Sorica: Super Skiing and Slovenia’s Most Beautiful Mountain Village

The well-kept village of Sorica is considered to be one of most beautiful mountain villages in Slovenia. As the tourism writer Rudolf Badjura wrote ‘It would be necessary to travel some distance around the world to see such a beautiful village.’ And even though it didn’t look its best on a slightly overcast February afternoon when I visited, when nature’s hues are still somewhat subdued after the winter slumber, one can easily imagine how glorious it must be here in the warmer months when nature is at its vibrant best.

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Sorica is known as Grohar’s village (Groharjeva vas) as it is the birthplace of one of Slovenia’s most esteemed impressionist painters, Ivan Grohar (1867-1911).

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The best way to get acquainted with the village is by walking the theme path ‘Path through Sorica’, which begins in the centre of the village between the Gostilna Macesen restaurant with rooms and Grohar’s House (Groharjeva hiša) – Ivan Grohar’s birth house.

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With views like this, it’s easy to see where Grohar got his inspiration! The 18th century Baroque parish church of St. Nicholas contains a ceiling fresco of ‘The Last Supper’ by another of Slovenia’s esteemed painters, Janez Šubic from Poljane.

Tone Logonder, the sculptor of the statue of Ivan Grohar which was placed here in 1981, received the Gorenjska Prešeren Award for his work.

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Rather than just being a museum, locals wanted Grohar’s House to once again come to life and a winning formula was found in making it into a kind of one-stop cultural centre which has become particularly popular for school field trips, and visits for private groups can also be arranged. The ground floor features a gallery.

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On the first floor you can indulge your creative side and take part in a workshop in the music room.

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And then head up to the upper floor to the artists’ workshop to have a go at creating one of your own pictures to rival that of Grohar!

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You can choose to just soak up the views of the village and its surroundings, set off on one of the many paths in the hills and mountains or, for those with a thirst for more active pursuits, head up to Soriška planina where in winter you can ski and in summer there are numerous scenic and interesting hiking trails.

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Soriska planina can be reached from several directions; from Škofja Loka via Železniki, from Bohinjska Bistrica or from Most na Soči via Baška Grapa.

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Facilities at the Soriška planina ski resort consist of a two-person chairlift, 3 drag lifts, a children’s drag lift, a snow park, a sledging track, cross-country ski trails and a restaurant.

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I had previously hiked in this area in the summer, but prior to last week had never seen it in its winter glory. Even for non-skiers like me, there’s still snowy fun to be had! Here I am at the highest point of the ski resort looking back down over the village of Sorica.

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One of the most interesting features of this area are the numerous bunkers, barracks and other fortifications remaining from the time of the Rapallo Border – a former border that existed during both world wars between Yugoslavia and Italy.

Below you can see the bunker on Lajnar, and you can also continue to others including on Možic, Slatnik and Dravh.

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Find out more about the Soriška planina ski resort here – http://www.soriska-planina.si/en/hiking/ and more about other theme paths and trails along the Rapallo Border here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/theme-paths/rappalo-border

© Adele in Slovenia

Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing in Slovenia’s Julian Alps

I’ve had quite a few enquiries recently via my blog regarding winter hiking in Slovenia. So, I thought I would put together a new blog post with some ideas about where to hike here in winter, and also about another alternative winter sport – snowshoeing.

Before I go on, however, one thing I would like to emphasise – and cannot emphasise enough – is that you MUST be properly prepared and equipped for winter hiking. In the past couple of weeks there have been a number of deaths in our mountains, and, as is so often the case, among them are tales of people going to the mountains in trainers or other such inappropriate attire. Proper equipment is essential year-round, but particularly so in winter, as is knowing the terrain. Personally, during winter, particularly when hiking alone, I stick to routes that I know and that I know are well-trodden.

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As I’m not a skier – never have been and never will be – snowshoeing provides great exercise and (can be!) great fun too, provided the conditions are right. Putting on a pair of snowshoes for the first time is a slightly strange experience. One feels rather awkward and clumsy walking around with, what look and feel like, tennis racquets strapped to your feet, though the modern versions, as seen below, are somewhat sleeker in their design.

