>>>The green dragons of Ljubljana

The green dragons of Ljubljana

This sleepy Austro-Hungarian city, the capital of Slovenia, is the European Green Capital 2016. In record time it has gone from traffic jams and pollution to become a peaceful, riverside enclave.
Ljubljana is one of the nostalgic remains of what was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is defined by its Renaissance and Modernist architecture, which is very close in style to the Austrian cities of Graz and Salzburg. Its symbol could not be more imperial: Dragon Bridge, including 20 examples of these mythological beings on its surface, which was built in 1901 to celebrate the jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. From this glorious, although slightly faded past, dominated by cars and pollution, the city has reinvented itself in ecological and sustainable terms and has become European Green Capital 2016. Those responsible for its candidature proudly say that “here, even the dragons are green”. If your guide indicates the cultural and gastronomic attractions of the old quarter, but doesn’t say anything about its botanical and river attractions, don’t be surprised: the city has recovered quicker than the tour guides can keep track and three quarters of the land is now covered by grass.
The Central Market is open all year round, from Monday to Saturday from 7.00 am to 4.00pm (to 2.00 pm on Saturdays).

Nature walks without leaving the city

The favourite walking route with locals is Tivoli Park, next to Rožnik and Šišenski hills, while the Ljubljana Marsh Nature Park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO thanks to its biodiversity. The Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship includes 34 kilometres of a circular route lined by over 7,000 trees.

The programme responsible for this is Vision 2025, which began in 2007 and has already significantly changed the city. Before, it used to be a city of abandoned plots and wasteland around the route of the river, the Ljubljanica, which was neglected. The riverbank was used as a car park, the city centre was permanently blocked with traffic and crossing the city was torturous. Now, Ljubljana has recovered 80 hectares of land and there are 542 square metres of public green space per resident. The riverbank has become repopulated with cafes and nature walks and the city centre has been closed to motor vehicles, meaning that pedestrian areas have increased by 620%. “We are especially proud that tourism and public life in Ljubljana are closely connected and have sustainability at their heart”, says the Tourist Office of Ljubljana. The objective is that by 2020 one third of urban travel will be made by car, another third by public transport and the other third on bicycle.
This year visitors will have to wear comfortable clothes and trainers to walk the numerous green paths that cross the four large parks located on the hills that surround the city. A walk that also includes the Botanical Garden (dating back to 1810 and with 4,500 plant varieties, one third of them indigenous) and ends at the Central Market, which is full of food stalls and is located at the junction of Vodnik and Pogacar squares. Nowadays in Ljubljana you can’t tell where the city ends and the country begins: during the hot months (from April to October) people walk in the shade of thousands of trees, listening to the songs of 161 species of birds (86 of them protected) and the murmur of numerous fountains that, of course, offer water that is so pure it doesn’t need any treatment.
Open-air library in Tivoli Park.
Photo: Nea Culpa
An alternative to the traditional boat ride along the river is to go paddle surfing.
Photo: Nea Culpa

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