Things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is a brilliant destination for a weekend break. Just an hour and half from London, and close to the Italian border, the Slovenian capital city is beautiful and easily walkable. There are just enough sites to keep you entertained but not overwhelmed, and the local restaurants are relaxed and reasonably priced. When you feel you have exhausted all the city has to offer, venture out of town to the many beautiful sights and natural beauties this small but special country has to offer. Lake Bled and Soča Valley were top of my itinerary, but there are many other wonderful areas to explore if you have a little longer.

Slovenia

To Stay

Vander Urbani Resort – This design hotel is conveniently tucked away in the very centre of town. With 20 sleek rooms, a ground floor restaurant and a small rooftop pool, it is a popular choice for weekend trips to Ljubljana.

Slovenia

To Eat

TaBar – On a warm evening the TaBar terrace is the best place in town to eat, drink and people watch. The menu has a range of gourmet dishes, designed to be shared as tapas and focused around local ingredients. Try the Ostrich and the mini burger and let the brilliant team help you choose a glass from the reasonably priced list of organic, Slovenian orange wines.

Gelataria Romantika – This cute ice-cream parlour is known for its quirky and delicious flavours of gelato. I loved the traditional Tarragon and cottage cheese and also the Pumpkin Seed Oil on Vanilla Bourbon base.

EK Bistro – EK bistro pride themselves on serving the best brunch menu in town. The stylish hang out offers a menu of alluring egg dishes, including Eggs Benedict with pulled beef, pumpkin oil and seeds and Goats cheese omelette with tarragon. Or you can opt for something lighter like Granola with yoghurt, thyme syrup and seasonal fruit.

Trappa – A new pizzeria 10 mins outside Ljubljana, serving delicious sourdough pizzas and a range of local organic wines.

Ménagerie – A charming, new boulangerie, ideal for breakfast. Ménagerie is beautifully decorated in a shade of pale green with antique furniture and artwork. Try the pillowy local brioche with homemade jam and butter, or take away one of their speciality loaves.

Monstera Bistro – Everyone recommended Monstera Bistro, and for good reason. This simple, local bistro is run by Bine Volčič, one of the best-known chefs in the country, and his wife Katarina. A daily menu offers delightful dishes like Braised pulled pork in tramezzino bread, and Elderflower baba cake. When we visited it was just €17 for 2 courses or €20 for 3… be sure to book.

Slovenia

To Drink

Cafe Čokl – This little cafe is known to locals and tourists as one of the best coffee shops in town. Café Cokl roasts only the freshest Arabica beans, and then uses a variety of expert techniques to make you a coffee of your choice.

Kolibri – Kolibri is considered to be Ljubljana’s best cocktail bar, perhaps even the finest in the country. The tiny bar is decadently designed with moody lighting and velvet seating. Sit at the bar and order from their seasonal menu, we particularly loved the Mezcal old fashioned.

Črno Zrno – This little blue and white tiled hole in the wall is found in the Gornji trg part of town. Črno Zrno translates to ‘black bean’ and is owned and run by Alex, a Colombian architect turned coffee geek, eager to bring the best Colombian coffee to Slovenia. The speciality coffee here is immaculately measured out, poured to perfection and served with a smile. A must-visit for caffeine fans visiting Ljubljana.

Stow – Stow is a modern and spacious cafe located within the City Museum. Stow initially launched as a roaster before opening a cafe serving their carefully selected and roasted beans. Stow also run coffee academies where experts share their coffee knowledge.

Tozd – This friendly cafe in the centre of town is a lovely place to sit and read for a while. Though their coffee making skills aren’t the best in town, their beans are from Escobar, a brilliant speciality coffee company outside of Ljubljana.

Slovenia

To Do

Triple Bridge – It is impossible to miss this iconic historic feature in the heart of Ljubljana. The three bridges cross over the Ljubljanica River and was designed by the architect Jože Plečnik, completed in 1932. Tourists constantly walk over the famous bridges, but they are most picturesque from above.

Funicular up to the castle – Take the short funicular ride up Castle Hill above downtown Ljubljana to the landmark castle. Originally a medieval fortress, it was likely constructed in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 12th century. The panoramic views of the city are most beautiful at sunset.

Nebotičnik Skyscraper – This prominent high-rise building is located in the centre of Ljubljana and was once the tallest residential building in Europe, with its thirteen storeys rising to a height of 70.35m. It was designed by the Slovenian architect Vladimir Šubic for the Pension Institute, the building’s investor, and was opened on 21 February 1933. Head to the building staircase for a view all the way down, or enjoy a drink on the outdoor terrace.

