Guest post by Sophie McGovern from the travel blog Heading There.
If Slovenia were a story, it would most definitely be a fairytale. One of the old ones I mean, by the Brothers Grimm or Anderson, where there is tragedy, beauty and magic in equal measure. Deep dark woods, turreted castles, caves, lakes and mountains, Slovenia’s landscape is what bedtime stories are made of.
One of the most forested countries in Europe and the only one to have a native population of bears, Slovenia has a wildness that outshines the rest of the continent.
And, beyond the mountains and the deep dark woods, there is magical city…
Compared to Madrid or Paris, Ljubljana is a walk in the park; you can quite literally walk from one side to another in 45 minutes. Banish all notions of what you would expect from a European capital. Instead think meandering lanes, art nouveau architecture, a gentle pace and extensive park land that’s perfect for picnics. Plus, there’s a small town feel and friendly local attitude to go with it.
Buy an ice-cream and walk along the river admiring the elegant bridges, listen to the traditional accordion tunes echo through narrow streets, and climb to the top of the Castle Belvedere Tower for views over the gingerbread rooftops.
Whilst exploring, you’re sure to catch glimpses of the city’s quirky, off-centre scene. Independent communities are abundant, there is a free licence for street performers, and the city hosts outdoor concerts and theatre performances throughout the summer.
Hostel Celica, a converted prison, was one of the most memorable stays on our European inter-rail tour. At neighbouring Metelkova squat we found lives bands, a kaleidoscope of decorations and graffiti, and a community cafe serving great quality, low priced food.
Central to this fairytale is the emerald Lake Bled, where a baroque church stands on a small island. Only an hour’s journey from Ljubljana by bus, this is the perfect place to explore when you’re done in the city.
Arriving there, we couldn’t help but feel that we had walked onto the pages of a story with the scene conjuring up the Arthurian legend of the Lady of Shalott and her enchanted island.
Hiring a rowing boat is loads of fun. We took a couple of beers and a pack of playing cards and drifted around the lake all afternoon. Alpine forest scenery and a hilltop castle ensure that you’ve always got an amazing view. Rowing over to the island, we rang the church bell and made a wish!
Bled’s hillside castle manages to nobly compete with the island for the prize of ‘most outstanding fairytale features’. Moat, towers, shadowy cellars and ivy-covered ramparts, why, there is even a monk selling local wine is the cellars. Ooh, and did I mention the spiral staircase?
Be sure to sample the local cream cakes in Bled when snack time comes around, and head out for some traditional Slovenia fare in the evening: beef and noodle soup in an edible bread bowl, that sort of thing. If you’re vegetarian, be prepared to eat a lot of pizza!
For a city break with an element of wilderness, the Ljubljana-Bled combination is perfect. But this is a tale of the traditional kind, and those seeking nightlife and shopping won’t find the area that exciting. For those who are looking for charm, natural beauty and magic, though, Slovenia could easily become their favourite European destination.