Ljubljana Castle is the most visited attraction in Slovenia, and each year it marks the beginning of the tourist season with Castle Days (Grajski dnevi), a series of free and varied events to welcome you up the hill, including reative workshops for children, a “search for the dragon's treasure” a medieval encampment, a knights tournament, and tours, with lost for all the famly to enjoy. This year the event runs from Friday, 17 May, to Sunday, 19 May, with most of the action being on the last day, from 10:00 to 18:00, when the Castle’s many attractions will be open to all.
Access to all the events is free, but some require a ticket as space is limited. These can be obtained from May 13 from the entry pavilion of the Castle and at the lower station of the cable car / funicular on Krekov trg, next to the Puppet Theatre, with one person able to get up to four free tickets at a time. During Castle Days there will also be a discount on funicular tickets.
Related: Ten Ways to Enjoy Ljubljana Castle
Be warned that many of the tours, including those for children, appear to be in Slovenian, which is why we’re not translating the details (found here). That said, the tours are only one aspect of the mini-festival, which will include a knights’ school for children (Saturday, 14:30), axe throwing, a medieval encampment (Sunday, 10:00 to 18:00), and this lively event is great way to see the building that has watched over the city for centuries, and to get in a holiday mood.
Slovenia has three wine regions. Podravje (the Drava Region), to the northeast; Posavje (the Sava Region) in the southeast; and Primorje (the Littoral), in the west, by the coast and Italy, including the famed Goriška Brda. The country also has seven native wine varieties: ranfol, žametna črnina (aka Blauer Kölner), rumeni plavec, zelen, pinela, vitovska grganja and rebula.
But I didn’t know that before I attended this event, organised by WineTasting Ljubljana. Or if I once did, briefly while the words flashed before my eyes or rung in my ears, then I forget. I only know it now because I took notes.
I am not, to be honest, much a of wine person. I like a few glasses when it’s offered with food, and I’m pretty open to the flavours, although my preference is for white – it doesn’t stain my mouth – and for sparkling wine (penina) whenever possible, because I like cold drinks with bubbles.
The wine celler under Dvorni Bar
So in some ways I’m the ideal person for the wine tastings offered each evening by Wine Tasting Ljubljana. These don’t take you deep into one variety, but instead offer a tour of the country’s viticulture in seven glasses, one for each of the native varieties, with your guide (in my case the sommelier Boris Vukobrat), talking your through the experience.
Or as Boris put it: “You will drink, I will tell you stories.”
Boris - "The problem with Slovenian wine isn't quality, it's quantity. We don't really produce enough to export, so the best place to drink it is Slovenia."
The tastings take place in a 300-year old wine cellar beneath Dvorni Bar, just off Kongresni trg / Zvezda Park, and last for about 90 minutes. Whatever the weather outside, down in the cellar it’s cool and dim, with low lighting and candles giving the event a sense of occasion. There’s a map on the wall that Boris uses to show where the bottles come from, and some snacks on the table – cheese, olives, dried fruit, nuts, and pumpkin oil – to complement the wines, along some water and bread to cleanse the palate.
Boris knows his stuff, and also runs the same events in Bled, so I learned a lot. The evening starts with a light white, rebula, the kind of that’s dangerous because the low acidity means you can easily drink too much. It then moves to heavier whites, through a surprise wine (which we taste blindfolded), then into heavier reds, and ends with a dessert wine.
When each is poured, but before you drink it, Boris explains the some of the history and present of the wine, it’s relationship with the land, what to look out for when sampling it, and some suggested food pairings. You take your time and hold the glass up the light, swirl it around to see “the legs”, inhale the aromas – if there’s no vanilla, it was stored in steel; if there’s vanilla then in oak; if it smells like petrol then you’re drinking Riesling (one hopes). You’ll also learn some practical tips, perhaps the most important being that a low sulphur content means less risk of a hangover.
If you’re like me, and tend to drink too fast, anxious to find whatever magic is hiding at the bottom of a bottle, then the experience is a novel and enjoyable one. It’s nice to take things slow and have your hand held, to have someone help you stop and smell the flowers, vanilla, grapefruit, blackcurrant, lychee or gasoline, with one part of the tasting being a round of smelling certain concentrated aromas and trying to guess what they are. Being told the story of the wine and what to look out for before sampling it also primes you to be more attentive, to savour each inhalation or sip – to get more out of wine, and thus more out of life.
