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An al­ter­na­tive Euro­pean get­away

Sit­ting snugly be­tween Italy, Aus­tria, Hun­gary and Croa­tia, the small Slavic na­tion of Slove­nia is, sim­ply put, beau­ti­ful. And, in terms of LGBT rights, the coun­try is an in­creas­ingly pro­gres­sive one. I trav­elled out there for queer ini­tia­tive, Pink Week, and found gor­geous na­ture, a charm­ing cap­i­tal city and a mod­est but thriv­ing les­bian com­mu­nity.


I fly into the cap­i­tal city of Ljubl­jana, (pro­nounced lyoo-blyah-nah). With a pop­u­la­tion of just two mil­lion, this isn’t a busy cap­i­tal when com­pared to neigh­bour­ing Venice, Vi­enna and Bu­dapest, and it’s nice to find it isn’t over­crowded with tourists. Know­ing I will re­turn to ex­plore the cap­i­tal more thor­oughly in a few days time, I leave for my first port of call: the beau­ti­ful mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Bohinj. Sit­u­ated a 45-minute drive from Ljubl­jana, in North­west­ern Slove­nia, it is a land of tow­er­ing Alpine peaks and lush green mead­ows. Here I stay in the wooden-clad Bohinj ECO Ho­tel ( bo­hin­jeco-ho­, a Green Globe cer­ti­fied ho­tel, hot on sus­tain­abil­ity while still of­fer­ing a lux­u­ri­ous stay.

Rich in forests and home to Lake Bohinj, the coun­try’s largest fresh­wa­ter lake, the North­west is a great start­ing point for ex­plor­ing the nearby Ju­lian Alps, where op­por­tu­ni­ties for hik­ing, climb­ing and cy­cling abound. If you’re a skier or snow­boarder, visit in win­ter when the val­ley be­comes a haven for snow sports.

Vis­it­ing at the end of May, I be­gin my morn­ing in the re­gion with a short drive to the base of Vo­gel moun­tain, fol­lowed by a steep ca­ble car trip up to the peak. At more than 1,500 me­tres above sea level, the panoramic views give a real sense of life in the sur­round­ing val­leys.

All the fresh air makes me hun­gry and, hav­ing en­joyed a hearty serv­ing of tra­di­tional bean soup at Vo­gel’s moun­tain-top restau­rant ( vo­ sum­mer/op­tions/cui­sine), I make my way to nearby Stu­dor, a tiny vil­lage known for its cheeses. If you’re feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous like me, ar­range a cheese­mak­ing class ( kmecki-tur­izem- gart­ner. eu/en/sir­arna.php) with a lo­cal fam­ily – just be pre­pared to roll up your sleeves and wait for the stream of in­nu­en­dos as you vig­or­ously churn with a num­ber of in­ter­est­ingly-shaped uten­sils.

An­other must in the Bohinj re­gion is a visit to Lake Bled, a warm alpine lake of­fer­ing one of the long­est swim­ming sea­sons in the Alpine re­gion. Bled Cas­tle en­joys some se­ri­ously gor­geous views of the turquoise water as well as the sur­round­ing coun­try­side of the Goren­jska re­gion, and in the cen­tre of the lake is tiny Bled Is­land. To get there, jump on­board a tra­di­tional, wooden pletna boat which glides you across the lake to the is­land’s shore. Once on land, en­joy a cof­fee and a slice of pot­ica (po-teet-sah), a sort of soft nut roll made fa­mous by the Me­la­ni­aTrump-meets- Pope “pizza or pot­ica” in­ci­dent. (He said pot­ica, she heard pizza – Google it).


Hav­ing in­dulged in the sheer gor­geous­ness of the Slove­nian coun­try­side for two days, it’s time to take on the cap­i­tal and Pink Week back in Ljubl­jana, where I stay at the sleek, but com­fort­able Ho­tel Cubo ( hotel­

Ljubl­jana’s hill-top cas­tle, plen­ti­ful cafes and colour­ful street mar­kets of­fer an al­ter­na­tive view to the ru­ral North­west but they come with a dif­fer­ent kind of en­joy­ment. Bet­ter still, there’s a mod­est but def­i­nite LGBT scene here.

