Review: our oldest musical instrument?

If you visit the charming city of Ljubljana, in Central Europe, make sure you see ‘the flute’.

With a long history, the capital of Slovenia on the Ljubljanica River, is rich in cultural attractions, including the country’s National Museum.


The National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana

And one of the most interesting exhibits in the museum is thought to be possibly the world’s oldest musical instrument.

The ‘Divje Babe Flute’ is a piece of bone from a cave bear with neatly spaced holes pierced down one side.

Discovered in 1995 at the Divje Babe archeological park in northwestern Slovenia, the bone is thought to be as much as 43,100 years old.

There are apparently three schools of thought about the origin of the ‘flute’.

Some say it was made made by Neanderthals as a musical instrument.

Others argue that it was probably fashioned by Cro-Magnons – and yet others speculate that the aligned holes may have been caused by the teeth of an animal.


When we visited Ljubljana, the ‘flute’ was advertised as possibly the country’s leading cultural attraction and seemed to be regarded as a source of national pride.

The National Museum of Slovenia (above) is housed in a neo-Renaissance palace built between 1883 and 1885.

As well as the Neanderthal flute, the museum’s exhibitions include the ‘Vače Situla’, a famous early Iron Age ritual vessel found in the village of Vače, along with many archaeological finds from Ancient Roman occupation, when Ljubljana was known as Emona.

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Oozing with charm, Ljubljana is also fast gaining a reputation as a city of romance, spurred by its beautiful views, inspiring stories, old world architecture and abundant greenery.


Travel review: Piran’s unusual history

In Slovenia, there’s a local joke that nothing is more than one hour away.

In a compact country that borders Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy and has only 43 kilometres of coastline, it’s fairly easy to move from centre to centre and one geographical feature to another.

In one direction, you’ll encounter stunning snow-capped alps and beautiful Lake Bled; in another is the striking capital city of Ljubljana; Italy is one hour away in yet another direction; or some of the world’s biggest limestone caves.

And, in the country’s south-west is the charming medieval walled town of Piran, on the Adriatic Coast.

Long regarded as a hidden jewell by travellers in the know and the source of acclaimed world class salt, Fleur de Sel, Piran is a remarkably attractive and photogenic old port town with a complex history.  These days, visitors flock to the town to enjoy community events, the culinary offerings and natural attractions

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We travelled to Piran because we’d heard so much about its astonishing mixture of architecture that reflects an unusual history – to say the least!

For example:

  • by the 7th Century, Piran was under Byzantine rule
  • in about 952 AD, it became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • from 1283 to 1797, Piran was in the Republic of Venice
  • in 1797, it was annexed to the Austrian Empire
  • between 1806 and 1814, it was ceded to the Napoleonic Empire
  • at the end of the 19th Century and the start of the 20th Century, Piran was Austro-Hungarian
  • after the First World War, the town was ceded to Italy.
  • in 1954, Piran was annexed to Yugoslavia – and much of its population chose to move to Italy or abroard.
  • since 1991, the town has been part of Slovenia.

If that isn’t confusing enough, the town is bilingual, with both Slovene and Italian listed as official languages.

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And, its municipality borders Croatia to the south and faces Italy across the Gulf of Trieste and the Adriatic Sea.

This melting pot of history gives Piran a distinctive and attractive appearance.

The Venetian influence is strong, with an imposing town square and sweep of red rooftops.

The remains of the town wall have a Roman look, although in reality they have been altered several times through the years.

There are three walls, dating to the 7th Century and a total of seven gates or entrances to the town.

And the medieval feel is also pronounced, with a lot of narrow streets and compact houses.

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And through its complex history, Piran flourished largely because of its salt pans, which were established in 804 AD. 

We walked to the remains of the third town wall and nearby St George’s Church which dominates the main hill above the town .

Then we strolled along the breakwall to the tip of Piran peninsula, watching young swimmers braving the cold waters of the Adriatic.

After a coffee in one of the many cafes and seafood restaurants along the waterfront, we returned to Tartini Square, named after one of the towns most famous residents – the 17th Century violinist, Giuseppe Tartini

It may be only an hour away from everywhere in Slovenia, but medieval Piran is a stunning Adriatic coastal resort that is a ‘must see’ when visiting Slovenia.

