Imposing statues of warriors like Washington, Nelson, or Napoléon would seem out of proportion in the compact central square of Ljubljana. Instead, the city's enlightened citizens erected a life-size statue of France Preseren, a 19th-century Slovene romantic poet. While strolling through Preseren Square (pictured), softly framed by colorful Italian baroque and neoclassical buildings, ancient church spires, red-tiled roofs, a traditional farmers' market, and the 400-year-old Castle Hill complex above, tourists often pause to admire the small stone carving facing Preseren's own statue--the haunting visage of his paramour, Julia, whose love was sadly unrequited. Considering Slovenia's newfound spirit of openness and welcome, today's gay and lesbian visitors may have better luck. With over 10,000 annual events that are open to all, it's impossible for newcomers not to be swept up in a spirit of gentle cultural embrace that's lacking in larger, more tourist-oriented cities. It's not a glad-handing or overly vocal "welcome"; it's a genuine appreciation from Ljubljana natives that you've strayed a bit from the well-beaten Prague-Budapest-Vienna travel path and have come to their tidy corner of Europe
to soak in the slower, more unspoiled charms of their old (yet youthful) city.
The Royal Media Ljubljana Hotel and Casino (Dunajska Cesta 154, 011-386-1588-2500, $125-$500) is the most high-tech and thoroughly modern hotel in the city, with über-sleek rooms featuring high-speed Internet access and huge plasma TVs. More centrally located than the Royal Media (and within walking distance to Preseren Square), The Best Western Premier Hotel Slon (Slovenska 34, 386-1-470-1100, from $300) was recently upgraded and features free breakfast and three restaurants. Two good bargain hotel options in this very affordable city are the two-star Hotel Park (Tabor 9, 011-386-1433-1306) and the two-star Hotel Turist (Dalmatinova 15, 011-386-1234-9130). Hotels and restaurants all accept Euros as well as the Slovenian tolar. Slovenia is still a bargain, as the Euro will not become the national currency until 2007.
As a crossroads between many countries, Slovenia boasts a number of fine Italian and hearty Continental and Austrian restaurants. For a taste of traditional Slovenian food (seafood, pastas, and venison) and terrific local wines from the Goriska Brda region, two best bets in central Ljubljana are AS (Knafljev prehod, 011-386-1425-8822) and Rostovz (Mestni trg 3, 011-386-1251-2839). The cafés and restaurants on the banks of the Ljubljanica River, adjacent to central Preseren Square, feature many familiar Italian-style eateries. Locals and tourists come together to enjoy an fresco dining experience (in season) at a pizza palace called Foculus (Gregor_i_eva 3, 011-386-1251-5643), which offers over 50 varieties.
Not surprisingly, budget airline Easyjet brings in loads of partying Europeans (mostly Brits and Germans) who arrive each weekend to partake of the carousing hetero nightlife in the numerous bars and restaurants along the Ljubljanica River near Preseren Square (follow the scent of the beer). Look for discreet gay couples in the crowd. A member of the EU since 2004, Slovenia's historical repression of its gay and lesbian citizens is improving, but few travelers come here expecting scintillating gay nightlife. In Metelkova, an edgy, East Village-type "alternative" quarter, a dozen or so bars and discos come alive after dark in abandoned Yugoslav Army barracks. Tiffany Bar (Masarykova 24, no phone) is the favorite gay hangout here, with friendly locals and blaring Slovene and Croat pop tunes. In the same location is the small lesbian coffee shop Monokel (Masarykova 24, no phone). To meet a very young, English-speaking crowd, head to the basement disco K4 in the Ljubljana student union building for the once-a-week gay night called Roza Klub (Kersnikova 4, 011-386-1139-3722).
The Ljubljana Castle is perched dramatically at the top of the hill overlooking the town. The view of the spires and colorful buildings below, from the Belvedere Tower on Castle Hill, affords lovers an irresistibly romantic moment. Couples who want to appreciate the city's amazing breadth of green space, parks, and adjoining forest areas should head to Tivoli Park for a leisurely stroll. For a city of its size, Ljubljana offers an impressive array of cultural attractions, including a gorgeous Opera House (?upanciceva 1, 011-386-1241-1764), Symphony Hall (Kongresni trg 10, 011-386-1241-0800), and well-regarded Museum of Modern Art (Tomsiceva 14, 011-386-1241-6800). Some of the best and most intimate spots for romance are just off Preseren Square--perfectly preserved medieval bridges arching over the river, quaint cobblestone streets, and of course, the corner of a crowded neighborhood bistro, with a good bottle of local wine and a heaping plate of pasta.