The Pivka Park of Military History – A Historic Year!

It’s been quite a year thus far for the Park of Military History in Pivka. Visitor numbers are up by an astonishing 40%, as word spreads about this fascinating museum and its extensive and diverse collections. Last week the park celebrated its 10th birthday – in true military style of course – with a week of events culminating in the annual Festival of Military History, which I attended on Sunday.

It’s easy to reach Pivka, which is in Slovenia’s Green Karst region. It can be a destination in itself, or you can combine it with a visit to one of the other nearby attractions in the area, such as the Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle or the Lipica Stud Farm. The park is also an ideal place to visit on those pesky rainy days!

For those without transport, a bonus is that it is easy to reach Pivka by train. Direct trains run from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana and onwards toward Rijeka in Croatia. On arrival you can already see the imposing renovated barracks in which the museum is housed. When exiting the train station, just look for the museum symbols marked on the pavement.

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After crossing the tracks, head downhill, following the green signs, and within 10 minutes you are there!

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One of the biggest draws at the Park is undoubtedly the P-913 Zeta submarine, which visitors have a chance to go inside, accompanied by a guide, to experience the cramped conditions the submarine crew worked under.

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Photo: Simon Avsec – http://www.slovenia.info/

The renovated barracks housing the museum collections were built by the Kingdom of Italy around 1930 in order to defend the Rapallo border and were later home to the Yugoslav People’s Army. Since 2004 the Park has been developing and has now become the largest museum complex in Slovenia, as well as one of the largest military historical complexes in this part of Europe.

Of the numerous military-related events that take place at the Park throughout the year, last weekend’s 10th Festival of Military History, which was meticulously organised, is the largest. Below you can see some of the action that took place.

Demonstrations of tanks operating in combat situations.

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A dynamic display of anti-terrorist measures with the helicopters of the Special Forces and the Slovene Army.

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Recreations of various World War II military camps – Partisan, Soviet, American, and German. At times I felt like I had walked onto the set of MASH!

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There was even fresh Jerry soup!

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A chance to walk through a cavern. Provided, of course, you could get past the guards!

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There was plenty of opportunity to get involved, ask questions, and, of course, pose for a few snaps for posterity!

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A chance to get ‘hands on’ with the ammunition. The first, and hopefully only, time I will be holding such a weapon!

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Not even the occasional torrential downpour dampened the spirits of these strapping Romans (from Ptuj)! Can you spot the odd one out?

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There was also archery, a small market area, a collection of old-timer cars, and free transport to/from the railway station. The festival was a roaring success and another testament to the Park’s popularity.

You can find out more about the Park here – http://parkvojaskezgodovine.si/en/ and also read more about other things to see and do in the area, including the 17 intermittent lakes, in a previous blog from earlier this year – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/05/pivka-pause-ponder-play/

You don’t need to especially be a lover of museums, history, or military history (I wouldn’t consider myself to be!) to enjoy a visit. The exhibits are fascinating and there’s something for all the family. I highly recommend a visit!

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Valvasorjev dom – The Best Mountain Hut in Slovenia 2016

The Radovljica Mountain Association was founded in 1895 and is one of the oldest and most active mountain associations in Slovenia. As with the many other mountain associations throughout Slovenia, it carries out numerous activities, including training for mountain guidesguided hikesmanaging and maintaining mountain huts, and maintenance and marking of mountain trails.

Each association manages a number of mountain huts/shelters/lodges, the majority being in the immediate surroundings, whilst others can be in an entirely different part of the country. For example, the Radovljica Mountain Association manages three huts; Roblekov dom, Pogačnikov Dom na Kriški podih and Valvarsorjev dom. Just last week the latter was awarded, for the 2nd time in 3 years, the title of ‘Best Mountain Hut’.

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Valvarsorjev dom – Photo: PD Radovljica

Valvasorjev dom stands beneath Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range, and on the terrace of the south slopes of Belščica. It is a favourite destination for locals and is also an excellent venue for organised meetings, courses, camps, or school nature trips. The hut has been entirely renovated and has well-equipped sleeping, sanitary and washing areas as well as central heating, running water, showers, radio and mobile connection.

