Spring in Radovljica Means Chocolate!

Yes, finally, after the coldest winter for over 30 years, spring is finally springing here in the Radovljica plains. And spring in Radovljica has come to mean chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, due to the now annual Radovljica Chocolate Festival – this year taking place from Friday 21st – Sunday 23 April. How lucky I am that it takes place in my home town!

Though summer will always be my favourite season, spring isn’t far behind as it’s a time of blooming flowers, Easter, new-born lambs, longer days, warmer temperatures and, in case I haven’t already mentioned it, chocolate!

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Photo: Adele in Slovenia

To whet you appetite, and in case you missed it, here’s a recap of some of last year’s festival fun!

Guinness record was broken for the world’s largest chocolate bar by area. The chocolate bar was made by the Cukrček chocolatier and measured over 140 square metres, smashing the previous record of 102 square metres. It took over 300 hours to piece together the 28,000 pieces of chocolate.

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There was also a record number of chocolatiers and visitors to last year’s festival, and I have a feeling that this year, the 6th Radovljica Chocolate Festival, could be even bigger and better.

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Photo: Aleš Košir

For the first time last year visitors were able to travel to/from the festival by vintage steam train from Ljubljana.

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Photo: Adele in Slovenia

The packed programme also includes chocolate-related entertainment for all the family.

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Photo: Aleš Košir

What will this year’s festival bring? Well, the 2017 festival programme is still being prepared, but it will be available soon so keep your eye out on the festival website for updates – http://www.festival-cokolade.si/festival-2017/ as well as on the Visit Radol’ca Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/RadolcaHonestlySweet/

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Festive Radovljica: Christmas Market and Family Entertainment Galore!

It might not be the biggest of Slovenia’s Christmas markets, but the setting for Radovljica’s Advent Market, in the heart of the medieval old town – one of the 3 best preserved of its kind in Slovenia – makes it among the cutest and most attractive! Combined with the festive entertainment programme, which offers something for all the family, a visit to Radovljica should be on your list if you are spending time in Slovenia during this festive season.

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Photo: Pakt media

The festive programme kicks off this Friday 2nd December with the Christmas lights switch on at 4.30pm, and entertainment from DJ Darmar, performances by the Studio Ritem Dance Studio and the opening of the Advent Market.

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The Advent Market is open every Friday (3pm-8pm), Saturday and Sunday (10am-8pm) throughout December, and additionally on Christmas Eve (10an-5pm), Christmas Day (10am-7pm), and Boxing Day (26th Dec – 10am-8pm).

Below are just some of the highlights of the festive entertainment programme. Unless otherwise stated, all events take place in Linhart Square. Click here for the full programme – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festive-december-in-linhart-square/83/395/

3rd & 11th December – Fairytale Horses for Children

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9-11th December – Open Day at the Lectar Gingerbread Workshop

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17th December at 8pm – Opera Concert: Baritone Ivan Andres Arnšek and pianist Mojca Lavrenčič (Radovljica Manor)

24th December at 11am – Čupakarba: Stilt walkers and jugglers

25th Dec at 5pm – Ana Snežna Street Theatre

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26th December at 5pm – Čupakabra and Priden Možic: Sodrga – street show with fire

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There are also creative workshops for children, performances by local choirs and bands, carol singing and more!

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You can find out more about what else to see and do in Slovenia during the festive period, more about Christmas markets, and some information about Christmas food and customs in my recent blog post here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/11/20/christmas-2016-in-slovenia-christmas-markets-food-and-traditions/

© Adele in Slovenia

Christmas 2016 in Slovenia – Christmas Markets, Food and Traditions

In February next year I will have been living in Slovenia for 10 years – gosh how time flies! My first Christmas here in 2007 was a bit of a culture shock as, at that time, Christmas wasn’t, or at least to me didn’t seem to be, such a big deal – no roast turkey and all the trimmings, no crackers and wearing of silly paper hats (though some might say that’s a bonus!), no shops crammed with Christmas merchandise in September and blaring Christmas jingles for months on end, and just a few low-, or at least lower-key Christmas markets.

Well, things have definitely changed and Christmas is most definitely here in a big(ger) way! With an increasing number of people choosing Slovenia as a destination for a short-break over Christmas/New Year, this blog has a run down of just some of things you can see and do.

