Highlights of the Škofja Loka Historial 2017

The annual Škofja Loka Historial (Festival of History) took place last weekend in the well-preserved medieval old town and its surroundings.

I attended the festival and managed to dodge (most of !) the afternoon showers which are so often a feature at this time of year. And the spirits of all the dancers, actors, stallholders, and other performers and guests weren’t dampened either!

Below you can see some of the highlights of the festival, as well as see more of this charming town on the Sora river which should be on your list of places to visit whilst in Slovenia.

The fair and the majority of events took place in the main town square (Mestni trg) where visitors  had a chance to try some typical dishes from the area, part of the Taste of the Škofja Loka Countryside project (Okusi loškega podeželja).

One of the foods most synonymous with this area is Visoška pečenka – roast pork from nearby Visoko, studded with carrots, lemon, parsley garlic and laurel.

On the main stage there were performances from, amongst others, the Lonca Dance Society performing historic dances.

A display of flag throwing and sword play was performed by the Taboršti Kupci historic group from the twin town of Tabor in Southern Bohemia.

They certainly weren’t just play fighting! It was pretty brutal, raw fighting which, in addition to swordplay, seemed to involve a lot of bashing each other over the head with (real!) hammers!

In Rotovž, the former town hall building and one of the most prominent buildings in the square with its baroque frescoes and three-storey gothic arcaded courtyard, the main event took place at intervals throughout the day. The drama ‘The Devil’s Footbridge’ (Hudičev brv) tells the story of the devil, the Puštal frogmen and a stone bridge.

From the main square, I headed down through the narrow streets and alleys to the other main town square, Lower Square (Spodnji trg) where there were also various workshops and performances.

Next it was up to Loka Castle and the 16th century Škopar’s House (Škoparjeva hisa) where I had a chance to sample Loška medla, cooked in the original black kitchen; a simple peasant-style dish made of cooked millet which, according to some sources, originates from the Škofja Loka area.

Outside the house there were workshops and puppet shows for children, as well as weaving workshops. Unfortunately I haven’t got so much as a creative bone in my body when it comes to such things, but I’m always willing to give them a try! Weaving on a loom and using a weaving board; the latter, as I discovered, also requires a fair bit of patience!

Even when there aren’t any particular events happening in the town itself, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in and around it, as well as further afield in the Selca and Poljana valleys, about which I’ve already written quite a bit this year, but I’m certainly not finished yet!

And there’s no need to wait until next year’s Historial if you’d like to try your hand at some traditional handicrafts as this can be done all-year round at the DUO Arts and Crafts Centre (more here https://adeleinslovenia.com/2017/01/13/loka-honey-breads-and-handicrafts-at-the-duo-arts-crafts-centre/); you could also take a guided tour of the town to find out more about its history and listen to some of the many local legends, try some of the suggested experiences, or explore the pristine countryside on foot or by bike. More about all this can be found on the Visit Škofja Loka website – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

The Karavanke Mountains – Majestic Mt. Begunščica

At 2060m, Begunščica is amongst the highest mountains in the Karavanke range, and a favourite destination among locals and those looking for a moderately challenging and very scenic hike.

The approximately 120-kilometre-long Karavanke mountain range forms a natural border between Slovenia, to the south, and Austria, to the north. Thus, in late-spring it’s not uncommon for there to be snow on the northern facing slopes of the Karavanke, whilst it’s green on the sunny Slovenian side!

Green and sunny to the south, snowy to the north!

There are several ways to reach the summit; the most popular among them is to start from the Draga Valley in Begunje na Gorenjskem. If coming from Radovljica, drive through the village and continue in the direction of Tržič, then on the left you will see the road towards the valley. The valley is a popular starting point for hikes in the Karavanke range. The routes are well-marked and signposts show approximate walking times.

I recommend taking time to stop in the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem to have a stroll around the park, and also at the entrance to the Draga Valley to see the ruins of Kamen Castle.

Continue to the end of the valley to the parking area and from there you set off on foot. You can choose to either go via Preval on the first part of the Shepherd’s Trail, which is the more direct, short, but steeper route, or hike first up to the Roblekov dom mountain hut (1657m), where you can stop for refreshments either on the way up or down – or of course both ways! You can find more information about the Shepherd’s Trail here – http://www.radolca.si/en/shepherds-trail-begunje/

Looking down on the Preval mountain hut on the path up towards Begunščica

If you choose the route to Preval, it takes a good hour from the valley to reach the Koča na Prevalu mountain hut, again an optional break for refreshments here – then prepare yourself for the very steep path directly up to the summit. Here you leave the Shepherd’s Trail and take the marked path to Begunščica which, at times, can feel like an almost vertical ascent. However, apart from one small rocky section, it isn’t overly exposed and is manageable for competent and experienced hikers.

