Ljubljana's Beekeeping Trail gives you a bee's eye view of one of Europe's loveliest cities.
Ljubljana is a sweet travel destination, and not just because it's so lovely to look at and so pleasant to chat with the warm local residents. No, in this case Ljubljana is literally sweet, for it is a city obsessed with honey!
Slovenian honey, coming from the beloved Carniolan honey bee, is a product of protected geographic indication and Slovenians take their honey so seriously that they are the only European country which has special legal protection for their bees. Beekeeping and bee protection has a long, passionate history in Ljubljana, one that we were able to trace step by step on a guided walk of the Beekeeping Trail.
Starting from the grounds of Ljubljana Castle (which in 2016 had its own beekeeping exhibition), we made our way through the gorgeous wooded trails surrounding the castle, once an important point of Slovenian defense and administration. Even if your interests don't extend to bees, it's well worth taking the time to explore the paths around the Castle during your visit - a short glimpse will give you a sense of why Slovenian are so dedicated to protecting their local environment. It is so peaceful up here!
While we were occasionally treated to breathtaking city views, we were much more captivated by the grapevines clinging to the hills. We knew first hand how delicious Slovenian wine was from our previous night's dinner!
Like many castles or fortifications, the Ljubljana Castle had to be mostly self sufficient in days of old least they be attacked and vital supplies were cut off. And no self respecting fort would be properly prepared without wine, right? But while evidence of a vineyard on the castle slopes dates back to the early 1930s, it ceased to exist for decades until a new project emerged in 2016 to replant the hills with 1050 vines. The project coincides with the celebration of Ljubljana as the 2016 European Green Capital - and gives us an extra reason to return in a few years to sample the results!
Grapes aren't the only produce once found on the hillside of Ljubljana Castle. The Fleischman's Parsnip also once thrived here - and only here. Named after the person who discovered it, the leaves of Fleischman's Parsnip differ in several ways from that of the classic garden parsnip which you might have in your backyard or supermarket. Fleischman's Parsnip features double feathery leaves which are segmented differently and much darker than its more common cousin.
Exactly how it developed into its own unique species and how it came to be found only around the Castle remains a botanical and cultural mystery but one thing is for certain - Fleischman's Parsnip no longer exists in the wild. With that in mind, we made our way along the Fleischmann's Parsnip Trail (can be there be a more wonderfully named trail in the world? I think not!) towards its carefully protected new home: The Ljubljana Botanical Garden. Along the way, we passed so many people on bikes and scooters - green living is truly a way of life in Slovenia.
(Two special parsnip based footnotes: These pictures show the parsnip in the flowering stage, which was all we could observe during our visit so those distinct feathery leaves eluded me! Also, since 2012, efforts have been made to reintroduce the Fleishman's parsnip to the Castle, but my understanding is that the Botanical Garden is still the only public viewing place.)
It's hard to know who loved the Botanical Gardens more - me or the many bees that happily treat it as a buffet! Like most botanical gardens, it's filled with gorgeous specimens that are a feast for the eyes as well as the nose. It's the perfect place to explore on a sunny afternoon, discovering local plants and flowers, as well as carefully cultivated specimens from other regions.
Leaving the Botanical Gardens and making our way back into the city center along the river, we assumed that by entering a more urban environment the bee's natural habitat would decline but that couldn't be further from the truth. The river and surrounding community was teaming with environmentally friendly life, including families of ducks, stand-up-paddle boarding dogs (and owners), kayaking couples, tiny urban apartment gardens, community gardens, and pedestrian only/ local resident only streets. The bees didn't need to rely exclusively on the Botanical Gardens and the wooded paths around the castle to feel at home!
No trip to Ljubljana - and no stroll along the beekeeping trail - would be complete without a final stop at the market to pick up some honey, some beeswax candles, and, if you're lucky, see some reproduction painted beehive panels. Local honey and candles are the perfect memento of a great trip and a great tour.
Gaining this bird's eye - or is that BEE'S EYE - tour of Ljubljana is an incredible experience. This remarkably walkable city is the perfect location to enjoy a mix of urban and rural experiences and to follow in the footsteps of hundreds of years of beekeeping tradition.
Heading to Europe soon? These blog posts will help you plan your trip.
Green Travel Dream: Ljubljana's Eco-Friendly Charm.
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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