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Once you get used to walking with a wider and slightly ungainly gait, you soon get used to it, though a pair of hiking poles is a requisite. Walking with snowshoes enable you to access places on foot that would otherwise be inaccessible during winter. However, snowshoes aren’t suitable for scaling high peaks, but rather for traversing wider, flatter snow-covered terrain.

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One of the best, and one of my favourite, places for winter activities is the Gorenjska region, where I live in the northwest of Slovenia, is the Pokljuka plateau. The entire forested Karst plateau, 20kms in length, is within Triglav National Park, and reaches an elevation of 1,400m. The highest peak is Debela peč (2014m), which, together with the peaks of Brda, Mrežce and Viševnik, are among the most popular with hikers year-round.

As can be seen below – me en-route to Debela peč – winter hiking, when at times you can be waist deep (or deeper!) in snow, can be exhausting at times, so isn’t for the faint-hearted!

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But the rewards can also be fantastic, provided you are well-equipped, sensible, know the terrain, and are fit enough!

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Pokljuka is approximately 15kms from Bled. Other than for a few months during summer, there is no regular, scheduled public transport to the plateau, so a car is essential. The plateau can also be reached from the road which turns off near Bohinjska Bistrica and leads up towards Gorjuše.

This year on 8-11th December Pokljuka hosted the annual BMW Biathlon World Cup. The plateau is a favourite training destination for many winter sports people from across Europe as well as for the Slovene military who have a barracks at Rudno Polje, which is also home to the Pokljuka Sports Centre and the Hotel Center http://www.center-pokljuka.si/en.html

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Pokljuka is a very popular destination with fans of cross-country skiing. I have tried it, on a few occasions, but me and skiing – of any kind – are never going to get along! Here’s me trying to ‘play it cool’ whilst a group of Slovenian military recruits go whizzing by!

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I’ve been there at times when the weather is less than favourable too, though once home in the warm with a cuppa, all is forgiven and forgotten!

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With its wide, open pastures and traditional wooden huts, the beautiful Planina Zajavornik highland is among the most popular parts of Pokljuka. The highland is also equally stunning during summer. You can cross the highland on foot and then head further up to the Blejska koča mountain hut, where you can enjoy hearty, traditional Slovenian food such as Carniolan sausage or a stew such as ričet, or, if the road is clear of snow, you can drive a little further by taking the road to the right from Mrzli studenec then park on the opposite side of the highland before continuing on foot up to the mountain hut.

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There are so many lovely parts of Pokljuka, it’s hard to choose a favourite and it’s equally beautiful, if not more so, during summer. Below you can see the Kranjska dolina highland, which you pass if you take the road as described above. I particularly like cycling in this area in summer.

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It’s fairly easy to navigate your way around Pokljuka, but a map of the Julian Alps will certainly aid you in planning routes.

I hope this has provided some ideas and inspiration for winter hiking in Slovenia. I wish you happy, and above all, safe, hiking!

© 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.

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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

Cerkno – A Green Destination Keeping in Touch with Nature

The town of Cerkno and its surroundings offer plentiful sites of significant historic interest  and wonderful nature and is one of Slovenia’s Green Destinations.

The most visited attraction, and one of the most important and remarkable of its kind, is the Franja Partisan Hospital. I had heard and read plenty about this place, but its not until I saw it for myself that I was able to really grasp its significance, though its still difficult to imagine how patients, equipment and goods could have been transported in such difficult terrain, and nigh on impossible to comprehend what life must have been like living and working in such cramped, cold and damp conditions.

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The hospital, named after the partisan physician Franja Bojc Bidovec, was set up in the then Yugoslavia by an enterprising group of partisans in order to treat wounded fighters. For its time, and considering the hospital’s almost inaccessible location, the facilities at the hospital, though basic, were such that it was able to operate entirely self-sufficiently for the 18 months of its operation.

