Slovenia is one of those countries I’d meaning to go to for
ages and never quite managed it. Fate dictated that whilst a large
detachment of the Tartan Army (Rich included) passed through en
route from San Marino to Croatia in 2000, I had to go home and sit
a work-related exam. Rich’s initial feedback, based on his
one-night stay, was “nice, but small”. Having now seen
it for my own eyes, I’d say that was a bit of an unfair assessment
– yes, it is small, but it’s more than nice.
The country sits at the top of the ex-Yugoslav states, both geographically
and economically. It’s participation in the Balkan conflicts
in the 1990s lasted days rather than years, leaving the Croats,
Bosnians and Serbs to slug it out with each other, and as a result
it suffered neither the widespread physical or economic damage of
it’s neighbours, and was well placed for EU membership in
To my casual eyes, I saw many cultural (and linguistic) similarities
with the Czech Republic, although the spectacular Alpine scenery
and relaxed pace of café life in the cities does have similarities
to Northern Italy.
Due to the size of the country and the reasonably central location
of Ljubljana, everywhere is easily accessible via the well-developed
bus and train networks.
Ljubljana is a beautiful city, and is the most convincing “new
Prague” I’ve ever seen. Go NOW, before it goes the same
way as the Czech capital, and sells it soul for the tourist dollar
and the stag party bonhomie!
Ljubljana Airport is actually far closer to Kranj, and offers a
superb view of the Julian Alps, but not such superb connections
to the city itself. Taxis are plentiful but expensive; a more cost-conscious
option is the bus. Two operators ply this route – an express
bus connects with some of the busier flights (including the Easyjet
flights by the sounds of it), or a circuitous service bus takes
you via the villages in around an hour.
The bus from the airport terminates at the bus station, which is
conveniently right in front of the shiny white railway station,
a little to the north of the city centre.
And speaking of a city centre, it’s a little hard to pin
down. The main north-south artery is Slovenska Cesta (if you come
out of the staion’s fornt door and turn right, it’s
the massive road you’ll come to after a few minutes –
turn left to head to the centre). Slovenska heads past the Best
Western Slon hotel to Kongresni Trg (Congress Square), which is
pretty central as far as geography goes, but the actual heart of
the city seems to lie in Prešernov Trg, in front of the pink
Franciscan Church and the elaborate Triple Bridge. Although this
area seems old-town-ish, the actual Old Town is over the bridge
and to the right, down Mestni Trg (which leads into Stari Trg, neither
of which are actually square).
Ljubljana and it’s surrounds offer plenty to do. With the
country’s compact size, day trips to the likes of Bled and
even Pirana on the Adriatic Coast are possible. Here’s a few
things we did, and a few things we’d try to do if we went
– more fun that it sounds. This staple tourist trap of Eastern
European city centre sight-seeing circular trips is actually put
to good use in Ljubljana, taking the strain of the trip up to
the castle and then coming back every hour to pick you up again
(if you’ve invested wisely in a return ticket). It goes
at a fair pelt (for this kind of contraption, anyway), and isn’t
adverse to tilting at some of the sharper corners.
Hrad (The Castle) – towering over the city, Ljubljana’s
castle offers great views (especially from the top of the tower),
as well as a few tourist craft shops, a café and an 3D
presentation of Ljubljana’s history from Roman settlement
Tour – this is best sorted before you go, as the
brewery is only open one day a month by standard. A combined tour
of the dedicated brewing museum and the actual production area
was followed by a prolonged tasting session in the brewery tap,
courtesy of our friendly guides Helena, Tina and Branko. You really
can’t miss the brewery – it’s the massive grey
cube on the outskirts of the city centre.
(part of a day trip) – we had this organised for us, but
it’s quite easy to get a train or a bus. Bled is famous
for it’s beautiful lake, and the gondolas that take people
to the island church (no time for that for us), and for it’s
scenic castle perched high on a cliff overlooking the town –
it looks better from afar than the up-close reality, but it does
offer the chance to bottle your own wine and take it away with
you (for around £6). Apparently, there’s also an all-year
bobsleigh run for anyone mental enough to give it a go.
