Green travel is dream travel in Ljubljana, where eco-friendly initiatives bring endless charm.
If terms like "eco-friendly" and "green" bring to mind dowdy images of damp granola and hemp fabric the color of dishwater, Ljubljana - one of the greenest cities in the world - is going to blow you away. Both the Slovenian capital and the 2016 European Green Capital, Ljubljana is filled with charm and whimsy, incorporating its environmental priorities with a deft hand and an eye for design. The result is nothing short of wondrous -a beautiful city with a perfectly preserved historic core, seamlessly integrating sustainable objectives. Even the graffiti is endearing, with a nod towards conservation! Here's what else won over our hearts.
Hop along to the water fountains.
Costly and destructive water bottles? Absolutely not! Ljubljana has about 30 public drinking fountains flowing with fresh, clean water and none is so charming as the kangaroo.
Just outside the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre, across from the farmers' market and at the base of the funicular entrance to the castle, the kangaroo is nearly impossible to miss but you should take the time to specifically seek it out all the same. You're not going to find a more charming piece of sculpture, let alone a water fountain, anywhere in the city. Every time we passed I would gulp down the contents of my water bottle, simply for an excuse to pop over and pay it a visit for a refill.
While no one can compete with the kangaroo, this hybrid bird-human water fountain not far away at the other edge of the farmers' market is a close second. No, the design is not a figure of a bird-human! At the bottom of the structure are taps for humans to fill their water bottles, as well as a traditional fountain spout at the top. The water that spills over is pumped down a narrow trough between the two, perfect for birds to quench their thirst. Now, I'm not entirely sure that it works exactly as I've described (my knowledge of fountain engineering is rather shaky), nor that it was indeed designed for birds to indulge themselves, but as far as I can tell it's a perfect set up.
If your idea of the perfect water fountain is a little more hands on, taking your chances with the "rain cloud" installation will be more your thing. This nifty set up in the pedestrian zone of Prešeren Square in the city center (not far from the three bridges) has been creatively designed to periodically send down 'rain showers' thanks to overhead rigging. You might think it's a kids only zone but in the summer heat, plenty of adults were checking it out and enjoying the refreshing mist.
A farmers' market like no other.
Quenching your thirst is just the starting point of Ljubljana's green charm. You don't want to forget to eat! The Central Market consists of an open air farmers' market (featuring local Slovenian fruits and vegetables as well as international produce), a covered market with stalls for meat, bread, cheese, and fine oils (including pumpkin seed oil, a local favourite), and small food shops along the river under the colonnade.
We feasted on delicious local nectarines but you can pick up just about any ingredient imaginable here, as well as handicrafts and fresh flowers. The covered market shops generally close around 2:00 pm and, in general, we found most of the open air stalls were winding down around then as well.
Keep your eyes open for the mlekomats, milk and dairy vending machines, next to the covered market. These innovative machines sell raw milk in the bottle (or you can bring your own bottle for a refill) for about 1 Euro for a liter. The heat of the day discourage us from enjoying any (a full belly of milk before a hike doesn't appeal to me) but summer visitors can take comfort in knowing that, should the temperature of the milk ever increase, the machine stops working, ensuring that the milk is always kept cold.
An amazing farm-to-table food scene.
We tried the aforementioned pumpkin seed oil in an Italian restaurant called Julija, when a conversation with the staff resulted in a bottle being brought to our table and we dipped some fresh bread into the deep green, slightly nutty oil. Curiously, no one seemed to know what happens to the massive amount of pumpkins that would have to be harvested to get enough seeds to press into oil. The conclusion was that they must go to animal feed and I felt this was a bit of a shame - think of all the delicate ravioli and pastries crying out for some pumpkin stuffing!
But if pumpkin flesh is underrepresented in Ljubljana's food scene, it's the only thing that's missing. The city's commitment to green initiatives meant that we ate very well and very local. Even when the flavors were Italian, or even Indian food! (Shout out to Namaste Indian!) We also had meals of delicate soups and salads made from local vegetables, homemade pasta,
Wait.... even the GARBAGE is charming?
I know I'm not the only one who's seen this in busy cities around the world during peak travel times - overflowing trash bins outside popular tourist attractions, the small cylinders unable to cope with the volume of refuse left by so many visitors. It's never pretty and, if you've got my kinda luck, said garage bin will be right next to a landmark where you've agreed to meet someone. Nothing like the company of flies and garbage fumes to keep a gal company!
Ljubljana has taken this common problem and found a way to not only make it attractive but also actually make money for it. A series of clean bins, with easy to interpret photos, indicate where to place your different categories of recyclables, your biodegradable compost, and your non-recyclable garbage. While the bins appear to be of average size, they're a bit like icebergs, with the majority of their bulk hidden underground.
There's very little waste and the compost, when it fully biodegrades, finds its way to city gardens. And if you're a local resident, you use this system too, separating your household waste into the appropriate bins, but there's one extra step. A code opens up the garbage bin to receive large parcels of household garbage, which is WEIGHED before it is deposited. You're levied a charge based on the weigh of the garbage (which is presumably added to your property tax or city account). I am so enamored with this system - and so are Ljubljana residents, who recycle enthusiastically (or, perhaps, are just passionate about saving money!) (Don't worry - if you have just a small amount of waste, you don't pay to throw things away - the pay portion of the system is for locals and serves as their garbage collection system).
Green doesn't mean gritty or grungy.
Ljubljana is pioneering so many wonderful environmentally friendly initiatives that partner perfectly with the city's historic, romantic charm. And while many of the eco-friendly measure are designed with the well being of local residents in mind, there's no denying that visitors are reaping the benefits as well. We adored Ljubljana and it ranks in our mind as one of the most livable, beautiful cities we've ever seen - and we know you'll love it too!
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Our visit was facilitated in part by the local tourism board and we thank them for their support. All research, writing, and opinions are our own.