Ljubljana, Slovenia

Yearning to be enchanted by a European city again? To wander the cobblestone streets, drink wine while people watching in plazas, and admire the architecture and the churches. And not be surrounded by only tourists. Good luck, right? Unless you’re willing to travel in January, when it’s freezing cold. You used to be able to enjoy a beer in Prague. Or more recently Budapest. Even the Czechs and the Hungarians seem to avoid their city centers now.

Photo: ejbevan @ stock.xchng
Photo: ejbevan @ stock.xchng

Travel a little further south to Slovenia though, and the crowds all but disappear. In the capital of Ljubljana, you’ll find Ljubljana Castle overlooking the city, the pedestrian-only Old Town, and romantic bridges, like Triple Bridge. Plus people who actually live in Ljubljana walking their dogs through Tivoli Park and smoking at cafes along the Ljubljanica river. Okay, you could probably do without the smoking, but now isn’t the time to complain.

Wander down narrow Tailor’s Row to find Vander Urbani, a modern hotel hiding behind an old row house facade. Actually, four combined row houses. Rooms are filled with soft colors, glass walls, and wish boxes with Pivovarna Kratochwill beer and chocolate truffles. A pool on the rooftop terrace seems to float above the town. And yoga classes are offered in a sunlit glass box studio. Eat a traditional Slovenian breakfast of barley groats with prunes, polenta with milk, Brkini honey, and Nanos cheese. And start roaming through the willow-lined Medieval streets.

Photo: Vander Urbani Resort
Photo: Vander Urbani Resort

There isn’t really a list of must-visit sites in Ljubljana. Slovenia is a relatively young country; it only declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Start at the National Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia. The name is a mouthful, but the museum explains the country’s history of occupation. Rent bikes and ride around the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship. Drink a leisurely coffee at Kavarna Union. Ride the glass elevator up to Ljubljana Castle for views of the Kamnik Alps in the distance. Stay for a traditional lunch of wild boar goulash at Gostilna Na Gradu. Browse the open-air market at Vodnik Square. Check out old military buildings. They now house a contemporary art museum, art galleries, and clubs. Watch the opera at the recently renovated Slovene National Theatre. Sample cuisine from around the country in Spajza’s garden. Drink minerally Slovenian wine at Dvorni Bar. When the couple next to you asks what made you come to Ljubljana, it won’t be the first time you’ve answered this question.

Enchanted yet? Enjoy it before the next invasion begins. Only this time it will be tourists.

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