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

Discover Brežice and the Bizeljsko Wine Road

The town of Brežice, in the south-east of Slovenia, is framed by the Gorjanci mountain range, is the location of the confluence of the Sava and Krka rivers, home to the magnificent Brežice Castle and other sights of interest, as well as being close to Bizeljsko and the Bizeljsko-Sremič Tourist Wine Route and the Čatež Thermal Spa.

During my stay at the Čatež Thermal Spa, I took time to ‘Discover Brežice’ – as the town’s tourism slogan goes. I set off by bike and first headed to the Brežice Castle and Museum, which is without doubt the jewel among the town’s historic buildings.

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The Renaissance castle was turned into a residential castle by the aristocratic Attems family in the late 17th/early 18th century. The Baroque painted Knights’ Hall is most definitely the pièce de résistance and really has to be seen to be able to appreciate its full magnificence and the vibrancy of colours.

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The 46 metre-high Brežice Water Tower was built in 1914 in order to provide the town with water. It no longer serves its original purpose but remains the most visible and well-known of the town’s landmarks. Today you can sit in the café on the ground floor and look up to enjoy the view!

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Whilst in the area you simply must drive, cycle, or walk, along part of the Bizeljsko-Sremič Tourist Wine Road and pay a visit to a ‘repnice‘ – quartz sand caves which are nowadays used for storing wine.

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From Brežice it took around 45 minutes by bike to reach the Najger repnice. The area’s landscape has an almost Tuscan feel to it and, although I was cycling on main roads, traffic was light and it was a pleasurable and scenic ride. The area is part of the Kozjanso Nature Park – one of the oldest and largest protected areas in Slovenia.

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Not really knowing what to expect, I found the Najger repnice absolutely fascinating. Repnice caves were originally used for storing turnips (‘repa‘ in Slovene, hence the name ‘repnice‘) during winter, at the time when turnips were the main fodder for livestock.

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These days, the caves, made from dug out quart sand, are used for storing wine and visitors have a chance to taste and buy some of the excellent home-made wines, accompanied by a plate of home-produced cheese and dried meats, or other homemade delights.

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The rooms inside the caves are at a constant temperature, offering perfect conditions for storing wine. To really understand the marvel of these caves it is necessary to understand how much work went in to digging them out; for each small room it took around 3 months of working 8 hours per day. Now if that isn’t hard labour and dedication I don’t know what is. The results, however, were well worth it!

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If you look closely at the sandstone you can make out various natural shapes and patterns. Which animal can you see here?

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Following the tour of the cave there was also the chance to buy some of the home-produced wine, at more-than reasonable prices, which makes an idea gift or a treat for yourself – it was sweet muscat wine for me!

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The vast Terme Čatež Thermal Spa is one of the main attractions in the area and offers year-round water-based fun for all the family. You can read a full account of my visit here – http://wp.me/p7jQx9-8y

In bygone days, boats and ferries regularly transported people and goods from one side of the Sava river from the Čatež Thermal Spa to the village of Mostec and back. Nowadays, the special ‘brod’ ferries offer short pleasure trips along the river.

 

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The 7-day Brežice My Town Festival, the largest festival in the Posavje region, takes place annually at the end of June and attracts thousands of visitors from Slovenia and neighbouring countries. The festival programme includes a wide range of concerts, performances, activities for children, sports challenges and a chance to sample some of the best local cuisine.

For more information about all the above visit the Discover Brežice website – http://www.discoverbrezice.com/EN/

© Adele in Slovenia

Wacky and Wonderful Rainy Day Ideas in Slovenia – The Sunny Side of the Alps!

Autumn can be one of the nicest times of year here in Slovenia. The heat of the summer has subsided, and with it the risk of afternoon showers, the roads and tourist hotspots are less crowded, and the leaves falling from the trees are a wonderful kaleidoscope of autumn gold and russet colours.

However, although Slovenia is often called ‘The Sunny Side of the Alps’, let’s face it, it does also rain at times!

