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We've sent you to exotic paradise, raffled of some serious bling, now we will be flying you to exciting Asian cities in style!
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What sets small towns apart from cities is their general charm, natural surroundings, and welcoming inhabitants. So Scott Allford decided to list (in no particular order) a few of the more memorable towns he had the pleasure of spending some time in.
Did your little town make the list?Read More
Elegant but frequently overlooked, a summer’s night in the capital of Slovenia tantalizes with its vibrant art scene, deep history and warm hospitality.
Nestled in the central part of Slovenia, a former socialist republic under Yugoslavia, the beautiful city of Ljubljana defied all our expectations of what a Balkan city (or nation for that matter) might be.
Since around 2000 BC, the immediate areas around the city were settled with lake-dwelling people in the Ljubljana Marshes. Their archaeological remains can be found in the municipality of Ig and have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2011 along with other prehistoric pile dwellings in the Alpine region. Throughout history, Ljubljana bore witness to the rise and fall of empires, kingdoms and regimes of Europe. Currently, Ljubljana only has a population of about 277,554 people as of 2014 in a country of just over 2 million people (ranked 146th in the world as of 1 July 2015).
We arrived in Ljubljana via a 3-hour shuttle bus ride from Venice’s Piazzale Roma and checked in to one of the city’s trendiest hotels, Hotel Cubo where we were met by Karmen Rus, a representative of the Public Relations office of Tourism Ljubljana. It was almost 4 pm when we arrived, but since it was summer the days were longer. Since we really did not expect much of our stay, we decided we were not going to be in the city for more than a day (something we immediately regretted afterwards).
Despite the short stay, we managed to see quite a good sampling of what life is in Ljubljana. Since Hotel Cubo was right smack in the centre of the city, all the major sites were within walking distance (31 sights and institutions and about 16 museums and galleries are all within 5-15 minutes walk from the Old Town). The city is refreshingly green, earning itself the accolade ‘European Green Capital for 2016’ and it’s main river, the Ljubljanica is extremely clean.
Out of its many sights and attractions, we do have our favourites and among these favourites, Ljubljanski Grad (Ljubljana Castle) stands out - both figuratively and literally. This iconic Slovenian fortress stands on top of a 376 metre hill and is the symbol of of the city. The castle was first mentioned in ancient writings between 1112-1125. Fast forward to 1905, then Mayor Ivan Hribar purchases the the castle from the Austro-Hungarian authorities with a vision for it to become a centre of the city’s many cultural activities realised over a century later in 2011 when the Ljubljana Castle Public Institution was founded. Now, the castle is mainly accessible through a modern funicular on the side of the hill and offers panoramic views of the city, while the castle itself hosts both archeological and artistic exhibitions (the Museum of Puppetry was our favourite!), as well as featuring meeting halls, 2 restaurants serving traditional and modern Slovene dishes (Restaurant Strelec and Gostilna na Gradu) and an open courtyard which serves as an open-air cinema in the summer (which was quite well attended when we were there!).
Another beautiful feature of Ljubljana’s Old Town is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (1646-1660) with its distinct pink facade and the Prešeren Square (Slovene: Prešernov trg).The square was very much alive and teeming with locals and a few visitors enjoying a warm relaxing weekday afternoon after work. I think it’s probably one of the best places to have a glass of Lasko and people watch (there seem to be more than just a handful of good-looking Slovenes!). The historic square is located right in front of the medieval town’s entrance and is a funnel-shaped hub of streets that run into it from different directions. Prešeren Square and the Old Town itself is pedestrianised and family-friendly. Slovenes are very friendly people, with a quick smile and easy disposition. I don’t think anyone would have trouble making good friends here!
