I recently spent four days in magical Slovenia, a little country packed full of fairy tale sights. Obviously more time would be ideal but you can do quite a bit in a few days as I’m about to show you.
I arrived in Ljubljana via flight from Sarajevo. I usually attempt to purchase a SIM card and find an ATM in the airport when I arrive anywhere. Those of us with typical US mobile carriers find ourselves out hundreds of dollars if we attempt to use our own service for data or texting. You can get a SIM for data only at the little coffee shop in the arrivals lobby. Outside the airport there is a vending machine with the SIM cards for data, text and calling. There is an ATM right next to this machine. They use Euros here by the way. Just a little tip I thought I’d add since I sometimes struggle trying to locate these things.
A taxi is about 30 Euros to the city. There is a shuttle for 7 Euros. It was kind of random…a nice old man with a car that fit four passengers. Hey, whatever works! He dropped me off at the Hotel Park which was well located just a few minutes walk into the old city.
The first thing I saw upon entering the old city was this striking dragon bridge, the Zmajski Most. According to local legend, the tails will wag if a virgin crosses the bridge. Apparently there were no virgins in Ljubljana when I was there!
I happen to be obsessed with dragons so I was pretty excited about this bridge.
This was later in the day as the sun was setting. The light was gorgeous and once nighttime creeped in, the city was truly magical all aglow with the beautiful lighting.
Can we just talk about Ljubljana?
This city is so often called a hidden gem that I don’t know how it is still hidden. It is a very small city. You can see the entire thing from the castle or from Tivoli Park. All the buildings are Easter egg colors as if a seven-year-old girl chose them. There are dragons. The castle on the hill. It is what fairy tales are made of. I’m a bit smitten if you can’t tell.
I rose early to hike up to the castle. In the summer it opens at 0900. There is a funicular that goes straight to the top and the entrance to this is just after the dragon bridge. I opted to walk up and get some exercise. There are a couple of places to start your walk but I started just to the right of where the funicular is. There is a sign for Ljubljana Grad (Castle) that directs you up a pedestrian walkway. At some point there is a fork in the road (with a sign that I failed to interpret without help from a local) and if you go straight it is steeper and more direct, left is less steep and winding. I chose the left path since I was a bit winded by that point (#embarrassing). The whole walk took about 15 minutes and wasn’t too bad. It was worth going early because I had the castle all to myself!
The views from the lookout tower were incredible.
I spent an hour at the castle. They have a museum of puppetry, a chapel and an old prison in which they have creepy sounds playing as you walk in. It’s both disturbing and amusing at the same time.
I headed back down the hill, which of course was easier than going up, and on my way to the 11:00 AM free city tour stopped to try some traditional local yumminess at Klobasarna. I had Carnolian sausage and struklji which is a steamed cottage cheese roll. It comes in different flavors, one with nuts, one with apple but I chose the savory one with tarragon. It had a sweet crumbly topping on it and was fabulous.
The free tour is a wonderful thing. You just show up at 11:00 AM at the Franciscan Church (The pink one) and look for the guys in yellow.
This may be the most beautiful city in the world. The architecture is stunning. The pink Franciscan church is in Preseren Square next to the triple pedestrian bridge which is a striking work of architecture by Joze Plecnic who happens to have designed tons of amazing structures in Ljubljana.
After the tour I sat and drank delicious Slovenian wine and had some snacks at Robba, a lovely cafe on the main street, Mestni Trg.
Another fun thing to do is check out Metelkova. This is a small autonomous community of artists. It is in a former military barracks that was the Slovenian center of the Yugoslav Army, back in the day. The award-winning Hostel Celica is in a former prison and each room is a converted cell designed by an artist. It is extremely cool and they host fun events and tours.
The graffiti and wall art is amazing.
Let’s talk about food again! Once again back on the main street of Mestni Trg, at Gostilna Sokol. A Gostilna is usually a place to get traditional food. Sokol has waiters in traditional costume
kind of like Disney and is a great restaurant. I had the mushroom soup served in a bread bowl. They are big on mushrooms here an that’s all right with me. I also had venison with sour cherry sauce and the traditional cottage cheese dumplings, “struklji”. Still thinking about that food.