Sunday Flea Market – A charming flea market takes place every Sunday morning along the riverside on and around Cobbler’s Bridge (on Breg). Here you can find an extraordinary range of antique goods and bric-a-brac to interesting Slovenian memorabilia.

Slovenia

To Escape

Soča Valley – A couple of hours from Ljubljana the Soča Valley is a 138-kilometre long river that flows through western Slovenia and northeastern Italy. Here you can enjoy fresh Alpine hikes, whitewater rafting and other outdoor sports. One of the best walks is from Kobarid to Slap Kozjak where you can visit an impressive waterfall for €4 per person and see Napoleon’s Bridge. We came to the Soča Valley to try the destination restaurant Hiša Franko run by inspiring chef Ana Ros, a must for all foodies visiting Slovenia. She also owns the casual eatery Hiša Polonka with her husband; here you can try the delicious local craft beer paired with the hearty traditional dish – cheese and potato frika.

Lake Bled – Just 40 minutes outside of Ljubljana is one of the countries best-known and most beautiful natural wonders. Lake Bled is a lake in the Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region of northwestern Slovenia, where it adjoins the town of Bled. Here you can trek up to Mala Osojnica for a magnificent viewpoint, take a boat to Bled Island (€15pp return), and enjoy wild swimming. Don’t leave without trying the famous and indulgent Bled cake (a light cake with layers of pastry, whipped cream and custard).

Hiša Franko, Slovenia

I am religiously working my way through the World’s 50 Best restaurants, a star studded list of exemplary eateries all over the globe. Hiša Franko in Slovenia is number 38 on the list, owned and run by chef Ana Ros, she is one of only four female chefs to make it on this year (a rise since 2018).

Hiša Franko

Located in the heart of the Soča Valley, in rural Slovenia, this restaurant once belonged to Ana’s father-in-law, who ran the venue as a quiet local restaurant and hotel. It was only when Ana met her husband Valter Kramer and was introduced to this special place that she decided to change career (previously on course to be a diplomat) and teach herself the skills of the kitchen.

Hiša Franko

Hiša Franko is surrounded by mountains, rivers and woods – a diverse and dramatic backdrop which serves as inspiration for her eclectic and exciting cuisine. Inside there are several stylish dining rooms for guests to enjoy the daily tasting menu (150 euros for approx. 20 individual courses/bites).

We sat in the newest space, a lovely breezy dining room, with simple, chic design and doors open to the elements.

Hiša FrankoHiša Franko

All the wine is selected by Ana’s husband Valter, who has an amazing collection of local biodynamic wines from all over the country. After a delicious glass of Slovenian sparkling we were launched into the lengthy menu which began with four ‘snacks’. These dainty bites were delicate but full of flavour, highlights including a pillowy sweet Lamb brain beignet and the most beautiful floral Plantago taco with wild flowers, elder blossom and miso. Next a regal platter of bread arrived, homemade spelt sourdough with molasses accompanied by the most wonderful creamy cultured butter spiked with bee pollen.

Hiša FrankoHiša Franko

The dishes were delivered to the table with a good pace, something I really appreciate for long tasting menus. There was a lovely variety to the menu, with seasonal ingredients at the heart of each recipe. Trout with corn buttermilk, salad of wild lily flowers and pickled porcini was striking on the plate and memorable on the palate, with deep mushroom flavours paired with sweet nutty corn. I also loved the Dry Aged mountain veal with oyster emulsion, tomato, almond and rice foam, a well balanced dish with a collection of ripe and fresh summer components.

Hiša Franko

I was impressed to see vegetables feature just as much as meat and fish in the main courses. Eggplant with tomato, black garlic cream, purslane salad grill and cottage cheese was one of my favourites. It was the two punchy sauces which made this dish stand out, individually delicious, but sublime when mixed together with the rich eggplant.

Hiša FrankoHiša Franko

Our desserts at Hiša Franko were unconventional and thought-provoking… Beeswax with peaches and elder blossom was a fragrant and refreshing pre-dessert before the main event named (R)evolution of Kobariški Štrukelj – Parsnip, apple walnut and pork crackling, dumpling glazed with pork fat, smoked  pork crème brûlée, sun dried plums and horseradish. I really enjoyed the savoury, salted dumpling with tender pork inside and the sweet apple whisky cocktail, but the horseradish crème brûlée was a little too radical for me.