(caves) – often offered as part of a day trip itinerary
from the capital, we had to make our own way and did this by catching
a bus and then walking the mile or so to the cave complex. A wee
train takes you a couple of miles into the depths, then an hour-long
tour (in a choice of languages, English included) finishes with
a plug for an over-priced restaurant. Skip this bit and eat at
Pizzeria Minutka in the town instead (unless you’ve been
shipped in by tour bus).
What we didn’t do, but would have liked to:
Stadium – the graffiti
covered football stadium, complete with column architecture, is
on Dunajska Cesta to the north of the centre (carry straight on
up Slovenska and don’t turn right for the station) in the
run-down, studenty Beigrad area. Home to the “Green
Dragons”, originally Olimpia Ljubljana, but now possibly
still appearing as FK Beigrad following a financial scandal.
Railway museum –
because I like trains. Okay? It’s near the brewery, but
subject to weird opening hours so check locally.
Tobacco museum –
a more unusual one this. Again, check locally.
River cruise –
depending on what time of year you’re there, wee canal-type
boats may be plying the narrow waters of the Ljubljanica River.
Krakovo & Trnovo suburbs
– supposedly nice areas to the south of the city centre.
More pubs – we
only scratched the surface, and never made it to the rumoured
rooftop bar somewhere above a shopping centre on Slovenska. See
below for the ones we did make it to.
It’s worth mentioning a little bit about Slovene beers at
this juncture. In the green corner, the goat-labelled Lasko Zlatorog
(it’s actually a “mystical chamois” from the sticks,
and in the red corner, LJ’s own Union Pivo. As well as standard
Union, you can also track down the chocolate/coffee-ish Crni Baron
and the excellent dry Union Pils (you may have to look closely for
that one – it comes in milk-bottle style bottles). Lasko’s
Zlatorog is often bottled, however their real gem is the excellent
Lasko Temno, a dark and very tasty beer. Shots-wise, the locals
like a schnapps, and one of the weirdest is viljemovka, where a
pear grows inside a bottle before having brandy added. Of course,
this doesn’t stop it tasting like lighter fluid.
Cutty Sark – in
a small passageway (Knafljev prehod) near Prešernov Trg,
this is the quintessential Brit-themed pub. Rammed full of young
Slovenes, it’s a good bet for mixing with the locals and
proved to be Tartan Army HQ when we were in town.
Holidays Pub –
right next to a travel agent on Slovenska (two doors up from the
Slon hotel), the small yet immensely popular Holidays is well
worth a visit. A great choice of beers, including draught Guinness
and the similar, yet far superior Lasko Temno.
Grunf Bar – two
doors further up from Holidays is the lower-key, quiet yet friendly
Grunf Bar, named after a famous cartoonist.
Sir Williams –
a good effort at an English pub, but with a better choice of beers.
Bedecked with flags of the world and very welcoming, even if not
quite big enough (and with ceilings that are too high!). To be
found across the Miklosicev Park on the corner of Tavcarjeva ul.
Gaudi Café –
small, cosy yet quirky designer café in the precincted
Copova ul, right around the corner from the Slon.
Kratchowill – a
very capable brew-pub and pizzeria, hamstrung by an awkward location
(opposite the station in Kolodvoska ul), but still worth seeking
out for some very good unfiltered beer. Large outdoor seating
area at the front for warmer weather.
Collegium – a small,
unpretentious local bar, directly opposite the cathedral on Ciril-Metodov
Sokol – mainly
a restaurant, and famed for it’s mushroom soup served in
a crusty roll (the pršut cured ham is also pretty special),
it does have a small bar area to the left of the main entrance.
The house beers (light and dark) is actually brewed by Adam Ravbar,
a micro-brewery from a village between the city and the airport.
Mokarabia – more
a cosy coffee shop than an outright bar, this wee corner establishment
is one side-street up from the right bank of the Cobblers Bridge.
Does serve the excellent bottled dark beer Crni Baron.
an honourable mention for this Naklo brewpub, which is really
only worth mentioning in case you happen to be driving between
Ljubljana and Bled. Excellent unfiltered beer and good food.