Slovenia is one of the loveliest, cleanest and most colorful places Iʼve ever been to. Once part of Yugoslavia, Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Croatia to the south and southeast, and Hungary to
the northeast. During the years when Yugoslavia was in a tragic war with the Serbians, Croations, and Bosnians, spurred on by so-called ethnic cleansing, Slovenia somehow managed to remain fairly peaceful.
Ljubljana, the capital and largest city in Slovenia, lies between Vienna and Venice and has an incredible romantic ambiance. The buildings are not pock-marked with remnants of shrapnel, but are in fact architecturally magnificent. Itʼs like walking into The Emerald City…a touch of medieval with an idealistic love of the arts. The countryʼs leading architect during the first half of the 20th century, Jože Plečnik, designed much of the iconic architecture, including the Church of St. Frances, the central market, and the always busy Triple Bridge, just to name a few of his masterpieces. Plečnik is a revered figure in Slovenia.
Ljubljana is a lively center of creativity: dance, opera, theater, jazz, art events and various festivals (especially in the summer months) bring visitors from all over the world. Apparently poetry, theatre and concerts are quite popular, and Slovenians are proud of their cultural tradition.
We stayed in walking distance of Prešeren trg Square which is named after France Prešeren, the greatest Slovenian poet (1800-1849) and author of Sloveniaʼs national anthem, “Zdravljica.” The anthem appeals for the coexistence of nations and is a zdravljica, or toast, to all people of good heart. A lifesize statue in the center of the square immortalizes the famous poet. Prešeren trg Square is lovely, pristine and calm, and at night it has a beautiful romantic appeal. This is also where youʼll find Plečnikʼs famous pedestrain Triple Bridge.
Their love of art and architecture is visible at every turn, on every street and at every crossing of the bridges.
At night the bridges cast a sparkly green glow over the Ljubljana River, with the buildings on both sides reflecting in the water.
We strolled along the river for hours, popping into a sidewalk cafe from time to time for cocktails and people watching. The city center is restricted to foot traffic and bicycling only: no cars or vehicle noises competing…just the sounds and whispers of people. Make your way to the other side of the river by crossing Dragon Bridge, the townʼs first Art Nouveau creation built in 1901. This area is known as Vodnikkove trg Square and is the central market. Yes, it is lined with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and all sorts of eats.
Of particular interest is the magnificent baroque Cathedral of St. Nicholas, with interior frescoes created by Guilio Quaglio. Relief sculptures depicting the history of Christianity on Slovenian lands decorate the cathedralʼs huge, unique main entrance door, and its side entrance door has portraits of the 20th-century bishops of Ljubljana. The magnificent works of art appear as if guarding hidden entryways into the church, and both the church and these powerful, daunting doors are a must-see.
Down the street from the church, catch the funicular up to Ljubljana Castle. The castle is Ljubljanaʼs most prominent landmark, overlooking the city with picturesque views. Here youʼll find a quaint outdoor café and kiosk offering free books and magazines to anyone who wants to lounge in the sun and read.
The best views are from all the way up in Outlook Tower, but the climb is not for everyone, as it entails a very narrow spiral staircase with grated steps. The lower part of the castle houses a permanent exhibition entitled Slovenian History, depicting the dynamic history of the country.
Once youʼve explored the area, cross back over the river via Butchers Bridge, another Jože Plečnik architectural design. The bridge has a staircase at its left entry, and two fences with steel wires and wide top shelves. The steel wires are lined with padlocks of all sorts, referred to as “love locks” symbolizing the commitment of eternal love. And the top railing shelves have brass sculptures of animal corpses and figures. These symbolize those who died of a broken heart, or were shamed and banished because of whom they chose to love.
Slovenia is famous for its various castles and its labyrinth of caves. Go check out Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle, two of Slovenia’s most memorable sites. The legendary Postojna Caves, a two-million year old 12.5-mile-long system of caverns, is an astonishing underground world of stalagtites and stalagmites.
Apparently the caves are home to the unique and mysterious amphibian Proteus Anguinus, or Olm. Known locally as the “human fish” for its flesh-toned color, the blind creature lives exclusively in the caves of central and southeastern Europe, although we canʼt claim to have seen any.
The caves are quite damp and cold and a bit of a hike. They offer rides in a electric train through the cave system, or you can choose the up close and personal walk. Predjama Castle, the castle beneath the rock, is a Baroque Renaissance fort built into the mouth of a cave. A natural tunnel connects the castle to the top of the mountain, serving in the Middle Ages as a secret supply line to the castle during times of siege. While you’re here, you’ll learn about the legend of Erazem Lueger, a robber baron who called this castle home.
Take another dayʼs tour to discover two major attractions of the mysterious region of Kras—the Škocjan Caves and the famous Lipica Stud Farm. The Škocjan Caves comprise the largest underground canyon in the world and are a natural site included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Then, at the Lipica Stud Farm, you can take a horse training session with white Lipizzaner horses.
You canʼt visit Slovenia and not spend a day at Lake Bled, easily one of Europe’s most beautiful locations. The lake is famous for being glacially-formed and for the iconic castle that overlooks it. Lake Bled is very relaxed and laid back; give yourself more than a day…spend the night.
Be sure to visit the beautful coastal town of Piran, with its lovely medieval architecture and narrow streets. In Piran, stroll along the waterfront of the Adriatic Sea. Hang out and enjoy a dining experience and sunset. The next day hike up to the castle; itʼs a great hike with magnificent views.
Slovenia is a beautiful country with seemingly unspoiled nature, a gotta-love-it climate, and friendly people. There appeared to be a great deal of diversity in Slovenia, a country bound together in a coexistence of man and nature. It is a clean, modern, bright and safe country. This is a trip worth taking, but Iʼd recommend you go very soon before all the tourists catch on. Not long after we returned from this trip, Travel + Leisure magazine featured Slovenia as one of “Europeʼs Best Kept Secrets”… and I agree. This is definitely a country worth more than one visit.
Stay at the City Hotel Ljubljana: http://www.cityhotel.si
You can get a package deal here that includes a free city card. The city cards get you free admission to major museums and attractions, a free guided city tour, free travel on city buses, 24-hour WiFi, a free boat cruise on the Ljubljana (which takes you under the famous Tripple bridge…DO this at night) and much more.
Article written by Cinda Sherman