Hiša Franko

Our meal concluded with coffee from a Ljubljanian coffee roaster and meticulous little petit fours. Before leaving we went for a quick tour behind the scenes of Hiša Franko, to see the shelves of carefully selected wines and the restaurant’s very own cheese cellar, with Valter’s aged Tolminc wheels of cheese. Outside, the team even has a stream with fresh fish to use when they need it… everything here is as fresh and local as it can possibly be.

Hiša Franko

Hiša Franko is reason alone to visit Slovenia. It is the most celebrated restaurant in the country for good reason, humbly elevating the best local ingredients with wisdom and imagination to create a dining experience which is full of wonder.

More information and book a table at Hiša Franko here.

Things to do in Shanghai

Despite being a travel fanatic China is one continent I have barely explored… and Shanghai seemed like a good place to start, known for its vibrant food scene and thriving culture. After a long international flight from London, our senses were overwhelmed stepping out onto the streets of Shanghai. The language barrier was an immediate challenge, and without WeChat (the local Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app) we struggled to communicate in a lot of circumstances. But once we accepted the difficulties of travelling in China, Shanghai proved to be a real adventure and a brilliantly educational and exciting destination. Here are a few of my favourite discoveries…

ShanghaiMiddle House

To Stay

The Middle House – The Middle House opened in 2018, a beautiful new addition to the House Collective group. This stylish and contemporary hotel is found in the heart of the city, with spacious luxurious bedrooms, wonderful eateries and amazing facilities.

Shanghai

To Eat

Gracie’s – The temperature can get hot in Shanghai, cool off with the best ice cream from retro inspired Gracie’s. We loved the ‘Half-baked cookie dough’ but apparently ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ is a winner too.

HaiDiLao – Head to one of the many branches of this local institution for comforting hot pot. We visited the venue on the 4th floor of shopping centre in Du Pu. While you wait for your table manicures, board games, shoe shine and snacks are available to keep you occupied. Once it is time to eat there are many options to choose from – we opted for vibrant Tomato broth, with handstretched noodles, beef and lots of flavoursome toppings. Don’t miss the scallion roti prata on the side.

Egg – For a hearty Western brunch head to Egg, a charming all-day breakfast café on Xiangyang Lu. The eatery is by Shanghai Supperclub founder Camden Hauge, and the egg-centric offering includes classics like avocado on toast with sunny side up eggs, and great coffee.

Yi Ling Court at The Peninsula – For an exquisite dim sum experience head to Yi Ling Court at the Peninsula Hotel. At this elegant restaurant Chef Tsui prepares signature dishes such as steamed crab and crab roe with garlic and glutinous rice, crispy pigeon smoked with premier oolong tea and crispy beef brisket with Chinese gravy. If you are visiting for dinner, enjoy an aperitif first at Sir Elly’s.

Mr & Mrs Bund – I wasn’t a massive fan of the uptight (and forgetful) service at this refined restaurant, but the French food by chef Paul Pairet is wonderful and the city skyline views are second to none.

RAC – A stylish French cafe with good coffee and irresistible brunch dishes. Order the Far West Galette (cheese, mushroom, pancetta, egg, cream).

Strictly Cookies – Founded by Lexie Comstock, Strictly Cookies is the best biscuit shop in town. Unsurprisingly Lexie is American, and has always had a love of baking… when she moved to Shanghai in 2010 she noticed a gap in the market and began Strictly Cookies from her flat. The company now has its own premises and supplies cafes and restaurants all over China. The classic chocolate chip is the most popular, but I loved the highly inventive ‘Snack Box’ variety.

Sui Tang Li – The Chinese restaurant at the Middle House Hotel has very much become a destination in its own right. Highlights included Hairy Crab XiaoLongBao; Braised Beef Short Rib, Beef Tenderloin, Beef Puff; and gin cocktails made with Shanghainese Peddlers Gin.

Jia Jia Tang Bao – This simple canteen style cafe has become known as one of the best Xiao Long Bao outlets. Order the classic Xiao Long Bao (12 for ¥18) and the Hairy Crab Xiao Long Bao (12 for ¥35). Watch the ladies make the dumplings fresh and then enjoy them moments later. Watch how the locals ‘nip and slurp’ them to avoid burning your mouth!

Jianbing (348 Wulumuqi) – The perfect Shanghai breakfast. It is not easy to find the right stall, but the queue should give it away. The freshly made Jianbing (crepe, egg, spring onion, coriander, doughnut, red paste with options doughnut) are moreish and delicious, costing just ¥6.

Ah Da’s Spring Onion Pancake – If you have the time queue up for hours to try these famous street stall pancakes, which Rick Stein raved about when he visited Shanghai.

