Slovenia’s Historic Towns and Cities

Statistics show that the large majority of people who visit Slovenia tend to do so for just a few days, either as just a mini-break or as part of a longer trip taking in some of the neighbouring countries. And for those limited in time, the focus is usually on the ‘usual’ tourist hot-spots i.e. Bled Lake, Ljubljana, Postojna Caves, Piran... However, in visiting just these, admittedly marvellous, places, you miss – in my opinion – a large swathe of the country and the chance to see the ‘real’ Slovenia.

Granted, I might be a bit biased since I’m fortunate to live in Radovljica, which has one of Slovenia’s best-preserved medieval old town centres and is a member of the Association of Historical Towns and Cities of Slovenia, but since Slovenia is a perfectly compact country, it is very easy to get around and make detours to other places of interest. So, sure, go to the usual tourist hotspots to tick them off the list, but do take time to see more of Slovenia’s countryside, culture and history too!

Looking over Radovljica and beyond to the Karavanke mountains

For example, if you are visiting Bled, then turn off the motorway (or get off the train or bus) just one stop early, and within minutes you will be in the historic old town centre of Radovljica where you can see, amongst others, the frescoed townhouses, the Baroque St. Peter’s Church, and the Šivec House Gallery.

Vidic House, just one of the frescoed buildings in the old town

The Radovljica Mansion is home to the Museum of Apiculture, the Municipal Museum, and a music school. During daylight hours the building is always open and visitors are welcome to go in and look at the photographic exhibitions in the entrance foyer.

The Radovljica Mansion

Don’t miss a visit to Lectar Inn where you can try traditional Slovenian food and downstairs visit the workshop with it’s 250-year tradition of making red-iced and decorated gingerbread hearts.

The Lectar gingerbread workshop

Radovljica also offers a wealth of great places to stroll, hike, cycle, do water sports, or partake in other active or less active pursuits. Or you can just sit on one of the benches at the viewing area and and soak up the views of the Julian Alps, the Jelovica Plateau and the Sava River.

Looking back at the old town with majestic Mr. Stol in the background

And be sure to come hungry as you won’t want to miss the chance to taste some of the delicious locally-produced food at the 13 restaurants that collaborate in the Taste Radol’ca project.

In addition to Radovljica , there are a further 13 towns and cities included in the Association of Historical Towns and Cities of Slovenia – Idrija, Kamnik, Koper, Kostanjevica na Krki, Kranj, Metlika, Novo Mesto, Piran, Ptuj, Slovenske Konjice, Škofja Loka, Tržič and Žužemberk.

More information about Radovljica can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/radovljica-area/ and more about the association here – http://www.zgodovinska-mesta.si/eng/index.php

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Bears, Bread and Bukovec in the Poljane Valley

To get the full flavour of the pristine Poljane valley it’s necessary to take your time to explore the area, seek out some of its more hidden parts, soak up the best vistas, visit remote farms, try the tastiest home-produced food and drink, walk its forests and paths, and meet some of the friendly locals – including the bears (read on!). I recommend doing all of this is on a walk on the Path Through Zala (Pot skozi Zalo).

The Path Through Zala theme path runs mostly through the forest in Zala and begins at the Pr’ Bukovcu farmstead (shown as Bukovec on the map), which is located in Žirovski Vrh, high above the Poljane valley. The original farmhouse, Bukovčeva hišadates back to 1639.

Nowadays the farm is a popular place for walkers to stop for refreshments (it’s advisable to call ahead to book, but if you’re passing they can always ‘rustle something up’ if needs be!) and/or to buy a few provisions for along the way or to take home, such as dried fruit, baked goods, milk and schnapps – all of them home-produced and organic. One of the farm’s outbuildings also has an area ideal for group picnics or other such social events.

On Sundays you won’t be able to pass the farmhouse without being lured in by the aroma of freshly-baked bread. In fact, the farm’s bread has become quite legendary and attracts people from far and wide!

The first and last section of the 11km path run along the ridge of Žirovski Vrh, from where, on a clear day, there are panoramic views of all 3 of Slovenia’s mountain ranges – the Julian Alps, the Karavanke, the Kamnik-Savinja Alps – as well as across the valleys below.

Literally everywhere you look there are jaw-dropping views!

If you haven’t got time to walk the entire path, you should at least walk the 3.5km Bear Cub Path (Medvedkova pot), which begins opposite the Pr’ Bukovcu farm. The Slovene writer Dr. Ivan Tavčar wrote a book about Zala, telling the story of Canon Amandus who shot a bear that attacked and severly wounded him in Zala. You can find out more about how the story unfolds on the Path Through Zala.

The Bear Cub Path is marked with yellow paw prints on trees and equipped with 7 boards showing 7 themed games, ensuring the little ones won’t be bored!

The circular path is suitable for all and is easy trail, however, sensible footwear is required as it crosses a stream and traverses undulating forest paths.

The highlight of the path is the 3.5 metre-high bear, Štefka, and bear cub, both made from moss. What a great thing to find in the middle of the forest and there’s no doubt you will want to get ‘up close and personal’ with these bears!

If you walk the longer route of the Path Through Zala, you will also pass some of the many fortifications and bunkers of the Rupnik Line on Goli vrh, built in the 1930’s by the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia as a defence line on the border with the Kingdom of Italy (more about this to come in a future blog!).

Other highlights of the 11km path include the Mrakov grič and Selakov grič viewpoints, the Pr’ Mrak, Pr’ Šimc and Pr’ Omejčk farmsteads, the Hunter’s Lodge, and the Zala stream.