Bohinj Lake in Autumn – Photo: Dunja Wedam_3099_orig

Much of Slovenia’s natural beauty lies in the great outdoors. So, as I know only too well, it can be frustrating when it isn’t possible to get out there and enjoy it. But, it doesn’t have to spell disaster! There are still plenty of things to see and do, whatever the weather. So, in this blog, I’ve listed a few ideas for what to do on those gloomy, rainy, and maybe even snowy, days!

MUSEUMS – There are hundreds to choose from, thus it’s nigh-on impossible to single one out, so I’ve whittled down the choice somewhat, though, of course, the list is far from exhaustive. Below are just a few of the largest and most popular.

The Park of Military History in Pivka – even those who don’t consider themselves fans of military history, will find something here. The highlight is the chance to go inside the P-913 Zeta submarine. Read more about my recent visit here – http://goo.gl/nWm3Mq and find more information here – http://parkvojaskezgodovine.si/en/

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

The UNESCO-listed Anthony’s Shaft Idria Mercury Mine – more than 700kms of tunnels, and 500 years of mercury mining. More information here – http://www.antonijevrov.si/index.php/en

Photo: Visitidrija.si

Photo: Visitidrija.si

The Museum of Apiculture in Radovljica – housed in the magnificent Baroque Radovljica Mansion. Learn about beekeeping in Slovenia and see the oldest beehive panel in the world.

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Photo: Tourism Radovljica

Škofja Loka Museum – housed in Loka Castle, one of Slovenia’s finest castles in the heart of the historic medieval old town. It boasts extensive and impressive museum collections. More information here – http://www.loski-muzej.si/en/

Photo: Jana Jocif

Photo: Jana Jocif

The Ptuj-Ormož Museum – housed in Ptuj Castle, in Slovenia’s oldest city. Highlights include the collections of traditional carnival masks, musical instruments and glass paintings, as well as the Castle Gallery. More information here – http://pmpo.si/en/

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Bistra Castle and the Technical Museum of Slovenia. The castle was originally a Carthusian monastery during the period from 1260 – 1782 and was later changed into a manor house. It houses an eclectic mix of exhibitions including the Slovenian Hunting Museum and a collection of ex-President Tito’s cars. Read more here – http://wp.me/p3005k-NM and find more information here – http://www.tms.si/index.php

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Ljubljana’s museums and galleries – being the capital city, there is a wide choice, among them the National Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the City Art Museum, and the Railway Museum. Find out more here – http://goo.gl/WCnyYn

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY! – It certainly doesn’t have to be bad weather to ‘Eat, Drink and Be Merry’, but a dose of traditional hearty Slovene food on a cold damp day is sure to lift your spirits!

Suggested traditional dishes and foods include; bograč, štruklji, jota, ričet, žlikrofi, kremšnita, gibanica. Read more in this previous blog entitled ‘Love Food – Love Slovenia: 10 Must Try Foodshttps://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/02/18/love-food-love-slovenia-10-must-try-slovene-foods/

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WINE or CRAFT BEER TASTING – Take your pick! There is plenty to choose from! You could head to one of the many wine-growing areas, such as Goriška Brda and the Vipava Valley, or, if you are in the capital, leave the choice to an expert and set off on a Ljubljananjam guided food walk, which can be tailored to suit. Read more here http://goo.gl/KqwmVo and find more information here – http://www.ljubljananjam.si/

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EXPLORE A CAVE OR TWO – With a constant temperature year-round, a visit to one of Slovenia’s tourist caves isn’t weather dependant. The Postojna Caves and the UNESCO-listed Škocjan Caves are the most popular, though there are also hundreds of other smaller caves.

Photo: Iztok Medja for Postojnska jama

SOMETHING DIFFERENT – Not necessarily ‘wacky’ but here are a few ‘out there’ ideas for a different way to spend a rainy day.

