It took 30 minutes from the airport to the new and chic Intercontinental Hotel. I was told by the driver that the Airport is 16 miles from Ljubljana.
I was greeted warmly by the General Manager, Mr. Milos Cervix, and Alex at the front desk. The lobby was busy with Italians and Austrians enjoying their holiday in Ljubljana.
We had dinner reservations at the top of Ljubljana castle.
While walking to the old town I began to discover the beautiful capital of Slovenia, a city founded in 1461. Ljubljana was populated by Slovenes during the second half of the sixth century, then came the Romans who inhabited here and called the city Emona, then the Visigoth, Attila the Hun, Hapsburgs, Germans, Italians and Yugoslavia. The area has been inhabited since the first millennium BC. Ljubljana has been the cultural center of Slovenia for centuries.
We arrived at Preseren Square, a thriving point of interaction with a magnificent 16th century Baroque Franciscan church, like a big pink birthday cake.
Urska, was taking me through the streets and my eyes were transfixed on the beautiful Baroque and Art Nouveau bridges crossing the Ljubljana River. Most impressive was the Dragon Bridge with four large dragons that look almost real guarding either end of the bridge. Spectacular.
The funicular takes 2 minutes to reach the top of the Castle, where dinner was awaiting for us. Urska mentioned again that this is a must do while in Ljubljana. It is a main attraction to eat at this restaurant.
The restaurant is located in the former Archer’s tower accessible by a winding staircase or by elevator. The room is magical with its medieval theme a perfectly round tower with beautiful frescos covering all the walls. In the middle was a giant chandelier designed to look like flashing arrows. It is a gorgeous space with views to Ljubljana below.
The round walls tell the story of a city with peasant folklore. Every panel tells a traditional story of how the world and living beings were created. Here you’ll find tales about mythical animals like dragons, magical fairytale beings, wandering souls and stories of their old conquests. Urska knew several of the stories, and some of them were mostly sad about Slovenia’s conquered past.
Every dish had a different kind of meat. Meat has been around for centuries in Ljubljanan cuisine, and that night the chef prepared for me an entrée of marinated veal, with Jerusalem artichokes, smoked liver, with hazelnuts. The main dish was beef tail with potato puree along with kale with bacon, Brussels sprouts and kale chips. Desert was cooked milk with cinnamon flowers, crispy rice, pear, and Jerusalem artichoke ice cream.
I think that was the most tender veal I’ve eaten, and the creamiest ice cream I have tasted with a great mix of sweetness and texture.
The wine selection was perfect and my taste buds fell in love with the excellent choice of wines, all from Slovenia. It was a surprise to know that Slovenia has great wine.
Great wine paired with extraordinary and authentic food and the allure of the 900 year-old castle was my first date with this magical city. I have eaten in many Michelin restaurants and would definitely say this restaurant is worthy of Michelin stars.
Bled is located 1,560 feet above sea level; five miles from Austrian borders. It is on the rail line connecting Trieste, Belgrade with Munich and Vienna.
The more we left the city behind, the more the snow became thicker and covered pretty much everything.
Urska said it had snowed all night and stopped at the early hours of the day. Ljubljana had been covered with a beautiful powdered snow.
Once we left the city, the drive became more and more beautiful. Like a large screen in a movie set, the roads unfolded with the most majestic views of the Julian Alps and the Triglav National Park covered with the powdery snow. The sky cleared, and the color was perfect a soft blue with white thin clouds crossing the sky like feathers.
Right away my senses awakened and I knew I was in a very special natural wonder.
While driving through these majestic views, Urska told me about an old Slovenian saying: When God was deciding what part of the earth to give to each nation, the Slovenians spoke up: “What about us?” and He said: “For you Slovenians, I gave you the part I wanted for myself.”
Indeed, I had the feeling I was in a perfect Eden.
I kept asking Urska to stop the car. I needed to get out to feel the snow and breathe the pure air. I think this would be the place the fairy godmother would live for sure. It is so magical.
Vogel lies within the Triglav National Park. Parking was easy. We parked next to the Vogel cable station.
