Spas, Caves, Eats and Other Rainy (and Not So Rainy) Day Ideas!

Anyone visiting Slovenia in the last fortnight might be forgiven for thinking it rains here a lot! Please be reassured, however, that this much rain in June is not the norm. In the 9+ years I’ve been living here, I don’t think I can remember such a prolonged period of wet weather at this time of year. It really is turning out to be a strange year, weather-wise. After having very little snow during winter, we then had snow in late-April, and now, in the second-half of May and early June, it seems to be April! It’s been either raining torrentially or the clouds have been looming ominously, making it frustratingly difficult to go anywhere too far from home.

The good news is that it’s set to improve soon, just a couple more days of these storms then hot, dry weather is headed our way, yippee! In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my ideas for how to spend rainy, as well as not so rainy, days in the Radovljica area and elsewhere in Slovenia.

VISIT A SPA

It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing outside if you are inside getting wet anyway! All of Slovenia’s thermal spas feature indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, jacuzzis and modern wellness facilities, offering something for all the family. You can read plenty more about spas and the facilities here and read some insider tips from me, here – https://spasinslovenia.com/

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DELVE INTO THE MAGICAL UNDERWORLD IN CAVES

A visit to one Slovenia’s caves, such as Postojna Caves or the UNESCO-listed Škocjan Caves, is ideal whatever the weather. There are over 9,000 caves in Slovenia, though only a small number of these are open to the public. The temperature in the caves is constant year-round so it really doesn’t matter if its snowing or there’s a heat-wave! All of the caves are fascinating and unique, and the current phenomena of the newly-hatched ‘baby dragons’ at Postojna Caves provides an additional reason to visit. Read more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/06/01/the-phenomenal-postojna-proteus-phenomena/

Underground river Pivka in Postojna Cave_photo Iztok Medja for Postojnska jama

VISIT, TASTE & DRINK RADOVLJICA

Rainy days always bring an influx of visitors to the Radovljica area as the small town packs in quite a few sights of interest. You can visit the Lectar Gingerbread Workshop, the Museum of Apiculture, the Šivec House Gallery, and the Beekeeping Education Centre of Gorenjska. More here – http://www.radolca.si/en/

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I don’t know about you, but this miserable weather makes me want to eat, eat, and then eat some more! The participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants all offer home-cooked, and locally sourced and produced food. Or why not visit the Sodček Wine Bar for a wine tasting session. More here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/taste-radolca/

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LISTEN TO SLOVENE FOLK MUSIC AT AVSENIK

Visit Avsenik in Begunje na Gorenjskem – home to the world-renowned legendary Avsenik music – a popular style of folk music. There are regular live events, festivals and workshops, and you can also visit the gallery and museum. More here – http://www.avsenik.com/en

TAKE IN SOME CULTURE AT SUMMER MUSEUM NIGHT

There are hundreds of museums and galleries in Slovenia and a lot of attention is placed on culture and cultural-related events and activities. Next Saturday, 18th June, is Summer Museum Night, when, from 6pm until midnight, museums and galleries throughout the country offer free entrance and host special events. More information here – http://www.tms.si/PMN/?page_id=67

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GO SHOPPING

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of shopping, particularly large shopping centres and especially when on holiday in a place where the great outdoors is so ‘great!’ So when I say ‘shopping’ I don’t mean traipsing round clothes shops, and getting hot, bothered and irritated in changing rooms (or is that just me?). Instead, when on holiday, I prefer to browse craft shops, visit local markets, buy and try local produce, and try to find unique buys. I particularly like foodie events such as Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen), which takes place every Friday (weather permitting) in Ljubljana. Closer to home at Vila Podvin in Mošnje a market takes place on the first Saturday of every month from 9am-noon, come rain or shine. You can meet local producers, buy food and non-food goods, and enjoy a delicious lunch cooked by one of Slovenia’s top chefs, Uroš Štefelin. More information here – http://www.vilapodvin.si/events

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I hope to have provided some ideas and inspiration, after all, the weather may mean some plans have to curtailed but there’s always plenty more to see and do until the next sunny day comes along!

© Adele in Slovenia

 

 

Let the Train Take the (Chocolate) Strain!

As anyone who has been to any of the previous Chocolate Festivals in Radovljica will know, the event is VERY popular and becoming more so every year. And, if you haven’t yet been, then it’s time to come and see what all the fuss is about!

So, this year, why not visit the Chocolate Festival by train, eliminating the stress of trying to find somewhere to park, and also the ‘chocolate fun‘ will begin from the moment you step onto the train.