Cycle through a mountain! Just because it’s not cycling weather, it doesn’t mean you can’t cycle! For a unique experience try mountain biking through the former lead, zinc and iron ore mines under the Peca massif in Koroška. Read more here – http://goo.gl/DOvjXl

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Try and escape the Enigmarium Escape Rooms – Literally lock yourself in (or rather someone else locks you in!) a room, or even an igloo, and try to escape by solving clues before the time runs out. Don’t get locked in! Find out more here – http://escape-room.si/?lang=en

Photo: Enigmarium.si

Photo: Enigmarium.si

And finally, if its wet outside, how about some pampering and/or water-based enjoyment at one of Slovenia’s thermal spas. This year I have been on a journey of discovery of them all – well almost all, just one to go! You can follow my journey here – https://spasinslovenia.com/

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© Adele in Slovenia

 

A Taste Radol’ca Family Surprise!

Months of planning and more than a few sleepless nights finally came to fruition last week when I managed to pull off the desired surprise for my father’s 70th birthday.

Despite factors conspiring against me, i.e. a 5 hour delay thanks to an emergency chute being “accidentally deployed” on the Adria flight from Gatwick prior to take-off, and downpours so torrential that even Noah would likely have thrown in the towel, I managed to pull off the not-insignificant feat of surprising my father and getting all my immediate family together in one place for the first time in almost 5 years.

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I therefore have a few people to thank for helping me to make it happen, not least the teams at 2 of the Taste Radol’ca restaurants.

The first ‘thanks’ goes to Graeme from Four Seasons Travel, who played his part in getting my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew to the right place at the right time. Once they had been ‘deposited’ into the wine cellar at Grajska Gostilnica, and I received the ‘mission complete’ message, we (my parents and I) headed there to the ‘opening of the wine cellar’, or at least that is what dad believed. Until… SURPRISE! And a big sigh of relief from me that we had all managed to be in the right place at the right time. We soon indulged in our first family dinner together for many years!

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I’ve eaten at Grajska Gostilnica on numerous occasions, however, I had never before been into the wine cellar. Wow, its huge, and a fantastic space. It’s such a shame to see such a vast and special space so underutilised so I now have my thinking cap on as to how to right this. In the meantime, if you are planning any special events, I can highly recommend it as a venue. Thanks to owner Borut and the team for helping with this part of the plan!

Day 2 began with an early start and a full day out (for them, not me!) visiting Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle and the Lipica Stud Farm. I, meanwhile, was hard at work, both working and also preparing for the next part of the surprise –  putting up decorations, rushing back and forth to the shops getting cakes, wine etc. and meeting the caterers booked for the birthday dinner.

Mišo from Joštov Hram in Podnart, another of the Taste Radol’ca restaurants, prepared a wonderful barbecue with enough delicious food to feed half the town (which I was delighted about, since I just love having leftovers for the next day – saves having to cook!). Having someone come to you to cook can’t be beaten for a relaxed family get-together.

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We started with 2 original-flavoured ‘pogaca‘, a special round-shaped bread, here topped with cheese and poppy seeds, the other with onion and pancetta.

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Next came an excellent risotto, by which time we were almost full to bursting but still had the main course to come! Main course consisted of an excellent selection of grilled meats and fish, salads and typical accompaniments.

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Somehow we even found room to indulge in traditional homemade walnut potica – thanks Anja!

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Mišo took care of everything, bringing all the equipment, crockery, cutlery etc., leaving us free to talk, eat, and play. So, all in all we had a blast and here’s Dad trying out a hoverboard on his 70th birthday proving that age need not be a barrier!

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Whilst here the family also, amongst other outings, visited Ljubljana, took a ride on the Radol’ca Hop-On Hop-Off tourist bus (Tuesdays and Thursdays until the end of August – http://www.radolca.si/en/hop-on-hop-off-radolca/, visited the Medieval Market in Radovljica, and, for the icing on the cake as a special treat for his birthday, I bought my parents a stay at Chateau Lambergh in Dvorska Vas for the final 2 nights of their stay.

Photo: Primoz Černe

You can see a whole gallery of photos of the Medieval Day, courtesy of Primož Černe, here – https://goo.gl/photos/xq4vCFgVeP4vQbmy7

Now life returns to ‘normal’ and, as ever, it was sad to see them go, but here’s hoping it won’t take 5 years for us all to be together again in the same place. Come back soon! xxx

© Adele in Slovenia