The glasses aren’t full pours, and you’re unlikely to get drunk, but if attending a 17:00 tasting you’ll leave at around 18:30 with a pleasant warmth, more joy and greater enthusiasm, making this a great start to a longer evening of fun. You’ll also have been taken on a short tour Slovenian wine varieties and regions without having to leave the centre of Ljubljana, and be able to order a glass or a bottle with more confidence.
To that end, Dvorni Bar itself, where the cellar and tastings are located, is a great place to carry out more in-depth research, with hundreds if not thousands of bottles. (I had a tiny after-wedding party there, spent over €400 and remember nothing but my wife’s name, but next time I’ll take notes.)
All our stories on wine in Slovenia can be found here
STA, 2 May 2019 - The international urban initiative Jane's Walk, which promotes walking and responsible city planning, will again also be embraced by several Slovenian cities this year.
Special guided tours, lasting roughly an hour and half and offering people a chance to explore hidden corners of cities, are scheduled throughout May and have been confirmed for 18 cities around the country so far.
Ljubljana's Upper Šiška borough will for instance already be explored this Sunday, while two more tours will be organised in the capital.
Interesting small towns such as Tolmin, Litija, Črnomelj or Dravograd are also joining the initiative, which is coordinated in Slovenia by the Institute for Spatial Policies (Inštitut za politike prostora –IPoP), an urban planning NGO. A detailed list of the walks can be found on IPoP's website.
Named after Canadian activist Jane Jacobs, Jane's Walks are a global movement launched in 2007 and organised in Slovenia since 2011.
The free, citizen-led walking tours get people to tell stories about their communities, explore their cities, and connect with neighbours. They are also meant to stimulate reflection on existing and potential planning solutions.
The international website for Jane’s Walks, in English, is here
STA, 23 April 2019 - The Slovenian capital will host music greats yet again this summer as the Ljubljana Festival opens its doors on 2 July. The biggest names in the line-up include Zubin Mehta, Sergei Krylov and Svetlana Zakharovna.
Before the official start, tenor Placido Domingo will conduct Verdi's momentous Requiem on 17 June. The performance will feature solos by soprano Elvira Hasanagić, tenor Arturo Chacon-Cruz and basso Roberto Tagliavini. They will be accompanied by the Slovenian Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra and the Chorus of the SNG Opera and Ballet Ljubljana.
A performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, one of the most well-known and most often performed operas in history, will officially open the festival. It will be a co-production between the Ljubljana Festival, the Croatian National Theatre in Split, the Slovenian Philharmonic and the SNG Maribor. Director Dražen Siriščević is said to have included several Lipizzaners in the performance.
Special emphasis focus will be on orchestras, of which the most notable will be the closing concert of the festival by the Israeli Philharmonic, conducted by the famed Zubin Mehta, the organisers told the press on Tuesday.
Other guests include Russian prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharovna, Italian contemporary dance company Arterballetto, Turin's Teatro Regio Theatre performing Verdi's Traviata, the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra featuring Day Lin, the Seongnam Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Sergei Krylov on violin, the Munich Radio Orchestra, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ivan Repušić.
There will be no shortage of solo performances, including by violinists Massimo Quarto and Alen Baev, flautist Massimo Mercelli and pianist Vadim Kolodenko.
STA, 29 April 2019 - One of the two main road links with the Austrian state of Carinthia, the Tržič-Ljubelj road, will be closed for around a month and a half due to rockslide prevention measures, the Infrastructure Agency has announced. An increased volume of traffic is thus expected at the Karavanke motorway tunnel, which will serve as a detour.
The road was closed after a part of it was hit by a minor rockslide on Sunday, exposing the danger of potential future rockslides, including a number of crisis points and gaps.
The precaution works will be carried out in the area of 450 metres along the slope overlooking the road, costing some EUR 1m.
The detour is arranged through the Karavanke tunnel and the Jezersko pass.
In a result that will shock followers of #igslovenia, the global travel site Big 7 Travel (part of Big 7 Media) has put together a list of the “Europe’s Most Instagrammable Places 2019”, with the sites / sight chosen for “theirvisual allure and popularity on social media”. Big 7 chose the winners using a comprehensive scoring system that analysed the amount of hashtags per destination, along with the survey results of Big 7 Media’s 1.5 million audience and the votes cast by a panel of travel experts.
With Slovenia at #13 – and the reminder that the best place to find the best curated images of Slovenia is at IG Slovenia, on their website, Facebook or Instagram – the top 10 list is as follows, while the top 50 can be seen here:
Big 7 Media also carried out a survey to find out the effects of Instagram of people’s travel habits. The results showed that 67% of people surveyed said they have visited a new destination after seeing it on Instagram, while 61% of people have booked a specific hotel after seeing it on the same social media platform. Moreover, 33% of people surveyed said they research holiday destinations via their Instagram feed. with the the most popular travel content on the site being “Bucket List” experiences and luxury hotels.