For some, Valvarsorjev dom is a destination in itself. It can be reached from the Završnica valley in less than a hour on the marked trail, whilst for others it is a start point for hiking to Stol. You can also visit the Ajdna archeological site (read more here https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/06/20/a-sunny-saturday-on-ajdna/).

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Or continue to one of the many highlands beneath Stol. As you can see below, there are plenty of options!

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One of the reasons that Valvasorjev dom is so popular, is that it is one of just a few mountain huts that is open year-round. It is also equally popular during winter with hikers, sledgers (conditions permitting) and off-piste skiers.

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However, that alone is certainly not enough to win the title, it is the friendliness of the team that run it, headed up by Aleš Štefe, as well as the excellent home-cooked food. Everything is made onsite, and one thing I find particularly impressive, is that since Aleš took over running the hut, they have not bought even one single loaf of bread, preferring instead of make their own. There are always a wide range of sweet and savoury dishes on offer such as soups, stews, štruklji, and award-winning strudel.

 Below you can find more information from the Radovljica Mountain Association about access and onward tours from Valvarsorjev dom.

Starting Point and Access:

Moste pri Žirovnici – Završnica – Valvasorjev dom (8km)

Završnica – Valvasorjev dom (1.15h)

Tours from Valvasorjev dom:

Žirovniška planina highland – Stol (2.30h)

Žirovniška planina highland – Zabreška planina highland – Stol (2.45h)

Potoški stol (via Potoška planina – 2h)

Vajnež – via Potoška planina (2.30h)

Ajdna Archeological Site (30min)

Onward routes to other huts:

Prešeren Hut (Prešernova koča) on Stol (3h or 3.30h)

Roblekov dom on Begunjščica (2.30h)

Planinski dom on Zelenici via the Lower Route (3.30h)

Dom Pristava on Javorniški Rovt (2.30h)

© Adele in Slovenia

 

 

Biking and Hiking in Koroška – Through and On Mount Peca!

For lovers of the great outdoors, particularly hiking and cycling, Slovenia’s Koroška region offers a wealth of opportunities and exciting, unique experiences and was somewhere I had long had on my list of places to get round to visiting.

This is not a place of mass-tourism, and is all the better for it. Instead it’s crammed with unspoilt nature, picturesque alpine valleys, peaceful hamlets, remote and hidden delights, farmsteads and tourist farms with hospitable locals. In fact, Koroška is among the most mountainous of Slovenia’s regions – hence it has my name written all over it!

I stayed at the family-run Bike and Eko Hotel Koroš, in Jamnica, near Mežica – the Alpine and mining centre of the Mežiska valley. As you can see below, the views I woke up to of the surrounding countryside and mountains were pretty breathtaking!

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The hotel stands at an altitude of 900m, and is the first dedicated bike hotel in Slovenia.

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As well as offering 10 simple rooms and excellent home-grown and home-cooked food, it boasts the Jamnica Single Trail Bike Park – a paradise for fans of adrenaline-filled mountain biking. Making the most of the idyllic surroundings, and with the agreement and co-operation of the local community, the hotel’s owners have prepared a network of 30km of single trails which you can tackle alone or with a guide. More information about the hotel and bike park here – http://www.mtbpark.com/si/main/ekohotelkoros

Photo: Rupert Fowler

Lead, zinc and iron ore mining was once the region’s key industry and there was, or rather still is, a labyrinth of tunnels under Mount Peca stretching for around 800 kilometres. At the peak of its production, around 2,000 people worked in the mine’s various units, which operated for three centuries, with production finally ceasing in 1994.

Nowadays, just a small part of the mine is open for tourists who can choose from 3 ways of experiencing it. The more sedentary option is to take a tour of the 3.5km Glančnik tunnel on board an original mining train. You also get to don some miners’ gear, to make the experience even more authentic! However, it’s not entirely sedentary, as the experience also includes a 1.5km walk through part of the mine.

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Another option, and for a unique and thrilling experience, is to explore the tunnels on a guided mountain bike trip – which was my choice!

