This is the question we were asked numerous times by friends and family when we told them Slovenia is our first stop on our round the world trip. A lot of people confused this tiny country with Slovakia and others pondered what it had to offer.
Well my friends, Slovenia is absolutely beautiful. We landed into the national capital’s airport in Ljubljana where the runway is among green fields and close to a luscious forest. Even in the capital city you are surrounded by nature with lovely parks around every corner, the river of seven names flowing through the centre of town and mountains off in the distance.
The country has a total population of 2 million and even in the capital (around 260,000) you get a wonderful feeling of space and calm. A welcome relief after our journey from Surrey to Stansted through central London in peak hour!
We stayed with our first SERVAS hosts in Ljubljana – Maja and Tomi who lived a short bus ride out of town.
We found the place relatively easily (read 3 phone calls to the extremely patient Maja..) and were warmly welcomed into our new home for the next 2 nights. We spent the evening chatting to Maja about Slovenian culture and I was delighted to find she was almost as much of a foodie as me! We accepted a welcome drink of home made sour cherry schnapps for me and Williams pear schnapps for Mitch. Absolutely delicious, although the cherries were pretty potent! Dinner was a simple pasta and pesto (homemade of course with homegrown basil) and a bowl of salad in the middle to share dressed with roasted pumpkin seed oil made by one of Maja’s friends. It had a very unique flavour and I highly recommend trying it if you get the chance. Maja and Tomi make a lot of their own jams, liqueurs and sauces and what they don’t need they swap with friends for whatever treats they’ve created.
Alas Maja had not had time to make dessert but on hearing that we were wine drinkers her eyes lit up and she proceeded to take us on a tour of Slovenia as we sampled numerous wines in her collection.
Apparently Slovenians are one of the highest consuming wine drinkers and also make some of their own great wines which aren’t wasted on exports.. But wait! Although no dessert, Maja has a selection of aged french cheeses which will go well with the wine tasting! Served with dried quinces this was the perfect finale to a wonderful dinner. Although we’d had to journey a few km’s out of town to stay with Tomi and Maja we were so pleased we did to experience such wonderful hospitality.
We were also pleased to have Maja’s recommendation for lunch the following day at the cafe in the castle where we tried a typical Slovenian dish of pasta filled with potato in a lamb ragout, delicious, and kransky sausages with crispy mash and fresh horseradish.
Lunch came after a fantastic 2.5 hour free walking tour with Janis, a Ljubljana local and art historian who was a superb guide and shared animated stories with us about his city. The city is dominated by buildings designed by architect, Joze Plecnik, who’s designs are still be implemented today.
There are a number of lovely bridges connecting the city including the dragon bridge with impressive statues and the triple bridge from the main square.
We also visited the market where we sampled some local delicacies and came across a milk machine.
Maja had served us this fresh milk at breakfast. The milk stations arose when farmers rebelled against the supermarkets abysmal milk pricing and so they cut out the middle man.
You can take your empty bottle to a stationa and fill up with fresh milk delivered daily by the farmers, delish!
One of my favourite aspects is that the city centre is totally pedestrianised, great to stroll around with no cars.
Ljubljana is fairly flat so many people cycle along the many paths separated from the road. We were impressed with many cyclists skills – one woman cycling while eating an ice cream, one carrying a suitcase, a multitude with instruments strapped to their backs and one clever chap cycling along whole pushing another bike next to him!
Slovenian’s love to be outdoors and Maja told us that running, cycling and mountaineering are among their favourite sports. On walking home after our first day through Tivoli Park on the edge of the city we were also impressed by the skills of those on tightropes tied between two trees and enthusiastic paired yoga with men balancing women upside down on their feet!
For dinner the second night we had the typical fast food – bureks. This is a large pastry traditionally filled with cheese but you can also get them with meat or spinach. I preferred the spinach as the cheese was a little rich. This was followed by drinks at the riverbank (referred to as ‘the beach’ by the locals) where we enjoyed a local brew. We had to try Human Fish of which the IPA was called Combat Wombat!
Afterwards we went to the old army barracks which has been converted into an arts precinct which plays host to gigs and exhibitions with something different each night.
Tomorrow we’re off to Lake Bled but after just two days in Slovenia we are already loving it. Why Slovenia? It’s ridiculously scenic, it lends itself to outdoors activities, the people are generous and hospitable (and there’s not too many of them, no big crowds!) and the food and the wines are delicious. But shush, don’t tell everyone, we like the lack of tourists, send them to Slovakia or onwards to Croatia..