Ljubljana, a capital city with about 300,000 people including 60,000 students. Youthful, entrepreneurial and with a hidden edge hearkening back to Tito's time. For example, just outside the old city is a wealth of graffiti and a squatters' area.
Ljubljana has a thriving food culture. Lunch is the big meal of the day, as social as the evening café and bar life. Sidewalks are abuzz day and night with lively food, drink and conversation. Funkiest café was Ziferblat: giant living rooms attached to the open kitchen at the entrance. Board games, wifi, quiet and social areas, you pay by time spent and not by what you consume. Make your own espresso, help yourself to cookies and snacks, based on the original idea in Moscow - post-socialist? Markets vary each day in the city centre - farmers, organic, depending on the day. There is even an unpasteurised milk vending machine - 1 euro for 1 litre.
An hour and a half bus ride northwest of Ljubljana lie Bled and the Alps. Bled is touristy but a hike up to, through and back from Vintgar Gorge gave me the shot of nature I needed. Farmland up to the gorge, pure runoff from the alps in the gorge and wooded areas on the way back to Bled. Bled is a spa favoured by royalty and Tito himself. Lots of opportunities for swimming.
An hour and a half south west of Ljubljana lie fertile valleys perfect for viniculture, aka great wine. The Vipava valley around Ajdovščina, Goce and Slap hosts some fierce "Bora" winds as two climatic regions crash into each other. People put rocks on their tile roofs to keep them from blowing away in gusts known to reach 300 kph. With these winds, the vineyards themselves benefit from never having dew or frost. Wine growing is still family-centred and very much a boutique industry. There is pride in their wines - and justly so. Along with merlot, muscat and the like, vintners grow two indigenous grapes: Zelen or "green" named after the striking colour of the vine's leaves, and Pinela. Both make clear, fresh and smooth whites and roses. The cellars are under the homes and people say there is more room underground than above. The cellars I visited ranged from 350 years old to 700 years old. Perfect for storing ... and tasting ... local vintages. Accompanied by local cheeses, meats and produce made by the families themselves. See "tips and contacts" for more details.