Shanghai

To Drink

Speak Low – This Japanese style speakeasy is one of the best cocktail bars in Shanghai, and has recently been included on the ‘Worlds 50 Best’ list. You enter through a seemingly normal drinks equipment shop… to then discover three floors of mysterious cocktail bars. Try to get a booking on the middle floor bar where the cocktails are more elaborate and exciting… our favourite drink was the delicious ‘Into the Woods’.

Arabica – There is always a crowd of Shanghai trendsetters outside Arabic. I originally tried this coffee brand in Japan, and am pleased to report that the quality was just as good in China. Stop by for a strong iced coffee, or a creamy cappuccino.

Onirii – If you are looking for expertly sourced, roasted and poured coffee in Shanghai Onirii is the place for you. This tiny coffee shop is minimalist in design, with just a few seats for visitors. If you let the barista guide your caffeine decisions you are sure to receive a delicious, balanced cup of coffee.

SeeSaw Coffee – SeeSaw is a giant on the Shanghai speciality coffee scene. The fun, modern cafes are a favourite with the hipster crowd, serving up full-flavoured, fuss-free coffee. SeeSaw are also a stockist of the Strictly Cookies, the perfect accompaniment to a flat white!

Cafe del Volcan – This cute cafe is found on Yongkang Rd, amongst many lovely eateries and boutiques. Inside the roastery takes up most of the space, so I suggest getting a coffee to go. Pick one of their carefully selected coffee varieties and enjoy.

Sober Company – Sober Company is the sister company to Speak Low and comprises of three spaces: Sober Café offers small plates and all-day brunch, Sober Kitchen is a restaurant serving modern Chinese dishes and Sober Society is a bar focused on digestif cocktails. If you visit all three spaces you receive a special invitation to the private, most exclusive bar. In the Sober Society we sat at the bar and relished our innovative concoctions – favourites included the ‘Godfather 3’ and ‘Tiger’. The Sober Company team also have new bar called The Odd Couple, which is 1980s themed.

Shanghai

To Do

Long Museum – This private museum was founded by Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei. The brutalist building was designed by Atelier Deshaus, built around the remains of a stand-alone 1950s coal-ferry unloading bridge, and houses contemporary art exhibitions. There is also a second museum in Pudong.

Tianzifang – Tianzifang or Tianzi Fang is a busy (and touristy) arts and crafts maze of small streets that has developed from a renovated traditional residential area in the French Concession area. It is home to boutique shops, bars and restaurants.small streets, shopping, cafes and bars.

Wukang Building – You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Wukang Building as you’ll see the hoards of photographers pointing their lenses towards it. Found in the French Concession district, the building would not be out of place in New York… a protected historic apartment building designed by the Hungarian-Slovak architect László Hudec and completed in 1924.

Jing’an Temple – Perhaps the most famous temple in Shanghai, the Jing’an Temple is located on West Nanjing Road in downtown Shanghai and has over 780 years of history. There are three main halls to see here: The Mahavira Hall, the Hall of Heavenly Kings and the ThreeSage Hall.

Shanghai

To Shop

FNJI – This wondrous furniture emporium showcasing both Chinese and Japanese designs in an atmospheric and beautiful space in the French Concession area of town.

Klee Klee – An eco-friendly fashion brand by Shanghai-based label ZUCZUG. The collection features luxurious organic materials and natural dyes in their chic clothes collection.

Lost & Found – A charming concept shop set up by Paul Gelinas and Xiao Mao in 2008, specialising in clothing and furniture inspired by the aesthetics of Old Beijing. Pick up a unique gift here to take home and treasure.

In the Park – This exhibition and clothes space in the Xintiandi district is a lovely place to while away an afternoon. The shop is a multi-brand collective with high quality products and a focus on design.

Shanghai

To Escape

Zhouzhuang Ancient Water Village – If you fancy a day out of town the Unesco World Heritage site,  Zhouzhuang is beautiful and calm, known by some as ‘Venice of the East’. You can get a fast train from Shanghai Railway Station (20 mins to Kunshan South Station, ¥25 pp and foreigners need a paper photocopy of their passport) and then a taxi from Kunshan South (45 mins, ¥112 on meter) to the village. Visitors must pay ¥100 to enter Ancient Village but then you can wander round and see everything easily. Things to see include the Double Bridge; Zhang’s Residence; Shen’s Residence; Fu’an Bridge; and the Quanfu/Changxu Temple. Sample the famous Wansan Pork Knuckle at Shen’s Restaurant/Shenting Restaurant and take a 20 min boat trip (¥150 per boat) around the water town.