The worst thing about Ljubljana is not having enough time to enjoy its buzzing nightlife.
Welcome to Slovenia’s biggest city, made to the measure of man but still a European capital, offering friendliness and a uniqueness of its own.
I went to Ljubljana (pronounced Loob-lee-ah-na) in November. Being a country with a strong wine culture, the start of autumn is the right season to try some sparkling wine in a sparkling city.
Saint Martin’s Day, for example, is one of the biggest festivities in the city. Thousands of people gather to the city center, paying some euros for a wine glass they can refill several times.
You can also expect to see handsome men and women dressed in local costumes, dancing and clapping their hands. This is the rhythm autumn deserves. The last noise before the long winter months.
But Ljubljana is worth a visit in the cold season as well.
Being close to the Alps – Lake Blad and Mount Trigor are the best places to visit – and being crowded of warm tavernas, restaurants and pubs, the Slovenian capital is a safe and secure city where to spend a short break.
I staied at the Vander Hotel, an urban resort close to the river embankments. It is a classy boutique hotel, with less than twenty rooms, a tasty restaurant and very friendly people.
Owned by Amanda and her husband, it opened last year, where a group of old houses used to be.
Amanda, born and raised in Australia, said: ‘I came to Slovenia as a student and I used to live here, in one of the old houses. For years, my husband and I have been property developers.
‘Then, one year ago, my husband,who is also an architect, designed this hotel. We were sick of selling and not seeing the places used.
‘This hotel was built by creative minds. We built a community, more than just a resort, you can come here and enjoy wonderful food and yoga sessions, a terrace swimming pool and very comfortable beds.
‘What do we want to do? We want to expand hedonism, pleasure and a good way of living.’
The best life in Slovenia is what Ljubljana gives thousands of Slovenian LGBTI people who come here to live and to experience an international environment.
A half-dozen of LGBTI associations operate in this city, where some gay venues are available as well.
Most of gay life is in the Metelkova mesto quarter, a former squatting area now full of clubs, bars, pubs and even the best hostel in town.
The Tiffany Club – mainly men, but women are welcome – and the Monokel Club – mostly for lesbians – are in the same building and share the same underground feeling.
In the recent past, some gay bars in the city center had to stop trading because of the economic crisis. But Tiffany and Monokel still attract, on weekends but sometimes during the week as well, hundreds of LGBTI people.
Apart from gay life, the river embankments are the best streets in the city to enjoy a glass of wine, a pint of beer or some genuine – but sometimes fatty – Slovenian food.
The Slovenian cuisine is rich in flavors and uses some Italian, Austrian or Hungarian ingredients. Slovenia is just in the middle and, of course, its recipes are an interesting blend.
If you want to try something special, have a gibanica, a typical Pannonian cake coming from the eastern part of the country. It reminds me of a sweet lasagna, with cottage cheese, walnuts, poppy seeds and honey.
You can try it at a small Pannonian restaurant just in front of the Town Hall, where other interesting shops are located, for instance the Honey House, the Piranske Soline shop (owned by the only Slovenian salt marsh and selling salt, soaps and make up products), or the Rogaska Crystal out of Murano in Venice is one of the first crystal manufactures in Europe.
To visit the city, I used the Urbana – Lubljana Tourist Card, which is the best way for visiting its several venues.
Apart from free travel on city buses, card benefits include admission to Ljubljana Castel, the city’s major galleries and museums and several other sights.
You can also get one free guided city tour, free bicycle hire, free Internet access and much more. A three-day card costs €35 euros ($48), or €23 ($32) for one day, not so much with all that is included. And if you buy your card online you can save 10% off the regular price.
Ljubljana Old Town is a collection of small squares with fine monuments: Mestni trg square with the Town Hall; Stari trg square with Baroque facades; the Gornji trg square with the church of St. Florian.
But the prettiest spot in town is Presernov trg square. Named after the greatest Slovenian poet, France Preseren, it’s dominated by the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. The square is also the site of some fine examples of Art Nouveau, but the highlight is, for sure, the Triple Bridge.
It was built between 1929 and 1932, when two side bridges intended for pedestrians were added to the original stone bridge by Joze Plecnik, one of Slovenia’s greatest architects and designers.
On the embankments, then, you can find a daily market offering fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, bread and fish.
Close to the market there is the Funicular, taking you to the Castle.
The view from the tower is superb, on fine days you can see the Alps, you can dream of Italy on the west and of the Balkans on the east and on the south.
Ljubljana is, of course, the starting point for some tours in this small but magnificent country. Stay tuned for another article on Slovenia’s most hidden and wonderful countryside places.
– Tiffany Club, gay club
– Monokel Club, lesbian club
– Wizz Air offers the cheapest flights from several cities in Europe