The magic of Slovenia can transform even a crappy solo trip into a pleasant experience
In 2013, work led me to Ljubljana. I spent four very intense months there, during which I had little opportunity to explore the rest of the country, as I was working 24/7. Due to the frantic pace of work, the city, even though it only had around 300,000 souls and a reputation for being sedate, never got boring. Wining and dinning (which I detailed here), my most common contact with non-work Ljubljana, was excellent on expenses, while the compact size and quirky architecture of the old city, allowed for many nice walks to even briefly escape thinking about work.
This May, I decided to visit my beloved Ljubljana once again. I was supposed to meet a friend there but due to some very tragic circumstances, which I only found out about later, I couldn’t. Trying to walk off the loneliness after driving for five hours from Belgrade, I decided to see once again all the places I loved. I first stopped at the great beer shop, Pivoteka Za popen’t, to get a local craft brew to celebrate my arrival and then refueled with a Krainer sausage and sweet štruklji at a hipstery, but decent Klobasarna
High on IPA and garlicky sausage, I let Ljubljana’s romantic architecture make my mind wander. Surrounded by picturesque building I felt like I was on a Wes Anderson set. the romance of the place comes from the fact that the city is squeezed between steep hills, one of which is crowned by a fairytale castle. However, Ljubljana’s distinctive dreamy feel also comes from its early-20th century starchitect Jože Plečnik, whose works around the city (embankment, Tromostje, University library, cemetery, to name a few) have a rare genius of being whimsical, monumental and on a human scale. Following in Plečnik’s footsteps, Ljubljana’s architectural school, the best in former Yugoslavia, still produces great work, punching much above the country’s diminutive size, as you can see in this Architizer article. I wandered across the art-nouveau Dragon bridge, designed by Zaninovich, a pupil of Otto Wagner, which would have made Daenerys proud and towards the majestic greek-inspired Ljubljanica sluice-gate designed by Plečnik, which marks the end of the old town. Even the more residential Tabor neighbourhood was full of lovely surprises. There was the fantastic old gym built for the Sokol society, bent on promoting healthy living and pan-slavism in 19th Century Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as a an old sugar factory, cut in half by a new bridge. Afterwards, I went to the quirky parliament building where statues of naked Slovenes seemed to plead for freedom, by jumping around the main portal.
After some more exploring I treated myself with great truffle gnocchi and pinot grigio from hills around Gorizia at Julija, a cosy spot on the the old town’s main drag.
The next morning, I woke up early to see the city covered in golden mist. To celebrate the view I walked up to the castle to properly say goodbye to Ljubljana. Although the walk was strenuous, it was worth it and after having a the best hotel breakfast in the world at Slon, I went to Postojna.
Postojna, a 30 minute drive from the city, sits in Slovenia’s karst and is famous for its cave, inhabited by a creature that established the link between Slovenes and dragons. The animal in question is cave-dwelling snake-like proteus, whose gills and general strangeness, led villagers to believe it is a baby dragon. These critters live long, boring lives in the stunning halls, carved by Pivka river over millennia. I paid them a visit with about 40 other tourists and a very keen guide. The whole visit was well worth it, despite the high price (EUR 40), and I could not but hum Grieg’s Mountain King, thought the one hour tour.
A short drive up is one of the most stunning castles I saw: picture-perfect Predjamski grad.
The castle stands from the middle ages and looks surreal even when you are standing three meters from it. The inside of the castle is much less breath-taking, except for the great cave system that extends into the hill behind it, and which gave the castle a strategic edge. Once I did all the touristy stuff, I sat for half an hour below a linden tree looking at the castle from afar, and feeling again like I wandered into a fairy tale.