Finding Love in Slovenia on a Collette Guided Tour

Best places to visit in Slovenia

I found love in Slovenia — literally. Did you know that Slovenia is the only country in the world with the word “love” in its name? I didn’t know this until our Collette tour manager mentioned it when we visited this country in the Balkan region of Europe. And I’ve also learned since that Ljubljana (pronounced roughly loo·blee·aa·nuh), which we visited and is Slovenia’s largest city,  sounds like ljubljena, which means “beloved” in Slovenian.

Of course, when I’m traveling with Mr. TWS, love is everywhere.

Catherine Sweeney and Mr. Traveling with Sweeney at the heart sculpture on a dock at Lake Bled, Slovenia

Love is all around at Lake Bled

Highlights of Ljubljana and beyond

We really did love our time in Slovenia while on the “Taste of the Balkans” tour with Collette. It was the fourth country on our itinerary and our first- time visit.

Lovely Ljubljana

I love cities and Ljubljana is a city to love. This capital of Slovenia is full of history yet has a contemporary and vibrant feel. It struck me quickly as a city I’d like to get to know better. Its setting on the Ljubljana River, its architecture, and its cobblestone streets and squares add to a very romantic feel.

Preseren Square, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Prešeren Square

On a walking tour through the city center and the old town we got a great introduction to this beautiful old city and its cultural center while strolling along quiet tree-lined streets and through bustling squares with our knowledgeable local guide, a lifelong Ljubljana resident. Early on in the tour, we heard the pretty sounds of music coming from a nearby school. I felt it set a tone for the creative, art-filled city we were just getting to know.

City Center

Prešeren Square, Ljubljana’s central square, is named for Slovenian poet Dr. France Prešeren who is honored with a statue in the square (far right in the photo above). It is the heart of the city and a popular meeting place for locals. The pink 17th-century Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (on the left in the photo above) is a beautiful landmark and can also be helpful as a reference point while exploring the city.

Bike in square and Triple Bridge across Ljubljana River in Ljubljana, Slovenie

Bicyclist on Prešeren Square and pedestrians on the Triple Bridge across Ljubljana River

Eye-catching architecture, such as the Vurnik House (shown below), designed by architect Ivan Vurnik in 1921, is a significant feature of Ljubljana’s city center.

Vurnik House, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Vurnik House, Ljubljana

But most of Ljubljana’s notable buildings, bridges and other structures are the result of the work of early modern, minimalist Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik and were built between the two World Wars.

National and University Library designed by Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana, Slovenia

National and University Library designed by Jože Plečnik

Topping the list of his designs in the city are the Ljubljana Central Market (Plečnik’s Market) on the riverside, the Triple Bridge (three bridges across the Ljubljana River connecting the modern city at Prešeren Square and Old Town), and the National and University Library (considered to be his most important design in Slovenia). If you look closely in the photo above, you’ll notice that the upper story windows of the library are shaped like books.

Congress Square and Zvezda Park, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Congress Square and Zvezda Park

We noticed right away that there was a significant bicycle culture in Ljubljana. It was interesting to learn that Ljubljana was the winner of the European Commission’s Green Capital of Europe Award in 2016 for its goals and initiatives to improve the environment which include, among other things, its implementation of pedestrian and cyclist zones, and green urban areas.

Zvezda Park, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Zvezda Park at Congress Square

Old Town

Shops and restaurants on Ciril-Metodov trg near town hall, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Old Town shopping and restaurants near Town Hall and Ljubljana Cathedral

Crossing the Ljublana river from the city center, we entered Old Town. Key landmarks are Ljubljana Cathedral (seen in the photo above) and Town Hall (below) on the bustling Town Hall Square.

Ljubljana Town Hall -- Slovenia

Ljubljana Town Hall

Throughout the old town in the pedestrian zone are storefronts and restaurants with tables outside, small courtyards, and cobblestone passageways. You’ll find a wide variety of upscale international brands as well as specialized local shops.

Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle above the city center

Ljubljana Castle seen from Novi trg (New City Square) below

It’s a short ride on a funicular to the top of the 375m-high hill to the medieval Ljubljana Castle. The castle goes back to the early 11th century, but most of the buildings we see today are from the 16th – 17th centuries. After a day of sightseeing, we went to the top and enjoyed wine on the restaurant terrace with a few of our fellow tour members. There are other interesting aspects of the castle, including a museum and exhibitions, but on this beautiful fall day we just wanted to relax, soak up the ambiance, and take in the beautiful views and sunset.

View from Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia

View from Ljubljana Castle

Stumbling stones — remembering the victims

Along the streets of Ljubljana, keep a look out for “stumbling stones”, meaningful plaques placed in the pavement as remembrances of the more than 150 Jews (mostly from the Croatian area of the former Yugoslavia) who fled to Ljubljana from Nazi persecution in 1941. They were later deported to Italy and then transferred to concentration camps. The plaques are placed at the address of their last freely chosen residence. The Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) Project was started by German artist Günter Demnig in 1996 and can be found in over 1,200 cities.

Stumbling stone plaques in pavement in Ljubljana marking the addresses of Jews who had fled Nazi occupation

Stumbling stones on a Ljubljana sidewalk

A few Ljubljana tips

Ljubljana restaurant tips (where we ate): There are many tempting restaurants we would have loved to try if we’d had more time, such as those seen in the photo below. We’re very happy with the restaurant choices we made based on recommendations of our local guide and tour manager.

Riverfront restaurants in Ljubljana, Slovenia at night

Riverfront restaurants

Gostilna AS  at Čopova ulica 5a — There’s a cozy atmosphere inside with great Mediterranean dishes of renowned Chef Svetozar Raspopović Pope, such as the grilled sea bass that Mr. TWS enjoyed, as well as hearty plates like the special steak and potatoes offering that I indulged in. A nice outdoor terrace space also makes it very popular with locals.

Gostilna Sokol at Ciril-Metodov trg 18 (shown below) — Sokol is a Ljubljana landmark established in 1870. Mr. TWS had a mushroom soup that he loved so much he ordered a second bowl. I savored a hearty dish of sausages and sauerkraut.

Catherine Sweeney at Sokol Restaurant in Ljublana, Slovenia

Gostilna Sokol

Souvenir tip: Lace, wood, and chocolate are some of the specialty Slovenian products to shop for in Old Town. We sampled chocolates made with salt from the Piran salt pans on Slovenia’s Mediterranean coast. The art and craft of Idrija bobbin lacemaking (originating in Idrija, Slovenia) has been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. We happily hung an Idrija lace ornament on our Christmas tree this year for the first time. Handcrafted wooden products are also popular for gifts and souvenirs.

Hotel tip: We stayed at the stylish and contemporary Grand Plaza Hotel at Slovenska cesta 60. The convenient location gave us easy access to the old city and city center. It was less than a 10 minute walk to Prešeren Square.

Upscale and stylish reception of Grand Plaza Hotel in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Grand Plaza Hotel reception

The Lipizzans of Lipica

From our hotel in Ljubljana, we were driven about 50 miles by our Collette coach driver to the Lipica Stud Farm where the famous Lipizzan horses of the Habsburg Empire have been bred and trained since the 16th century.

The Lippizan white stallions in the pastures of Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia

Lipizzans in a Lipica Stud Farm pasture

The farm and its grounds consist of over 700 acres of beautiful pastures where the more than 300 Lipizzan horses can be found grazing. We had seen these beautiful animals in Vienna at the Spanish Riding School and now it was cool to see them here at the largest Lipizzan stud farm in the world.

A rider training a Lippizan horse in a corral at Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia

Lipizzan in training

The horses are trained for many years in the art of their trademark elegant and difficult movements. A great deal of trust develops between the horses and their riders which is critical to their performances.