Note: The writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines


Slovenia’s magical underground

We were standing in a massive underground canyon, our words lost amid the near-deafening roar of crashing water.

Despite lighting on the walls, the roof was too high to see and in the darkness below us, the River Reka – swollen by recent rain – thundered under our tiny bridge.

It was an awe-inspiring scene in Europe’s biggest known underground canyon – part of the Skocjan Caves in north-eastern Slovenia.

Statistics can’t adequately prepare you

We’d been told the statistics: the cavern is 308 metres long, 89 metres wide on average and 106 metres high, with the tallest point of the ceiling some 146 metres above the Reka River.


Caves entrance

But, this didn’t really prepare for the almost frightening spectacle that confronted us deep beneath the gorges of Slovenia.

The enormous size of the underground canyon is what places Škocjan Caves among the most famous underground features in the world.

Although they have been mentioned since the 2nd Century BC, some of the caves have yet to be fully explored.

Spectacular gorge

The Reka River flows through a scenic four-kilometre gorge before it disappears underground to surge through the limestone caves.

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River Reka gorge

During a visit to Slovenia, we caught a bus from the capital Ljubljana to visit the Skocjan Caves Regional Park. And we were certainly impressed.

Our party wound its way through the massive chambers of the Skocjan network using stairs and concrete paths that cling to the walls. The bridge over the Reka River was certainly a highlight.

Later, we negotiated a winding stairway out of the caves area and caught a furnicular railway to the top of the gorge, before lunching in the nearby village of Matavun.


Global significance

The Skocjan network is of such importance globally that it has been on the UNESCO list of natural and cultural world heritage sites since 1986.


Although steep, the area is popular with hikers and numerous footpaths, mountain trails and even cycling paths criss-cross the area.

Skocjan Caves are in north-eastern Slovenia, about 47 kilometres from Ljubljana.


Note: The writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines.

Credit: Main photograph with thanks to the Skocjan Caves Regional Park authority.


Astonishing Lake Bled

Lake Bled regularly tops lists of the world’s most beautiful place – and it’s easy to see why.

We knew that the lake – in north-western Slovenia – would be something special, but that didn’t fully prepare us for the reality

Picture this : sitting among alpine meadows and pine forests under the snow-capped Julian Alps, is a mirror-like waterway.

At one end of Lake Bled, a medieval castle is perched high above the water on a 130-metre sheer rock cliff.

In the middle, bells regularly peal from a church on a tiny, lush green island.

Gondola-like traditional Pletna boats dot the lake, carrying people from the villas and towns around the shoreline.

Some of the rowing boats carry pilgrims making a visit to the island church of the Assumption of Mary. On arrival, they face a climb of 98 stone steps to reach the chapel on Slovenia’s only island.

The boat ride took us about 15 minutes and the views from the water were breath-taking.

Long believed to have healing properties, the water of Lake Bled glistens emerald-green when the sun shines.

The air is crisp and there are beds of flowers and carefully-tended parks everywhere you turn.

During our visit, in late Autumn, the trees were losing their leaves, but retained their colour.

If you desire, there is a six kilometre walk around the lake and the surrounding alpine areas are popular for kayaking and mountain biking.

The nearby Triglav National Park can easily be reached by bus from Lake Bled.

As we found throughout Slovenia, local wines and food specialties are served at the restaurants in the town of Bled.

This includes the famous Bled cake, the kremna rezina, which consists of a thick layer of cream and an even thicker layer of vanilla custard sandwiched between slices of thin crispy pastry.

It’s hard to look dignified while eating the cake, but we couldn’t fault the taste.

We also enjoyed Kranjska klobasa, a juicy pork sausage that is said to come from the nearby town of Kranj.

The sheer beauty of Lake Bled induces a relaxation that is rare during a hectic travel schedule.

Slovenia is widely being described as the undiscovered jewell of Europe.

We suggest that, for its sheer natural beauty alone, Lake Bled is one of the shiniest parts of that jewell.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines


Where Robin Hood was caught with his pants down

In a quiet part of Slovenia sits a spectacular castle with a great story.

The 12th Century Predjama Castle is nestled in the mouth of a cave, under a 123 metre overhanging limestone rock face close to the Italian border.

Predjama Castle’s sheltered position has helped preserve the remarkable structure.