A special heritage train will operate on Sunday 17th April, leaving Ljubljana at 10.45, arriving in Radovljica at 12.04. On board the train there will be entertainment, and, of course, chocolate!

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The return train leaves Radovljica at 15.47, arriving in Ljubljana at 17.11. So, that means more than 3-and-a-half-hours of chocolate indulgence in Radovljica!

Luckily for me I live in Radovljica so I only have a 5 minute walk to be in chocolate heaven, however, I’m quite tempted to take the train, just for the experience!

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There are also a number of additional bargains and offers at the festival for those who arrive by train, including:

  • Chocolate from the Guinness World Record chocolate bar for just 4 coupons – instead of the usual 5
  • Kunstelj cake pops (seen below) for 2 coupons each – instead of the usual 3
  • 10% discount on the purchase of bottled wine at the Sodček wine bar – located at the entrance to the old town centre
  • Free guided tour of the Lectar Gingerbread Workshop
  • Reduced-price entrance to the Museum of Apiculture and the Municipal museum – payment with coupons

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More information about the special train (it seems, currently only in Slovene!) here – http://www.slo-zeleznice.si/sl/potniki/izleti-in-prireditve/z-muzejskim-vlakom-na-festival-cokolade-v-radovljico and about the festival (in English) here – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/chocolate-festival/83/309/

Of course, taking the train isn’t just possible during the time of the festival, but all-year round you can visit Radovljica by train. The railway station is located just metres from the historic old town centre and the journey from Ljubljana, which takes just under an hour, offers great views and a relaxing way to travel. More information here (this time also in English!) – http://www.slo-zeleznice.si/en/

© AdeleinSlovenia 2016

 

Easter in Slovenia – My Potica Journey!

It’s not even Easter yet and I’ve already eaten half my body weight in potica – all in the name of research for this blog!

It’s not hard to find potica in Slovenia, far from it, it’s abundantly available, particularly during Easter, Christmas and New Year holidays. I have often read that there are over 80 different types of potica in Slovenia, yet in most shops and bakeries there are only the usual staple varieties, such as; walnut – by far the most commonly found; poppy seedtarragonpork crackling; dried fruitpotratna –  as seen below – a layered ‘luxury’ potica, made with curd cheese, walnuts and layers of light and dark sponge.

potratna potica

So, where then are the other 70+ varieties I asked myself? Therefore, for this blog I set myself the challenge of seeking out some of the other, more unusual types of potica. In the process I have crossed waters and worked my way through an awful lot of potica, so, I hope you enjoy reading about potica in Slovenia as much as I have enjoyed eating it!

I must confess that sometimes I find potica can be rather uninspiring, dry, and, well, a bit underwhelming. For me the ratio of dough to filling is the key factor. According to potica experts, the ideal ratio is 1:1 – for example, if the dough is 1cm thick, then the filling should also be 1cm. In reality, especially when it comes to mass produced potica, this seems to be far from the case, hence it definitely pays to seek out handmade potica, and it also pays to pay! Though these days you can find potica in pretty much every supermarket throughout the land, and it can often be found on special offer, these shop-bought varieties, though cheap, are often disappointing. Homemade versions are almost always the best – almost everyone in Slovenia seems to have a grandmother who makes ‘the best’ potica, or I recommend also trying some of the ones below!

First I contacted Iva Gruden from Ljubljananjamhttp://www.ljubljananjam.si/ who knows pretty much everything there is to know about the food scene in Ljubljana. She suggested I try the coffee shop and patisserie Čopomana in Ljubljana. Čopomana has many flavours of potica including several that I have never seen, let alone tried.

Čopomana bakes the usual favourite flavours and also an array of different and imaginative flavours. During Easter week they are readily available, whilst at other times throughout the year they are baked to order.

  • Almond and candied fruit

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  • Hazelnut with rum-soaked raisins

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  • Pumpkin seed, pistachio and cardamom

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  • Date, orange, almond and rose petal

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  • Coconut and milk chocolate

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  • Chestnut, fig and Tonka bean – unfortunately I failed to get a good snap of this one for some reason, though it was actually my favourite of the lot – too busy eating, perhaps!

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I’d like to say a very big ‘Thank You’ to the owner of Čopomana, Tanja Viler, for her extreme friendliness, inventiveness and willingness. My visit even inspired her to invented a new flavour of potica (the chestnut one!), and I must mention that my attention was also drawn by all the other delicious looking handmade cakes, jams and other goodies available. I think I will be visiting again soon! More information here – https://www.facebook.com/Čopomana-576820115783243/?fref=ts

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My search also led me to Bled island. As well as being home to the Church of the Mother of God, and a gallery, the island also has its own ‘potičnica‘. I’m going to let the photos tell the story, as there is SO much to tell!

