During our latest visit to Austria we happened to have a couple of extra days on our hands. So after exploring Bratislava, we decided to take my family on a road trip to Slovenia. Jacky and I had done a similar trip to Maribor, Celje, and Ljubljana before in 2013. That year we also visited the beautiful town of Bled. Because we were slightly limited in time on this occasion, we decided to only visit Maribor and Ljubljana which are relatively close to Jacky’s hometown of Graz.
We started early in the morning and our first stop on way to Ljubljana was Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city. It lies about 70km south of Graz in the wine growing region hills and straddles the Drava river. Not wanting to bother with the headache of finding a parking space in the city centre we parked the car in Europark, the largest shopping centre in Maribor which just sits across the river from the centre.
We began our walk by following the meandering cobbled streets down to the river and the Lent district. Some old fortifications like the scenic Judgement Tower and Water Tower are some of the attractions by the river. The jewel in the crown of Maribor’s waterfront, however is a plant – the oldest vine in the world (according to Guinness World Records), which has been producing grapes for 450 years. The wine isn’t for sale and is admittedly undrinkable. There are several bars and cafes by the riverside and we stopped for some refreshments in one of these.
Exploring the old town
We then walked towards the central town square. It is very compact and and is surrounded by neat buildings in pastel hues. It’s a lovely area to walk. Maribor was badly bombed during the second world war so some parts of the city centre are modern and you will stumble across examples of Iron Curtain architecture (although you will be spared from the worst excesses of it). There are, however, sufficient classical facades which have been around since the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
We strolled the quiet alleys for a little while longer and saw Maribor Cathedral, Franciscan church, town hall, and the Plague Column before we resumed our journey to Ljubljana. Just before leaving the city we stopped on the opposite side of the river bed which is slightly elevated and will present you with the most beautiful views of the town. Admittedly, Maribor is a very quiet town, but therein lies its charm. If you are planning a visit to the Slovenian Wine Road, make sure to give Maribor a try!
Ljubljana’s just an additional 125 km from Maribor and we kept ourselves busy throughout the car ride oscillating between the latest family tidings and marveling the beautiful Slovenian countryside. Ljubljana is a relatively small city and navigating around the city with a car is pretty simple.
That being said, for some obscure reason we could not manage to find the road leading up to Ljubljana castle. Jacky and I had taken the car up the hill back in 2013 from where we enjoyed beautiful views of the city. After driving around in circles for about 30 minutes we finally gave in and parked the city in the centre (needless to say that we passed the road on our way home when it was too late to drive up). There is very little of interest in the castle itself apart from some cells from the old prison that have been retained and turned into an exhibition.The entrance to the courtyard of the castle is free and includes the castle walls.
Ljubljana doesn’t have any world famous attractions so you can just stroll around leisurely and take in the beauty of the city. We started our tour of the old town by crossing over the famous ‘Dragon Bridge’ which lies on the Ljubljanica river. We immediately noticed that there were more tourists in Ljubljana than we saw in Bratislava.
Located right next to the Dragon Bridge is the ‘Central Market’, which is both and open and indoor market. Here you can find fresh fruits and vegetables, and an array of other stalls. On Fridays during the summer the ever so popular “Open Kitchen” (Odprta Kuhna) can be found around the premises. If you love street food as much as us, make sure to grab a bite here!
Next up was the ‘Triple Bridge’ which is a series of three bridges connecting the medieval part of town with the new part of town. The bridge is right in the centre of the old town adjacent to ‘Preseren Square’. The square is a major meeting point, from this point you are in the centre of Ljublijana’s attractions. Prešeren Square is close to medieval city, to the Cathedral, to the Town Hall, to embankments or to the Congress Square. At the eastern side of the square, a bronze statue of the Slovene national poet France Prešeren with a muse was placed in front of the Central Pharmacy. One of his poems, “A Toast”/ “Zdravljica” became the national anthem.
This square is so aesthetically pleasing with its old buildings and cobbled streets. Street cafes, bars and shops are in abundance here. It’s a colourful and vibrant place to wander and watch life go by. Seeing all those inviting establishments reminded us that lunch beckoned, so we had lunch at a nice Italian trattoria. As always I eagerly sampled some of the local beer on offer which was perfect on a sweltering summer day.
Feeling very satiated after lunch we walked around for a while and saw the Franciscan church, town hall and the Butcher’s bridge among other sights. We stumbled upon a fantastic gelateria where we all agreed that we ate, what was arguably the best ice cream ever. Rather than eating ice cream, it felt like biting into a piece of frozen fruit. On this high note it was finally time to get going back to Graz as we had an early start the following day.
For architecture enthusiasts, Ljubljana represents an enticing slice through history, from its medieval castle and the decorative joys of the Austrian Empire to samples of modern Yugoslav monuments, there is truly something for everybody.
Now, what do you think? Have you visited either of the cities before? Which one did you prefer? Are there any other cities in Slovenia you love? Share your thoughts and pictures with us! Let’s stay in touch!