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

 

Exploring the Green Karst: The Križna Cave (Križna jama)

Slovenia’s Green Karst is abundant with caves, only a few of which are open to the public. Although the Postojna caves and the UNESCO-listed Škocjan caves are by far the most well-known and visited tourist caves in Slovenia, for a more authentic and less Disney-esque experience, I can recommend first-hand the naturally-preserved 8.273 metre-long Križna jama cave. The name, which translates as ‘Cross cave’, comes from the nearby church of St. Cross (Sv. Križa). It is the seventh longest cave system in Slovenia and offers a totally unique experience – a ride in a large rubber dinghy on one, or more, of its 22 underground crystal-clear emerald-green lakes.

I must admit I felt a little trepidation at the thought of entering the cave, togged up in the mandatory wellington boots, torch in hand. But I needn’t have! In fact, once inside it was quite the opposite.  The cave is so captivating that you can entirely forget about the outside world.

 

I opted for the short tour, which lasts around 1 hour and involves a 600 metre walk, followed by a short dinghy ride on the first lake. Here the lake splits and those taking the short tour return on foot the same way. The temperature inside the cave is a constant 8 degrees year-round, so be sure to wear your woolly socks and coats!

On entering the cave into the Great Hall, our guide, Gasper, first acquainted us with the entire cave system and showed us the part that we would be visiting.

We proceeded on foot, stopping at short intervals to see things such as ancient wall writings, the earliest among them date back to the 16th century,

The skulls and bones of cave bears, which are particularly notable for their size – the largest skull measures 56cm.

Gasper pointed out how the edges of the cave walls were rounded by the cave bears brushing past in the pitch black.

There is also an alternative tour to Bear Tunnel (Medvedji rov) for those particularly interested in finding out more about cave bears.

The Križna jama cave is known to contain around 45 animal species, making it the 4th in the world in terms of the number of species. During the tour that I joined, we came face-to-face with one, albeit it a sleeping one!

Then came the best bit. The dinghy awaits! I really didn’t know what to expect, but the overwhelming feeling as we sat in the boat with just the floodlights beneath the boat illuminating the crystal-clear water, was just total serenity and tranquility – a rarity in this modern fast-paced world.

There are also 2 longer tours available for real cave lovers. In order to protect the cave, visitor numbers on these longer tours are strictly limited. The 4-hour tour to the Calvary lake (Kalvarija) can be visited by only 1000 people per year (year-round, by prior arrangement), whilst only 100 people per year can take the 7-hour tour to the end of the 20th lake (from October to March, by prior arrangement).

Should you opt for either of the longer tours, you will be kitted out with all-in-one suits, and will need to take your own refreshments (a small snack, not an entire picnic!). After the first lake, you will transfer to a smaller dinghy and continue the tour partly on foot, partly by dinghy.

The 7-hour tour visits 20 lakes, culminating at Crystal Mountain, which is especially rich with stalactites.

One hour tours of the cave are available from 4.6 – 31.9 with no prior reservations required (at other times tours are available upon prior arrangement). Tours take place daily at 3pm on Saturdays, Sunday and public holidays from 4-30.6, thereafter at 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm until 31st August, and at 11am, 1pm and 3pm during September. The one hour is suitable for all ages, providing you are able to walk on uneven ground. Prior booking for the longer tours is essential.

You can visit come rain or shine! So whilst in Slovenia, don’t miss the opportunity to see this amazing part of the mysterious Karst underworld.

More information about the Križna jama cave can be found here – http://krizna-jama.si/en/about-the-cave/ and more information about what else to see and do in the surrounding Green Karst can be found here – http://zelenikras.si/en/

Official cave photos: Peter Gedei, Gašper Modic.

© 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

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

 

Mysterious Lake Cerknica – Now You See It, Now You Don’t!

Cerknica Lake is the largest intermittent lake in Slovenia and one of the largest in Europe.