The hospital comprised 14 wooden units and was so well hidden, deep inside the narrow and steep Pasica gorge, near Cerkno, that it was never discovered.

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The hospital finally closed on 5th May 1945. During this time the central facility treated almost 600 patients, whilst others were treated in dislocated units. Patients hailed not only from Slovenia but also from other former Yugoslav nations, Soviet nations, Italy, Poland, France, Austria and even America.

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Having survived the war, in a cruel twist of fate in 2007 the hospital was almost entirely destroyed when a large part of Slovenia was hit by devastating floods. The hospital was fully reconstructed, though only one original building stands, and nowadays is again open to the public (daily from April – November, thereafter by prior arrangement). Today the path through the gorge is well-secured, though can be a little wet in places so sensible footwear is a must.

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More information here – http://www.muzej-idrija-cerkno.si/index.php/en/locationsexhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/franja-partisan-hospital.html

The Divje babe archaeological site is a Karst cave located in the steep rocky slopes above the Idrijca Valley. Several remains of cave bear have been discovered in the cave – by far the most significant and most spectacular find is a bone flute made of the bone of a cave bear, which dates back 55,000 years and is the oldest known musical instrument in the world. Guided tours of the Divje babe site are available upon prior arrangement. More information here – http://www.divje-babe.si/en/

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The town of Cerkno itself is synonymous with the Cerkno laufarija – the traditional carnival characters who, during the winter ‘pust‘ carnival, drive away winter by performing a ritual wearing costumes made of natural materials and masks carved from linden wood. The Cerkno museum hosts a permanent exhibition entitled ‘Pust is to blame – a story about the Cerkno Laufarija’.

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The Ski and Mountain Cerkno resort is a year-round destination for outdoor pursuits. During winter the resort, at an altitude of 1291m, offers well-groomed ski pistes, cross-country skiing, and other snow-based activities, and is considered one of Slovenia’s best ski resorts in terms of facilities and user-friendliness.

In summer you can go hiking, enjoy the views, or try out some of the activities at the Cerkno Bike and Fun Park, such as stand-up paddling on the lakearchery, or downhill biking. There is also a playground and trampolines for children – so something for all the family.

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The chairlifts operate at weekends during summer – great views guaranteed!

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More information here – http://www.ski-cerkno.com/en/index.html

The latest addition to the resort is its range of Forest Selfness programmes, which range from 2 – 6 hours and include culinary delights, relaxation under the treetops, reflexology and barefoot walking, forest relaxation, meditation and energy exercises. More information here – http://www.gozdni-selfness.si/eng/

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Whilst exploring the Cerkno area, I stayed at the Gostilna Gačnk guest house, which offers excellent traditional Slovene hospitality and cuisine, as well as basic, though comfortable, rooms, and is located just minutes from the Franja Partisan Hospital. Read plenty more about my stay at Gačnk here – http://wp.me/p3005k-1HE

©  Adele in Slovenia

Rogla: Year-round Recreation and Fun for All!

If you love the great outdoors, spending your free time being active, and breathing in fresh mountain air, then you will love Rogla! Located in the northeast of Slovenia on the Zreče side of the Pohorje massif at an altitude of 1517m, Rogla is a ski resort and year-round recreation destination.

Visit for a day, stay for a few days, or even longer, there’s no shortage of things to see and do! There is a choice of accommodation on Rogla – hotels, bungalows, apartments – but for the most modern and luxurious among them I’d certainly recommend the latest addition, the new Hotel Natura, which is really something a bit special!

I went to check it out during a recent visit to the Zreče thermal spa, read more here – http://wp.me/p7jQx9-7O and, well, me being me, decided to cycle up to Rogla! On reaching the hotel, after a 2 hour+ uphill ride (Zreče 360m – Rogla 1,517m) the giant wooden recliners on the hotel’s terrace were beckoning and thereafter it was hard to tear myself away!

