10 reasons to travel to Ljubljana

Ljubljana travel
When I found cheap airfare from Istanbul to Ljubljana, I didn’t find many other travelers who’d been there or even say for sure which country it’s in. The tiny of country of Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey and its capital city isn’t known for much other than being difficult to spell and pronounce (say “lyoob-lyAH-nah”). After spending a few days there last month, I quickly fell madly in love with the city, and recommend to everyone to add to their travel list.

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Here are some reasons to love Ljubljana:

1. It’s Prague without the tourists – Ljubljana has been called the next Prague for at least the last 10 years, but the comparison is still apt. Architect Jože Plečnik is known for his work at Prague Castle, but he was born in Ljubljana and is responsible for much of the architecture in the old downtown and the Triple Bridge that practically defines the city. While Prague is a lovely place to visit, it’s overrun in summer with backpackers and tourists. In Ljubljana, the only English I heard was spoken with a Slovenian accent, and there were no lines at any of the city’s attractions.

2. Affordable Europe – While not as cheap as say, Bulgaria, Ljubljana is a lot easier on the wallet than other European capital cities and cheaper than most of its neighbors. I stayed in a perfect room above the cafe Macek in an ideal location for 65 euro a night. A huge three-course dinner for one with drinks at Lunch cafe was 20 euro, and a liter of local wine in the supermarket is around 3-4 euro. I paid 6 euro for entrance into 4 art museums for the Biennial, and the same for all of the castle, including the excellent Slovene history museum, and the funicular ride there and back.3. Everyone speaks English – Sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Everyone I met in Ljubljana spoke at least a few foreign languages including English; one supermarket cashier I met spoke six languages! While a language barrier shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a foreign country, it’s great when communication is seamless and you can get recommendations from nearly every local you meet.

4. A delicious melting pot – Slovenia’s location also means a tasty diversity of food; think Italian pastas and pizzas, Austrian meats, and Croatian fish. One waiter I spoke to bemoaned the fact that he could never get a decent meal in ITALY like he can in Slovenia. While I’d never doubt the wonders of Italian food, I did have several meals in Ljubljana so good I wanted to eat them all over again as soon as I finished. Standout spots include Lunch Cafe (aka Marley & Me) and it’s next-door neighbor Julija.

5. Great wine – Slovenia has a thriving wine culture, but most of their best stuff stays in the country. A glass of house wine at most cafes is sure to be tasty, and cost only a euro or two. Ljubljana has many wine bars and tasting rooms that are approachable, affordable, and unpretentious. Dvorni Wine Bar has an extensive list, and on a Tuesday afternoon, there were several other mothers with babies, businesspeople, and tourists having lunch. I’m already scheming when to book a stay in a vineyard cottage, with local wine on tap.

6. Al-fresco isn’t just for summer – During my visit in early November, temperatures were in the 50s but outdoor cafes along the river were still lined with people. Like here in Istanbul, most cafes put out heating lamps and blankets to keep diners warm, and like the Turks, Slovenians also enjoy their smoking, which may account for the increase in outdoor seating (smoking was banned indoors a few years ago). The city’s large and leafy Tivoli Park is beautiful year-round, with several good museums to duck into if you need refuge from the elements.

7. Boutique shopping – The biggest surprise of Ljubljana for me was how many lovely shops I found. From international chains like Mandarina Duck (fabulous luggage) and Camper (Spanish hipster shoes) to local boutiques like La Chocolate for, uh, chocolate and charming design shop Sisi, there was hardly a single shop I didn’t want to go into, and that was just around the Stari Trg, more shops are to be found around the river and out of the city center.

8. Easy airport – This may not be first on your list when choosing a destination, but it makes travel a lot easier. Arriving at Ljubljana’s airport, you’ll find little more than a snack bar and an ATM outside, but it’s simple to grab a local bus into town or a shared shuttle for a few euro more. Departing from Slovenia, security took only a few minutes to get through, wi-fi is free, and there’s a good selection of local goodies at Duty Free if you forgot to buy gifts. LJU has flights from much of western Europe, including EasyJet from Paris and London.

9. Access to other parts of country – While Ljubljana has plenty to do for a few days, the country is compact enough to make a change of scenery easy and fast. Skiers can hop a bus from the airport to Kranj in the Slovenian Alps, and postcard-pretty Lake Bled is under 2 hours from the capital. In the summer, it’s possible to avoid traffic going to the seaside and take a train to a spa resort or beach. There are also frequent international connections; there are 7 trains a day to Croatia’s capital Zagreb, and Venice is just over 3 hours by bus.

10. Help planning your visit – When I first began planning my trip, I sent a message to the Ljubljana tourism board, and got a quick response with a list of family-friendly hotels and apartments. Next I downloaded the always-excellent In Your Pocket guide, which not only has a free guide and app, it also has a very active Facebook community with up-to-the-minute event info, restaurant recommendations, deals, and more. On Twitter, you can get many questions answered by TakeMe2Slovenia and VisitLjubljana.