The Upper cable car took us to 1,500 meters above sea level quickly, and the view from then cable car was spectacular. Being so high in the Alps gives you a sense of pureness, the morning light shimmering in the snow and on the rock of the Alps. They look magnificent, rigid and strong, petrified in their beautiful presence.
Urska said the mountain’s favorable snow conditions make Vogel the perfect destination for Skiing. I saw many people and tourists from as far away as Singapore skiing on top of the mountain.
The view from the top of Vogel is breathtaking. The Alps, the valleys and the lake below make a postcard that will forever stay imprinted in your memory.
The Estate belonged to Austrian Duchy of Carniola, until 1920, when it fell into Yugoslavia. It was a very impressive building with beautiful views over the lake.
Luxury Slovenia arranged for a traditional Pletna boat to take me to see Natural Island, which is without a doubt one of the premier attractions of the area, looking like a decoration on a wedding cake with its church and its Venetian tower.
Urska told me the story of The “Sun Doctor”, a Swiss Doctor known as the father of Naturism. He used the castle to perform his therapies in the middle of the 19th century. His famous quote is “Water is good, air is better, and most of all the sunlight.”
The castle, dating from 1011, has an imposing Gothic defense tower.
Bled indeed is a magical place where you can enjoy the health benefits of the region and feel the energy that glows from its mountain and the forest. It is a place that balances the synergy of earth, water, and sun.
Next we went to the enchanted underground world of the Karst region to see the Postojna Cave, the most visited cave in Europe, and it’s connection to the Predjama Castle.
The cave is a legendary tourist attraction. It has been open for tourism for 200 years and hosted over 38 million people from all over the world.
Petra, my new guide, took me to get the tickets for the cave, and I brought my private guide that luxury Slovenia had for me. These are the most shown caves in the world with an electric train that takes you 2km into the hall of the Great Mountain, or the” bowels of the earth”, as my guide called it. This was followed by a wonderful walk back through beautiful, intertwining and extraordinary underground passages and chambers with spectacular drop stones, pillars and limestone curtains - the most beautiful I’ve seen. The water that emerges and disappears below the surface carved great underground caves and created fantastic shapes.
Next we visited the charms of the Lipica Stud Farm to see the legendary Lipica white stallions.
The driving through Slovenia is such a joy, everything is close, and within no more than 2 hours you can be in a completely different environment and topography. The roads are super modern, with excellent street signs, super clean. The bridges that connect gorges and overpasses were done with beautiful skill. Then you have the views of the little hamlets, the hundreds of churches I counted, the wintery lonely fields, and the dormant mountains crowned with snow.
Vid Daolio, the salesperson of the property, was waiting for us. The history of the horses are fantastic! For more than a 400 years, Lipica has been the homeland of the Lipizzaner horses, where they enjoy absolute freedom. The horses came from Andalusia and love it here. What is not to like? The grounds are beautiful, the air is fresh and there are wonderful sunsets. The first magnificent Stallion came from Spain in 1580. The Farm once belonged to the Hapsburg Court stud farm. It is the oldest European stud farm and today it is a cultural, historical and natural heritage for Slovenia and Europe.
Vid, with great knowledge of the history of the horses, the farm and the equestrian show, was a great help for me to understand and appreciate the farm heritage. We toured around and I was taken behind the scenes to see the new stables and the old one, and to interact with the horses. Vid introduced me to one of the head trainers, Mr. Ramon Molina, a Spaniard of course.
This is great place for horse lovers and a must-see destination.
brda wine region
I have realized since my arrival that Slovenia is a country of good local wines, so I was anxious to see and taste more of them.
Brda is located in the most western part of Slovenia, a short drive from the Italian border, nested midway between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. Brda is the land of hills, and in the sunny hillsides of Brda is where these vines have grown for centuries. From this region came wines that have received many distinguished awards and medals around the world.
These Slovenian wines paired really well with many dishes of the Slovenian gastronomy.
You come to Brda to taste its very Mediterranean food which is incredibly inventive and creative, like my Mosaic of Octopus below, a very modern and innovative dish I had at Gredic Restaurant, hotel and winery.