Aside from the castle and the squares, Ljubljana is also quite known for its bridges: The Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) which is a group of three pedestrian bridges (the first bridge opened in 1842 and the other two in 1932) across the Ljubjanica River and connects the medieval town and modern Ljubljana. The other bridge Zmajski most or the Dragon Bridge is another noteworthy bridge inspired by the symbol of Ljubljana. According to folklore, Ljubljana was founded by Jason when he and his Argonauts had slain a dragon. That dragon is represented by one of the statues on this road bridge. Cheekily, the structure was also referred as the ‘mother-in-law’ due to its fiery nature. According to stories, the tails of the four dragons would wag every time a virgin crosses it - and one thing’s for sure, we never saw anything move when a group of Spanish-speaking tourists crossed that bridge! Kidding aside, this road bridge was considered as the most beautiful bridge produced by the Vienna Secession and celebrated its centenary in 2001.
The Church of St. Nicholas (Stolnica sv. Nikolaja Cathedral) is also among one of the most recognizable landmarks in Ljubljana due to its green dome and twin towers. Completed in 1706 in the Baroque style by Italian architect Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit from Trento, who designed it as a basilica. The two belfries resembling those of the cathedral in Salzburg were added later by Giulio Quaglio. Baroque frescoes, ancient Roman tombstones, a Gothic pieta, sculptures (and a curious looking sundial on the southern facade) adorn this cathedral. Another worthy recent additions are the bronze doors in front (Slovene Door, commemorating the 1250th anniversary of Christianity in Slovenia by Tone Demšar) and on its side (Ljubljana Door featuring the portraits of 20th-century bishops of Ljubljana by Mirsad Begić.
Near the Church of St. Nicholas is the Ljubljana Town Hall with its replica of a fountain by one of the leading Baroque sculptors Francesco Robba. The original work (finished in 1751) named The Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers is kept in the National Gallery. The fountain was inspired by Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). In front of the Town Hall is the house where Gustav Mahler, an Austrian late-Romantic composer, lived from 1881-1882.
The city of Ljubljana is complemented by Ljubljanica which meanders and bisects the city. The many outdoor cafes along its embankments are great places to cool down with a drink during a hot summer’s day. The temperature averaged in the mid-thirties when we arrived in Ljubljana and after the private walking tour, it was great to hang about and have some ice cold drinks to cool down and do a little souvenir shopping.
Interestingly, this river is also popular among archeologists and treasure hunters as the river has revealed many pieces of history from the Stone Age to the Renaissance period (10,000-13,000 pieces in fact!). Historians suggest that treasures may have been offered “to the river during rites of passage, mourning or thanksgiving for battles won.”
In summer, Ljubljana comes alive with an overwhelming frenzy of local and international arts events from film showings, to opera and ballet at the stately Slovenian National Opera and Ballet Theatre - a subsection of Slovene National Drama Theatre in Ljubljana, contemporary concerts and art exhibitions. We rued the fact that we did not spend enough time in Ljubljana (and Slovenia) in general but were nonetheless grateful that we were able to experience its highlights. Who knows, one of these days we might have a chance to go back, stay longer and explore more of this delightful country!
We will be posting the photo gallery for Slovenia soon so don't forget to bookmark this site!
Where to stay:
Hotel Cubo (Slovenska cesta 15, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia) is one of the top hotels in the country. We chose (booked and paid ourselves) to stay here due to its proximity to all the major sites of Ljubljana. Our room faced on the third floor faced the Slovene National Drama Theatre’s Art Nouveau edifice across the street, the other rooms face the Ljubljana Castle. The hotel also sits in the centre of the Roman Trail of Ljubljana with the Early Christian Centre Archaeological Park only a few steps away. The hotel only has 26 rooms, but it was terrific with little details such as the exceptionally friendly welcome from the lobby reception to its well-known restaurant and its well designed rooms with free IDD calls and free wifi. We hate to say it’s good value for money because that would make the hotel sound cheap - but it really is an awesome deal for such modern luxury. You can book it here.
We’d like to thank Tourism Ljubljana for the hospitality! Hvala!
Dave Ryan A. Buaron, Owner and Co-Founder THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE
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