For up to six months per year this fascinating, mysterious lake is, well, a lake, filled with water with a mean depth of over 6 metres. During the remainder of the year the water simply disappears, leaving just green, wild flower-covered fields.

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The lake is fed by a number of openings with a series of subterranean reservoirs or caverns, some of which are above the lake level in the surrounding hills. In dryer months the lake completely drains into the reservoirs lying beneath it, revealing rich vegetation. In the wetter months, the surrounding higher reservoirs fill and discharge suddenly through subterranean passages into the lake, which very rapidly regains its volume and may even inundate the surrounding countryside.

A great way to visit, and to get a real impression of the vastness of the lake, is to cycle around the area. At the time of my visit in late June, there was still some water, in places up to 3 metres deep, though it was rapidly disappearing.

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Every weekend bikes and canoes can be hired from the Notranjska Park Information Point, located in the main car park in the village of Dolenje Jezero. You can also, as I did, arrange a local guide for your cycling trip, who will take you to the best vantage points and provide plenty of local information.

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We began by cycling through the valley of the Rakov Škocjan Landscape Park. This fascinating natural wonder, packed with karst phenomena, was formed by the Rak river, which springs from the Zelške cave, runs above the surface for 3.5kms, then once again goes underground in the Tkalca cave at the other end of the valley.

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The main attractions are the two natural bridges at each end of the valley – Veliki naravni most (Big natural bridge) and Mali naravni most (Small natural bridge). There is a well-marked walking trail that leads between the bridges and to other parts of the valley and information boards are provided at the main points. On a hot summer’s day, it was a wonderful place to seek respite from the heat!

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This place offers wild nature at its best, no crowds, just the chance to savour up close the fascinating geological formations, of which there are plenty.

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You can view them from up above or from down below!

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We then continued to one of the best vantage points of Cerknica Lake from where one can really get an idea of its size. The whole area that you can see behind me in the photo below, is, for around half the year, a lake. If you look closely you can just see the last remains of the water at the lake’s far end.

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Although its fascinating to see the lake when it is actually a lake, even if there isn’t any, or isn’t much, water, it’s still worth a visit. Regardless of whether you visit when the lake is or isn’t, a great way to get a full impression of this mysterious lake is to visit the Museum of Lake Cerknica at Jezerski Hram in Dolenje Jezero.

Although it has areas with typical museum exhibits, this is no ordinary museum. It is the impressive model of the lake, hand-built by the museum’s owner Vekoslav Kebe, that is the standout feature. The model, the result of three year’s work, shows the topography of the area as well as demonstrating how, and where, the lake fills and empties.

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After viewing the model and listening to accompanying commentary and sounds of nature, narrated by Vekoslav himself, visitors move upstairs to watch a multimedia presentation, which is available in a number of foreign languages. The museum also houses a collection of tools and other implements, used by local at various stages of the year when tilling the fields or fishing on the lake.

The museum is open Saturdays at 3pm, and at other times by prior arrangement.

Drevak boats were once the staple way of transporting supplies across the lake. This one seen below, at the Museum of Lake Cernika, again made by Vekoslav (a man of many talents!), gives visitors a real impression of the size of the boats and the work that goes into mastering the art of making these long, curved vessels. More information about the museum can be found here – http://jezerski-hram.si/en/

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In the past even larger vessels, as can be seen below, sailed on the lake.

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Author of photo: unknown, photo collection: Julka Hvala – www.stareslike.cerknica.org

Every weekend during summer, Notranjska Regional Park hosts themed Sundays at the lake, offering visitors the chance to take part in a range of activities such as horse-drawn carriage rides, fishing and boat trips, guided hikes and bike rides, and botanical and ornithological workshops. Find more information about Notranjska Regional Park here – http://www.notranjski-park.si/en

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More information about all this, and all the other sights of interest in the surrounding areas, can also be found at the Green Karst website here – http://zelenikras.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia