By Debi Lander
Ljubljana, pronounced “lyoob-lyee-AH-nah,” is the capital of Slovenia, a small country bordering Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary. Ljubljana sports a bustling café scene along a small river that flows so gently through the city it looks more like a moat. A castle, built upon prehistoric and later Roman ruins, rests on the hill above with a modern funicular to whisk you up to the top. The panoramic view — simply spectacular.
The city, known as the Green Capital of Europe for its diligent recycling program, cleverly uses that color to its advantage. The city mascot is a green dragon, the original from a scary looking statue on the Dragon Bridge and a cutesy emerald-colored fella developed by the tourism folks. In Ljubljana, one constantly runs into dragons.
The mountains surrounding the city enlighten the sight with their evergreen foliage and Ljubljana’s castle basks in emerald illumination every evening. Visitors feel safe and secure as they shop and stroll narrow cobblestone streets and across pedestrian bridges that beg for photo ops. Historic churches, food markets, festivals (I happened upon the Guinness Record for the largest baklava) parks and boat rides entertain tourists and locals.
Beloved Lake Bled, less than an hour from Ljubljana, attracts international travelers with a gorgeous turquoise-colored lake and its thousand-year-old castle perched atop a steep, 426-foot high cliff. The lake features a flyspeck of an island, just barely big enough to fit a church and belltower. Almost every visitor takes a flat-bottomed Pletna boat to get there, then climbs 99 steps toward the church to ring the wishing bell, a 16th-century chime that is supposed to grant requests.
The snow-capped Julian Alps and forest surround Lake Bled — an idyllic setting with clean, crisp air for outdoor enthusiasts, romantic couples, photographers and those seeking relaxation
In addition to marveling at the island, Lake Bled is renowned for its cream cakes. Many locals claim there is no secret to the recipe. They say it’s experience that matters and the chefs at Bled have plenty of that; however, the Sava Hotel in Lake Bled reports, “Seven is the fairytale number, the secret behind this legendary dessert. To make the original Bled cream cake, puff pastry is folded seven times and left to rest overnight so it is even lighter when baked in the morning. A light egg custard is boiled for precisely seven minutes before stiffly beaten egg whites are added to it and the mixture is poured over the first layer of delicate puff pastry. The delicious custard cream is topped with a layer of whipped cream and covered with a second layer of puff pastry, which is then dusted with vanilla sugar.”
The original Bled cream cakes are still made strictly to the recipe perfected by the pastry chef in the 1940s.
The Bled Cream Cake was recently granted a protected designation of origin. The official dessert must only come from the patisseries at Lake Bled like champagne only comes from the Champagne district of France. During the resort town’s last 60 years, more than 13 million cream cakes have been sold.
Slovenia offers affordable and sweet memories to travelers although there are no direct flights from the U.S. You reach the country via train, bus or regional air from other cities in Europe such as nearby Venice or Vienna.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photos courtesy Debi Lander