As you approach the summit you can’t fail to notice the ‘carpet’ of sheep droppings from the sheep that are taken to graze on the slopes of Begunščica during summer! I always wonder how on earth so few sheep manage to produce so many droppings! At the summit there is an orientation table which provides assistance when you are gobsmacked by the stunning views and don’t know where to look first!

Personally I prefer to do the hike in the direction as I have described it: Draga – Preval – Begunščica – Roblek – Draga, as the descent from the summit to Roblek is easier and more ‘knee-friendly’ than the steep path from the summit down to Preval. I also like doing it this way as it makes it an entirely circular route.

The path from the summit down towards the Roblekov dom hut

Whilst there is no hut at the summit, there’s no shortage of huts to visit; in addition to the aforementioned Koča na Prevalu and Roblekov dom huts, there is also the Tomčeva koča hut (1180m) on the Poljška Planina highland and the hut on the Planina Planinca highland (1136m), both of which are found at approximately the halfway point between the Draga Valley and the Roblekov dom hut.

The hut on the Planina Planinca highland

You can find out more about this and other hiking routes nearby on the Tourism Radol’ca website here – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

© Adele in Slovenia

Active and Historic Loka: The Škofja Loka Cycle Route

I’m really enjoying getting to better know the Škofja Loka area this year. So far I’ve done most of my discovering on foot, so this time I set off by bike to discover part of the Škofja Loka Cycle Route. The route is divided into 13 sections and covers a total area of 390km. There is something to suit all levels and kinds of cyclist; some of the routes are shorter and easier, others longer and more demanding.

You can rest assured that whichever route you take, you will cycle through unspoilt nature, past numerous sights of interest, soak up the great views, enjoy fresh, clean air, and take a breather for refreshments at tourist farms and other refreshment stops. The hardest part is deciding which of the great routes to take! A ride through the historic old town centre is the obvious place to start, and a must!

Luckily I didn’t have to make the tough choice about where to go as I had a fab guide – Matej Hartman – who runs mountain bike tours in Slovenia as well as abroad. I really recommend hiring a guide, particularly when cycling in an area you are not so familiar with. Instead of having to faff about with maps and lose precious time, riding with Matej I was able to focus on enjoying the ride whilst taking in the views and listening to his wealth of insider knowledge about the area. Oh and the fact that he also happens to be a dab hand with a camera was an added bonus. Thanks Matej! You can find out more about Matej and his mountain bikes tours on the website MahMTB.com here – http://mahmtb.com/

If you plan to cycle multiple sections of the route, your first port of call should be the Škofja Loka Tourist Information Centre, where you can pick up a map and a card on which you can collect stamps at the various control points along the route. Bikes can also be hired at the centre, trekking or mountain bikes, and decent ones too – mine was a Scott!

With only a few hours available for our trip, we agreed on taking some of the routes around the outskirts of the town, through Puštal, across the Sorica fields and to Crngrob. One of the highlights was seeing Škofja Loka Castle from an entirely different perspective – from Hribec, part of the Path to Puštal. Stunning, I’m sure you’ll agree!

We crossed fields, meadows and pastures, and Matej led me to hidden beauty spots in the cool of the forest.

We crossed numerous bridges over the crystal clear Sora river.

And visited Crngrob, home to the Church of the Annunciation, which is known for its treasured frescoes. The pilgrimage church has a fresco of Saint Christopher with Jesus on his shoulder on the front façade, whilst in the shelter of the neo-gothic porch on the facade, the fresco of Holy Sunday can be seen. This originates from the middle of the 15th century and shows tasks which were at the time prohibited on Sundays.

