Ljubljana, Slovenia travel guide

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A local’s guide to Ljubljana, Slovenia: top 10 tips
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In one of Europe’s greenest cities, visitors stroll pedestrianised streets or hop into electric taxis to discover modernist and medieval architecture, fantastic food and microbreweries

Toast the Alps

Though it’s modest by modern standards (13 storeys and 70 metres tall), Nebotičnik was the first “skyscraper” in Yugoslavia, and the ninth-tallest building in Europe when it opened in 1933. Architect Vladimir Šubic was inspired by the art deco skyscrapers of New York, though more conservative residents dismissed it as a “freak”. Today, the wraparound rooftop terrace cafe offers impressive views of the Alps to the north and Ljubljana Castle, just a few blocks away. Access is via a lobby clad in black marble and a spiral staircase. At the top, you can enjoy Slovenian wines – try Rebula, a buttery white, still or sparkling.

Hipster heaven

Ljubljana is no stranger to topiaried beards and artful tattoos, and you can explore its alternative side by strolling down Trubarjeva ulica, where Trubarjeva Antikvariat sells pieces of Yugo-nostalgia, such as busts and portraits of Tito, or industrial-design classics like the sleek, Lamborghini-red ETA 85 rotary telephone designed in 1979 by Davorin Savnik and made by Iskra. Reminiscent of a race car, this phone was produced in the millions and was a staple on the walls of Yugoslav homes – today one is on display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Countercultural haven

For clubbing, the Metelkova district is graffiti-laden but entirely safe and welcoming. Once a complex of barracks for the Austro-Hungarian and, later, Yugoslav armies, it is now home to bars, nightclubs and a former prison-turned-hostel. Its new life began as a squatters’ settlement on 25 June 1991, the day Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. In 2005, Metelkova became part of a national cultural heritage list, but it remains on the edge of the law – raising its own funds, largely through concerts – and is the best place to go for friendly, alternative nightlife.

World-class cuisine

JB, a restaurant on the ground floor of a Plečnik building (see below) that resembles a modernised Greek temple, has been the epitome of fine dining in the region since the 1990s. World renowned chef Janez Bratovž was the first to introduce dishes such as fish carpaccio and rare steak to a culinary culture that was used to well-done cutlets in cream sauce. Not long ago, he served his signature ravioli with pistachio, chestnut, pear and foie gras to Ferran Adrià and the pope (though not at the same event). Michelin does not yet have a guide to Slovenia, though it’s rumoured to be in the pipeline – and JB will surely be up for a star. It is reasonably priced for a restaurant of that level: the six-course fish or meat menu is €60 and the vegetarian version €50; the 12-course tasting menu is €95.

Street food

On Fridays from March until the end of October, the central market features a huge outdoor food fair called Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen), which can draw as many as 25,000 people. Founded by Israeli expat Lior Kochavy, it is the best way to sample a wide variety of specialities, as dozens of restaurants, from fancy to down-home, set up stands and offer food truck-style dishes. This is where you can try JB’s take on a burger made with dry-aged brisket (€6); a pulled duck and red cabbage sandwich – a street twist on a popular St Martin’s Day meal; and šmorn, an Austro-Hungarian shredded pancake topped with compôte (€3). For the most Slovenian of snacks, try Klobasarna, behind the cathedral, which offers only Carniolian sausage, a geographically protected local pork sausage served with a pot of mustard and a warm roll (half €3.50, whole €5.90). This is probably the only speciality sausage to have been consumed in space, as an American astronaut with Slovenian roots, Sunita Williams, took some to the International Space Station.

A Kanye-inspired tour
In November 2018, Kanye West tweeted to his 29 million followers about a rather obscure Slovenian modernist architect called Jože Plečnik (1872-1957).

Surreal shopping
A stroll through Tržnice, the central market, designed by Plečnik, should begin at Marjetka’s sauerkraut stand. She’s the only sauerkraut seller with a queue, and locals will tell you that it’s because her family is among the last in the country to cultivate indigenous Ljubljana cabbage, which makes the best sauerkraut. You can also pick up a bottle of – wait for it –sauerkraut juice, which is good for stomach complaints, and is also surprisingly refreshing. Follow the gently curved colonnade to visit stalls featuring pumpkinseed oil, made from an indigenous pumpkin type, Styriaca, that’s good in salads and even vanilla ice-cream.
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