Ljubljana (as well as being one of the hardest capital cities to spell…) has been awarded the Green Capital of Europe title for 2016 by the European Commission and it’s not hard to see why. The cobbled streets of the Old Town are pedestrianised and it is easy to slip into a state of bliss as you wander along the banks of the river lined with trees and lounge in the lush parks, gelato in hand.
I visited Slovenia over the May bank holiday with my friend Chloe and had just 24 hours to experience the heart of one of Europe’s most forested countries. Cool accommodation, delicious local food, striking architecture and green parks kept us very busy and longing to come back for more adventures (and for more Slovenian wine…).
Where to stay
We spent an interesting first night in Slovenia in a prison cell. Hostel Celica, a former prison, has been transformed by local and international artists into a cool and colourful hostel, art gallery, tourist attraction and meeting spot for cultural events.
Our cell (no.110) was complete with a barred metal door which clanked shut as we stepped into the light and airy room with cobbled floors and massive bed. All of the cells are individually designed and have quirky features and impressive art work displayed on the walls. We also had one of the best night’s sleep in a long time – something I’m not sure our previous inmates were lucky enough to experience.
The hostel is located in Metelkova, an alternative culture community with an art gallery, artists’ studios, LGBT spaces, cultural organisations and several clubs featuring rock, metal and folk music. At night, the area comes alive with live music and locals and tourists alike spilling into the courtyards and gardens. During the day you get a real feeling of community and it is definitely worth exploring the bars once the sun goes down. For something quieter, the hostel bar is an option and also the ‘meditation’ room with comfortable cushions to sit and reflect.
The city centre is a short ten minute walk away from Metelkova and once we had dragged ourselves away from the cool little cafe at the hostel, it was time to explore. The Old Town beckoned and the square is a hub of market stalls and little outdoor restaurants with everything from fresh seafood, wild mushrooms, forest berries, honey and homemade cheeses. We sampled an interesting selection of salami including bear (there’s a state sanctioned quota of bears that are permitted to be hunted in Slovenia) and wild boar followed by some tasty cherries. There are also a lot of quaint little artsy shops to explore around the outskirts of the main square.
Once we had filled up on various local delicacies it was time to experience one of Ljubljana’s most impressive tourist attractions and the crown of the city; the castle. A powerful fortress which was built over five centuries ago, it is a green oasis above the city with spectacular views. The experience begins from the city centre with a one-minute ride on the funicular railway to the summit of the Castle Hill. We decided not to pay the extra to go into the exhibitions but just enjoyed exploring the outside space within the Castle walls and looking at the views across the city. The walk down the hill is also well worth it! We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in Tivoli Park; an enormous 510 hectare playground to explore on foot or by bike for the more energetic!
Where to eat
Local cuisine in Slovenia is influenced by its neighbouring countries Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy. We were looking forward to tasting some traditional hearty dishes including kranjska klobasa pork sausages, fresh seafood, game meat, mushroom soup in a bread bowl, goulash and my favourite; polenta! A good restaurant to try some of these dishes washed down with some fine local wine is Sokol; a welcoming restaurant right in the heart of the town with friendly staff and street side tables perfect for people watching. It is also a quick walk away from the river lined with buzzing bars to enjoy some more delicious local wine. Or in our case…it wasn’t too far away from our cosy cell and comfy giant bed.
Khaleesi from Game of Thrones would be very at home in Ljubljana as it is known as the Home of the Dragons. This mythical beast is depicted on the City of Ljubljana’s coat of arms and symbolises strength, courage and might. The dragon also watches over the city from his perch on the iconic Dragon bridge. It is rooted in the legend that Greek hero Jason was the founder of the city and he and his Argonaut comrades killed a dragon. According to legend, when a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons will wag their tails. There was no tail wagging when we crossed but it was still a pretty impressive bridge!