Short break: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Swathed in forest and surrounded by Alpine peaks, Ljubljana is green in more ways than one, finds Chris Moss, as he explores Slovenia’s newly crowned eco-capital…

Chris Moss
11 July 2016

The train hissed slowly into Ljubljana. On the way from Salzburg I had passed Alpine valleys melting and budding in the first sunshine of the year. It was the perfect introduction to Slovenia’s lush capital. Leaving the station, I took one of the city’s kavalirs – free electric buggies – to my hotel in the car-free city centre and breathed deeply.

The speed here was lively but not hectic, with most people either drinking on terrace cafés or strolling the banks of the Ljubljanica river. Cyclists came and went, travelling at what I call ‘European urban speed’ – considerate, kind, calm. None of your head-to-toe Lycra-clad London cyclists here.

A short walk from my hotel – Ljubljana is the size of a small town – took me under willow trees, past the statue of revered national poet France Prešeren to the restaurant AS Aperitivo. Here I dined on sea bass caught in the Adriatic, served with malvasia wine made by its Montenegrin owner, ‘Pops’.

If all that sounds a bit ‘green’ – well, it was only fitting. Ljubljana was named the European Green Capital for 2016, an award given to the city with the most environmental savvy. Previous winners include Stockholm and Bristol, both known for their creative approaches to raising eco-awareness.

The city was founded in the 13th century as a trading hub for the Habsburg empire and lies on marshland. Canals have been dug and areas drained to make Ljubljana arable, but its suburban sprawl is small, limited by flood-prone plains to the south and mountains to the west and north.

In the capital itself, the riverbank, designed by city father and visionary planner Jože Plečnik, is officially designated a ‘public good’ – for relaxing, walks and nature. Grey herons wander its centre, while nutria (a large river rodent) bask on the steps beside the water. There are no posh apartment blocks here, no off-limits corporate areas.

Green capitals come and go, and for some cities a year in the spotlight – or sunshine – is more about image than substance. But Ljubljana has already exceeded the EU’s 2020 recycling targets by 10 percent. What’s more: in 2015, more than 1.6 million journeys were taken using BicikeLJ, the local bike-sharing system.

For active travellers, Ljubljana can easily be discovered on two feet, by bike, in a kayak or even on a paddleboard – the quiet, clean kavalirs take care of all other needs. Then, once the heart feels healthy and the muscles lean, there are some fine small museums and galleries to seek out, as well as mellow botanical gardens and parks, great local dining and a mountain range on your doorstep. Just breathe deep and explore.

Essential Info

Day 1: Two millennia on two wheels

Day 2: A Castle, culinary delights and kayaking

Day 3: Alpine adventure

Dedicate your last day to exploring the lower slopes of the Kamnik- Savinja Alps, a mountain range with 20-plus peaks topping 2,000m that lies just 50km north of Ljubljana.

Take the train from Ljubljana to Kamnik (35 min) and catch a taxi to Kamnik-Savinja, or book a guide with the Kamnik tourist board. On arrival, ride in an enclosed cable car before taking a chairlift up to 1,666m, rising over the flat-topped Velika Planina and enjoying sweeping views over the steep-sided valley.

At the top, wander wooden huts used by local shepherds during the warmer months. There are also chalets nearby that have the same rustic architecture, but come fitted with kitchens and even saunas, and there’s good skiing here in winter.

After an hour’s stroll, walk down the mountain to catch the cable car to the bottom. It’s then a ten-minute drive to the Kamniška Bistrica river for a walk following fast-flowing waters deep into a rocky gorge.

Much of the trail is in the shade of pine trees, and there is a moving memorial park dedicated to all the Slovenian mountaineers. After a one- or two-hour hike, finish back in town with dinner at Repnik Inn, and sample some local craft beers.

Main Image: Dragon’s bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia (Shutterstock)

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