More information about the Škofja Loka Cycle Route can be found on the Visit Škofja Loka website here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/active-breaks/cycling

If you, like me, like running, then the Four Bridges Night Run, is for you! It is one of the most popular running events in Slovenia and takes place this year on 17th June. As the name suggests, the 10km route crosses four bridges and runs through the historic old town and around the picturesque town of Škofja Loka and over the Sora river. The main event begins at 9pm with children’s runs taking place earlier and even a pasta party the night before the race! More information about the route and race registration can be found here – http://www.tekstirihmostov.si/razpis-t4m-2016/?lang=en

Another ‘Don’t miss’ event, and one that I won’t be missing is the Škofja Loka Historial (Festival of History), which this year will take place on Saturday 23rd June. There is a jam-packed programme of events with something for all the family. The full programme can be found here – http://www.historial-skofjaloka.si/home.aspx

Just one more reminder of my trip to round off this scenic cycling blog!

© Adele in Slovenia

Snežnik and Slivnica – Witches and Castles in the Karst

Last year I cycled around Cerknica Lake (Cerkniško jezero) – the largest intermittent lake in Slovenia and one of the largest in Europe. At that time, however, there was little water remaining and it was more field than lake – such is the nature of an intermittent lake. For up to six months per year this fascinating, mysterious lake is filled with water with a mean depth of over 6 metres; during the remainder of the year the water simply disappears, leaving just green, wildflower-covered fields.

Therefore, following the very heavy recent late-spring rains, I figured that now would be a good time to visit to try and catch sight of the lake in its lake-like glory! One of the best ways to do this, is to get up above it by hiking up Slivnica (1114m), from where there are great views over the vast area below.

My gamble paid off and the lake is currently more ‘lake’ than ‘field’, and you can also clearly make out the village of ‘Island’ (Otok) which becomes, well, an island at times of heavy rain. So, now is a great time to visit the area and also a great time to hike up to the top of Slivnica. The lower part of the path is currently a carpet of wild garlic, whilst the meadows a little higher are awash with blooming wildflowers.

Legend has it that Slivnica is the home of witches and there is even a cave named ‘Witches Cave’ located below the summit.

There are several routes to the top of Slivnica, I opted for the one that begins at Bar Kekec in the centre of Cerknica, from where the path begins to ascend directly up through the forest, taking a little over an hour to reach the Dom na Slivnici hut.

Dom na Slivnici is a popular place to rest, soak up the views, and enjoy a hot drink, a cold beer, and a snack or meal.

A further 5 minutes leads to the actual top of Slivnica, however, unless you desperately want to ‘bag’ the top and/or sign the visitors book, I wouldn’t worry, since there is only an antenna, a wooden bench and no views to speak of.

Throughout the summer, Notranjska Regional Park organises ‘Theme Sundays’ with activities based around the lake and its surroundings, including bird watching, nature walks, horse and cart rides, rides in special wooden ‘drevak’ boats, cycle rides, and more. More information can be found here – http://www.notranjski-park.si/en

Photo: Notranjski park

Whilst in the area I recommend visiting the magnificent 13th century Snežnik Castle – one of the region’s star attractions and somewhere I had, until recently, long had on my list of places to go.

The castle, set in a strategic, remote location on the edge of the Lož valley (Loška dolina), has had a long and convoluted history involving multiple owners throughout its former years of existence, and later, following World War II, it was one of the few castles that remained intact and escaped torching and looting.

The castle’s interior is full of lavishly-furnished rooms crammed with antiques and artefacts that reflect the lifestyles of some of the castle’s former inhabitants. More information about the castle can be found here – http://www.nms.si/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=325&Itemid=56&lang=en Taking photos inside is not permitted, but the exterior is stunning from whichever angle you view it!

Snežnik Castle is also one of the starting points for hiking to Snežnik, Slovenia’s highest non-alpine mountain (1796m). It’s a fairly long hike from here, however, so many people prefer to drive to Sviščaki (1242m) and from there hike the cca. 2 hours to the peak.

At the time of my visit, Snežnik, which you can see below in the distance, was living up to its name – Snežnik stemming from the word ‘sneg’ meaning snow.

You can read more here about my previous visit to Rakov Škocjan with its natural bridges and unique Karst features, as well as Cerknica Lake and the Museum of Lake Cerknica at Jezerski Hram in Dolenje Jezero, which contains an impressive hand-made model of the lake that shows the topography of the area as well as demonstrating how, and where, the lake fills and empties – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/07/14/mysterious-lake-cerknica-now-you-see-it-now-you-dont/

You can read more about the above and find information about the many other attractions in Slovenia’s Green Karst here – http://zelenikras.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Beguiling Begunje na Gorenjskem

I’m fortunate to live just a few kilometres from the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, which is packed full of natural and cultural sights of interest. I spend quite a lot of time there, too, whether hiking, cycling or eating great Taste Radol’ca food. So, in this blog I’ve focused on some of the highlights of beguiling Begunje.

