Ljubljana: Vibrant, cosmopolitan

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- If Vienna and Budapest married and had a baby, it would probably look like Ljubljana.

Small but precious, the city, whose name means beloved, is a melange of baroque facades, cobblestone streets, medieval monuments and trendy cafes.

Ljubljana has a vibrant and youthful ambience, as it is home to 25,000 university students who study at a variety of colleges and art academies.

Although the rest of country can seem extremely homogenous, Ljubljana residents are proud of their more cosmopolitan attitude toward diversity, extending hospitality to international artists and welcoming a bohemian lifestyle.

The city is intersected by a series of canals that are bridged by wrought iron or stone structures.

As Lake Bled and the coastal resorts are Slovenia's most prominent tourist draws, most visitors spend no more than a day or two here.

The leading attraction is Ljubljana Castle, which dates back to the 16th century and only opened to the public 10 years ago.

Slovenes are fond of exercise, and the castle helps them keep fit by requiring a 150-step climb for a look at its ramparts, where the hardy are rewarded with views of the Old Town and the Ljubljanic River.

The castle is in the final stages of a 10-year reconstruction, which makes it an exciting place to explore, as new parts are revealed on a regular basis.

Along with a souvenir shop that sells traditional crafts, there are frequent exhibitions at the castle where Slovenian artisans' works are for sale.

The country is famous for its ironwork; one of the names to look for is Mihael Krostof, a blacksmith from Maribor who turns iron into intricate webs of design.

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