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If you’re a keen cyclist then, although long, the road to Rogla is good and it makes a great day out. You can choose to either go on the main road, or, as I did, ride up at first on minor roads – which I’d recommend for great views and less traffic – before joining the main road, or for those with mountain bikes you can take one of the forest roads. There are also numerous other marked cycle routes on the plateau itself.

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Hotel Natura is the first hotel reached when arriving on Rogla and an excellent place to stay to explore the area, or just call in for a delicious meal made using local Pohorje ingredients as part of ‘Taste Rogla’. I headed straight for a glass of refreshing homemade iced herbal tea and elderflower cordial served in the hotel’s very welcoming and comfortable lounge area.

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Next came a well-earned meal in Restaurant Brusnica which was beautifully and imaginatively presented as well as being scrumptious!

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Hotel Natura offers excellent wellness facilities, massages, baths, and a sauna with a panoramic view – in winter overlooking a cross-country skiing poligon. I can image that the wellness facilities must particularly come into their own during winter after a long day’s skiing.

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Of course, if you stay at Rogla itself then you don’t have to cycle all the way up there and can instead spend more time exploring the area – note to self, do that next time! If you prefer exploring on foot, then Rogla is great for leisurely strolls or longer hikes. Pick up a map of the Rogla hiking trails and you can choose from 9 marked trails, varying in length from 2.3km to 25.9km.

One of the most scenic is the path to the Lovrenc lakes, which is made up of 20 small lakes that formed during the Ice Age. The lakes, which do not have a surface water inflow and are supplied only by rainwater, are surrounded by dwarf pine and in places are bursting with water lilies.  To get a better impression of the size and scope of the lakes, head for the best vantage point – the lake tower.

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The Rogla Bike Park has 6 trails ranging in length and difficulty, including a beginners polygon and obstacle trails. Mountain bikes can be rented and instructors are also available. More information here – http://bit.ly/29IhQSh

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Working began on building the rather unusual looking Church of Jesus Christ on Rogla in 2006 and it was blessed in 2010. The church has three bells, an impressive altar and notable church organ.

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Before starting the long (though very quick!) descent back to Zreče, there was time to enjoy a bit more adrenalin with a 1,360 metre descent on the Zlodejevo toboggan run. The return is by drag lift I hasten to add!

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Other outdoor facilities include a funpark, tennis courts. football field and running tracks. The Rogla Sports Centre is particularly popular with athletes seeking altitude training. There is a high altitude training room equipped with a multitude of fitness equipment where conditions up to 7,000 metres above sea-level can be simulated.

With an average of 100 days of snow cover per year, Rogla really is a year-round destination. In winter it offers downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, winter hikes and other fun snow-based activities.

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This is but a snapshot of all there is to see and do on Rogla! Find out plenty more here – http://www.rogla.eu/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Gostilna Gačnk – Slovene Food and Hospitality at its Best!

Gostilna Gačnk, in the settlement of Log near Cerkno, is a family-fun traditional Slovenian guest house and restaurant with a more than 100-year tradition. I stayed there last weekend whilst exploring Cerkno and the surrounding areas for a future blog post and had originally intended to just mention where I’d stayed, however, I soon found out that to do so would be an injustice, since this place deserves a blog all of its own, so, here it is!

Despite being mid-summer, on the day of my arrival it was unseasonably chilly thanks to a brief cold front that had spread across the country the day before. So, I took a seat next to the wood burner, had a cup of tea (as we English do!), and enjoyed a lovely natter with the very affable owner, Matjaž.

After discussing what to see and do during my weekend visit, and following a short walk, I was offered a glass of homemade schnapps made from ‘palaj‘ (Latin: Micromerio thymifolio), which grows exclusively in the area around Novaki, specifically on and between the peaks of Kopa and Porezen, and, as such, is a real speciality and rarity.

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This was just a prelude to the excellent hospitality and meals I was to enjoy over the weekend. For a change I had some company for dinner, when a fellow blogger, who lives in Cerkno, joined me and was to prove great company as we shared tales of blogging. We left it to the team in the kitchen to surprise us with some local delights (other than instructions from me for ‘no fish!’). I particularly enjoyed the starter as it was something I’ve never tried before – ‘smukavc‘ – a thick soup made from cabbage and served in a pastry ‘bowl, with home-produced sausage.

