Ljubljana is possibly the perfect city for a short European break. It’s just over two hours from Stansted and then just a short train and a motorised cart once you get to the Slovenian capital.
It’s wonderfully verdant and award-winning for its green public spaces. The autumn is a perfect time to visit as it quietens down from the summer rush, and the trees glisten with gold autumnal glory.
Gorgeous Antiq Palace Hotel – part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group and now also the Historic Hotels of Europe – is a 3,000 square metre monument, glistening like a jewel at the centre of Ljubljana’s historic old town. Like the town, it oozes 16th-century detail, and the generous space is filled with antique furniture and contemporary art. Ancient and modern co-exist perfectly at the heart of this buzzing city.
Antiq Palace Hotel is bijou and blissfully unaware of the city bustling away just outside its elegant grounds. It has 20 lovely boutique rooms, suites and apartments, decked in French Provencal style cross-pollinated with boho chic. My apartment was as big as a Georgian ballroom: a huge bedroom with the comfiest bed, helped by sheets of Egyptian cotton with a 400 thread count; a gleaming, spacious white-gold marble bathroom with Chopard and Pure Herb toiletries. My dining room had a cinema-sized TV screen that could easily seat 12 while if I’d wished to cook (it seemed a crime to miss any chance to sample the fab array of Slovenian chefs just a skip away), the kitchen had everything I could have needed. I loved lolling on an upholstered chaise longue in the super fluffy bathrobe and slippers supplied, imagining the noble families who’d dwelled here from the 1500s.
As the restaurant was out of action during my stay, I could only sample breakfast. This however was ample and varied, with all the usual pan-European breakfast consumables plus local delights such as plum marmalade, grey Carniolan honey and sausage, prsut (thinly sliced air-dried ham from Karst, like Italian prosciutto) and a harvest festival of fruit and berries in red, black, blue, and goose. A spread that could satisfy you till dinner. But with so many wonderful cafes, especially alongside the Ljubljanica river, which winds through the city, why wait till then.
For lunch, we favoured Zvezda Cafe – 1920s-style club chairs and bar stools like a set from the Great Gatsby, marble covering any flat surface, famous for its Chocolate Dream Cake. Also raved about is Neboticnik Cafe, located in a tower built in 1933, its terrace has a dreamy view all the way to the Alps. For an evening treat, Spajza at Gornji Trg 28 is a charming upmarket place with an Italian zest, dark, womb like and with red and white gingham tablecloths, it’s like a Vermeer painting. Its seasonal dishes, such as pheasant ragout, spelt ravioli filled with goat’s cheese and white asparagus with morel mushrooms (in spring) come highly recommended.
Who goes there?
Romantics. The magic embedded in its ancient walls somehow persuades you to let go, indulge and yield to desire. Families with kids will also love the vast suites (up to three-beds).
The best thing
Antiq Palace’s ambience. From its on-trend modern art, such as the giant ‘Tableau’ painting by late famed Slovenian artist/theatre director Tomaz Pandur dominating the entrance hall, to architectural remnants from its 16th-century beginnings, it’s a charming sanctuary filled with faded glamour. Its 120-square metre courtyard is a calming spot to take tea under palm trees – it’s like staying in an old stately home with all modern comforts.
The only tricky thing about Ljubljana is spelling it. Everything else is a breeze: Antiq Palace, right in the historic centre, is a stroll from excellent restaurants and bars, luxury stores, parks and museums. Being pedestrianised, the centre’s free of car noise and fumes, yet dinky enough to easily walk or cycle everywhere, and amuse yourself with sights, such as the Dragon bridge and Triple bridge, designed by early-modern minimalism master Jože Plečnik, Ljubljana castle and Tivoli park; or check out bespoke fashion and jewellery at the boutiques in Stari Trg, and Zoofa, a riverside boutique housing the work of funky Slovenian fashion designers.
The worst thing
The long renovations Antiq Palace Hotel has been undergoing since 2009. The restaurant and spa were out of bounds when I stayed – however both should be open by November and are promised to be worth the wait (though the spa will be just a sauna and treatment rooms). The hotel has in the meantime offered the services of top Slovenian chefs to cook exclusively for guests, and spa treatments and massage were available in-room. Being a monument, and one under heritage protection will have added to the challenges. But had this been London, Paris or New York, I suspect the work might have been finished sooner. Still, what it lacks in slick modern efficiency (including its website) it makes up for in character.
Rooms at Antiq Palace Hotel (low season) from €150; suites and serviced apartments (short and long-stay) from €350.
Antiq Palace Hotel,Gosposka 10, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; antiqpalace.com