The mountain bike experience lasts around 3 hours and begins with a short van ride to the entrance at Igrčevo, in Črna na Koroškem. Each participant is provided with a helmet and headlamp. Do make sure to have extra layers of clothing as it is a constant 10˚C inside the mines. It was around 30˚C outside on the day of my visit, so warm clothes were not at the forefront of my mind, though, I sure wish I had taken warm gloves!

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It feels slightly disconcerting at first, but you soon adjust to cycling through the narrow low tunnels. Along the way the guide gives information about the working conditions in the mine and you can see some remains of equipment used and names scribbled on the mine’s walls. The total ride itself is only around 6km, with a negligible incline.

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All the experiences begin at the cross-border Karavanke Geopark in Mežica, which in itself is worth a visit, and in 2013 it became a member of the European and global network of geoparks under the auspices of UNESCO.

The centre offers a glimpse into the more than 400 million-year-old history of the area of today’s eastern Karavanke and comprises an exhibition area with exhibits including a fully-preserved smithy, an information area with a café and gift shop, and it also hosts workshops and other events.

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In an adjacent building there is museum, which gives a further insight into the lives of those working in, or connected to, the mines, and a collection of ores, minerals and fossils.

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Note: for bike and kayak tours, prior reservations are required; the minimum age is 10. More information about the Geopark can be found here – http://www.podzemljepece.com/?lang=en

Having spent the afternoon going through Mount Peca, next morning it was time to go ON Mount Peca – this time on foot! Peca is part of the Karavanke chain, which has a total length of around 120km and forms a natural border between Slovenia and Austria.

The Peca massif forms part of the Eastern Karavanke and can be approached from either Slovenia or Austria. I chose to begin my hike from the serene and stunning Topla Valley, which is surrounded on all sides by lush forest and contains just a handful of farmsteads – each with a traditional shingle roof. This protected valley really is like something out of a fairytale and is about as unspoilt as it gets.

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At the far-end of the valley, near the entrance to the Topla mine, a path leads steeply up through the forest taking about 2 hours to reach the Dom na Peci mountain hut (1665m), where you can enjoy delicious home-cooked stews, štruklji, strudel and other types of food, which always seem to somehow taste even better when you have earnt them after a long hike!I

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However, knowing it was still a way to go to reach the top of Peca, Kordeževa glava (2125m), and not wishing to do so with a full stomach, I resisted the temptation and continued onwards and upwards! At first across a meadow, then the terrain becomes more rocky, but still relatively easy, though for those who like more challenging climbing routes (that doesn’t include me, I hasten to add!), there is also an alternative path to the top, which is classified as ‘demanding’.

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The higher you go, the better and more far-reaching are the views, and the more the effort pays off!

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Despite it being a searingly-hot mid-August weekend, I still had the place to myself! Well, not exactly, but in fact there were just about the right number of people for my liking. Enough that one could pass the time of day and exchange a few words with fellow hikers here and there, and find some friendly folk to take the odd snap for me, but not so many that it felt crowded – just perfect!

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Koroška tends to get somewhat overlooked in terms of tourism, at least in terms of those visiting from outside of Slovenia, however, I recommend that for lovers of the outdoors, it definitely deserves to be included in your holiday plans.

This gives just a brief snapshot of the area; more information about what else to see and do can be found here – http://www.koroska.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

Shop Locally at Radovljica’s Farmers and Craft Markets

Radovljica now boasts two monthly local markets, where you can buy direct from farmers, producers and local craftspeople. As anyone who has ever shopped at a farmers’ market will know, it’s a lovely, relaxed way to shop; safe in the knowledge there are no food miles involved, no added nasty additives etc., and, at the same time, you are helping to support the local community. So, a win-win all round!

The monthly Vila Podvin local market takes place on the first Saturday morning of each month in Mošnje near Radovljica. It is something of a mixture of a farmers and craft market, where you can buy locally produced food and other handmade products.