Fans of popular folk music won’t want to miss a visit to the Avsenik family homestead, where the legendary forefathers of Slovene folk music, Slavko and Vilko Avsenik were born. Though, sadly, Slavko passed away in 2015, the family’s music very much lives on.

You can visit the gallery and museum, and/or attend one of the frequent music evenings and other events. More information here – http://www.radolca.si/en/avsenik-gallery-museum/

The Katzenstein Mansion in the heart of the village has had a long and interesting past. Built in the 14th century, its current Renaissance and Baroque appearance is a result of renovations in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. 1n 1875 the mansion was sold to Austro-Hungarian judicial authorities and a prison, holding 300 female prisoners, was established. During the German occupation, it became a Gestapo prison and political prisoners were incarcerated in the mansion; after the war it again reprised its role as an all-female prison.

The Museum of Hostages (Muzej Talcev) has been housed in the building at the north-western end of the residential wing since 1961. Inside, on the walls of the former prison cells, you can see written records left by the prisoners and announcements by the occupiers concerning executions. This one says ‘Molimo za mir’ (We pray for peace). Sobering stuff, indeed.

The park in the ground of the mansion is a lovely place for a stroll. It contains a pavilion and the Chapel of St. Joseph, designed by the most famous Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik, and is also home to a small cemetery where 457 hostages and 18 World War II combatants are laid to rest. The bronze statues of a hostage and a prisoner, as well as the karst marble sculpture of a female hostage are the work of the sculptor, Boris Kalin.

Also in the heart of the village, near the entrance to the hospital and park, is the Gostilna Pr’ Tavčar restaurant, one of the 13 Taste Radol’ca restaurants. In the relatively short time it has been open it has become a firm favourite among locals.

At the end of the village you reach the Draga valley and the imposing ruins of  Kamen Castle, built in the 12th century by the Counts of Ortenburg. More information here – http://www.radolca.si/en/kamen-castle/

Photo: M Kambic

The short drive to the end of the valley brings you to Gostišče Draga, another of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, where specialities include venison goulash, fresh trout, homemade sweet and savoury štruklji, and more. Situated in the shade of the forest beside a stream, it is particularly popular with those seeking refreshment and sustenance after expending their energy in the surrounds.

The Draga valley is a gateway for numerous hiking trails in the Karavanke mountains including, amongst others, to Begunščica, the ever-popular Roblekov dom mountain hut, and the Preval mountain hut.

As you can see, despite it’s modest size, Begunje packs in a lot, so be sure to include a visit on your trip to the Radovljica area.

© Adele in Slovenia

 

A Spotlight on Škofja Loka

So, it’s 2017, a new year and a new(ish) start for me too. Having spent the last 4 years extolling the wonders of my home town of Radovljica, this year, whilst I will still be writing plenty about Radovljica, I’m also turning my attention to another of my favourite historic towns in Slovenia – Škofja Loka.

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When I was choosing where to live it was a toss-up between Radovljica and Škofja Loka, as both towns are my kind of place i.e. historic and picturesque medieval old towns with wonderful surrounding nature, opportunities for outdoor activities and conveniently located.

So, I hope you will join me in the coming weeks, months, and maybe even years, on my adventures in the Škofja Loka area, including the surrounding Poljane and Selca valleys, where there is a wealth of natural beauty, cultural and heritage sites, traditional and unique cuisine and a wealth of things to see and do.

The obvious place to start is with the area’s crowning glory – Škofja Loka Castle. The castle stands on a small hill above the main old town square and dominates the view as you arrive into the town. Whichever angle you see it from, and whether from near or far, its a mighty impressive building.

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Even the uphill approach to the castle is scenic!

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The original castle was built in 1202 by the Freising Bishops, who, during the period from 973-1803, owned the Loka Estate. The castle was completely renovated following an earthquake in 1511 that almost entirely destroyed it.

Loka Museum – among the most popular and visited of Slovenia’s museums. The museum is bursting with rich and varied archaeological, historical, cultural, ethnological, art and natural history collections.

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Exhibits are housed in numerous rooms, galleries and corridors including Grohar’s Room – dedicated to one of Slovenia’s most important painters, Ivan Grohar – the Castle Chapel, the Round Tower and a special place in the collection is dedicated to the writer Ivan Tavčar, who hailed from nearby Visoko in the Poljane valley and wrote many of his greatest works at Tavčar Manor.

