Some of us are cruise people and now that the cruise lines are back in business following the annus horribilus of 2020, people are booking their cruises for favorite Caribbean and Mexican destinations. Others though love camping and hiking and reuniting with nature through fishing or exploring the mountains of a preferred national park. Still others enjoy the excitement of the big city and seek a vacation that stimulates the senses with culture, food, and all of the allures of a metropolitan experience.
Hopefully Instinct Magazine’s Travel Thursday whets your appetite for whatever your whim, but I guarantee that if you like all of those, plus want to stand out from your friends by going somewhere completely off of the beaten track, we have just the destination for you!
Slovenia is a country that is wedged in central Europe below Austria and next door to Italy. A former republic in the Socialist Yugoslavia, it gained its independence in 1991 in brief fight against the powers in Belgrade. While other countries in central Europe such as Poland and especially Hungary are slipping from a liberal, pluralistic political situation, Slovenia instead is embracing openness and toleration. As a result, it celebrates a vibrant gay scene and has much to offer.
How to get there:
Once you decide that you want to explore this amazing country that has the most forested land as a percentage of its territory in Europe, has a thriving skiing and hiking passion among its citizens due to its Alpine peaks, enjoys the privilege of a slice of Adriatic coastline for long summer days in the sun, and boasts of having one of Europe’s most charming cities with its capital of Ljubljana, the question is how do you get there?
The easiest (and cheapest) way is to fly into Venice, Italy. Marco Polo International Airport gives you the opportunity to enjoy a romantic couple of days in Venice with its famed canals. From there you can take a regularly scheduled non-stop bus that will drop you off in the heart of Ljubljana two hours later.
Or you could fly directly into Ljubljana’s airport (as I did), but it will require you to transfer from a larger European city. I flew in from my home in Paris, but if I had done as the locals and flown into either Venice (or nearby Trieste), I could have paid significantly less for my travel airfare.
What is there to do:
I spent three full days in Ljubljana, with one half day doing a side-trip to Lake Bled. The capital city of Ljubljana has a metro population of about 500,000 and is the home of the country’s university which is located in the town center. With its medieval castle sitting atop the biggest hill, the city itself sprawls out from under its shadow along the meandering Sava river. Inhabited since before the Romans colonized the region in 50 B.C., today the city has a blend of Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and modern architecture that tantalizes anyone who loves beautiful buildings.
The heart of the city is along the river, so there are many bridges that span both banks allowing pedestrians to explore the old town while stopping frequently for drinks, sweets, snacks and meals at countless cafés and restaurants. Even though Slovenian is a Slavic language, all of the locals speak not only German, but also English. The country is a favorite destination for nearby Austrians, who dominated the country for centuries during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Today, their relationship is friendlier, with the Viennese spending freely in the inexpensive city.
The city has several museums of note that I highly recommend. The first one is the National Museum on the history of Slovenia. There I spent a couple of hours learning about its rich history, particularly how it became its own constituent republic within Yugoslavia. The 20th century saw the country change hands from the Austrians (after World War One), to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (originally called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians, and Slovenes), to Fascist Italy (during World War Two), to the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia following the war, until it won its independence finally in 1991.
The second museum that I particularly enjoyed is on a smaller scale, but no less fascinating. One of the most famous Slovenians is an architect who designed the iconic triple bridge in the town’s center, leading from the picture postcard Franciscan Church across the river towards the castle. Jože Plečnik’s legacy extends to several important buildings throughout the city, leaving his Art Nouveau / Viennese Secessionism style everywhere. His house is now a museum dedicated to his work, and is well worth a walk from the university to the quaint neighborhood he lived in.
One of my favorite activities is to seek out cocktails at cool addresses. The best place to imbibe and gawk in Ljubljana is at the oldest skyscraper in town, the art deco Nebotičnik. Opened in 1933 this beautiful building on the city’s main street towers with 13 floors, and the observation deck on top has a beautiful art deco rooftop café with unparalleled views of the city. It’s the perfect spot to relax and chat with your new Slovenian friends.
The gay scene:
The country is very liberal minded and with tens of thousands of university students studying and living in the city of Ljubljana, it has a really friendly youthful vibe. 2021 Gay Pride is taking place this weekend (June 19th), but the city’s bars and cafés along the Sava river is where everyone celebrates life each and every day. Among the bars advertised as gay I can recommend the very friendly “Pritličje” (Mestni trg 2) which is right on the river, and nearby is the local favorite “Klub Tiffany” for dancing with a young college crowd. There is even a gay sauna (“District 35”) for those of you who enjoy an even more intimate setting.
As mentioned earlier, every visit to Ljubljana should include a visit to nearby Lake Bled. Tickets for a private tour by a chartered shuttle can be bought at the tourism office in the old town, and the one hour ride out of the city into the foothills of the Slovenian Alps give you a sense of just how beautiful the surrounding area is. The remote mountain top castle overlooking the lake, with its picturesque little church perched on an island, can both be explored in a few hours, allowing you to come back to Ljubljana for a final day of fun.
Trips to the Adriatic coast and the town of Piran require another full day, but is highly recommended as well.
This post is solely the opinion of this contributing writer and may not reflect the opinion of other writers, staff, or owners of Instinct Magazine.