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.

Video of the Day: Urban skiiing

Despite the oddly warm weather we’re experiencing in the Northeast right now, it is technically the start of ski season is many part of the country. However, it can be difficult to get to a proper ski destination whether due to finances, lack of time or friends who flake on planned trips. Well, this skier didn’t go anywhere but his own neighborhood to hit the slopes. He crosses streets, jumps cars and catches a local bus all while careening downhill on his skis. Granted, he’s in British Columbia, so he’s probably pretty close to some decent ski runs, but this is still a residential “trail.” We don’t recommend that you try this in your neighborhood.

Calling all single snow bunnies: Speed dating hits the slopes this Winter

bristol mountainWant to find love by trying something a little out of the ordinary this winter?

Bristol Mountain in the Finger Lakes region of New York has come up with a way to help singles find a compatible ski buddy…and maybe even the love of their life. On January 14 and February 11, 2012, single skiers can sign up for Ski Dating, which includes three, 45 minute ski or snowboarding dates with three potential matches. And to get daters in the mood for romance and help them get to know each other, Bristol Mountain will host a wine and cheese mixer before hitting the slopes.

If you’re interested in attending one of these sessions, pre-registration is required. The price is $15 and does not include life tickets or ski rentals. For more information click here.

ItaliaOutdoors introduces ski adventures for wine and food enthusiasts

italiaoutdoors offers ski vacations that combine food and wineBeginning in December, 2011, ItaliaOutdoors will host snow and ski tours that also include activities for food and wine enthusiasts. These small group excursions will give participants insight into the culinary culture of the Trentino Alto-Adige region of Northeastern Italy.

Each tour can be customized to fit any fitness level and budget, from shorter trails to advanced mountain climbs. Groups will be limited to twelve participants and trips are all-inclusive (aside for airfare). And the best part is, no matter which package you choose, daily wine tastings are included.

The guides for these tours are Vernon McClure and Kathy Bechtel, two extremely qualified individuals to give participants a top-notch trip. McClure has more than fifteen years of experience designing, leading, and teaching ski excursions in Italy and throughout Europe, while Bechtel is a trained ski instructor as well as a chef with formal wine training. In fact, she hosts her own food and wine television show in Sugarloaf, Maine, where she shares travel-inspired tips and recipes.

For more information or to sign up for a tour, click here.

Whistler: On the inside looking out

gadling whistler village

We’ve all heard it before. Spoken in commercials, printed in brochures and even told to us by friends when describing a place: “There’s something for everyone.” Sure, many places live up to that incredibly broad statement. Certainly diverse cities like New York, Barcelona and Tokyo truly do have something for every type of person and traveler. However, some places fill very specific niches. They specialize and their offerings to tourists reflect that. What happens, however, when you end up in a place that wasn’t really intended for someone like you? That’s what I experienced when I was a square peg in Whistler’s round hole.

%Gallery-131623%gadling whistler villageWhistler, British Columbia is undoubtedly an adventure playland. Its natural wonders are spectacularly and certainly make it a worthwhile destination for action sports enthusiasts. It’s famous for its ski and snowboard trails and is one of the most popular locations in the world for mountain bikers. For casual travelers, however, Whistler doesn’t really seem to offer much.

Almost everything about Whistler looks new. This is not surprising, considering that most of the buildings are, in fact, new, relatively speaking. Most of Whistler’s development has occurred in the last 30 years or so. While that has created an excellent example of urban planning with an pedestrian friendly, no-cars-allowed village, it has also left it lacks personality. The true beauty and spirit of Whistler can be found on the mountains and on the trails meandering through the foothills. That’s where Whistler shines and where it defines itself.

My attention was constantly drawn back to the mountains. There’s brilliance all around Whistler and activity surrounds the village on all sides as people attack challenging bike trails, hop onto the gondolas and share tales of epic snowboard runs during the winter. In the heart of the village, however, I felt a void, as if all the energy had flowed into the landscape around it.

Meandering around the village, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was in a Disney replica of ski resort town with a series is strip malls featuring souvenir shops and rather generic-looking restaurants.

gadling whistler villageIronically, what I wanted to find in Whistler I found instead just outside of the village, where I came across a skatepark riddled with graffiti and a beautiful mural painted under a bridge. It was here that the town of Whistler felt lived-in. Otherwise, the real action is on the mountains.

That’s not to say that nothing for tourists exists in the town. History seekers will enjoy a few hours at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, which hosts a collection artifacts from local First Nations Peoples and does an admirable job of telling the story of British Columbia before colonial settlement. There are also plenty of places to spend your money and fill your belly. The village is not lacking for retail.

After a single day, however, I was left shrugging my shoulders and looking wistfully at the mountains, wondering what my impressions of this place would be if I was the kind of person who enjoyed hurtling down hills at breakneck speeds. Instead, my feet remained planted firmly on level ground.

The people are friendly in Whistler and the food and beer taste pure. But what defines Whistler is its geography, topography and the infrastructure that has been built to serve people who have come to enjoy the landscape. If you’re not going to venture into those mountain trails and just happen to be passing through British Columbia on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, Whistler might flummox you as it did me.

This trip was sponsored by Tourism British Columbia and Tourism Whistler. However, my opinions are my own and sometimes I’m just a square peg.