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Space is utilised to the full and the walls of the ground floor corridors are adorned by paintings and frescoes, mostly based on religious themes from the baroque period.

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One of the highlights is undoubtedly the preserved original drawbridge – one of the only of its kind in Slovenia – which was the original and only entrance to the castle.

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As well as the glass-floored area where you can walk over part of the castle’s original foundations. A slightly unnerving but different experience!

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There are great views from the castle over the town and the Sora river.

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You should set aside at least a few hours to stroll up to the castle, browse the exhibits in the museum, take in the views and stroll around the castle park, where you can also visit the Škopar House (Škoparjeva hisa) open-air museum, a typical 16th dwelling that was moved from nearby Puštal and features an original black kitchen.

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You can find out more about Škofja Loka Castle and Museum here – http://www.loski-muzej.si/en/ and visit the official Visit Škofja Loka website here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/

I can’t wait to discover more and hope you will accompany me along every step of the way!

Happy New Year to you all!

© Adele in Slovenia

The Wild Nature, Waterfalls and Wonderful Sights of Slovenia’s Green Karst

Slovenia’s Green Karst is awash with wild nature and wonderful sights, including an impressive number of lakes and caves, castles, museums, and unique Karst features. Some of these sights, such as the Postojna Caves, the Park of Military History in Pivka etc., are already firmly on the tourist map, whilst others attract less attention, but are no less deserving of a visit. In this blog I have highlighted just a few more of the delights I discovered whilst exploring the Green Karst, but, believe me, there are still so many more!

There are hundreds of waterfalls in Slovenia, some very well-known and which attract visitors in their thousands, others less so, though many of these are equally, if not more, impressive. One such is the Sušec waterfall in Ilirska Bistrica.

The waterfall is just a ten-minute walk from the centre of the town – just follow the signs for Slap Sušec – along a pleasant leafy path beside the brook, where you can immediately feel the chill of the water in the air.

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The Sušec waterfall has 7 springs and is particularly impressive after heavy rainfall when its foam-like waters gush over the moss-covered limestone rocks below.

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For such an impressive waterfall, it was strange to have the place to myself!

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The town of Ilirska Bistrica itself has numerous watermills and sawmills running through it, dating back to a time when the town’s strategically important location – at the crossroads of Ljubljana, Trieste and Rijeka – meant it was a thriving hub. It is located in the valley under Mount Snežnik – the highest non-alpine mountain in Slovenia at 1796m.

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Whilst in the area another ‘don’t-miss’ sight is Prem Castle. The imposing castle, in the village of the same name, occupies a dominant position and makes a mighty impressive sight when looking up from the road through the Ilistrica Bistrica valley and Brkini hills.

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The Romanesque castle was built in the 11th century in a strategic position above the river Reka (‘reka’ means ‘river’ in Slovene, thus it’s the ‘river River’ – I kid you not!). It has been owned by numerous counts (Hapsburg, Walsee, Portia etc.) during its long history and played an important role in battles.

In the 16th century a stronger defence wall and large watch tower were added, seen below with St. Helena’s church in the background. The church’s current appearance dates from 1868 and it is an unusually large church for a relatively small village. The interior of the church contains some interesting frescoes dating from 1921, the work of the famous Slovenian painter Tone Kralj.

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Although the castle was badly damaged after World War II, it has been sympathetically restored. The castle’s interior stone walls and hidden passages tell interesting stories of its history.

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The most impressive room is the Ceremonial Hall, which contains a 17th century baroque mirror, the only original artefact in this impressive painted room.

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The upstairs of the castle houses an exhibition and a small chapel, and is a popular venue for intimate weddings and other small events. The castle is open at weekends from April to October, and outside of these times by prior arrangement.

Even if you visit when the castle isn’t open, I recommend driving up to the village of Prem, from where there are wonderful views over the surrounding Brkini hills and the countryside of the Green Karst, which are currently awash with the vibrant colours of autumn.

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This is but a snapshot of what the Green Karst has to offer. So, be sure to include a visit to the area on your travels in/through Slovenia!

Information about all the above and what else to see and do in the Green Karst can be found here – http://zelenikras.si/en/ and you can also read more here about my visit earlier this year to one of the 17 intermittent lakes and to the Park of Military History in Pivka  – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/05/pivka-pause-ponder-play/

© Adele in Slovenia