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The market is always popular and, of course, the fact that it is held in the beautiful gardens of Vila Podvin, where one of Slovenia’s top chefs, Uroš Štefelin, conjures up delicious and creative dishes, is also a factor, as is the added bonus of being able to stay after the market and enjoy a specially prepared lunch, made using products available for sale on the day. And if you’d like to enjoy a tipple too, there are also 5 well-appointed double rooms available, located in the previous stable area of the building, with views of the (sadly) long-abandoned Podvin Castle.

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Uroš’ ethos is on using forgotten local ingredients, such as tepka pears – a variety of pear that only grows in this area of Slovenia – to create new dishes in his own distinctive way. At the local market there is also a chance to try these unique sausages made with tepka pears.

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What is on offer at the market varies from month to month, but as a general rule you will food items such as find fruit and vegetables, cheese, jams, flour, cordials, eggs, dried meats etc.

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As well as non-food items such as jewellery, trinkets and other homeware goods.

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Vila Podvin is one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, the focus of which is on using local ingredients, and about which you can find out more here – http://www.radolca.si/en/taste-radolca/

Find more information about Vila Podvin here – http://www.vilapodvin.si/EN/

The other market, and a welcome new addition, is the small farmers’ market held on the 2nd Saturday of each month, from 9am to 1pm, at the building known as Sarčeva hisa, next to the library in Radovljica. The next such market will take place this Saturday 10th September.

© Adele in Slovenia

Hiking the Alpe Adria Trail – Stage 23: Kranjska Gora to Trenta, Slovenia

The Alpe Adria Trail, which begins on Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe in Austria and ends on the coast at Muggia in Italy, has 43 stages and a total length of 750kms. The trail is a collaboration between three countries – Austria, Slovenia, Italy and offers lovers of the great outdoors myriad possibilities for enjoying the stunning and ever-changing scenery along the way from the highest glaciers to sea-level.

It’s easy to pick and choose where to start and how far to walk, however, since the route is linear, be sure to have a plan how to get back if you need to do so! In terms of the trail in Slovenia, stage 22 runs from Austria into Slovenia, stages 23, 24 and 25 are entirely within Slovenia, and stage 27 begins in Slovenia ending in Italy.

Stage 23 of the trail officially starts in the centre of Kranjska Gora (810m), though I started my early morning hike from the stunning Lake Jasna, which sits at the foot of the Vršič Pass. It was very tempting to linger a while, however, I had a long hike ahead so headed onwards, and upwards.

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The mythical golden-horned mountain goat ‘zlatorog‘ is a landmark and obligatory photo spot!

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From the far-end of the lake the route then leads along the Krnica valley, beside the Pišnica river and makes a fairly level easy start to the day. Note: If you’re looking to escape the summer heat, this valley is the place to be. Whatever the time of year in the early morning it’s freeeeeezing!!! In winter, Krnica is a particularly popular place for sledging.

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The route then turns right, passes the Mali Tamar Memorial to those who have lost their lives in the mountains, crosses a bridge over the stream, and then the ascent to Vršič begins. It is well-marked throughout with Alpe Adria signs as well as the usual Slovene way-markers (a red circle with a white inner).

The Vršič Pass is the highest mountain pass in Slovenia. It was built in the early 19th century, originally for military purposes, and has a total of 50 hairpin bends. You can, of course, drive up instead of hiking, or even cycle – as many do, though note that the pass is usually closed throughout winter when there is heavy snowfall due to the danger of avalanches.

The trail goes largely through the forest, though in places it emerges – or if ‘it’ doesn’t then ‘you’ can – from the forest at sights of interest and to take in the views. The first such sight is the Russian Chapel, which was built in memory of the suffering of the thousands of Russian prisoners during construction of the road. Hundreds of prisoners and their guards – Russian and Austrian – lost their lives due to an enormous avalanche in winter 1916 – the exact number who died was never known.

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The route continues to the right of the chapel, again through the forest. I recommend a stop at bend 17 to see the somewhat eerie looking stones that have begun to ‘appear’ in recent years. I guess someone started the trend and others followed!

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The view from here isn’t half bad either!