Stables of Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia

Stables of Lipica Stud Farm

Did you know that although the Lipizzan horses we are familiar with are white, they are actually born dark in color? Our guide talked about interesting aspects of the horses like this as well as the history of the breed and the farm as she showed us around the grounds including a training corral and the stables.

Carriage led by Lippizan horses on a tree-lined lane at Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia

Carriage ride on a tree-lined lane at Lipica Stud Farm

On a carriage led by two white stallions we rode along the tree-lined lanes of the farm. We sat back and enjoyed the peaceful pastoral setting while listening to the clip-clop of the horseshoes in front. To top off our Lipica experience, the coachman dropped us off near an expansive lawn with wide views of the hills and countryside for a wonderful picnic lunch. We were served a plentiful and delicious spread of hams, cheeses, fish, and special juice drinks.

Table set for lunch outside at Lipica Stud Farm, Slovenia for our Collette tour group

Lunch setting with a view on the Lipica Stud Farm property

Gorgeous Lake Bled

Set below the Julian Alps of northwestern Slovenia about 35 miles from Ljubljana, glacier-formed Lake Bled is famous as a really stunning place on earth. There are beautiful scenes everywhere here, seemingly from every vantage point.

Lake Bled and Bled Island in Slovenia

Pletna boat on Lake Bled and Bled Island

Bled Island is reached on traditional boats of Bled called pletna, gondola-like boats propelled by a standing oarsman.

Oarsman on a pletna on Lake Bled, Slovenia

Oarsman on a pletna; Bled Island and the Church of the Assumption of Mary

Topping the island is the 17th-century Church of the Assumption of Mary, also known as the Chapel of St. Maria,  which was consecrated in 1142. The bell tower was added in the 17th century and you’ll the bell clang frequently as you explore the island. It is popular for tourists to pay a fee to ring it because legend has it that ringing the bell three times will make your wish come true.

Steps to the church on Bled Island, Slovenia

Steps to the church on Bled Island

From the dock, there are 99 steps to reach the church where there is also a cafe, shop, and more wonderful views of the lake and surrounding area.

Catherine Sweeney and Mr. TWS on Bled Island in Slovenia

With Mr. TWS on top of Bled Island

Although it wasn’t part of itinerary, it is also possible to visit the 12th-century Bled Castle (shown in the photos above and below).

Pletna boats on Lake Bled in Slovenia with Bled Castle in on a hilltop above the lake

Pletna boats on Lake Bled with Bled Castle on the hilltop above; Julian Alps in the background

I’m sure that Lake Bled is a great place to visit any time of year, but I really enjoyed being there in early fall.

Lake Bled in the fall season -- Path around Lake Bled, Slovenia

Pathway along Lake Bled

Getting around the lake tip: If you’ve go the time and inclination, you can walk around the entire lake in about an hour or take a horse and carriage ride.

Deliciousness tip: Don’t miss the chance to have a delectable taste of kremsnita at Lake Bled where this wonderful dessert was created in 1953 at the cake shop of Hotel Park. It’s an incredibly delicious cream and custard cake with a crisp crust, the recipe which goes back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is so delicious that I’ve had many cravings for it since we returned home.

Kremsnita cream cake at a restaurant in Lake Bled, Slovenia

Kremsnita cream cake at Park Café

WOW, Ljubljana! WOW, Slovenia! — Could this be love?

WOW Ljubljana installation in front of the Slovenian Tourist Information Centre in Ljubljana, Slovenia

WOW Ljubljana installation in front of the tourist office

As you’ve probably figured out from our previous social media and blog posts, we loved our tour of the Balkans with Collette. Thanks for the memories, Collette.

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What we loved about Slovenia on a Collette guided tour in the Balkans of Europe including Ljubljana, Lake Bled, and a visit to the Lipica Stud Farm

 

 

One thought on “Finding Love in Slovenia on a Collette Guided Tour

  1. Bola

    I didn’t know that Slovenia is the only country in the world with the word “love” in its name.

    I would love to cycle around Ljubljana to get a glimpse of this beautiful city.

    I very rarely hear about Slovenia and thanks for your insight.

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