I took a half-day tour to see Lake Bled with Roundabout Tours. The tour was decent but I was bummed not to have more time to wander around the lake which is truly a marvelous thing to behold. The bus to Bled is 6 Euros and one hour. Looking back I wish I had done this instead. I found the tour a bit restrictive.
However…just look at this!
This picture is from a traditional Pletna boat. These flat bottom wooden row boats with colorful awnings have been used since 1590. To be a Pletna oarsmen is a privilege only a few have and is passed from generation to generation. I was transported to the little island in the middle of the lake which holds a church.
There is a great view of Bled castle in the distance from the little island
I highly suggest trying the local speciality, the Lake Bled cream cake. It is light as air and divine. I had this at the fabulous Hotel Villa Bled, a former residence of Tito, the former leader of Yugoslavia. He had good taste!
After this sinful breakfast, we visited the castle. It is a ten minute walk up the hill if you are reasonably fit or wait for the little shuttle bus. There happened to be a medieval festival going on complete with fighting knights and other amusing characters so it was a bit crazy.
You would think this was enough gorgeous-ness for one day but next we were taken to see the Vintgar Gorge and it was Gorge-ess! (Do you see what I did there?)
It takes about 45 minutes to walk through the gorge, depending on how often you stop and gawk at how clear and beautiful the water is.
There is a striking waterfall at one end. There is an easy path from the parking area to get here but I mistakenly took the long challenging steep muddy path through the woods.
Oh well. Hopefully you can’t see the mud on my leg. At least I got some exercise because…Slovenian food.
This evening I had an incredible dinner at Juljia. They have many traditional Slovenian and Mediterranean dishes, seafood, homemade Istrian pasta, and lots of mushroom and truffle-y dishes. That last part was really all I needed to hear.
I did another day tour with Roundabout Tours to visit the Karst and the Coast. The Karst refers to the region of Slovenia that is a limestone plateau extending across southwestern Slovenia and northeastern Italy. Due to this geological phenomena, there is a plethora of caves, about 10,000 caves to be exact. I saw one of these, the Skocjan Cave which is a UNESCO heritage site. It is massive! The light from cameras literally causes life threatening algae to grow so photography is forbidden in the caves. Just know that the caves are FREEZING, all year round. Bring a sweater and good walking shoes because there are tons of steps and lots of drippy water, so it is wet and slippery! The tour is 1.5 hours.
Also on this tour is a stop at Predjama Castle. This amazing Renaissance Castle is built into a cave. As if that alone weren’t cool enough, there is a great story about the most famous resident of this castle.
Wanna hear the story? Ok great.
Erazam Lueger was the lord of the castle in the 15th century and a renowned robber baron. According to legend, Erazem came into conflict with the Hapsburgs and fled to his family fortress of Predjama. While here his enemies made repeated attempts to kill him and basically waited outside the castle for him to leave for supplies. He was besieged in this fortress for over a year. He taunted the attacking soldiers by pelting them with cherries. Erazem knew of a secret tunnel leading from the castle, which allowed him to travel to the nearby village of Vipava and collect supplies, including hoards of fresh cherries. Supposedly he threw all kinds of things at the soldiers, including a sheep at one time! He was eventually killed when a servant sold out and revealed his location and he died while in the privy (toilet) by a well-aimed cannonball. You can’t make this up!
Finally we visited the coastal town of Piran, close to the Italian border.
Isn’t she pretty?
A pretty pastel little jewel of a town, largely influenced by the Venetians. This is Tartini Square, named after a famous composer .
I hope you enjoyed discovering Slovenia. Compared to many countries in Europe, Slovenia is rather untouristy and more affordable. This country has it all, mountains, pristine Alpine lakes, colorful coastal towns and beautiful cities with castles, pink churches and dragons. I felt like I was living in a fairy tale and being Princess Cherene for a few days was pretty great!