It’s been a while since I came across a word I couldn’t pronounce and I found myself wondering how one even begins to pronounce this mouthful…Luh-joob-leh-jana? Joob-l-jana? El-what?? Those were my first thoughts when I stumbled upon pictures of this magical almost fairy-tale like place where time seems to have stood still. Pronouced Loob-liana, Ljubljana is the capital city of Slovenia, and in my world: a place that has a name that you cannot even get your tongue around has to be Europe’s most underrated capital. But, like all fairy tales, Rip van Winkle has to wake from his slumber at some point and though this is still a somewhat hidden gem, thanks to The Gram and Pinterest very little stays a secret for too long a time! Welcome my dear Wanderlusters, to part one of my two-part series on my escapades with my WanderlustMate M, in Slovenia.
When I picture quintessential Europe, images of cobblestone rues flanked with pastel coloured houses decked with window boxes of colourful blooms, and sidewalks lined with cafes come to mind. Throw in a river with emerald green waters snaking its way around the city and you have even more postcard picture charm. Paris had this coveted spot being the core of what Europe represents for me until I set Footsteps in Slovenia and explored Ljubljana which has to go down as hands down, THE most charming city I have visited in Europe. For now, at any rate because I am pretty sure Europe is peppered with them and I will be eating my words at many a point!
As always, our trip started with a downpour of rain, which I have now begun to expect and accept but despite our rather wet start in Slovenia, I couldn’t help but have a spring in my step because this country has been a WanderList place for a looooong time, ever since I first saved her pictures in my dog-eared journal. Our first walk around the city proved to be as romantic as romantic can be, just soaking it all in, rivers, bridges, cafes, castle and all! Travel for me, is crafting an itinerary but then forgetting about plans and exploring the hidden backstreets and cobblestone alleys of a place, getting lost only to be found again, stopping in to see quirky shops, soaking in the vibe and atmosphere of where I am, and eating and so, Wanderlust has very quickly become all about experiences!
Ljubljana ticked ALL those boxes, and then some. It has retained its old-world charm in a fast-paced world and that is so rare to find these days, which is probably why it appealed to me in the first place. Over the years, M and I have come to appreciate a slower pace of travel. Our thirst to tick off countries and check out the many monuments, towers and landmarks this world has to offer has been replaced by an innate desire to explore a place and truffle out hidden gems that leave lasting memories for us long after we have set footsteps in that place. Did Ljubljana deliver? Totally! Let’s explore, shall we?
Discovering the City
After the rain comes sunshine and rainbows. Our first proper day in the city dawned bright and sunny, and also happened to be a Sunday which meant that the street market was out in full swing as was a marching band in the main square. Ljubljana’s cobblestone alleyways are decked with bars, restaurants and alfresco eateries, as are the banks of the emerald green Ljubljanica river that winds its way through the city. Honestly, it couldn’t be more charming and picturesque! M and I opted to start off the day with brunch at Le Petit Café, devouring frothy cappuccinos, perfectly cooked eggs benedict and then ambled around the markets and discovered the entire city on foot within a couple of hours. I must admit that I lived out my fantasies of discovering little alleyways, quaint shops and steeping my soul in the Europe of my dreams and loved every second of revelling in this wanderlust.
As you will imagine, a city that has a river snaking through it will have an abundance of bridges and Ljubljana is no exception! The city’s iconic Triple Bridge is a group of three bridges that spans the width of the Ljubljanica river connecting the historical and more medieval side of Ljubljana on one bank with the more modern side on the other bank. The view of the Triple Bridge is best appreciated from a bridge further down the river, where this signature shot of the centre is taken.
The equivalent of what used to be Paris’ love locks bridge is named Butcher’s Bridge out here in Ljubljana, which is a pretty strange name given that this pedestrian bridge is popular with lovers who padlock their “love” and drop the key in the river below! Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this bridge connects the central market which has a butchery in it, but the most unusual thing about this bridge is that it has the creepiest statues on its surface and balustrades – some may call this Art but I just think they are creepy; how one would want to lock their love out here is beyond my thought process!
My favourite of all the bridges out here has to be the Dragon bridge, which is actually a road bridge further away from the historical centre of town. Why? Because, as the name suggests, in addition to smaller dragon statues, there is a large copper dragon statue perched regally on each of the four corner pedestals of the bridge, giving this its name!
The Legend of the Dragon
So, as would be expected in Europe there has to be a legend associated with a place. I must say this one tickled me pink, because it is rumoured that whenever a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons will wag their tails! HaHa!
This is an incredibly interesting and “out there” place in Ljubljana, set on the site of an abandoned army barracks. We spent a fun morning ambling around the art work which ranges between graffiti, quirky sculptures (some downright creepy) and other errrm interesting pieces with no trouble at all. People actually live in these homes so you do have to be sensitive however it is worth a visit because, really, it is off the beaten path for many!
And what would a fairytale city in Europe be without its castle, perched atop a hill, guarding its environs? Ljubljana is no exception. It is easy to get to the castle by either road, or funicular.
The highlight of visiting the castle for me was dining at Gostilna na Gradu. Here, sat amidst the castle walls where once upon a time Royalty dined, we indulged in the Chef’s Tasting Menu aptly named “A Walk Across Slovenia”. Comprising of traditional Slovenian fare such as stuffed courgette flowers, piran sea bass and venison, we got what I thought was a pretty good introduction to the cuisine in this part of the world.
–On Getting There
There are currently no direct flights into Ljubljana with Emirates, and so we flew into Venice and then drove to Ljubljana, with a private car that picked us up from the airport and drove us straight into Slovenia. It is a 2 hour drive from Venice, and very scenic as the route takes you along the Julian Alps.
-Where to Stay
We stayed in the city centre, on the historic side and found this to be extremely convenient. Not only did our hotel have a beautiful view of the Castle, it was a stone throw away from where all the action takes place!
Euro 10.00 per person –includes return funicular trip and castle entry fee.
– Tasting Menu at Gostilna na Gradu*
Euro 42.00 per person, excluding drinks. This menu is prepared for a minimum of 2 pax. Reservations highly recommended – it is best to get your concierge to book a table for you as they will ensure you get a lovely spot!
*Prices correct at the time of publishing this post however please do your own research as prices do fluctuate! Thank you!