Ex­plor­ing the city, I re­alise the place to meet like-minded women is Pritličje (, pro­nounced Preet-lic-jeh. A lively city cen­tre bar at night, this les­bian es­tab­lish­ment serves cof­fee and light lunches dur­ing the day. As I spend one morn­ing sip­ping an es­presso here, I get chat­ting to co- owner Nina Hudej. She tells me they reg­u­larly host mu­sic events, but also round-table talks on dif­fer­ent sub­jects. “We’re quite po­lit­i­cal in that sense,” she says, re­fer­ring to girl­friend Nina and friend Bar­bara who run Pritličje to­gether with her.

Nina is also the events man­ager at Klub Monokel ( klub­monokel), a pint-sized les­bian bar in for­mer mil­i­tary bar­racks Metelkova – which Nina tells me was squat­ted in the 90s and has since become a hub for artis­tic col­lec­tives. Monokel hosts club nights on Fri­days and some Satur­days.

In the same area, a five Euro taxi ride from the cen­tre, is Klub Tif­fany ( klubtiffany). More your gritty, Ber­lin art scene than glit­ter and glam, they’re both a must if danc­ing into the early hours is your thing, with more poppy tracks play­ing out at Tif­fany’s and sul­try, al­ter­na­tive elec­tro-

beats at edgier Monokel.

I ask Nina if she thinks women vis­it­ing from the UK would en­joy Pritličje and Monokel. “I think both are a good des­ti­na­tion for open-minded peo­ple and, im­por­tantly, Pritličje is les­bianowned. Openly. Openly les­bian-owned,” she says – and this bit is im­por­tant. “Ten years ago, no­body wanted to be la­belled gay-friendly,” says Nina, adding that there’s been a big change. “I don’t want to un­der­es­ti­mate the strug­gles that we still face, but I think it’s quite dif­fer­ent now. The younger gen­er­a­tion are so much more open.”

She’s right. Civil part­ner­ships were le­galised in 2015 in Slove­nia and since then there’s been a push to at­tract LGBT vis­i­tors with the now well- estab­lished Pink Week ( pinkweek. eu), which takes place dur­ing my visit. Run by power- cou­ple Matej Knific and Mat­tej Va­len­cic, the event is a com­ing to­gether of lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions and pub­lic fig­ures to cel­e­brate the city’s LGBT com­mu­nity and it cul­mi­nates in the hotly an­tic­i­pated Dragon’s Ball.

That night, Ljubl­jana Cas­tle is lit up pink while Slove­nian na­tives and in­ter­na­tion­als such as my­self gather on the pink car­pet to en­joy the best of Slove­nian cui­sine and mu­sic, danc­ing the night away in cel­e­bra­tion of LGBT rights. It’s clear to see Slove­nia has come a long way.


Thank­ing Nina for the cof­fee, it is time for my fi­nal stop. An hour or so’s drive south-west from Ljubl­jana, lies the old sea­port of Pi­ran where nar­row streets, whis­pers of Ital­ian and houses adorned with hap­haz­ardly hung laun­dry give this town a dis­tinct “Lit­tle Italy” feel. Here I have lunch at La Bot­tega Dei Sa­pori (­abot­tega), known lo­cally for its seafood and found on Tar­tini Square, the heart of Pi­ran. Af­ter dip­ping my feet in the sea and sam­pling ice cream on the prom­e­nade, my all-too-short visit to Slove­nia comes to a close.

Head­ing back, I re­flect on my jour­ney and re­alise that, whether it was cy­cling around the coun­try’s sprawl­ing lakes, club­bing in Ljubl­jana’s al­ter­na­tive hub Metelkova or sip­ping on a freshly ground cof­fee out­side Pritličje, I think I might just have fallen a lit­tle bit in love with Slove­nia.

(Clock­wise from top) Ljubl­jana street mar­ket; Pletna boats on Bled; Pritličje win­dow; Cheese­mak­ing in Stu­dor; Pi­ran rooftops; Lake Bohinj from Vo­gel; Pritličje co-owner Nina Hudej ( left) and her girl­friend and man­ager, also Nina ( right). “Ten years ago no­body here wanted to be la­belled gay-friendly. It’s quite dif­fer­ent now” Danielle flew with Easyjet from Gatwick air­port. Flights start from £60 re­turn. Danielle’s trip was pro­vided by Pink Week, Bohinj ECO Ho­tel, Ho­tel Cubo and I Feel Slove­nia.

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