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Gačnk specialises in dishes cooked outside over an open fire and other traditional Slovenian dishes such as žlikrofi and štrukjli.

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As I was planning a full day of exploring the next day, I arranged for a ‘packed breakfast’ which was excellent and included bread freshly baked in the clay oven, which is a weekend speciality at the gostilna.

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Gostilna Gačnk is ideally situated for visiting the Franja Partisan Hospital, the entrance to which is only 10 minutes away on foot. The gostilna’s main dining area is dedicated to the physician Franja Bojc Bidovec, after whom the hospital was named.

After a full day out exploring, I returned starving and eagerly awaiting dinner. There was also a wedding taking place, one of many that are held regularly at weekends here, so I was able to look on and enjoy watching others enjoying their celebration whilst savouring a beautifully presented, and equally delicious, dinner.

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Though it could be considered a little out of the way for some, Gostilna Gačnk is actually excellently located for exploring the Cerkno area, and even further afield, particularly if you like hiking, skiing, cycling, or other outdoors activities and are seeking peace and quiet. I will be writing plenty more about what to see and do in the area in a future blog coming soon, so stay tuned!

You can find more information here – http://www.cerkno.com/

© Adele in Slovenia

The Four Seasons of Spring!

Last week we really did have all the four seasons within the space of four days. It began with a few snowflakes on Wednesday morning, which later became heavy snowfall,  and certainly made a bit of a mockery of last week’s blog entitled ‘Spring in the Karavanke’. It’s now anything but spring in the Karavanke!

Though it had been forecast that it could snow in places at around the 700 metre level, Radovljica, where I live, is at 496m, so no-one, forecasters included, was quite expecting the snow to reach the valley – and certainly not so much of it – considering the previous week we had had temperatures in the twenties.

So this is what spring in the Karavanke now looks like!

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It wasn’t just in Gorenjska in the north-west of Slovenia either, it also snowed in other lower-lying regions of the country. I spent 2 days in Dolenjska, in the south-east, and it even snowed there too.

Hiking at the moment isn’t advisable as the late-spring snow is very wet and heavy, and has caused a lot of damage with branches and trees down, whilst the danger of avalanches is at level 4 – the highest level being 5. Instead however, those who are die-hard fans of winter and skiing once again took to the slopes as the Vogel ski resort re-opened for the extended holiday weekend.

On Saturday it was a return to temperatures of 18 degrees and the valley was bathed in sunshine and the Sava river at Radovljica was looking its sparkling best when I went for an early morning walk.

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However, it was a different matter when I got into the forest as I tried, and in places failed, to pick my way under and over fallen trees on the path up to Talež. It’s amazing the devastation just 24 hours of snow caused – more than in the whole of last winter.

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I was amazed and saddened at the number of fallen trees and branches, almost reminiscent of the damage caused by the glaze ice two winters ago, though, thankfully, nowhere near to that extent.

Some trees, such as this one below, had literally been torn apart under the weight of the heavy snow.

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It’s been over 20 years since there has been such heavy snowfall this late in the year, so this prompted me to try and uncover some historical snowy spring facts:

  • In 1907 40cm of snow fell on 29th April in Bohinjska Bistrica
  • In 1974 in Nomenj it snowed on the 10th of June
  • In 1985 it snowed on 3rd May
  • In 1988 it snowed on 24th April
  • The earliest snowfall of the year was recorded in 1972 on 11th September in Kotlje

Unfortunately it has also caused a huge amount of damage to crops and vines – in places its reported that up to 90% have been destroyed. This year’s honey production is also expected to be severely affected. Over one-third of honey produced in Slovenia is acacia honey, and a large number of the blooms have been destroyed. It’s all such a shame and another reminder of the equal wonders and cruelty of nature.

Roll on summer!!!

© Adele in Slovenia