A must-see while touring Brda is the town of Smartno, an architectural jewel who has preserved its heritage with an amazing panoramic hill like an eagle’s nest. A former medieval border walled the picturesque village with five preserved towers. The town is all-around a cultural monument. Other towns to see: Neblo, and Dobrovo.
Brda area is indisputably one of the most picturesque landscapes of Europe.
In just a 2 hour drive, the Slovenia Riviera with its Venetian-style town awaited me.
I really think it is fascinating that Slovenia can be completely traveled by car in such a short amount of time - its roads connect the Alps, the Mediterranean and the Pannonian plain, all in manageable distance.
Driving down from the freeway, the Slovenia coastline started unfolding its charm. I could see the limpid blues water between the pines and cypress woodlands. Slovenia only has 28 miles of coast facing the Adriatic Sea, which gradually narrows between two bays, the Strunjan and Piran.
The hotel was built in 1908, with all the Austro-Hungarian splendor. It has always been a hotel, and today it is a cultural monument. Absolutely a legendary and classic hotel with a great spa and restaurants, its location is perfect - just 13 miles from Trieste.
With 164 rooms, 17 suites, some with sea view and park view and a great spa, The Kempinski hosted Sophia Loren and other Hollywood stars when Piran was the center of Slovenia cinema. In fact, there is a restaurant named after her, with beautiful photographs of the actress.
The food served here is a fusion of Italian, Austrian and Balkan tastes, dressed with their legendary olive oil and the well-known local salt coming from the pans of the Salina Natural Park. Not too far from the restaurant, the Park yields approximately 40,000 tons of salt per year.
Piran is the jewel - A really dreamy city and one of the most photogenic cities in the Mediterranean with so much beauty and magical allure. There is a unique blend of Roman, medieval, and a big Venetian influence. There are charming narrow streets and an old town hall with an open, elegant Piazza dedicated to the most famous man in Piran, the well-known composer Giuseppe Tartine. The composer and virtuoso violinist was born just a few steps from his statue of today.
The walk was so much fun, and it was very relaxing. The town is completely pedestrianized, so you can walk the crooked cobblestone streets at your own pace and admire the ornate baroque architecture of the magnificent buildings. You really feel like you are in a medieval city, with a lighthouse, the Franciscan church and monastery, and the medieval tower built upon the hill above the town.
Piran is well-known by the Italians, who come here to enjoy the fresh seafood. It has great cafes along the waterfront, a fish market, a theater named after the composer and a well-equipped marina. During the summer, there is a ferry that operates to Venice and only takes two hours.
My room was a corner turret junior suite, overlooking the water and the courtyard through sets of double windows, very charming windows, because this is a castle, and they were small. I opened up my windows to listen the KRKA River.
The main bedroom was large, with beautiful wooden furniture, the décor was stoic and elegant, with a touch of medieval style and equipped with modern amenities.
The bathroom was huge, with heated floors, twin sinks and a large spa bath.
The location is perfect, just an hour from Zagreb and an hour and half from Ljubljana, so next time you are in either of these two cities, come see this amazing property and allow yourself to be treated like royalty by the staff.
The hotel is great for families.
Slovenia is green, healthy, and a confluence of all good - A gastronomic super power of 24 regions with many distinctive dishes. All the ingredients are locally grown, they have the best olive oil and pumpkin seed oil, which is used frequently, locally produced meat, fruit, vegetables and a lot of talent in the Slovenian kitchens.
And don’t forget their intoxicating premium wines that pair so well with the Alpine and Mediterranean cuisine.
With Portugal, Slovenia is in the category of affordable luxury within the European countries, and it all comes with great service.
Thank you Luxury Slovenia for crafting this magical trip for me.
In Ljubljana I suggest to go and experience the unique culinary vision of Chef Janez Bratovz, owner of JB Restaurant. It is one of the best 100 restaurants in the world.
Galeria Rustika, who has the largest range of handcrafts in Slovenia.
In the Village of Lokev, please visit hotel Krasna - visit their big outdoor terrace and have a lovely lunch there.
In Ljubljana, there is a very nice hotel called Vander, a hidden nest in the heart of the old town, with 16 rooms. It’s very contemporary, with a great rooftop terrace overlooking the castle and an infinity swimming pool.