wash bag
- Water-to-Go bottle
- Long-sleeved bamboo shirt
- 1 pair chinos
- 1 pair shorts
- 3 polo shirts
- 1 smart short-sleeved shirt
- Lightweight raincoat
- Sun hat
Top tip: easyJet‘s ‘Speedy Boarding' means no waiting around in queues or worrying about getting carry-on luggage stowed. On the way home this was a real plus as people were having to have their luggage put in the hold. This doesn’t apply to speedy boarders, even on busy flights.
An hour and twenty minutes later we had arrived, and after a very quick passage through passport control we were in a taxi and off to downtown Ljubljana. The cost of 43 Euros on the meter was easier than figuring out where to get the bus for 9 Euros each, and as there were 4 of us not that much more expensive. Since then we have learned about GoOpti, a pre-bookable bus service which costs 3 Euros each from the airport to town.
Downtown is the old part of town and our hotel, the Grand Hotel Union, was situated there. Perfect location for a short break. The entire centre of the old town is pedestrianised, which is lovely and makes it easy to stroll around – apart from having to dodge the cyclists who weave in and out. The weather when we arrived late afternoon was sunny and still lovely and warm. It remained sunny and hot for our entire trip. The average temperature was around 26C but the week before it had been in the 30’s.
The old city is so picture postcard pretty and tiny, it's like a film set. Perfectly beautiful. The river running through the centre offers regular boat trips and is lined with bars and restaurants, many with live music. The triple bridge that looks so big in photos is really quite small, because so is the river. It all seems pocket-sized and perfect. It seems a very popular tourist destination with all nationalities well represented.
July is warm and you will be doing a lot of walking to see the sights, so bear those two points in mind and have comfortable walking shoes (my favourites are Toms), sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.
First observation – wine comes in small measures in very large glasses, so isn't as cheap as you may think at first sight. We had some excellent red and white Slovenian wine during our stay; a honeyed Rebula and a flowery Malvazija – both whites – were yummy, but my favourite though was a strawberry-tasting rosé wine called Batic.
Our first meal, a delicious Slovenian affair, of zucchini flowers with tapenade, trout dumplings, and prosciutto and local cheese was followed by lamb, veal, baked octopus and vegetarian dumpling. It wasn't cheap but it was freshly cooked to order and tasted delicious. Popular with locals as well as tourists. There are plenty of places where you could eat more cheaply.
Remember though to take bug spray because even though you don't notice a lot of bugs, in the evening by the river I did get bitten.
Next morning, after a breakfast with a vast choice at the hotel, we set off for a packed day. I wore my Capri pants in stone, yellow-multi top, scarf (to keep the sun off my neck), Toms, and a cardigan, having first covered myself in P20 sunscreen.
This is the place to leave your heels at home and opt for casual comfy flats. You will find every kind of flat shoe, but if you opt for a smarter style especially in the evenings you will feel more chic and fit in. Having said that this is a university town and you will see every kind of dress. Smart casual though would be my preference for fitting in.
First we went to the “skyscraper” that in its time had been the highest in Europe; a beautiful art-deco building just 13 floors high, but still one of the tallest in Ljubljana. At the top is a cafe and an observation deck and from here you can really get a sense of how the forest comes into the city. We thought it would be a great place to come and watch the sun go down.
We joined the free city walking tour at 11am, a 2.5 hour tour that took in all the major sights and was thoroughly worth the 10 Euro tip we gave at the end. It starts at the pink church in the main square. Personally I would recommend wearing a hat as you are out in the midday sun. We learned about the political history of the country as well as the economic and cultural.
Slovenians on average speak a minimum of three languages and are highly literate and well-educated; even the graffiti is educated! English was understood and spoken by all Slovenians we met as they start learning English at school. The tour took in the open-air fruit and vegetable market as well as the Friday ‘food taste' stalls. Some are pop-up kitchens of local restaurants and others are street food stalls. Lots of choice and we all voted it a great place to meet up on a Friday; it was equally popular with locals and tourists.