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I journeyed to the island by private boat.

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I was warmly greeted by Romana Bohinc, who then proceeded, at lightning speed, to skilfully make and bake five different kinds of potica.

  • A chocolate-enriched dough filled with ground almonds and cranberries soaked in honey and lemon juice

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  • Blanched almond with white chocolate, cream and honey

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  • Toasted hazelnut, honey and dried fig – Romana told me about the island’s fig tree. The alpine climate in Gorenjska isn’t exactly conducive to growing figs, however, she explained to me that the island has its own kind of microclimate, which results in a healthy annual fig crop.

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  • Walnut, honey and rum-soaked raisins – a slight twist on the classic walnut potica

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  • Chive, rum-soaked raisins and cranberry – with a base layer of egg yolks, butter and sugar. I couldn’t quite get my head round chives being used in a sweet bake, as they have a very pungent flavour, but this one actually turned out to be my favourite of the lot. Do try it!

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I was also impressed by the ‘no waste’ policy, whereby the ends of the dough that are cut off before the potica goes into a mould, are baked into biscuits.

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By prior arrangement the potičnica offers workshops for groups, whereby each person can make their own potica, have a guided tour of the island, a tasting session, and some potica to take home. This sounds like a fantastic idea to me and I hope that, rather than just being a spectator, I too will be able to participate myself sometime soon. More information here – http://www.blejskiotok.si/poticnica

I also happened upon one more variety of potica, cream potica, made at Trojane – home of the original Trojane doughnut! One perhaps wouldn’t associate Trojane with potica, but they have their own in-house bakery and patisserie and also pride themselves on their homemade local food. Whilst traditional walnut potica is available all year-round at Trojane, cream potica is only available at Easter and Christmas. The filling comprises a mixture including breadcrumbs, curd cheese and cream.

Trojane smetanova potica

Perhaps potica purists will baulk at some of the flavours shown above, preaching that they don’t consistute ‘real’ potica, but, as I see it, as long as the original shape and methods are retained, then there are no limits to the possibilities – all it takes is a little imagination, as I discovered on my potica journey.

Easter in Slovenia is celebrated in a number of ways. It begins on Palm Sunday when people can be seen flocking to churches around the country carrying bundles of branches and leaves, called ‘butare‘ which are then blessed as part of a custom thought to date back as far as the 9th century.

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On Easter Saturday people take baskets of food, covered with embroidered cloths, to church to be blessed. However, this food cannot be eaten until Easter Sunday. Then, after a period of abstinence (by some), with a fast beginning on Ash Wednesday, food becomes a big deal as tables in homes around the country can be found bursting under the weight of, of course, potica, as well as baked ham, horseradish, eggs and other delicacies!

However and wherever you choose to celebrate Easter, may it be filled with colour, joy, and, of course, potica! I reckon I might manage another slice, or two!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2016

 

Ljubljana, once Emona, now the European Green Capital 2016

2016 is going to be an exciting year for Slovenia, as it celebrates 25 years of independence, and also particularly for Ljubljana as it has been chosen as the 2016 European Green Capital.

Two thousand years ago a Roman city, named Emona, stood on the site of present day Ljubljana. During the past two years there have been many celebrations taking place to mark the anniversary, such as this parade in late autumn which began in Congress Square (Kongresni trg) and continued through the streets of the capital, crossing the Ljubljanica river. There were plenty of strapping men dressed in clothing from Roman times, parading their finest weapons and armoury and generally looking ‘mean and menacing’!

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The Emona parade through the streets of Ljubljana (Oct 2015)

These days, there are still many different sights and places to visit around Ljubljana which bear witness to the city’s past. The best place to start is at the City Museum, where you can get a guide and take a self-guided tour (or upon prior arrangement a guided tour) of the Emona Roman Trail of Ljubljana. The circular trail takes you past finds from Roman Emona, which, in its entirety, measured a mere 524 x 435 metres and was believed to have had around 500 inhabitants. Amongst the sights are two archaeological parks, a Roman wall, the former town gate and one of the most beautiful finds from the antiquity, the statue of an Emonan.