Every year the Žirovski Vrh Tourist Association organises guided walks on the Path Through Zala. This next walk will be held on 2nd May. More information here (in Slovene) – http://www.tdzirovskivrh.si/.

Photo: TD Žirovski vrh

More information about this and other theme paths in the Škofja Loka area can be found on the Visit Škofja Loka website – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/theme-paths and more about the Pr’ Bukovcu farmstead here (in Slovene only) – http://www.bukovc.si/

© 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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Rupert Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Adele in Slovenia

To Jamnik and Beyond!

As you might have noticed, there are many hilltop churches in Slovenia. When visiting the Gorenjska region in the northwest of Slovenia one of the most prominent is the Church of St. Primus and Felician, which stands proudly atop a hill, beneath the slopes of the Jelovica plateau, and can be seen from far and wide.

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The church is located in Jamnik, a small settlement above the traditional iron-forging village of Kropa. It’s a great place to go for stunning panoramics views; the wide Radovljica plains and the Karavanke mountains to the north and the Škofja Loka hills and beyond to the south.

You can reach Jamnik by several means. My favourite, in the summer at least, and as I did this Sunday, is to go by bike. The effort put in on the 5km windy road leading up from Kropa is more than rewarded by the views. Jamnik and Kropa can be destinations in themselves, or you can continue onwards and visit other areas and sights of interest including Dražgose, Škofja Loka and Železniki.

You can also reach Jamnik on foot through the forest from Kropa (cca 1 hour), or by car. To reach the church take the path from the layby at Jamnik and just follow your nose – you can’t miss it!

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The small settlement of Jamnik is nestled snuggly into the slopes beneath the Jelovica plateau.

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Whilst there take some time to look around the quaint iron-forging village of Kropa where, amongst other things, you can wander around the village and see the impressive iron work that adorns many of the village houses, visit the Museum of Iron Forging, and enjoy a meal at the Pr’Kovaču restaurant.

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However you choose to go, Kropa and Jamnik should be on your list of places to visit when in the Radol’ca area.

This Sunday, 31st July, its the annual Medieval Day in Linhart Square in Radovljica. There’s a medieval market, music, dance and other performances, archery, and more. Find out more here – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/medieval-day-in-linhart-square/83/310/

© Adele in Slovenia

A Sunny Saturday on Ajdna!

It’s not exactly something to boast about, in fact it’s a rather unenviable fact that as of today, 20th June 2016, there has not yet been a single day in June when there hasn’t been some kind of precipitation. Even on Saturday, which was a glorious, sunny day, there was a short, sharp shower. However, looking at the forecast, it seems we could be in for plenty of hot, sunny days for the week ahead (didn’t I say that last week too?!).

So, back to last week’s glorious Saturday. I couldn’t decide whether to hike or bike, so in the end did a combination of the two! Or I should say ‘we’, since I had a friend visiting for the weekend from the U.K, so it was lovely to have some company for a change.

We began by cycling from home in Radovljica to the Završnica reservoir then hiked up to Smolnik, beneath Stol in the Karavanke mountains. More here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/04/25/spring-in-the-karavanke-mountains/

We then continued to the Ajdna archaelogical site, which I have blogged about previously, though it was some years back – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

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We took the steep route up, which involves a little climbing but is secured with iron rope and footholds.

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And the easier route back down!

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At the top there are well-preserved buildings and remains of buildings that are thought to date back to the late Antiquity, though evidence, some of it dating back as far as the collapse of the Roman Empire (476 AD), shows that it may have been inhabited far earlier. The peak provided locals with an excellent refuge from the troubles taking place down below in the valley. Ajdna is thought to be the highest lying settlement of its kind in Slovenia. Read more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

 

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By lunchtime the clouds were beginning to gather but the views down the valley towards Jesenice and Kranjska Gora were still more than worth the effort!

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With the (promised) sunny days ahead, hopefully there will be plenty more of this to come!

© Adele in Slovenia

Perfume made with Slovene Honey? Not just an idea, a reality!

As a lover of all things sweet, though not a beekeeper myself, I consider myself a beekeeping enthusiast. So, when I read that Bostjan Noč, President of the Slovene Beekeeping Association, had just launched a perfume made with Slovene honey I buzzed straight over to visit and take a smell for myself!

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Fortunately I didn’t have far to go since the family-run Noč Beekeeping is in the hamlet of Selo, near Žirovnica, just a few kilometres from Radovljica. At the front of the family home there is a hive featuring 42 front panels painted with motifs from beneath Mt. Stol – the highest mountain in the Karavanke range. The interior of the hive is used as an outlet for selling honey and honey-related products.

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The family have been practising beekeeping for centuries and have over 400 hives spread across various locations in Slovenia.

The perfume ‘Medena Noč’ (med being the Slovene word for honey), is exclusive to Noč Beekeeping and is currently only available direct from them, thus enquiries or orders should be address to: parfum.noc@gmail.com

In future it is planned that the perfume will be available in other outlets, so I’ll provide an update on that here in due course.

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The scent is described as being reminiscent of “delicate flowers, warm early-summer evenings, with a subtle undertone of honey” and I wouldn’t disagree. It really lasts too, I could still smell it hours after my test spritz! In a blind ‘smelling’ I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to identify honey as a key ingredient, as it’s not immediately obvious, but in a good way, as it means its not too sweet smelling and the combination of ingredients works.

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The painted front panels on this small hive are dedicated to the Slovene folk music legend, Slavko Avsenik, from nearby Begunje na Gorenjskem.

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And, of course, I couldn’t come away empty handed without some Slovene honey!

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More information about Noč Beekeeping can be found here (in Slovene only) – http://www.cebelarstvo-noc.si/default.asp

© Adele in Slovenia