We visited and heard about the history of the Dragon Bridge, Shoemakers' Bridge, Butchers' Bridge with its hundreds of padlocks, the Cathedral which was stunningly beautiful inside, the university, city hall, and the city's greatest poet and architect. There is a free electric taxi bus that will take you around if you can't walk – you just call it up or get your hotel to book it for you. Being electric it is silent though, so watch out as it can creep up on you unawares!
You can drink the tap water here and can even take advantage of filling up your bottle from outdoor taps situated in streets all over the city. In fact the locals actively discourage the buying of bottled water in plastic bottles, so taking your own bottle (like the Water-to-Go bottle as we did) is far more acceptable.
Lunch at the food market was followed by a boat trip down the river; all boats charge 8 Euros and all take an hour. Just decide where you prefer to get on and take the boat that departs from there, simple. I have to say though that the wooden boat is the most stylish.
In the evening we had a booking at Strelec a highly regarded restaurant at the castle with amazing views over the city. Ask for a table outside on the balcony, weather permitting. We had the added pleasure of joining a wedding party at the restaurant who warmly welcomed our presence and took time to explain what was happening. We even met Slovenia's top actor and one of Austria's football managers. The food was of Michelin quality and delicious. Not cheap but very well worth it. A taxi back, which was cheaper than the funicular, and back to the main square to enjoy live music and be party to an engagement of a local young couple. It really was our night for romance.
Saturday saw us booked on to two half-day tours with a small company, maximum 8 people. First we set off to walk the Vintgar Gorge – about 1.6km through a stunning river gorge, partly on wooden boardwalks above the river and part following the river’s edge. At the weekends Slovenians like to enjoy nature and you will find places like this very busy. In fact the queues of traffic we saw going into the countryside were incredible.
The gorge was beautiful and whilst you didn't need walking boots to do it at this time of year, flip flops weren't a great idea either (although we did see some people with them on).
After this we went on to Lake Bled. A more stunningly beautiful place it would be hard to imagine, especially if you take a boat across to the small island in the lake. For 12 Euros each you get to see the views from the island and enjoy a coffee. The water is so clear and warm and many people were enjoying swimming or paddle boarding, and with no motor boats allowed on the lake it was very safe. We then visited Bled castle to get yet more stunning views of the lake.
In the afternoon we went to Postonjna Cave and Predjama Castle which is literally built in to the caves. Having been to many caves before, including those in Burma, I was skeptical when our guide said we would see something we had never seen before – but he was right. We saw cathedrals, concert halls, dragons, people frozen in time, curtains and so much more. Simply stunning. You go the first 2km by train, then with a guide, walk the next kilometer or so, and then back on the train for the 2km back. Our guide even sang to us in the concert hall so that we could hear how great the acoustics were. It was a memorable trip. The castle in the caves – again something I had never seen before – was equally memorable. Then it was back to the hotel for a mojito, shower and quick change before dinner.
This evening we decided to dine more simply along the oldest street in Ljubljana, where we enjoyed some delicious local rosé with our dinner. Friendly service had been with us everywhere we had been, and everyone speaks such great English. They are also so well educated that you actually get real conversation with them.
Sunday saw us visit the national museum, past the pretty Opera House – just a shame we didn't have time to fit that in too. At the museum we saw the oldest musical instrument found to date, a flute made from bone in the days of cavemen with neatly worked holes. Amazing. And a bronze statue of a roman politician, very rare. Strolling on we then visited Tivoli Park and had coffee under the trees before walking back to town for a drink by the river, followed by lunch before departing for the airport.
On this short trip to Slovenia we interacted with many of the people who understandably are proud of their country. They're fit and healthy, calm, and a total pleasure. Ljubljana is really cosmopolitan with Japanese, Hong Kongese, Chinese, Europeans from all over, South Africans, Americans, Canadians etc. The countryside is stunning, and the great infrastructure makes getting anywhere really easy and quick. There's so much to see. A suggestion that we stay again and do a day trip to Venice (from Piran via daily ferry) and stay in a vineyard overnight sounds very appealing. I'm sure we'll be back!