How is this one of the hottest European cities to visit and yet unknown to many? For starters, Slovenia is a new country, seceding from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, and then left to its’ own devices and purposely avoided by many tourists during the Balkan wars of the 90’s. This means that beautiful Slovenia has only been entering the traveler’s cognizance as a worthy destination within the last 15-20 years. Since converting to the euro in 2007, its’ ease and prominent place in a European itinerary has been cemented.
As travel consultants, Dan and I barely knew anything about Ljubljana (or how to pronounce it – loob-lee-yana? ), other than the high praise we heard from some fellow intrepid travelers. Good friends had declared it as their favorite city on a trip to Slovenia and Croatia, and it definitely lived up to the hype. Similar to most cities that we have visited in Europe, there is usually a core city center, generally old and filled with historical sites and winding streets (rarely grid-like layouts). This is the area in which all our travel in Ljubljana focused, in rings around the main hilltop upon which an ancient castle rested. We did not visit a single museum, preferring to be outside, people watching and exploring its’ inviting cobbled lanes, full of little boutique shops and charming cafes.
I was in awe of the architecture, which was a mix of styles from Austrian Baroque to Viennese Art Nouveau, with a dab of Roman ruins. Art nouveau style is one of my all-time favorites, and there were plenty of well-cared for, and recently restored examples from this period.
The town of Ljubljana also claims to be the site where Jason of the Argonauts came and slayed a dragon, and symbols and statues of this majestic beast are found throughout the city.
Despite the obvious age of old town Ljubljana, the atmosphere was still very young and modern, evidenced by a bustling nightlife along the Ljubljana River’s edge, and examples of contemporary sculptures and art, including clever graffiti.
Once again, the outdoor farmer’s market blew me away. It had the most amazing array of produce. I was most envious of the variety of lettuces on sale, with each tender leaf of a mixed spring green/mesclun salad separated into individual bags by type. This attention to ingredients was evidenced in a gourmet food fair of global and local slow cooking, and the delicious seasonal dishes we were able to sample. When we drove through the countryside, we admired many farms and family gardens. These large vegetable and flower plots were also found in full bloom behind many private apartments and homes, right in the city! I enquired about the winters, and was told that the weather was quite ideal, with four distinct seasons of even time periods.
I also never thought I’d see a more bike friendly city than Portland, OR., or maybe Amsterdam, but Ljubljana has you beat. Almost every sidewalk has a designated bike path, and I felt like I had to be more concerned about being run over by a bicyclist than a car.
My overall impression is that Ljubljana is a city with an extremely high quality of life. It would likely be very high on my dream list if emigrating didn’t require learning Slovenian!