We previously highlighted Ljubljana by Wheelchair, an app that takes a look at the city through the eyes of those with disabilities, and notes places that are more accessible and have facilities for use by the less mobile.
But what about elsewhere in Slovenia? For that the same team have produced a website, pridem.si, with pridem meaning “I’ll be there”. This runs in both Slovenian and English, and is searchable by town and category, with the latter including driving schools, gas stations, Eurokey bathrooms, restaurants, pubs, sports facilities, entertainment, tourist attractions, healthcare, shops, services, culture and more, all assessed using the following criteria.
There’s a Facebook group, and you can also help develop the site itself, adding new locations along with details of the facilities on offer. So if you know of a place that’s working to serve all members of the community, and deserves more attention, then do add it to pridem.si.
The site Ex-Yu Aviation reports that Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport saw it’s third month in a row with rising passenger numbers, with the figures for March 2019 up 3% on a year before, and a total of 133,641 travellers served. In contrast, SHS Aviation, the Chinese-owned operator of Maribor Edvard Rusjan Airport, will end its involvement with the troubled airport on July 15 2019.
SHS, which had planned to make the airport a hub for Chinese tourists, signed a 15-year agreeement for the concession in March 2017. However, it has been unhappy with delays by the Slovenian government in agreeing a new zoning plan that would have enabled it to invest €600 million in a redevelopment project, as well as the rejection of requests for state aid.
Maribor Airport has been without any scheduled commercial flights since September 2018.
All our stories on air travel are here
If visitors to Slovenia go to only one place outside the capital then it’s almost certainly to the picture perfect, chocolate box location of Lake Bled, famed for the views of the church on the island, castle on the hill, and kremšnita on the plate.
While four hours is just about enough to do it all, if you move fast, a day is recommended if you enjoy walking in the open air, and two days if you really want to soak it all in and see a little more of what the site has to offer, which includes swimming in summer, skiing and ice-skating in winter, and fairlytale views all the time.
The list of essentials around Lake Bled is fairly short and obvious. You’ll want to get good view of the castle and island, visit the island, and eat a kremšnita.
When it comes to the lake all eyes are on the island, with the Church of the Assumption of Mary (Cerkev Marijinega vnebovzetja). This was built in the 17th century and is approached via 99 steps that grooms are supposed to carry their brides up, with the island and Castle here being popular wedding spots. If no one’s getting married on your visit then do go inside and look around. You can also try ringing the bell three times for good luck, something you’ll hear others do throughout your visit.
You don’t need to pay to visit the island, so well done if you choose to swim there or bring your own canoe, but there is a fee if you want to enter the church and bell tower, currently €6 for adults, 4 for students and seniors, 1 for children, and 12 for families. Other places to explore on the island include the chaplain's house, provost's house, and a small hermitage – more than enough to make the trip across the water worthwhile, whether or not you have a wedding to attend.
The most touristy way to get to the island – not that there’s anything wrong with that – is via a traditional Pletna boat, powered by an oarsman who stands up (currently €15 return for adults, €8 for children), with these leaving from the Health Park, Hotel Park and the rowing centre (for more locations, see here). If you want to hire a kayak, rowboat or stand-up paddleboard, then Google will help, while if you come in winter the lake might be frozen, and you can simply walk or skate across (at your own risk, of course)
That said, you won’t get a good view of the island from the island, for that you’ll want to get up above the water. If you fancy a a short hike, of between 45 minutes to an hour in each direction, then three popular spots for this are the 611 m hill known as Ojstrica, or Osojnica’s two viewing areas, Mala (Small) at 685 m and Veliki (Big) at 756 m.
Source: Google image search
These are where you see a lot of Instagram shots, and you can find out how to take a picture like the ones above here. However, with about 90 minutes to two hours for the round trip you might want to find other options if just here for a short visit.
In which case, don’t worry, the view from Bled Castle is just as good. What’s more, if you’re really pressed for time then the short drive, bus ride or 15-minute walk up the hill will let you kill two or three birds with one stone – see the Castle, get the view, and eat one of those cakes, which we’ll get to, I promise.
The Castle, set atop a 130 m cliff, first appears in written records in 1011, and over the years the various owners have made their own changes to the property, making it the attractive mix of styles you’ll see today. Entrance costs €11 for adults, 7 for students and 5 for children enter (although free if you book a table at the restaurant), and inside you’ll find a museum, wine cellar, forge, printing press, chapel, knights’ hall restaurant, souvenir store and yet more impressive views of the area, which are not limited to those of the island.
