Ljubljana, a future tourist destination for Europeans?
with plane tickets at £30 from London Gatwick, and prices to stay at £10-£15 a night, why not explore this city?
Before this trip, I had never heard of Ljubljana, and knew very little about the history and culture of Slovenia. When it comes to European destinations generally the consensus is that the major tourist destinations for city breaks include Paris, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, London and Berlin. There are also cities growing in popularity including Budapest, Copenhagen, Vienna and Prague. Ljubljana, was perhaps more for backpackers as part of a wider trip rather than a sole destination. But with plane tickets at £30 from London Gatwick, and prices to stay at £10-£15 a night, why not explore this city?
A great way to start you off on any break is to have a tour of the city to get the inside scoop and actually speak to a local. I went for a Get Your Guide tour with Sylvia, and since I was in Ljubljana in March (off peak), myself and a friend had a private tour. It was immediately clear that the landscape of the centre of this town had changed considerably just in the last 5 years. A few years back, this city had roads through the city centre, and the locals were happy to blow up local historical monuments to make a statement that they were free from previous oppressions. This is a city that has changed hands so many times, I learnt from Sylvia, that it was at one point unrefined to speak the native language, so much that it was almost lost in history. Now however, the mayor is focused on making the town a destination for tourists, protecting historical sites and building a city that is both approachable and shows off the culture of the city.
To show off the culture the tour began at the town hall, free for all to enter and see an exhibition of art, that changes focus regularly, as well as the many awards the city has won for being the greenest town in Europe. We also hear the story of Ivan Hribar, one of the well loved leaders of the National Progressive Party, and one of the most important figures of Slovenian liberal nationalism, who wrapped himself in the Yugoslavian flag to as a protest against the Italian annexation of Ljubljana, after being asked to become mayor at the age of 90.
Architecture is clearly creative and unique in Ljubljana, just like the lit up Acropolis towers over the centre of Athens, so does Ljubljana’s lit up castle. This is an architectural marvel in itself, with defined characteristics from different eras since the castle was first used. Unlike many protected sites in Europe, the castle embraces change and is still used for weddings, exhibitions, and events for locals including outdoor cinema screenings, while keeping historical plaques around the castle. As you stand with the mountains one side of Ljubljana, and an ancient castle looking down over the capital city on the other, the story of how Ljubljana was formed after the death of a mythical dragon. It would be difficult to talk about the architecture without mentioning the world famous architect Jože Plečnik. It seemed Sylvia would mention the dramatic effect he had on the city, every other street we went down. Since his return in 1921 to Ljubljana, everything he touched from beautiful bridges to buildings such as the National and University Library (of which every second step is a metaphor). He even managed to solve the central river’s flooding problem (of which previously meant many of the locals has a small boat). It’s would be safe to say Ljubljana is architectural and artistic marvel.
Of course I was also suprised to be given a taste of some traditional slovenian dishes during the tour. Slovenia actually has 24 culinary regions with different specialities. A dish they are very proud of would be the Kranjska Klobasa (Carniolan Sausage) which is a traditional pork and bacon sausage, that can only be made by 15 producers. The ingredient must only include pork meat, bacon, salt, garlic, black pepper and water. A far cry from the english sausages we are used it. Our guide was particularly proud that this sausage was one of the only special dish astronaut Sunita Williams requested when going to space.
Since it was my first day in Slovenia, without much planning, we spend some time discussing where to go and visit outside of Ljubljana. Sylvia advised Lake Bled and Bohinj, which were surprisingly great destinations for those who love active holidays, including watersports, hiking through the forests and snow, skiing and snowboarding surrounded by a beautiful backdrop. She advised us the best places for Slovenians to go out at night, including Metelkova and Božidar on a Friday night. And some great day trips to villages nearby including Škofja Loka and Kamnik, or to the caves at Škocjanske Jame. In the end it was well worth taking the tour just for the advice alone.
I’m very excited to see the future of this city, it’s already a great place to visit, and it’s clear from the tour that the city is still developing rapidly. I’m excited to see how it will look in years to come, and am very glad I had the chance to see the city as it transforms.