Catching a cheap and eco-friendly bus to Ljubljana, European Green Capital City in 2016, we arrived at the Dragon Bridge over the emerald green waters of the Ljubljanica River.
Settled by the Romans as Enoma, today’s city centre is a manageable hub of student and local life which flows over and along the many bridges and elegant promenades designed and built in the 1930s by its resident architect, Jože Plečnik.
Plečnik’s dream was to create an ‘eternal city’ with architecture designed along classical lines and encouraging the flow of people and business through the main trading and market areas, out into defined quarters of activity and residence.
The river in its turn winds past the old town ‘Stari Trg’ and remains of the original Enoma. We meandered around the medieval streets and down along the river walks to the Karakov ‘market garden’ quarter and to find welcome relief from a punishing sun.
As on earlier visits, the willow trees lining the river dipped down into the rushing green and clear waters, but now in 2017 there were more people of all nationalities sat along the banks taking respite in precious patches of shade. We hadn’t seen as many tour groups on previous visits.
In the Stari Mesto we discovered it to be still studenty and bohemian, but perhaps with more tourists and more evident tourist traders plying food stalls, tattoos, linen clothing and ice cream.
Ducking into a local eatery behind the business quarter we joined students and businessmen ploughing their way through gigantic bowls of cottage cheese and chives, chicken pasta, colourful salad, slabs of cheesy leek pie, potato croquettes and pork ribs. All finished off with a light yoghurt cake and strong espresso.
We struggled to walk off the lunchtime indulgence in the heat of the afternoon sunshine, so how any work or studying got done later that afternoon was baffling! We returned to Bertha in a small village 5kms out of the capital city and crashed out next to a pen of goats and pigs. It had been a lovely return visit on our anniversary.
Maribor is Slovenia’s second city and is east of Ljubljana on the way to the border with Hungary. It’s also on a main north-south route from Austria, Germany and Switzerland so perhaps unsurprisingly is packed with tourers heading south to the Croatian coastline for seaside warmth. Slovenia itself has only a small stretch of coast sandwiched between the Istrian Riviera and Trieste.
We spoke to Ulf, a Norwegian motorhomer, who told us about a chilly spring and freezing winter in Scandinavia. He was looking forward to seeing the blue seas of Croatia and pitching up for a month.
Built along the banks of the River Drava, but largely destroyed during the Second World War, what remains of the old centre is 15th century winding streets with a main square, castle and renaissance town hall.
With a lively student population, the alleyways and cobbled lanes are packed with cafes and bars. Taken with the overriding aroma of falafels and incense wafting amongst the many colourful clothing stalls, it seemed very reminiscent of Brighton’s North Laines.
The city is in a basin of vineyards and boasts the world’s oldest vine, at more than 400 years old, still fruiting and producing expensive but undrinkable wine. You have to be the Pope, or apparently Brad Pitt, to be presented with a bottle of it.
We enjoyed a tasting of six wines with Monija, a student set to take on the small family vineyard and restaurant business. White wines were our favourites, being served cool and dry.
We stayed in the southwest area of Pohorje, a busy ski resort in winter, but now a leisurely summertime place of cycling, hiking and wine tasting amongst the vineyards.
On the morning we left, the mountain was opening for business with an annual weekend of discounted gondola rides and free bus travel for everyone. As our camp host told us, the first weekend in June signals the start of summer and before tourists arrive it’s time for local families to get out on the hillsides. How charming!