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It’s now not far to reach the top, less than half-an-hour and I was already at 1611m at the top of the Vršič Pass.

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From the top it was easy to see where I was heading, down towards the Soča Valley and I could hardly wait to glimpse the always-stunning emerald-green Soča river.

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When leaving the top, look for this sign and walk down the road for approximately 500 metres.

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As tempting as it is to admire the views, be sure to keep your eyes to the ground here, as here the way-marker for the trail is only on the ground and could easily be missed.

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From here the trail re-enters the forest and leads on a pleasant gently-descending path, eventually emerging between stones walls into the parking area at the source of the Soča river, where there is a small hut offering refreshments. In places the trail is marked by the letters AAT – as shown below.

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If you choose to take a detour to see the source of the Soča river, it takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the first viewpoint – a relatively easy path, thereafter its a bit of a climb, assisted by iron pegs and rope, so not for the faint-hearted! Knowing I still had a way to go, I just went to the first viewpoint (well, that’s my excuse anyway!).

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From here it is downhill all the way. The Soča River Trail leads on traffic-free paths to Trenta, home to a Triglav National Park Information Centre, and where there is a mini-market, restaurant and a sprinkling of accommodation options.

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The total distance of this stage of the trail is 17.8km, of which the ascent is 962m and 1146m descent. It can easily be shortened as required – at least during the summer months when buses operate over the Vršič pass from Kranjska Gora to the Soča Valley. Out of peak season, however, you would need to ensure you have suitable onward, or return, transport.

In total the hike took less than 5 hours, including photo stops. If you take time to linger and savour the views, perhaps enjoy a meal at one of the several mountain huts en-route to, or at the top of, the Vršič pass, then it makes a very enjoyable full day trip. Highly recommended!

More information about the trail can be found here – http://alpe-adria-trail.com/en/ and more information about autumn hiking in Slovenia here – http://www.slovenia.info/en/Autumn-hiking-in-Slovenia.htm?aktivna_pohodniska_jesen_slovenija=0&lng=2

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Kindness in the Karavanke

In this often turbulent world we live in, the kindness of strangers is something to be valued and cherished, as I discovered on my latest adventure in the Karavanke mountains last weekend!

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Those of you who also follow me on my Adele in Slovenia Facebook page are likely to have already read my (mild) rant last week about the queues of people and two hour wait to ascend to the top of Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav, on a busy Bank Holiday weekend in August.

I have often waxed lyrical here about the Karavanke mountains, which seem to get so overlooked by those visiting Slovenia who automatically head for the better-known Julian Alps. The Karavanke form a natural border between Slovenia and Austria so, in addition to offering myriad possibilities for day and multi-day hikes, there are the added bonuses of less crowds and far-reaching views across 2 countries.

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My home town of Radovljica is in a perfect location to base yourself to explore the Karavanke mountains, being in close proximity to Stol – the highest peak of the Karavanke, as well as Begunščica and numerous other peaks, many of which I have written about previously. Note: you can use the search facility on this blog to find previous posts by using keywords and/or visit the Tourism Radol’ca website for more information – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

So, back to my latest adventure. This time I headed slightly further from home to hike in the Karavanke mountains, first to Tržić, then to the village of Dolina, near Jelendol, from where I hiked up to the ever-popular Kofce highland and mountain hut (1488m). The sky really was that perfectly blue – no photo-shopping required!

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From there I continued to the Šija highland and hut and past grazing cattle, of which there are plenty on the highlands along the length of the range.

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Next I continued along an old unmarked path to the Pungrat highland before joining the path up to Škrbina ridge (1869 m) from where there were bird’s eye views across both Slovenia and Austria.

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As much as I hate crowds (as per the Triglav rant), there was barely a soul to be found here so I was more than elated to encounter two kindly, gallant strangers who came to my rescue when I got myself into a spot of bother just beneath the peak of Kladivo (2094m). They were passing in opposing directions but didn’t hesitate to help, which served as the wonderful reminder of how such altruistic acts of simple kindness can make the world a much better place.

