Every year, there seems to be endless lists of new must-see travel destinations. This year, Slovenia is getting a lot of attention due to its picturesque cities and breathtaking landscape. Guest contributor, Debi Lander from ByLanderSea, recently took a trip to the country’s charming capital city, Ljubljana, and from the looks of her photos, yes, visiting Slovenia and it’s capital is definitely a must-see!
Ljubljana, pronounced “lyoob-lyee-AH-nah”, is the capital of Slovenia, a small landlocked country formerly lying within the borders of Yugoslavia. Slovenia borders with Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary and has a total population of approximately 2 million people. Ljubljana is the largest city in Slovenia, but its population hovers at just around 300,000.
Ljubljana, known as the 2016 European Green Capital for its diligent recycling program, cleverly uses that color to its advantage. The city mascot is a green dragon, the original from a scary looking statue on the Dragon Bridge and a cutesy grassy-green colored fellow developed by the Tourism folks. In Ljubljana, one constantly runs into dragons!
The city sports a bustling café scene along either side of a small river. The Lubljancia River flows so gently it looks more like a moat and makes a soft 90-degree turn around the main square. Locals and visitors mingle at the open-air dining establishments, sometimes for an entire evening. Regional specialties include Carniolian sausage, Slovenia soups, and Slovenian rolled pastry, but the chefs mingle these favorites with Italian and French flavors. Many places offer a menu of Slovenian/Mediterranean fare. Beer and wine are the popular drinks.
The town castle, built upon prehistoric and later Roman ruins, rests on the hill above. I let the modern funicular whisk me up to the top for a panoramic view from the castle tower – simply spectacular. Up there I enjoyed an educational movie, toured castle rooms including the chapel- dedicated to St. George, the dragonslayer, and prisons. At night, emerald illumination bathes Ljubljana’s castle and the surrounding mountains enlighten the daytime skyline with their evergreen foliage.
Visitors in Ljubljana feel safe and secure while shopping and strolling narrow cobblestone streets and across the many short pedestrian bridges. The vantage points beg for photo ops. Historic churches, food markets, festivals, parks and boat rides entertain tourists and locals alike.
I happened upon a food festival attempting to set the Guinness World Record for the largest baklava. The Bosnian Women of Ljubljana (a club of Slavic people from the region) baked the honey-infused treat. They arrived the morning of the contest in traditional costumes, all very excited. Younger single women and gentlemen performed traditional folk dances during the event. It seemed like the entire city turned out to sample the delicious dessert and, yes, the mayor proclaimed the record as official.
The best-known and beloved site in the country is Lake Bled, which is a must-see when visiting Slovenia. The hamlet rests less than an hour from Ljubljana and attracts international travelers with a gorgeous turquoise-colored lake and its thousand-year-old castle perched atop a steep, 426-foot high cliff. The lake features a flyspeck of an island, just barely big enough to fit a church and belltower. Almost every visitor takes a flat-bottomed Pletna boat to get there, then climbs 99 steps toward the church to ring the “wishing bell,” a 16th-century chime that is supposed to grant requests.
The snow-capped Julian Alps and forest surround Lake Bled: an idyllic setting with clean, crisp air drawing outdoor enthusiasts, romantic couples, photographers and those seeking relaxation. I visited in April and found the summer luge course had opened. You ride a chair lift to the top and then sit in a little sled that slips down the run as fast as you will let it go. Many smiles and laughs arose.
Vila Bled, constructed in 1947 and now a luxury boutique hotel, was the summer residence of former Yugoslavian President Tito. He apparently adored the lake and liked to entertain there. I was given a brief tour of the lakeside property including what is now called the xx Room, but was used by Tito as a private movie screening room. You can see the projection hole in the flag of one of the patriotic murals that he had painted on the walls. Should you wish to feel presidential, stay in Tito’s bedroom, naturally called the Presidential Suite. One corner in the lobby retains his desk and old telephone. Vila Bled also offers a spa.
To visit ancient Bled Castle, you must either undertake a rigorous climb or ride in a car or taxi most of the way up. Everybody has to stride the uppermost slopes to reach the scenic overlook. The ever-changing color of the water and picture postcard glimpses of Slovenia’s only island, make the stop a must. The castle includes an elegant restaurant where I dined on tasty trout while overlooking the panoramic vista. Take time to tour the museum to learn interesting facts and see displays about the history of the region.
In addition to the castle, strolling the lake’s circumference and marveling at the island, Lake Bled is renown for its cream cakes. Many locals claim there is no secret to the recipe; it’s experience that matters, and the chefs at Bled have plenty of that. However, the Sava Hotel in Lake Bled reports that “Seven is the fairytale number, the secret behind this legendary dessert. To make the original Bled cream cake, puff pastry is folded seven times and left to rest overnight so it is even lighter when baked in the morning. A light egg custard is boiled for precisely seven minutes before stiffly beaten egg whites are added to it and the mixture is poured over the first layer of delicate puff pastry. The delicious custard cream is topped with a layer of whipped cream and covered with a second layer of puff pastry, which is then dusted with vanilla sugar.” The original Bled cream cakes are still made strictly to the recipe perfected by the pastry chef at the Park Café in the 1940s.
The Bled Cream Cake recently received a protected designation of origin. The official dessert must only come from the patisseries at Lake Bled just like champagne only comes from the Champagne district of France. If you placed all the slices of cream cake sold over the years, they would line the five-mile lake circumference with a 23-foot high wall. Each year, the Park Café alone sells around 500,000 slices and during the resort town’s last 60 years, more than 13 million cream cakes have been sold.
I tasted a luscious, velvety cream cake at the Bled Castle Restaurant and savored every mouthful of the decadent sweet. A slice is so rich, however, I had to ask to take mine away to finish later.
Slovenians like to say that their country contains the word LOVE, and travelers receive the feeling during a visit. I certainly sensed an honest, warm welcome by friendly, often English-speaking residents.
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Visiting Slovenia, therefore, makes an affordable year-round destination that feels indulgent. However, there are no direct flights from the US. Travelers reach the country via train, bus or regional air from other cities in Europe such as nearby Venice, Italy or Vienna, Austria.
- Slovenia entered the European Union in 2004. The euro functions as the currency, eliminating the need for stressful currency conversions.
- The Julian Alps include Triglav National Park with more than 150 peaks over 6,500 feet. Outdoor activities abound including hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, and skiing.
- I stayed at Guest House, booked through Airbnb, a charming Alpine bed and breakfast. It’s centrally located on the Lake Bled, directly across from the Pletna boat docks. Rooms are small but clean and very reasonable.
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