Christmas in Ljubljana, Photo: http://www.slovenia.info

As in many other countries in Europe, the evening of the 24th is when most families celebrate and get together for a special meal, to exchange gifts and/or attend midnight mass. It’s worth noting that many restaurants are closed on Christmas Eve, or close earlier than usual. Shops are usually open on the 24th but close a little earlier than usual. All shops are closed on the 25th and again this is a family day, often for some recreational activities perhaps skiing, hiking or visiting relatives. The 26th is also a public holiday, Independence and Unity Day, and therefore again many shops and business will be closed although these days most of the larger ones are open, at least for a few hours in the morning. No Boxing Day Sales – hooray!

Christmas markets take place in all the major cities – the largest being in Ljubljana, where there are numerous markets throughout the city, the main one being alongside the banks of the Ljubljanica river. The festivities kick-off on 25th November with the official switching on of the lights at 5.15pm. There are also numerous concerts and other events taking place throughout the festive period. More here – http://bit.ly/2eBfQhk

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Christmas in Ljubljana, Photo: http://www.slovenia.info

My home town of Radovljica, one of the three best-preserved historic towns in Slovenia, has a small Advent Market and also looks magical! More information here – http://tinyurl.com/zxczvsg

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The cute little Alpine Village in the ski resort of Kranjska Gora is a winter wonderland. More information here – http://tinyurl.com/jbntrpl

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Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, Maribor, switches on its Christmas lights on Friday 25th November. The Christmas programme includes a Christmas market, St. Nicholas fair, Artmar fair, city ice-rink, concerts and parties. More information here – http://bit.ly/1I8qXL0

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Festivities in Bled begin on 2nd December. A Christmas market takes place on the promenade at the south end of Lake Bled. If there’s snow, the island looks even more fairy tale-like! More information here – http://bit.ly/2eDpZZj

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Bled Island, Photo: http://www.slovenia.info

There are also Christmas markets in Celje and Portorož, as well as smaller local ones in many other towns throughout the country, though these tend to only be open for a few days rather than for the entire advent period.

Throughout Slovenia you will find a host of other festive events and activities, where you can be a spectator or join in, including live nativities, outdoor ice-rinks, parades and concerts.

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Outdoor ice-rink in Maribor – Photo: Produkcija80

The last two years, Christmas has not been ‘white’. However, if it is a white Christmas, then there are a whole host of other possibilities, such as sledging, skiing, snow-shoeing, hiking etc. My parents often spend Christmas here and we have had some memorable Christmas Days, including this one below, spent hiking on the Pokljuka Plateau.

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And Christmas isn’t Christmas (and Easter not Easter!) without home-baked potica! You can read plenty more about my potica journey here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/03/03/easter-in-slovenia-my-potica-journey/

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So, if you are considering Slovenia’s for a Christmas break, then rest assured, you will find plenty to see and do. You can also be safe in the knowledge that you won’t have to pull a cracker and wear a silly hat!

© Adele in Slovenia

It’s Wine Time – the Vinarium Tower and the Lendave Gorice Hills!

St. Martin’s Day is celebrated every November in Slovenia in a big way! Throughout the country, whether in a wine-growing region or not, you will find wine-related events taking place, and, even if like me you aren’t a big wine drinker, soaking up the atmosphere and savouring the excellent accompanying homemade food makes a visit to one of the ‘Martinovanje‘ events a must!

One such wine-growing area is Lendava, in the far northeast of Slovenia, which is a melting-pot of culture and cuisine, with influences from its neighbours – Hungary and Croatia.

The town’s star attraction is undoubtedly the Vinarium Tower, which opened in 2015 and has rapidly become a favourite destination for visitors from far and wide. The 53.5m-high tower offers superlative panoramic views over the Lendavske gorice hills and further to the Mura river and the lowlands of neighbouring Hungary, Croatia and Austria. There is a lift which rapidly takes visitors up to the observation deck on the upper level, or, those up for it, can tackle the 240 stairs instead! Information about opening hours and ticket prices can be found here – http://www.vinarium-lendava.si/

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As one would expect from being up so high, the views extend as far as the eye can see. The Lendave gorice hills are prime wine-growing territory, and it would be rude not to try a drop or two of the local wine after your visit! On the drive between the town up towards the Vinarium Tower, there are numerous small domestic wine producers, where you can stop and sample and, of course, buy some to take home – at prices that you will love!

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In front of the Vinarium tower, there are a handful of food and drink outlets, where you can enjoy, amongst others, a white wine spritzer – the most typical refreshing drink in this area – and local food such as bograč and langaš.

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Lendava is synonymous with bograč, which is a dish fairly similar to goulash, however, the secret is in the 4 different kinds of meat and a few other key ingredients (each cook, of course, has their own secret formula!). Langaš is a potato-based dough, deep fried and topped with lashings of garlic and oil – healthy it’s not, but then you only live once!. My visit to the area coincided with the annual Bogračfest – a festival and competition in cooking bograč.

