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Stories from our Travelers

'Love' Ljubljana, Slovenia

Father and son on a Saturday morning ride in old town

Bike locks as art installation on a bridge rail over the Ljubljanica

Cafes along the river walk
[From Winter 2011] The print advertising campaign for Slovenia's tourism department reads "I feel love Slovenia," accent on the love nestled in the middle of the country's name. The creative minds behind the campaign couldn't have been more right. There are so many things to love about this jewel box of a country - once part of Yugoslavia - then and now a world apart from its neighbors.

My husband and I had spent an extended week in Venice with friends, and decided to take a two-day side trip east through Italy's Veneto region, dotted with vines for the ubiquitous prosecco, on through Friuli-Venezia Giulia and its alpine peaks, into Slovenia, and eventually arriving at its capital, Ljubljana. The entire drive, including a few unplanned detours, took a little over 3 hours. And we were in the slow lane on Italy's autostrada, averaging 130 kph, in a zippy Fiat Punto rental.

Getting to Slovenia is not that simple, and for now that suits me. We barely heard American English spoken during our off-season visit. But that could change quickly as Ljubljana expands its international airport. In the meantime, to get from Venice to Ljubljana, we had limited options: a connecting flight through Berlin at several hours and several hundred dollars; a middle-of-the-night only train ride; or a rental car. We chose the drive option. Even for non-European travelers, air travel to Slovenia's capital involves connections in major European hubs. But once there, the country is easy to navigate and offers a wide range of activities year round, including hiking, skiing and cycling. On a future trip, we'll explore the country. With just two days this time, we chose to stay in Ljubljana and enjoy the love.

I loved the fact that Ljubljana has one of the youngest, coolest, friendliest, best looking and most fashionable populations I've encountered. Everyone here seems to have been raised or born in the warm light of post-communism. But unlike some other former eastern bloc countries, Slovenia seems prosperous and forward-thinking. The Hapsburg-era buildings in Ljubljana sparkle in the sunlight, and at night in the lights reflected off the Ljubljanica River. Along the river, cafes line cobbled pedestrian-and bicycle-only walkways. And day and night, young Slovenes, families with young children and international visitors drink coffee, prosecco, and Slovenian wine. Even in the chill of autumn, everyone is outdoors. Cafe chairs are draped with soft blankets to wrap up in and linger, talk, people-watch and feel the cool breezes through the weeping willows along the river bank. Bicycles are a preferred form of transportation, and designated bike lanes and traffic signals wind throughout the city center. Everyone is an expert city cyclist, riding tall, fast and fashionably through the urban crowd.

The Saturday market in a square along the river is bustling with produce, cheese and flower sellers. Music fills the square and in between fruit and cheese stops, shoppers pause for a pint of Lasko beer and visits with friends. During our visit, in another square across the river, BMW had staged a new car demonstration, with models and deejays spinning into the night.

For a city of about 250,000 people, shopping for fashion, design and art rivals larger cities. The compact shopping district is filled with European designer brands and only-in-Slovenia emerging designers. But we were on a mission to find artist and designer Tanja Pak, whose glass art installations and tabletop glassware we'd read about before our trip. We spent more than an hour with Tanja as she told us a bit about the Slovenian people, their work ethic, and their long ties to western Europe. Of course, we came away with one of her designs, an opaque white glass tear drop. During our conversation, we learned that Tanja will do an artist in residence program in our city, Santa Fe, New Mexico, next year. We hope to meet up with her again. Tanja's art is the perfect metaphor for Slovenia: contemporary, gorgeous, sparkling.

If You Go:
While in Ljubljana, we stayed at the Slamic B&B , a newly renovated small hotel just minutes walk from the old town center. The hotel is staffed by a young, good-looking team ready to offer dining and sight-seeing suggestions, as well as whip up frothy cappuccinos in the small coffee/tea house at the hotel's entrance. Slamic B & B. Doubles from 95 euro. Tanja Pak is open during the week and by appointment on the weekends. Be sure to visit her while in Ljubljana, Tanja Pak. For more information on Slovenia, see Visit Slovenia.

Story and photos by Melissa Cicci

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