Sunny Slovenia

Ljubljana is bustling into life on a Friday morning and it’s another warm and sunny day. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather so far on this trip, and it’s time to head up another huge hill to the castle. But first an encounter with a legendary tale.

Legend has it that Ljubljana was founded by the Greek mythological hero Jason and his Argonauts. Among the many things he killed was a dragon, and so today a Dragon Bridge is one of many that crosses the River Lubjanica. And someone is rather interested in this…

Our climb to the Castle is done by the Funicular Railway, because frankly a holiday should be about relaxing and not walking up massive hills. Various castles around the world have a bit if a reputation for being, well, a little underwhelming. My home city of Nottingham is a classic example, where the Castle is in fact a Ducal Palace. At the time of writing it’s also currently closed to visitors but that’s another legendary tale.

Now don’t get me wrong, Ljubljana‘s Castle is definitely that. There’s plenty of history, a couple of museums and a tower to climb for spectacular views across the city. But at some point in the recent past, this ancient structure has been transformed – and not in a good way. Posh units have been built within the stone, polished floors and stairs have emerged, and parts of it have triple glazing. Where grand treasures and state room once stood, today there are high end restaurants and jazz performances. Now I like food and I love jazz, but there’s a time and a place for everything, and to my mind a city’s castle is not the place for a Michelin starred restaurant.

In fairness some of the old stuff has survived, including the cells which housed ne’r do wells in times gone by. And you can even try one out for yourself.

Don’t ask me what he’s guilty of… it’s a long charge sheet. So, to the obligatory climb up the tower for a lovely view. After all, you’ve paid €16 for this…

On a pleasantly warm day, you can forsake the funicular for a 10 minute walk down the hill and back towards the river. It’s lunchtime and the Central Market is in full swing. Fruits, vegetables and flowers are spread across the main square, and just by the Cathdral is a street food market. There’s cuisine from all over the world here – and while it may not be the cheapest dining experience it’s certainly worth it for the variety. The steps behind the church make a perfect terrace with people sharing tables to eat.

In typical Eastern European fashion, the Old Town is where many of the tourist businesses are. And along just one street there are famous fashion names mixed with loads of independent stores selling clothes, souvenirs, antiques and food for all palettes.

There are plenty of other sights and attractions to cram in if you have time. But for me, Ljubljana is as much about wandaering around and admiring the architecture. This isn’t a destination that’s talked about in most travel guide – which is a real shame. But visitors from across Europe and beyond make a point of coming here, often by word of mouth recommendations. And it’s easy to see why.

In the evening I feel it’s time to sample some proper local culture, by which I mean taste some local beer. And I’m in luck, because ust around the corner from my hotel is Sir William’s Pub. While this may sound like a tacky English bar abroad, it is in fact a go-to destination for craft beer. What’s more, it turns out that this is Ljubljana Craft Beer Week. The main event is tomorrow, which is problematic as I’m moving on. This always happens when I travel. In Chicago I missed Billy Joel playing at Wrigley Field by two days, and in Dubrovnik Bryan Ferry was performing the day after I left.

Anyway, Sir William’s Pub has a fine selection of 16 beers on tap – among those sampled included an Estonian IPA and a Pils from Slovenia. I could have also had a Sour from Manchester, but I hate being labelled as an unadventurous tourist.

The evening continues in a similar style, though this time with the weaker and safer Lasko beer in a pub called the Lokal. It’s a pretty standard fizzy lager named after a spa town halfway between Ljubjana and Zagreb, founded by a gingerbread maker in around 1815. But like many good brewing stories it ends with a corporate takeover, and today Lasko is owned by Heineken.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Ljubljana, yet alone explored the rest of Slovenia. But in the short time I’ve been here, it has surprised me with far more culture and beauty than I had imagined. I think I’ll be back before too long.

But for now, it’s time to get packing and love onward. France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia ticked off the list in five days. Tomorrow, Croatia.


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