A Weekend In Ljubljana
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I’m settling into my seat on a flight from London to Ljubljana along with a plane load of other city-breakers taking the short hop to the Slovenian capital.
The young professional couple next to me are obviously snatching a romantic weekend break and they both get calls on their smartphones after boarding – he from the office about a client meeting, she from her parents to wish them a safe flight to Sylvania. ‘S-l-o-v-e-n-i-a, mum!’ she says patiently into her mobile phone.
Let’s be honest, unless you’re one of the small but growing number of tourists who’ve been initiated into the charm of Ljubljana there’s no shame in admitting you may might not be able to pinpoint Slovenia on a map let alone spell the name of its capital. But as I realised when I experienced a weekend in Ljubljana, that’s set to change…
Slovenia is well-known for being one of the top ten countries in the world for rock climbing, but its urban side is now in the spotlight: Lonely Planet recently named the Capital, Ljubljana, one of the top ten places to visit in Europe.
Wallpaper has just produced one of their design-led guides to the city and the street art I spy on the short journey from the airport to my Eastern-European-chic apartment on arrival cements my feeling that this is a place for hipsters to start calling their second home.
The mini-metropolis is even quietly garnering the nickname of ‘the new Berlin’ but given the prevalence of eating options I discover in just one weekend and the tiny population ‘bite-sized Berlin’ is what I begin to call it.
Ljubljana is the size of Brighton & Hove while the entire population of Slovenia numbers just two million yet there are 25 different culinary regions.
I learn this fact at a cookery evening run by Culinary Slovenia – an interactive and fun class dedicated to learning the art of Slovenian cuisine. It’s the perfect way to kick off the weekend as it introduces me to all the key ingredients and dishes so I know exactly what to order during the rest of the trip.
And you can’t help but notice that home-made, local, seasonal and fresh aren’t just buzzwords here in Ljubljana they’re very much a traditional way of life that has yet to be corrupted, so rather than hitting up Ocado as the source of their summer salad, the average city-dweller here will simply pick from their own vegetable garden.
Bringing new meaning to the term ‘keeping it local’ are Tanja and Dominic, the husband and wife team running Gostilna Na Gradu one of three restaurants nestled inside the castle walls overlooking the city.
Working hand-in-hand with one or two local farmers they’ll buy the best fresh produce from forest to sea on the day and seamlessly incorporate it into the menu, and served as beautifully as the scenic setting demands while remaining the right side of accessible.
And for accessibility it doesn’t get much better than Ljubljana: it’s just 45 minutes to the coast come summer, half an hour to the ski resorts in winter, both seasons seemingly leaving the text-book cobbled old town streets crowd-free.
In fact so sparsely populated are Ljubljana’s pavements that in most cases there’s room for a wide bike path alongside the pathway– this is a cycle friendly city where two wheels really are good.
Keeping this in mind I book myself on one of Ljubljana’s new breed of tours; with tourism in its infancy and the mainstream city break crowd just beginning to notice Slovenia’s capital in its periphery vision, the time is ripe for young entrepreneurs to find a myriad of ways to show off the not inconsiderable charms of their hometown.
Seeing the city with Watermelon Tours turns out to be the best decision I could have made: I’m led through a charming wooden doorway off one of the main squares to pick up my shiny new bike.
After a pedal around the Art Nouveau and historical highlights of the old town, including a stop at the outdoor cinema, we freewheel along the Ljubljanica River towards the Roman walls where we stumble on the charming Library Under The Treetops, a summer initiative that places books and deck chairs alfresco at selected spots around town.
This is the second stop at a library of the day – we’ve taken in the national library – and we’ve swung past a couple of art galleries on our bikes so I’m impressed by the highly cultured vibe of the city.
When it’s time for me to party I’m reliably informed that the Metelkova district is where it’s at – I’ve already had a daytime taste of this alternative artists’ area in the abandoned Slovenian headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army but come evening I’m gutted that I didn’t bring my East London uniform of ripped denim and vintage attire.
It’s like the London Hipster Borough of Hackney, and Copenhagen’s ‘Free State’ of Christiania have mated and spawned a very cool love child.
Revellers spill out of nameless doorways (why is it that in terms of trendy nightlife, being too nonchalant to give your bar an actual name is the way to go. Dream Bags and Jaguar Shoes, I’m talking to you) and the clubs keep pumping until dawn – I wonder how they’ve managed to keep the tourist crowds and stag parties away.
Then when it’s time to board my return flight to the UK I’m seated among a 30-strong party of Welsh lads returning from a stag weekend – at first my heart sinks, as I imagine two hours of sing songs and stories – but on further investigation they don’t quite fit the traditional Brits abroad stereotype and the well-travelled groom is full of praise for Ljubljana beyond the bars.
They confirm that they’d been the only stag party in the city, something that could hardly be said of almost any other European capital in high season, especially one that represents the kind of value that Ljubljana offers – taxis for 2 Euros, an entire round of drinks for 20 and an impressive dinner in a luxury restaurant for £50, these sound like prices that date from the 1991 creation of the country – and we all agree that we’re glad the Ljubljana’s secret isn’t quite out.
You can find low cost flights to Ljubljana from the UK, though a popular option is to fly to Venice which is just 2 hours away, try Momondo for flight options.
Transfer company Go Opti are experts at ferrying passengers from both airports and the transfer time from Ljubljana to the centre is around 20 minutes.
Only Apartments have a good selection of accommodation in Ljubljana and an apartment makes a great base for this walkable and cycle friendly city.
For information on Ljubljana check out the tourist board website www.visitljubljana.com.
SavoirThere visited Ljubljana as part of the #TasteLjubljana project organised by travel blogger collective The Travel Mob and Visit Ljubljana
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