Not every place has a “must eat” dish, but Bled surely does, and – as noted above – it’s kremšnita, which you’ll find everywhere. This is a truly delicious slab of custard, cream and pastry, perhaps best enjoyed with a cup of coffee. Another dish to consider, and before the kremšnita if you have enough time, would be fish from the lake.
If you’d like to make your own kremšnita, then you can see our recipe here. It failed, in part, but you can learn from our mistakes and / or simply appreciate the craft that goes into making “the real thing”.
If you stay longer, and there are plenty hotels where you can spend the night, then you can really explore the area. In this regard hikers are in for a treat, with many paths and trails offering stunning views in the surrounding hills, or you can keep close to the water and follow the 6 km trail around the lake.
Turning back to the lake itself,and season permitting, fishing is allowed, with Bled recently listed among the “ten best fishing holidays in Europe”.
While we’re on the subject of “best of” lists, golfers should note that in 2018 Royal Bled was added to the list of “best and most beautiful courses”, which is hardly surprising when you consider the views on offer as you walk from hole to hole.
Finally, if you’be spent a day or two exploring the area then consider taking a soak in one of the many spas in the town, with the water coming from the natural hot springs on the north-east side of the lake. In short, Bled offers much more than a cake with a view, and will reward visitors who choose to stay a day or two longer than most.
If you want to keep up with all the news about the area, including the things they don’t tell the tourists, then you can do that here, while if you want to visit the local tourist centre’s website to find out about the latest offers, then you can find that here.
STA, 2 April 2019 - Visitors to the famous Postojnska Jama caves will be able to access yet another well- hidden secret as of today, but this time of a very different kind. A museum of eavesdropping will open at Jama Hotel right next to the caves after a "non-existing" phone surveillance nest of the communist secret police was discovered during renovation works.
The premises of the complex, which looks very much like a former spying hub, number several rooms and can also be accessed from the caves. They were discovered only in 2017, as they were reportedly not drawn in the hotel's original plans.
Jama Hotel was built during a Yugoslav boom period in 1971 and welcomed many a political leader from around the world. It was left to dilapidate after the breakup of Yugoslavia but was saved and reopened a few years ago.
According to Marjan Batagelj, the general manager of tourism firm Postojnska Jama, one of the side entries to the hotel oddly stood out after renovation, since its door had failed to get replaced.
Hiding behind the door was a world from the past, equipped with furniture from the 1970s, boxes for storing tapes, and phone tapping terminals connected to the hotel's lines and way beyond.
The police were the first to examine the premises, followed by employees of the Slovenian national intelligence agency SOVA and of the national archives.
The equipment and furniture were left behind, while the documentation was taken to the archives with copies made for the needs of the museum.
Visitors will be able to listen to selected recordings and to an audio guide about what is believed to have happened in these rooms. Only six people will be able to visit at a time.
"It is not up to us to look for the truth. We decided to bring in experts and let them explain how this equipment works. If we have no evidence - with the exception of a single army tape - we cannot say that these rooms were used for eavesdropping," Batagelj told the press on Monday, adding visitors would be able to reach a conclusion on their own.
The website to learn more about the tour is here
Part of the appeal of Slovenia as a destination is the remarkable variety of landscapes, climates, cuisines and cultural heritage packed into a relatively small area, due to the young nation’s position at the crossroads of north, south, east and west Europe. Piran, and the Slovenian coastal region of Istria in general, is a fine example of this, giving the country and access to the Adriatic as well as an area famed for its wines, olives, persimmons, seafood, architecture and – on occasion – wind (known as the burja or bora). For both short-term visitors and life-long residents of Slovenia it represents an escape from the inland and the chance to enter another, more Venetian world, an opportunity that should be seized whenever possible.
We thus present a short guide to spending from four to 48 hours in Piran, with a choice of sights and activities that isn’t meant to be exhaustive, or exhausting, but rather a simple presentation of things to see and do that’ll let you say: “Yes, I’ve been to Piran, and I loved it”.
The town is an old Venetian settlement, ruled by the lagoon-based city state from 1283 to 1797, and this history can still be seen in many of the more notable buildings. The town’s proximity to Italy also means that Piran, or Pirano, is essentially bilingual, as seen in the two languages on the signs and often heard in the accented dialect of locals. The best place to see Venetian architecture is in the Old Town, basically the whole of touristic Piran, which can easily be explored on foot in a few of hours – it’s mostly pedestrianised – with breaks for cafés, light shopping and food.