Ljubljana was chosen as the European Green Capital 2016 by the European Commission for ‘its raising environmental awareness amongst its citizens, its sustainability strategy ‘Vision 2025’, its implementation of a range of urban green measures over the past decade and its impressive transportation network’. Amongst others, the city boasts 542 square metres of green space per resident, use of, and ease of access to, environmentally-friendly public transportquality drinking water, participation in the ‘zerowaste’ programme, good air quality and sustainable tourism.

As an introduction to Green Ljubljana the Water Exhibition, at the aforementioned City Museum, is a good place to start. In fact, even better since the entrance ticket to the exhibition also entitles you to entrance to the Emona Roman Trail.

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Part of the ‘Water’ exhibition at the Ljubljana City Museum

There will be various events and initiatives taking place throughout the year, too many to mention here individually, so the best thing is to keep an eye on the Green Ljubljana website for all the latest news and event information – http://www.greenljubljana.com/ and also the Visit Ljubljana website – https://www.visitljubljana.com/

The official opening event will take place in front of Ljubljana’s Town Hall on Monday 11th January at 5pm and is open to all.

Personally, I’m not much of a city-type, however, Ljubljana, fortunately, is not like other big sprawling cities and it’s easy to find peace and greenery. My favourite place in the capital is the expansive Tivoli Park, where you can easily lose yourself for hours among its forested paths. A particularly popular part of the park is the 391m-high Rožnik hill, accessible from numerous directions, where there is a church and where large crowds gather for Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve celebrations. On the southern side of the hill is Ljubljana Zoo, whilst Ljubljana’s Botanic Gardens, though small, offer an oasis of calm.

Tivoli

When in Ljubljana I also enjoy a stroll along the banks of the Ljubljanica river, where there is almost always something going on, or a walk up to Ljubljana Castle. Staying with the green theme, the Bicike(LJ) fleet of bike sharing bikes can be used for getting around the city, which is very bike-friendly, and Ljubljana’s main thoroughfare – Slovenska cesta – has recently been pedestrianised.

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A view of Ljubljana Castle from the riverbank (photo: D. Wedam)

Ljubljana’s other great asset is that just a few kilometres from the city you can be in the surrounding countryside and within less than half-an-hour can be hiking or skiing in the mountains, visiting caves in the Karst area or exploring the Ljubljana Marshes Nature Park.

The Polhov hills lie just beyond Ljubljana’s suburbs and offer many hiking paths. I sometime hike in this area in the late-autumn/winter, when there is snow in the higher mountains. Below you can see me on the peak of Grmada (898m), though not the highest – that is Tošč (1021m) – on a clear day it offers the most wonderful far-reaching views and is certainly more than worth the effort to get there. You can read more about my hikes there in previous blogs such as this one – http://wp.me/p3005k-93

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On top of Grmada in the Polhov hills

There are also number trails in and around Ljubljana including the Ostroverhar Trail, which starts in the village of Podgrad near Ljubljana and leads over Kašelj hill up to the ruins of two medieval castles, previously part of the Osterberg property and home to the Ostrovrhar knights. You can read more about it in this previous post –  https://wordpress.com/post/44329338/128/

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So, why not make 2016 a year to discover Green Ljubljana! I’m looking forward to it too.

A very Happy New Year to one and all!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2016

Reflections & New Year in Slovenia

If someone were to ask me what would be your ideal weather for Christmas, my answer would have fitted exactly what we had. I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present than the perfect cloudless skies and warm winter sunshine we had last week. My parents were here from the UK for Christmas and the three of us sat outside having a picnic lunch on Christmas Day. Who’d have thought that possible!

However, not all the country were so lucky as many places were, again, shrouded in fog. This is the view on Boxing Day looking down from Možjanca, near Preddvor.

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During my parent’s visit we packed in plenty of sights including a trip to the Christmas market in Ljubljana.

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A visit to Kranj to watch the very popular annual Christmas tuba concert (tuba božički) – to get us in the festive mood.

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On Christmas Eve we went to see the preparations for mass at the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Brezje http://www.radolca.si/en/brezje-basilica/

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On Christmas Day we visited a tourist farm (more about that next week), visited friends, watched the Ana Snežna street show in the old town of Radovljica, and finished the day with a meal at Kunstelj Inn in Radovljica.

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If you haven’t already decided how and where to see in the new year, here are some ideas of what’s on in Radovljica and the surroundings and also further afield.