So, thank you once again Olga and Anže for for your help and part in a (mostly!) wonderful, and certainly unforgettable, day. As was well that ended well and new acquaintances were made to boot. So, all in all, despite my little ‘moment’, it was a(nother) great day in the Karavanke!

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© Adele in Slovenia

 

Cerkno – A Green Destination Keeping in Touch with Nature

The town of Cerkno and its surroundings offer plentiful sites of significant historic interest  and wonderful nature and is one of Slovenia’s Green Destinations.

The most visited attraction, and one of the most important and remarkable of its kind, is the Franja Partisan Hospital. I had heard and read plenty about this place, but its not until I saw it for myself that I was able to really grasp its significance, though its still difficult to imagine how patients, equipment and goods could have been transported in such difficult terrain, and nigh on impossible to comprehend what life must have been like living and working in such cramped, cold and damp conditions.

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The hospital, named after the partisan physician Franja Bojc Bidovec, was set up in the then Yugoslavia by an enterprising group of partisans in order to treat wounded fighters. For its time, and considering the hospital’s almost inaccessible location, the facilities at the hospital, though basic, were such that it was able to operate entirely self-sufficiently for the 18 months of its operation.

The hospital comprised 14 wooden units and was so well hidden, deep inside the narrow and steep Pasica gorge, near Cerkno, that it was never discovered.

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The hospital finally closed on 5th May 1945. During this time the central facility treated almost 600 patients, whilst others were treated in dislocated units. Patients hailed not only from Slovenia but also from other former Yugoslav nations, Soviet nations, Italy, Poland, France, Austria and even America.

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Having survived the war, in a cruel twist of fate in 2007 the hospital was almost entirely destroyed when a large part of Slovenia was hit by devastating floods. The hospital was fully reconstructed, though only one original building stands, and nowadays is again open to the public (daily from April – November, thereafter by prior arrangement). Today the path through the gorge is well-secured, though can be a little wet in places so sensible footwear is a must.

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More information here – http://www.muzej-idrija-cerkno.si/index.php/en/locationsexhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/franja-partisan-hospital.html

The Divje babe archaeological site is a Karst cave located in the steep rocky slopes above the Idrijca Valley. Several remains of cave bear have been discovered in the cave – by far the most significant and most spectacular find is a bone flute made of the bone of a cave bear, which dates back 55,000 years and is the oldest known musical instrument in the world. Guided tours of the Divje babe site are available upon prior arrangement. More information here – http://www.divje-babe.si/en/

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The town of Cerkno itself is synonymous with the Cerkno laufarija – the traditional carnival characters who, during the winter ‘pust‘ carnival, drive away winter by performing a ritual wearing costumes made of natural materials and masks carved from linden wood. The Cerkno museum hosts a permanent exhibition entitled ‘Pust is to blame – a story about the Cerkno Laufarija’.

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The Ski and Mountain Cerkno resort is a year-round destination for outdoor pursuits. During winter the resort, at an altitude of 1291m, offers well-groomed ski pistes, cross-country skiing, and other snow-based activities, and is considered one of Slovenia’s best ski resorts in terms of facilities and user-friendliness.

In summer you can go hiking, enjoy the views, or try out some of the activities at the Cerkno Bike and Fun Park, such as stand-up paddling on the lakearchery, or downhill biking. There is also a playground and trampolines for children – so something for all the family.

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The chairlifts operate at weekends during summer – great views guaranteed!

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More information here – http://www.ski-cerkno.com/en/index.html

The latest addition to the resort is its range of Forest Selfness programmes, which range from 2 – 6 hours and include culinary delights, relaxation under the treetops, reflexology and barefoot walking, forest relaxation, meditation and energy exercises. More information here – http://www.gozdni-selfness.si/eng/

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Whilst exploring the Cerkno area, I stayed at the Gostilna Gačnk guest house, which offers excellent traditional Slovene hospitality and cuisine, as well as basic, though comfortable, rooms, and is located just minutes from the Franja Partisan Hospital. Read plenty more about my stay at Gačnk here – http://wp.me/p3005k-1HE

©  Adele in Slovenia