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The centre of Lendava itself has a pleasant relaxed air to it; a mixture of pavement cafes, the imposing St. Catherine’s Church and Lendava Castle perched on a small hill overlooking the town. The castle’s baroque appearance dates from the 18th century, though it was first mentioned in records dating as far back as 1192. Today it houses archaeological, historical and ethnologic collections as well as a gallery.

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The Cultural Centre, which comprises a theatre and concert hall, is a magnificent eye-catching building. It was actually designed by one of Hungary’s most famous architects, Imre Makovecz. In this part of the country, you will notice all public signs in both Slovene and Hungarian languages, and there are strong ties between the minorities of both nations living in harmony on either side of the border.

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If, like me, you like cycling, then the area is perfect and you can even visit 3 countries in one ride. Not wishing to be greedy (Ok, time was also an issue, as Bogračfest was calling!), I ‘just’ visited 2 countries on my 3-hour, cca. 60km bike ride.

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After crossing the border into Croatia, I, or rather ‘we’ cycled alongside the Mura river, which forms a natural border between the two countries.

I was lucky enough to have a cycle pal for this ride, in the form of Paul, a fellow Brit who lives not far from Lendava who knows the cycle routes in this area like the back of his hand. I admire Paul hugely, and he and I share the same virtues, struggles, joy and passion for living in Slovenia. He has painstaking, and single-handedly, renovated an old mill – Slomškov Mlin in Razkrižje (more about that when its time for the official opening!) – and also runs a cycle tour company offering guided or self-guided tours and the chance to hire bikes and e-bikes. Find out more about Simply Cycling Slovenia here – http://design-it.si/cycling/

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After having a guided tour of the mill, we stopped at a pleasant picnic area near one of the few remaining famous floating mills which are found on both sides of the Mura river.

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This mill, called ‘The Island of Love’, is located on the Slovene side of the Mura river.

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The centrally-located Lendava Thermal Spa is an ideal place to base yourself for exploring the area, with its indoor and outdoor thermal pools, saunas, energy park, traditional cuisine, and full range of treatments, many of them based on its unique paraffin water known for its healing and rejuvenating properties. Find out more here – http://goo.gl/GRXeZz

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Enjoy celebrating St. Martin’s Day – wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate it – no excuses needed!

© Adele in Slovenia

It’s Time to Taste Radol’ca (again)!

Yes, it’s that time again. Taste Radol’ca Time!

For the 4th consecutive year, for the whole month of November the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, of which this year there are 13, will be dedicated to serving up tasty dishes, made from locally-produced and sourced ingredients, at the very reasonable price of just 16 euros for a 3-course menu.

This year 2 new restaurants have joined the Taste Radol’ca ‘family’ – Gostilna Tavčar, located in Begunje, and Gostilna Avguštin, situated in the heart of Radovljica’s historic old town centre.

Preparations are now in full swing, the chefs have been putting their heads together, recipe testing is complete and they, or rather we all (including me!), are eagerly awaiting the start!

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The opening event, which will take place on Friday 28th October, is this year being held at Vila Podvin in Mošnje. The event, which is open to everyone, kicks-off at 5pm in front of Vila Podvin with a local market and a chance to sample some of Radol’ca’s delicacies.

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This is followed by a 5-course dinner, beginning at 7pm, for which tickets are now available at 29 euros per person. The menu is being kept under close wraps for the time being, but I have no doubt it will be equally as tempting, if not more so, than last year!

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In addition to the opening event and the month-long special menus available at all participating restaurants, there will also be other Taste Radol’ca themed events taking place throughout the whole month, including cheese tasting and tours of Lectar Inn’s Gingerbread Workshop.

There is also a chance to win tickets to attend the Taste Radol’ca Closing Party, this year to be held on 2nd December at 7pm at Gostišče Draga, in the Draga Valley in Begunje, as well as the chance to win a cookery course with one of Slovenia’s top chefs, Uroš Štefelin.

In order to stand a chance of winning tickets, just start eating and the more you eat the more of a chance you stand of winning! Pick up a stamp-collecting card from the Radovljica Tourist Information Centre (TIC), and each time you enjoy one of the Taste Radol’ca menus during the period from 29th October – 30th November, you get a stamp. Collect a minimum of 5 stamps and submit the card to the Radovjlica TIC by 1st December to be entered into the prize-draw.

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More information can be found here (in English) – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/taste-radolca-2016/83/394/ and here (in Slovene, with additional information) – http://www.radolca.si/kaj-poceti/dogodki/okusi-radolce-2016/83/2053/

© 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

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