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Sightseeing and Shopping in Slovenia’s First Capital
I went on a tour around Llubljana to find out why it received the title European Capital of Culture 2012. Slovenia is a slip of a country in what used to be the old Yugoslavia, bordered by Trieste in Northern Italy, Croatia and Hungary. Since the country became independent in 1991, at the same time as Croatia, it has held on to 26 different dialects. Strangely, the Dragon has become a National Symbol after the Myth of Jason and the Argonauts. It’s a fairy tale land of beguiling beauty, with the capital Llubljana a masterpiece of baroque and renaissance architecture, captivating squares and mesmorising bridges that convey a pre-occupation with romance.
It’s said by some that Llubljana is a marriage between Vienna and Prague, with an Italian lover. With its turbulent past, and influences from the Romans, Medieval and Ottoman Empire, it’s not a surprise that its’ rich tapestry remains vibrantly alive today. Around every corner and in every square in Llubljana is a reminder to those who have visited, conquered and fallen in love here. All the squares tell a story, with their statues of Napoleon, Adam and Eve, and Slovenia’s most revered poet France Preseren (1800-1849) serenading his muse. Even one of the 3 bridges is lined with engraved padlocks left by couples who have thrown the keys into the river as a symbol of their everlasting love.
Café society is a way of life in Llubljana, and cocktails and dining in the many restaurants along the river is a favourite pre-occupation. Where Summer evenings comfortably top the high 20’s, the charming characteristics of this relaxed city favour al fresco dining, expecially with the views that riverside dining provide. Many cocktail bars and restaurants play boogie woogie jazz and Dixieland to inject even more laid back sophistication to the setting.
The fortress perched on the top of the hill is one of the must see places to get an amazing bird’s eye view of the spectacular architecture of this city. The funicular regularly runs to take you to the top, or for the more cardio inclined, you can climb up the hill on foot. There is also a tourist train that runs 20 minutes past the hour from the castle, down to the centre on Streliskar Street. Built in the 15th Century, its’ main purpose was to defend against the numerous Turkish invasions of the 15th and 16th Century. The castle courtyard has a restaurant and café, that lets you take a breath ( if you walked up the hill) and browse the art exhibitions that take place here and in the castle turrets for free. Guided tours run regularly throughout the day until late September to find out about the history of the castle, and during the Summer Season open-air concerts, movie screenings and Medieval Days frequently take place.
The preferred mode of transport has to be the Cavalier – the Slovenian equivalent of the Rikshaw, except that it is free. In the warmer months, this is a pleasant way to enjoy getting about the city. Bikes are also very popular, with their equivalent of Boris Bikes lined up around the city. City guides clearly mark rent a bike points. When it comes to taxis, negotiate to get the cheapest price. Some taxi companies have free telephone numbers. The recommended cheapest taxi company is Metro.
Where to Stay
Grand Hotel Union
This Art Nouveau hotel, that retains the original grandeur of when it was first built in 1905, is the perfect standpoint to visit the highlights of Slovenia’s first capital. With so much to see in the city, the comfort and service of this hotel provides the perfect indulgence for sightseeing and shopping enthusiasts. With its 63 double rooms, 8 single rooms, and 3 executive suites, this hotel has a reputation for being a favourite with filmstars, royalty and politicians, with past guests including President Clinton, HRH Elizabeth II and Prince Albert of Monaco.
You can either do a long weekend shopping trip with 3 nights for the price of 2 for under £400 otherwise prices vary from the nightly rate of £500 for an executive suite.