Our journey from Plitvice Lakes across the boarder of Croatia and Slovenia took 3 hours more than expected due to crazy toll and boarder controls that were very frustrating but we just had to grin and bear it and get to our destination. Once past the boarder it was smooth driving on the excellent highways and through the low mountains and along the valley to Ljubljana.
Arriving in the compact and very picturesque city we parked in the central carpark and walked the 300m to the hotel Vander Urbani which was located in the restaurant district of the old town below the castle and right on the river.Our room was on the top floor with a lovely view over the river and the town with just a roof top patio and pool above.
We had the whole afternoon to wander and rediscover the old town that we first visited briefly 6 years ago on our way from Lake Bled to Milan so it was great to be spending 3 days here as our Slovenian base. It really is such a charming small city and the people are a real delight with very progressive thinking and a real mix of Mediterranean and alpine sensibilities. There has been extensive restoration work going on and the character of its mixed Yugoslavian, Austrian, Hungarian, Italian and Serbian history is evident in so many ways.
There is also a strong contemporary edge and youth culture that is complimentary rather than confronting from what we experienced. The vibrant night life both for locals and tourist along the river and old town seems to work really well with the relaxed vibe of the city. The Castle dominates the skyline and the city is built around it and along the river.
The roof top pool was pretty cool at our hotel and the weather was very kind to us.
The lanes and passage ways were turned into a bit of an art scene and the town hall also was a great art space.
There was so much street music going on at any time day and night so we enjoyed all the variety from big brassy American college stuff to funky local groups having a ball.
The quirky little shops and wine bars tp the grandly ornate Catholic Churches showed a strong sense of the theatrical which was a theme in most places we visited.
There was a music festival on at the time and we managed to catch a few performances that were free in the many churches and museums of the city
The Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture was very pronounced and creative around the edge of the old town that you could see exactly how strong and vibrant life wmust have been in those years either side of WW1 and to then have the destruction of WW2 reined upon these people must have been devastating.
At night the town really comes to life and they have done a great job with subtle lighting everywhere.
With a rich history and plenty of heritage still very visible one of our favourites were these four carriage bollards from Mediaeval times that now form part of the arched shopping Loggias along the main shopping strip. The faces tell their own tales,
The weather was perfect for a drive up the mountain valley to the incomparable Lake Bled, just a 40 mins from Ljubljana.
We were heading first to the Belvedere Cafe that was once the reception centre for Marshall Tito’s Vila Bled Palace and on the way did a circle of the lake before parking nearby and walking up the hill through the gardens to the cafe.
The building was classic post war modernism with stone, steel and concrete in a brutalist yet rustic design popping out of the side of the hillside.
The famous Bled cake was on offer as well as one of the best views of Lake Bled and the Church of Marijinega Vnebovzetja on Bled Island. The cake and coffee were delightful and the view was worth a return visit alone. the lake is now very popular and the crowds were thick but there was plenty of room to cater and out on the lake the row boats and paddle board hire were doing a roaring trade
We stopped off on our walk along the shore at Mlino port and had a swim in the 22deg water of the lake along with a sunbaked on the shore enjoying the fabulous vista back up to the castle and mountains beyond.
We set out early to get to the caves 45min south of the city for our 9.30 booking and arriving at 9.20am we were told that we needed to read the fine print as we needed to be at the entry at 9.15am !! luckily they let us in the next group for 10.30am and off we set.
The entry is via a tunnel that made a short cut into the caves from over 140 years ago and then a little but very long train took us about 200m through a man made tunnel into the first chambers. we were on the train for about 1.5km through various chambers and twists and turns to arrive at the first big chamber with its big chandelier where they used to hold concerts in the past.
We then walked up and down really well structured paths with good railing that linked chambers and tunnels through a great variety of staligmites and staligtites and massive linked columns as well as stunning icicles of white phosperous in-between translucent veil curtains and pipe-organ style monoliths. it was truly amazing and so beautifully executed as an experience.
The loop took us on a 5km walk through the caves and ended up back at the train that took us back to the entry for a very memorable experience.
Whilst on the walk through the cave we met an Aussie from Melbourne and a Finnish guy and we struck up good conversation and when we found out that they were catching a bus to the castle we offered them a lift which they gratefully accepted. so it was off to Predjama castle with Hugh & Ben.
It was only a 20min drive through the beautiful countryside and we arrived in the low mountains to this amazing sight…A castle in a cave. It was impregnable apparently and there are stories a plenty about the characters that lived their as well as the bandits who occupied the caves before them.
The Castlle was set up really well and easy to navigate and it gave you options of climbing up the towers are further into the cave chambers where the villagers would take refuge during attacks. it was a revelation on the ingenuity of man.
The view from the castle gave a great understanding of the difficulty of attackers making any ground around here and how lovely the Slovenian countryside is.
Even the local toilet block was pituresque .