DANIELLE MUSTARDE DISCOVERS AN ALTERNATIVE EUROPEAN GETAWAY
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.
BREATHTAKING BEAUTY IN BOHINJ
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-hotel.si), 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 ( vogel.si/ 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).
LESBIAN LIFE IN LJUBLJANA
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 ( hotelcubo.com).
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 ( pritlicje.si), 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 ( facebook.com/ 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 ( facebook.com/ 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 ( tinyurl.com/divabottega), 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.