InterContinental Ljubljana review: Slovenia’s secret star

Feast yourself on a visit to the capital city’s first five-star luxury hotel


Ljubljana isn’t like other European travel destinations. Despite sitting only a couple of hours away from the UK, Slovenia’s capital city is that rare thing – a capital city still largely untouched by tourism.

However, that doesn’t mean roughing it in a B&B offering flock wallpaper and shared bathrooms. InterContinental this year opened Ljubljana’s first five-star hotel – and its tallest – which offers luxury accommodation for the more discerning visitor.

This modern, chic hotel building boasts 20 floors and 165 rooms which all look out over the city. Together with floor-to-ceiling windows, you’re guaranteed spectacular views, especially if you opt for one of the 15 suites.

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The sleek rooms compliment the colours of the city, with a palette of natural greens, dusky pinks and soft greys. Pops of red and gold, together with leather, satin and marble finishings, add to the luxe feel.

Best of all is the location. Ljubljana’s centre is merely a few minutes’ away in this very walkable city, taking you from the modernity of the InterContinental back into a world of the Hapsburgs and baroque architecture.

Overlooked by an impressive medieval hilltop castle, the old town oozes charm reminiscent of Vienna or Prague, which is not surprising considering its main architect, Joze Plecnik, both studied and practised his craft in these cities. Plecnik is the Slovenian equivalent of Gaudi in Barcelona, stamping his mark on Ljubljana. His impressive creations include the Renaissance-style covered market buildings, where local producers still sell their wares by the banks of the peaceful Ljubljana river, and the Tromostvoje – a bridge with three crossings that link the old and new towns.

While neighbouring Croatia can boast of being home to Westeros - the fictional world of the hit Game of Thrones TV series which often films there - it is Ljubljana that can truly call itself the kingdom of the dragon. Legend has it that the mythical beast was slain here by none other than Jason of Argonauts fame and it is now the city’s icon. Four of the ferocious creatures stand guard on the iconic Emperor Franz Josef Jubilee Bridge, more widely known as the Dragon Bridge – or the mother-in-law bridge, as Portfolio was told as we passed under the Art Nouveau crossing while enjoying a Sunday morning boat cruise.

With only 300,000 residents, there is plenty of room to wander through the cobbled streets, stopping for a coffee or indulgent hot chocolate in one of the many cafes that line the waterway.

Slovene food is good, hearty fare – meat, cheese and breads. But don’t be misled: Ljubljana’s restaurants offer a wide range of fine dining choices.

Head up to the castle – either winding your way around the hill or via the funicular – and you can enjoy a meal of history, both from the ambiance of the ancient surroundings and the unforgettable quality of the dishes.

The award-winning Strelec Restaurant has been constructed in the castle’s Archer Tower and embraces the culinary past of the building and the country, mixing national and regional dishes with Mediterranean specialities. The menu changes with the seasons and availability, but always offers a modern, fine-dining take on classic flavours, the stylish presentation even rivalling the breathtaking panoramic vistas.

National wines dominate the menus – as they should. Slovenian wines may not have the supermarket recognition of other countries, but the standard and quality is hard to beat.

Many of wineries offer tours where you taste the wines with their makers and Portfolio travelled to the nearby Movia wineyard, on the border with Italy, to sample the crisp delight of its Puro sparkling wine amongst other medal-winning delights.

We were also shown around the atmospheric wine cellar, where candles light the way and the dark woods of the barrels create a very special ambience.

If, after an afternoon imbibing, you wish for nothing more than a good meal and bed, then the InterContinental’s B Restaurant is the place to go. And don’t feel embarrassed, unlike many hotel restaurants, the B (named after Slovenia’s beloved Carniolan bees) appeals to locals as much as guests.

Overseen by Michelin-starred chef Alfredo Russo, whose passion for cooking is infectious when we meet, the food is as dizzyingly magnificent as the views from the 20th floor setting.

Standout dishes are difficult to choose when each mouthful is a delight, but honourable mentions must go to the crisp, flavourful polpo fritto and the tortino de melanzane, a wonderfully fresh “cheesecake” of tomatoes, aubergine, mozzarella and a parmesan biscuit. Make sure you leave room for the sumptuous tiramisu for dessert or the soft crema caramalleta, before heading to the terrace of the next-door B-Bar for a honeyed cocktail.

You can splash off your indulgences the next morning in the 18th-floor Saruna spa, which features a pool, saunas, hot tub and steam room. There’s also a yoga space and workout room with panoramic views to make the treadmill less of a chore, while friendly and courteous staff are on hand to supply luxurious massages and facials.

Thoroughly rejuvenated and sated both inside and out, we took the short taxi ride to the airport determined to return.

Just don’t tell any other tourists.

Double rooms at InterContinental Ljubljana start from €144 euros (approx. £127), including breakfast and taxes. For further information, visit InterContinental Ljubljana

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