LivingSocial offers first volunteer vacation to New Orleans

Volunteer Vacation in New Orleans LivingSocial, the site that brings you discount deals on everything from microdermabrasions to movie tickets, has been offering travel deals as part of its LivingSocial Escapes branch since Fall 2010. Today, the company announced its first volunteer vacation opportunity – a curated trip to help Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.

For $265, travelers who want to do a little good while they visit the Big Easy will get a two-night stay for two in the French Quarter; one full day of volunteering on-site with Habitat for Humanity; transportation to the work site; and some meals. Reservations are available Monday through Friday (sorry, no weekend getaway!) and there are blackout dates every month through the deal’s expiration on December 31, so check the fine print before booking. The Big Easy Volunteer Vacation must be purchased before August 30, 2011.

The timing for the LivingSocial Escapes deal is impeccable: this week marks the sixth anniversary since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, devastating the city of New Orleans as well as wide swathes of coastline from Louisiana to Florida. While New Orleans has seen quite a rebirth since Katrina, as witnessed by Gadling’s Paul Brady this summer on his Traveling the American Road trip, the need for volunteers in the recovery effort remains. This volunteer weekend jaunt may be just the opportunity to give back while experiencing one of America’s great cities.

[Photo credit Madeline Fox on Flickr]

Labor Day island getaways from Wanderfly

labor day islandLabor Day is fast approaching along with the official end of summer. If you haven’t had enough sun yet, maybe it’s time for one more weekend of lying on the beach, fruity cocktail and fun book in hand? We asked our friends at Wanderfly.com, a web travel tool that helps you choose a vacation spot, for some Labor Day island getaways offering deals for the long weekend.

Domestic: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Hilton Head is a 45-minute drive from Savannah, Georgia (one of our favorite romantic destinations), with miles of public Atlantic beaches, dolphin cruises, and renowned golf courses. Not bringing your private yacht? ResortQuest will pay for your gas ($150 credit card) on Labor Day stays of 3 nights or more, plus free tennis and discounted golf.

Caribbean: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Feeling decisive? If you can book by tomorrow, you can save 35% on stays at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas. They’ll also throw in a free sunset sail and cocktails at their beach bar. Summer is the low season for most Caribbean islands, but a tropical weekend knows no season. Check out more of Wanderfly’s picks for St. Thomas here.

Europe: Iceland
So Iceland might not be known for sandy beaches or fruity cocktails, but relaxing in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon works pretty well too. Iceland Air is offering a free stopover in Iceland on flights booked to European cities such as Stockholm and Amsterdam. Just have time for one destination? Reykjavik is only about 5 hours from the East Coast with direct flights from New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Orlando, as well as Minneapolis and Seattle.

If you’ve had enough sun, Wanderfly has plenty of other travel ideas. Visit their site and tell them what you’re looking for (with interests from art to extreme adventure) and how much you want to spend and they’ll give you personalized recommendations. Stay tuned for more Labor Day travel ideas on Gadling.

Hilton Head Island photo courtesy Flickr user Lee Coursey.

Daily gear deal: Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi + 3G + free $25 gift card

Looking for a gift for Mothers Day, or just something to pamper yourself with? Amazon is selling the newest version of their popular eBook reader for $189.99, and throws in a free $25 Amazon gift card.

This Kindle is equipped with worldwide 3G support as well as Wi-Fi, so you’ll be able to update your book collection anywhere in the world.

To get the free gift card, you will have to add both the Kindle and the $25 card to your cart – there is no way to do this after you hit “buy”. Before you click “add to cart”, you’ll see the free $25 card listed under the “add accessories” header.

Once both items are in your cart, you’ll get two separate shipments – one with the Kindle and one with your gift card.

The product purchase page is here, which is also where you can learn more about the Kindle and its available books.

Daily gear deals: $5 Backpacker magazine subscription, $30 HD camcorder and more

daily gear deals

Here are Gadling’s hottest daily gear deals for today, Wednesday April 6, 2011. Remember, these deals are often valid for just one day, so act fast before they are gone.

Today’s first deal is for a one-year subscription to Backpacker magazine. On sale (auto-renewing) for just $5. Click here for this deal.

Next up is an amazing bargain on the Creative Vado HD camcorder. For just $29.99, you get the camcorder, a second battery, an HDMI cable, charger and several cases. This is over $150 off its normal retail price. Click here for this deal.

Today’s third deal is for a pair of Sony noise cancelling headphones. On sale for $32 and includes a carrying pouch and airplane plug adapter. Click here for this deal.

And finally in today’s lineup is the Motorola H870 noise cancelling Bluetooth headset. This headset is a step above most others on the market thanks to its active noise cancelling system. On sale for $18.99, click here for this deal.