On 30th December there will be a pre-New Year’s Eve party for children at 4pm in Linhart Square, whilst on New Year’s Eve the merriment will take place, also in Linhart Square, with live music from the Avsenik House Ensemble. More information here – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festive-december-in-linhart-square/83/110/

If food, and of course drink, is on your mind, then look to one of the Taste Radol’ca restaurants, though hurry as some are already fully booked. Amongst others, Kunstelj Inn is offering a 4-course menu of local food for 33 euros, Grajska gostilnica  is offering a 6-course New Year’s Eve menu for just 37 euros per person and Gostišče Tulipan has a 4-course menu with live music for 28 euros per person.

Further afield, the capital, Ljubljana, is a popular destination to spend New Year’s Eve, with plenty happening all over the city or, if the weather is fine, spending New Year’s Eve in one of Slovenia’s many mountain huts can also be a magical. One year I walked up to the Sankaška hut above Begunje, from where, on a clear day/night, there are fantastic views and I was able to enjoy watching many fireworks displays across the valley. So, if the weather plays game and that appeals, don your hiking gear and a head torch and head on up there. More information here – http://www.radolca.si/en/st-peters-trail-begunje/

I have now been writing this blog for exactly three years. In that time it has had over 90,000 views from all over the world and this year I was delighted and proud that it was also officially recognised by the Slovenian Tourist Organisation and now also features on the homepage of their website – http://www.slovenia.info/en/Blog-Adele-in-Slovenia/Adele-in-Slovenia.htm?adele_slovenia=0&lng=2

People often ask me how I come up with so many ideas for what to write about and if I ever run out of ideas. Actually, sometimes I still have too many ideas so, if you keep reading, I’ll keep writing, and may the journey continue to make 2016 an even more successful year for Adele in Slovenia!

I wish all readers a very, very Happy & Healthy New Year!

 

It’s Spring and Radovljica is Alive!

Winter seems to have finally lost its vice like grip and spring has courageously battled through and taken over – yippee! Walking around Radovljica this week has been a pleasure – seeing people sitting outside cafes for their morning coffee, children (and some adults too!) eating ice-cream, people playing various sports in the sports park and generally people emerging from the long winter spent cooped up indoors – much like bears awaking from their winter hibernation – and enjoying feeling the warmth of the sun. Never have I been so pleased to see that large, round, yellow, warming object in the sky on Tuesday – it’s got some making up to do so let’s hope it’s here to stay. I also hope it will get to work on melting some of the metres and metres of snow in the mountains so I can get up high hiking again asap.

Although I’m not entirely adverse to winter walking in the fresh snow during the winter ‘proper’, by this time of year the novelty of walking in the snow has long since worn off am I’m longing to be able to start walking to some of the higher lying areas. However, in the meantime, its time to get resourceful and find places to walk which are a little lower and south facing, where the snow has already begun to melt. I co-wrote a guidebook about Slovenia some time back and from the time when I was researching it and gathering information, I have a folder full of brochures and leaflets which, at times like these come in very handy. So a rummage through the folder led me to deciding on walking the Ostroverhar Trail on Saturday, and a good choice it was too!

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The circular trail starts in the village of Podgrad, near Ljubljana and leads over Kašelj hill (Kašeljski hrib) and past the remains of two medieval castles, both of which were a part of the Osterberg property, home of the Ostrovrhar knights. The Old Castle (Stari grad) is thought to date back to 1256 and first belonged to the Spanheim family. Over the years it has had numerous owners but since 1930, it has been the property of the Kansky family, manufacturers from Podgrad. Another interesting feature of the path is the millstone quarry beneath the castle. Here, since the Middle Ages until production ceased, millstones were cut (like the one I’m sitting on below), with a diameter of about one metres and a thickness of 20 centimetres, and you actually still see where they were cut from the rock. The path is well-marked and it took about 2.5 hours to walk the entire trail.

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Sunday was a beautiful, warm, spring day so it was time to dust off my bike and get the cogs turning once again. I haven’t cycled properly since October so it was a tentative start but as they say, you never forget how to ride a bike, and once I got going it felt great. I cycled to the Završnica valley where, at the start of the valley, there is a small reservoir. This is also the start point for many hikes in the surrounding Karavanke Alps – more about which I will be writing as soon as the snow has melted!

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Preparations are in full swing for next weekend’s Festival of Chocolate in Radovljica – if you are anywhere near the area, don’t miss it, it’s sure to be a delicious weekend! Last year’s event was so popular that this year it has been extended to two days. This year, there will be a new system in place whereby coupons can be purchased which can then be exchanged for tastings of the chocolate goodies on offer at all the stalls. More information about the festival can be found here – http://www.festival-cokolade.si/  As probably the world’s biggest chocoholic, I will definitely be paying a visit!

© Adele in Slovenia