Castles, caves, culture, great food, bewitching scenery, colourful markets… and the best hot chocolate in the world. Slovenia has everything its European neighbours have – apart from the crowds
Slovenia is a beautiful place to visit and Ljubljana is the ideal base for exploring it. So small is the country, most of it can be reached on a day trip out of the capital, which also has the best choice of hotels. We visited in October and, because it was out of season, it was much quieter than it would have been. It felt like it was just us and all the locals – not much sign of many other tourists.
Ljubljana has a lovely castle sitting on top of it, and there is a great walk up to it from the main city centre. It's a steepish climb but the views are wonderful and the café at the top does the best hot chocolate ever (in fact, the whole of Slovenia does the world's best hot chocolate; I'm sure they just melt chocolate bars and serve it up in a cup). The city centre also offers plenty of shops and late-night shopping. Here, markets are common and there is a huge café culture, by which I mean locals sitting drinking coffee and people-watching all day. Even in the evenings, they seem to prefer drinking hot beverages to getting drunk, which creates a really nice atmosphere.
The other hot tip, besides the hot chocolate, is the ice cream. There are lots of ice-cream sellers outside the cafés, offering a wide choice of flavours at a good price.
In the autumn, when we were there, street vendors were selling roasted chestnuts in newspaper cones – perfect for consuming on a romantic evening walk along the river, while listening to buskers and generally taking in the atmosphere.
What to see and do
Postojna Caves It is just a short bus ride to a very small town and, from there, the caves are a 20-minute walk away. You sit on a miniature train that takes you into the caves, where you join a brilliant guided walk around them. They are very impressive and absolutely beautiful.
Lake Bled It is hard to put into words at how scenic and gorgeous this place is. You can walk around the lake – which is lovely in itself, because of the amazing castle on one side and the church on an island in the middle of it. The castle is well worth going into, just for the view – but again, the walk up to it is quite steep. Nevertheless, we took a lot of photographs of that lake! We also hired a rowing boat to go over to the church, which was great fun and very cheap. If we were ever to go back, we would stay at least a couple of nights there.
Ljubljana Zoo This is within walking distance of the city centre, and has a good variety of animals. Great for the kids.
Ljubljana Park This huge expanse of parkland is lovely to walk around, or you can hire a bike. Look out for the (pink) church right at the top.
Where to stay
We were on a budget, so we stayed at the Alibi Hostel which is really good. The location is perfect, with the river in front of it and the castle behind. It’s a two-minute walk to the three bridges, the central part of the city where everything happens. The hostel is nice and clean, with helpful staff. I would definitely recommend it, even if you are not a hardened hosteller!
Alibi (www.alibi.si) has a handful of hostels in both Ljubljana and Piran, on the coast, but the one we stayed in was at Cankarjevo Nabrežje 27, Ljubljana.
Where to eat
You may wish to live on hot chocolate and ice cream for the duration of your trip – but there are other options. Cafés and restaurants are everywhere, but we just stuck to two recommended by the hostel staff. Café Romeo is just around the corner from the hostel, and is a Mexican café with a cocktail bar. The staff are brilliant and the food is excellent, with big portions. There is a nice selection of puddings as well. The other place was a pizza restaurant opposite the hostel, on the other side of the river. The staff there were quite rude, in our experience, but the pizzas were huge. Do not be tempted to order a large one all for yourself, unless you haven’t eaten for a week.
Unfortunately, there are not many airports you can fly from – though this in turn has an upside: because Ljubljana is not over-popular, it is very unspoilt. Coming here may require a bit more travelling to the airport in your own country – but it is well worth it. We flew from Stansted to Maribor (there is nothing in Maribor worth mentioning) and took the excellent train service to Ljubljana (journey time: about two hours).