What, I hear you say, do MB and LJ have to do with an Alpine blog? Well, it would seem churlish to come to Slovenia for any great length of time and ignore what cities number 1 and 2 have to offer.
Assuming you are flying into Brnik airport you will already have had some interaction with Ljubljana, albeit a good 30 minutes from the actual city. Maribor has an airport but after a brief but unsuccessful flirtation with Ryanair, I am not aware of it currently receiving any flights other than domestic. If you are therefore staying in the Alps a fairly lengthy train or car journey is the price you will have to pay to reach it, unless you fly in to Graz and have cross-border transport.
It is though easily overlooked or not even known that Maribor has its own brush with higher climbs, with the Pohorje massif being approximately 25 minutes form the city and housing the eponymous ski-area which is Slovenia’s largest, if not its highest. Every January the world’s skiing attention is turned to the Golden Fox meeting held here, giving residents a rare chance to see local hero, Tina Maze.
Part of this particular blog-entry is to encourage you to take a day or three out of your Alpine itinerary and explore Ljubljana, Slovenia’s compact but impressive capital. I am not though going to extol the virtues of its architecture, restaurants, museums and bridges which a myriad of sites elsewhere already do. If you for instance are staying in Bohinj, the bus-service into Ljubljana is reliable and yes, at times painfully slow but it must be remembered that this is not a tourist bus, but a service for locals which tourists are welcome to use and do so. Yes, it perhaps takes twice as long as it could and should do to reach LJ but it gives the pigeon-holed tourist a chance to see outlying villages and hamlets which otherwise would be unknown to them, enabling locals and school-children commuting to Bled, Kranj, Radovljica and of course Ljubljana to go about their business. For many reasons, it is a fascinating journey.
Once you arrive in Ljubljana for your city-break, I would recommend the Pri Mraku guesthouse –http://www.daj-dam.si/ang/Mrak/mrakmain.htm – which is a straightforward 15 minute walk from the train and bus hub, as long as your suitcase is on wheels and you’ve got a good map. Otherwise a taxi will take you on a more circuitous tour of Ljubljana to find it, whether because of traffic or to bolster the fare I couldn’t possibly say… I would though endorse getting a cab if your arrival is in the evening, should the lack of daylight disorientate you. From personal experience I am not able to talk up the chances of the Hotel Park receiving any further repeat-custom from myself, although, I do have the distinction of having shared the breakfast-buffet with an REM road-crew. I am though completely convinced that Michael Stipe and Peter Buck were staying in more salubrious surroundings.
Maribor is a lot more unknown to the British traveller so yes, it requires more extensive and time-consuming research. I know you can do it! It does though offer an array of suitable accommodation, such as the centrally-located Hotel Orel – http://www.hotel-orel.si/en/ – which also but not exclusively houses youth hostel-style accommodation. Please though don’t let that put you off; this hotel sits in an advantageous position ideal for exploring the city and the River Drava and offers travellers very-attractive and affordable package deals. For the true hikers amongst you who want to cut to the chase without the need for sightseeing in the city, I would suggest heading towards Pohorje and for example, the hotels Arena and Bellevue, both providing comfortable accommodation in the thick of prime walking-country. Travelling on a budget though need not hinder your visit to Pohorje and again from my experience I can commend the Hotel Bajt – http://www.hotel-bajt.com/ – which is clean, comfortable, friendly and at the right price. It also owns a bar across the road where I remember having a nice drop of Guinness and…hope you are well and happy, Tihana…
If you are planning a detour to Maribor from your Alpine-holiday I would recommend staying a good few days in MB, or breaking your journey in for instance Celje, where Slovenia’s football team sometimes decamp to for their less important matches. Logistically it would be unrealistic for you to get the most out of Maribor and/or Pohorje on a day-trip from Bled or Bohinj, what with the long schlepp consisting of the bus into Ljubljana and subsequent train-journey into Maribor which can take up to three hours, should you be unlucky to catch a service which literally stops everywhere. Maribor has sufficient accommodation both in range and quality, along with a long-established cultural disposition, jazz-scene and of course Pohorje for a longer trip to be justified and fully enjoyed. It feels more ‘Eastern European’ than Ljubljana but this is in no way a pejorative statement but a noticeable quirk on how such a small-country can be so diverse, sitting in the middle of the continent but not being fully eastern or at all Balkan.
Go and see for yourself; prepare to be impressed.