Notable buildings include the Benecanka Casa Veneziana Pirano, aka the Venetian House, now a boutique hotel, but one that you can still enjoy from the outside. It’s long been a tourist attraction, as seen in the postcard below, and is said to have been built by a Venetian merchant for a local women he fell in love with.
Postcard of the Venetian House, 1914. Source: Wikipedia
Venetian House can be found on the edge of Tartini Square, named after the composer Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), the first recorded owner of a Stradivarius. As old as it may look, this square is relatively recent. It was an open dock until 1894, when – the locals having grown sick of the smell of the sewage and waste that floated in the waters – it was filled in, with the statue of Tartini being placed there two years later.
Photo of the dock that became Tartini Square, taken in the late 19th century, with Venetian House roughly in the middle. Source: Wikipedia
Postcard of Tartini Square in 1915. You can see the Venetian House behind the two men. Source: Wikipedia
Tartini Square in 200. Source: Wikimedia - © Plamen Agov • studiolemontree.com CC by 3.0. You can see more old photos of the square here.
It’s from this square that you can see another icon of Piran, the statue of the Archangel Michael, which for a little over 250 years has been sitting atop the church of St George, moving to show the direction of the wind to the town’s seafaring residents. (It was taken down for a short time 2018, for some much needed repairs)
St Michael. Screenshot from YouTube
Another structure to seek out are the Cloisters of Saint Francis Monastery, a place that still houses Franciscan monks and one that’s known for having great acoustics. For that reason it hosts the Piran Music Evenings and Tartini Festival, with the latter taking place late summer (this year, 2019, from August 22 to September 9), with the official website here.
The Cloisters. Wikimedia - Isiwal CC-by-4.0
Before or after your walk around town you might want to sunbathe or swim, and you can do so at various spots, with some of what to expect (no sand) shown in the following video from Korea.
Once you’ve seen the Old Town and bathed in the sun and/or the sea, you might want to take in some more of the related cultural and touristic offerings. These include the Sergej Mašera Maritime Museum, Piran Aquarium and the Museum of Underwater Activities(website down, at the time of writing), all of which offer what the names suggest. You can also find details of upcoming festivals, concerts and other events in Piran here.
If you’re spending longer in Piran then you might want to see a little more of the coast, that 47-km of Slovenia that separates Croatia from Italy. Within walking distance, or an easy cycle, drive, taxi or bus ride, is Portorož, a Riviera-style resort town with a very different feel to the Venetian peninsula. It’s here you’ll find casinos and beaches with recliners and umbrellas, with everything from top hotels and classy restaurants and a marina to pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap stores selling flip-flops, sunhats, sunglasses, inflatable items and so on. It’s not for everyone, but then neither is climbing Mount Triglav, so if it sounds interesting to you then take a look.
If you want to see more of the Venetian side of the coast then head on to Izola, although only if you haven’t been to Piran first. Meanwhile, the economic centre of the Slovenian Istria (aka Primorska) is the port town of Koper. While a little more developed than its neighbours, it still has another charming Venetian Old Town to explore.
Two areas that are more untouched, and where you’ll probably want to take your own food and drink, are Strunjan and Debeli rtič. Strunjan is a coastal nature reserve with many paths and trails for walking, hiking and biking, and the ideal place to get away from the crowds and ice sellers for a few hours. You can read our more detailed guide to this hidden treasure on coast here. A similar kind of experience can be had at Debeli rtič.
Piran is known for its salt pans, once the source of its wealth, and these are still in business, producing the famed local fleur de sel. Even if you don’t make the trip to see the seawater evaporating leaving these precious crystals, you’ll find stores all over town selling the stuff, both as a cooking ingredient and in various other preparation. Not made in Piran itself, but still in Slovenian Istria (aka Primorska or the Littoral), you might want to look out for local wines and produce. Wines offer include the red Refosco and white Malvazija, although there are also many other varieties and blends to enjoy, as outlined in this earlier article, while olives and PDO designated olive oil are produced nearby and are worth picking up or seeking out in restaurants.
As noted above, the region produces plenty of very drinkable wines, and often at prices lower than they’d command if they came with an Italian name, so do explore these if a fan of the grape. With regard to food, since you’re by the coast you should take the chance to check out the seafood restaurants. You’re also next to Italy, so don’t feel like you’re betraying Slovenia if you order some pasta and gelato.
If you’d like to learn more about Piran, including the stories that don’t make it into the tourist guides, then you can find all our articles on the town here