But it’s a tale from 1484 – complete with heroism and more than a little humor – that has made the castle famous world-wide.

A rebellious Knight, Erazem Lueger – known as Slovenia’s Robin Hood – holed up in the impregnable castle while regularly robbing caravans passing between Vienna, Austria and The Italian port of Trieste.

The fed-up governor of Trieste finally laid siege to Predjama Castle, in an attempt to starve out Lueger.

However, the robber baron used a hidden path through cave tunnels to go out for food – and taunted the besieging soldiers by throwing them scraps.

Eventually, a servant was bribed into revealing the castle’s only weakness – it had a toilet located outside the main walls on the upper level.

That servant fed Lueger some dodgy meat and then signaled to the Italian forces that our hero had made a run for the loo.

The soldiers fired one ball from a catapult, hitting the target – and catching their nemesis with his pants down.

Exit Slovenia’s Robin Hood.

The castle survived, however, and is now one of the most spectacular such attractions in Europe.

Predjama castle is in Slovenia, north-west of the town of Postojna.

Off the highways, it’s on a route that winds through mountains and green hills.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airways.



Ljubjiana: the secret is out.

Some destinations are special. Ljubljana is one of them. 

Straddling the divide between The Balkans and Central Europe, the capital of Slovenia is a fairytale city of rare beauty. 

Only a few years ago, Ljubljana was relatively unknown among travellers. 

But, the secret got out -and this European jewel is fast becoming a tourist hotspot.

Close to Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, the city of Ljubljana is easy to reach and well set up for visitors. 

It’s main attractions are generally located in an attractive Old Town area alongside the pretty Ljubljanica River.

The Slovenian flag fries above Ljubljana Castle

This pedestrian-only city centre boasts strikingly colourful architecture; outdoor cafes and coffee shops; wide public squares; cobblestone streets; museums, a big university; and Baroque fountains, sculptures and monuments.

And above it all sits the imposing Ljubjiana Castle, an 11th Century fortress that can be reached by glass-sided funicular railway or by several walking trails.

From the castle towers, you can see across the red rooftops of the Old Town and over the suburbs of Ljubjiana to the snow-topped Julian Alps in the distance.

Looking down into the medieval castle from the ramparts

Ljubljana  Castle towers are ascended using twisting circular steel ladders.

Everywhere you look in Central Ljubljana there are superbly preserved Art Nouveau buildings, many housing cultural and artistic institutions, such as museums and art galleries.

Others host shops, banks and businesses.

The Cooperative Business Bank, which was designed in 1921 in the Slovene Tricolour.

The fact that Ljubjiana has less than 300,000 permanent residents gives the city a particularly friendly and laid-back atmosphere

Ljubjiana University, with 63,000 students, also helps give the city a vibrancy, as well as boosting the strong local art and music scene.

Ljubljana University

At Ljubljana’s centre is Preseren square, just a short walk from the Old Town across the three-pronged Triple Bridge. 

The square is surrounded by beautiful historic architecture, including the salmon-coloured Franciscan Church of the Annuncian. 

 This among several eye-catching churches in Ljubljana’s heart.

Ljubljana’s Dragon on the bridge that bears its name

Other well known river crossings in central Ljubjiana include the Dragon Bridge and the more-recent structure known locally as the ‘Love Lock Bridge’.

‘Love Locks’ adorning the Ljubljana bridge

Slovenia is a modern country in every sense and its capital city has many trendy bars, including Metelkova Mestre, a former army building that was taken over by squatters and is home to fringe art centres, alternative clubs and music venues.

Senior travellers are probably more interested in the city’s vibrant cafe scene, stunning architecture and range of museums and galleries. 

And the city has a growing reputation as a foodies paradise, with many restaurants serving a range of traditional Slovenian fare, including mushroom soup, pork sausages, beef dishes and chicken paprika with dumplings.  

A Slovenian sausage meal

Ljubljana is also an excellent base from which no part of Slovenia is more than one hour away.

See more of our Ljubjiana photos:

The city library

Overall, Ljubjiana is a wonderful destination for travellers of any age. 

For seniors, it is particularly accessible because the majority of the city’s wonderful attractions are concentrated within its Old Town and easily reached on foot.

We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit – and believe the city well and truly lives up to its reputation as a hidden European jewell. 

See this one before the mass tourist market does.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines.