Železniki: A Step Back in Time and Tradition + Lacemaking Days

The small town of Železniki is nestled snuggly in one of the narrowest parts of the Selca Valley (Selška dolina). The town is split into the older ironworks area and the more modern industrial part. Walking through the old part of the town feels like taking a step back in time – in a good way – since it is untouched by the trappings of modernity i.e. ghastly shopping centres and the like, and the town boasts a wealth of tradition and heritage.

Železniki was once a centre of ironworking, and later, after the closure of the last blast furnace, the tradition of lacemaking began to flourish. The best way to learn more about this fascinating place is to visit the Železniki Museum.

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There are 12 collections over three floors crammed into the beautiful 17th century ironworkers house. There are an impressive number of models, some of which also ‘come to life’ with moving parts and/or sound. Collections include the iron industry, the timber industry, lace-making, and the National Liberation Battle in the valley.

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Get a glimpse into the working of a timber mill.

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And maybe even try your hand at lace-bobbin work. Believe me, it’s a skilled trade requiring patience and dexterity, both of which, in this case at least, I clearly lack!

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Once you’ve mastered it, then you can produce all manner of intricate patterns.

The remains of the last mighty blast furnace, used for smelting iron-ore, known to be the only preserved furnace of its kind in Europe, are directly opposite the museum.

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After visiting the museum I recommend taking a walk through the old part of the town beside the Selca Sora river, from where you can admire the traditional ironworkers houses, some still with the traditional slate roofs, and, if you get lucky with the weather, bask in the sunshine!

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Plnada is the oldest house in the town.

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The well, known locally as ‘Šterna na Plavžu’, was renovated and erected on the occasion of the 40th Lacemaking Days event. In the past the well provided water for 40 houses in the upper part of the town.

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This year the 55th Lacemaking Days event takes place from 12- 16 July. The rich cultural programme includes a craft market, organ grinders, a procession, and even a 24-hour lacemaking competition. The main parade will take place on Sunday 16th July at 2pm. You can also visit the museum and admire the windows of the town’s houses which are adorned with lace during the event.

On Saturday 15th July at 9pm, and on Sunday 16th July from 3pm you can watch demonstrations of manual iron forging with Železniki blacksmiths and have a go at making your own nails.

The full programme is below (in Slovene), or you can contact the Železniki Tourist Information Centre or Visit Škofja Loka for more information.

Interesting, earlier this year the Municipality of Železniki was declared the best out of Slovenia’s 211 municipalities in which to live in Slovenia in terms of a number of factors including health of its residents, availability of accommodation, access to nature and leisure facilities etc.

One of the town’s most popular events is ‘Luč v vodo’ (Lights in the Water), an age-old iron-forging custom takes place annually in March. The models, which are a mixture of unique art creations made from paper, cardboard and wood with candles affixed either on the exterior or interior, create a colourful effect against the dusk setting. This custom dates back to the era of manual iron-forging, before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the name day of St. Gregory was considered the first day of spring.

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Photo: TD Zelezniki

Other sights of interest nearby include the Lomski slap waterfall, the stone bridges in Kovže and below Griva, numerous examples of architectural ironwork heritage, and hiking trails, including to Ratitovec – about which I will be writing more in the not too distant future!

So, as you can see, and as I found out, there’s more to Železniki than first meets the eye. So do add it to your list of places to visit whilst exploring the Škofja Loka area. Find out more here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/skofja-loka-area/zelezniki and here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/culture-and-art/museums-and-galleries

© Adele in Slovenia

 

 

Highlights of the Škofja Loka Historial 2017

The annual Škofja Loka Historial (Festival of History) took place last weekend in the well-preserved medieval old town and its surroundings.

I attended the festival and managed to dodge (most of !) the afternoon showers which are so often a feature at this time of year. And the spirits of all the dancers, actors, stallholders, and other performers and guests weren’t dampened either!

Below you can see some of the highlights of the festival, as well as see more of this charming town on the Sora river which should be on your list of places to visit whilst in Slovenia.

The fair and the majority of events took place in the main town square (Mestni trg) where visitors  had a chance to try some typical dishes from the area, part of the Taste of the Škofja Loka Countryside project (Okusi loškega podeželja).

One of the foods most synonymous with this area is Visoška pečenka – roast pork from nearby Visoko, studded with carrots, lemon, parsley garlic and laurel.

On the main stage there were performances from, amongst others, the Lonca Dance Society performing historic dances.

A display of flag throwing and sword play was performed by the Taboršti Kupci historic group from the twin town of Tabor in Southern Bohemia.

They certainly weren’t just play fighting! It was pretty brutal, raw fighting which, in addition to swordplay, seemed to involve a lot of bashing each other over the head with (real!) hammers!

In Rotovž, the former town hall building and one of the most prominent buildings in the square with its baroque frescoes and three-storey gothic arcaded courtyard, the main event took place at intervals throughout the day. The drama ‘The Devil’s Footbridge’ (Hudičev brv) tells the story of the devil, the Puštal frogmen and a stone bridge.

From the main square, I headed down through the narrow streets and alleys to the other main town square, Lower Square (Spodnji trg) where there were also various workshops and performances.

Next it was up to Loka Castle and the 16th century Škopar’s House (Škoparjeva hisa) where I had a chance to sample Loška medla, cooked in the original black kitchen; a simple peasant-style dish made of cooked millet which, according to some sources, originates from the Škofja Loka area.

Outside the house there were workshops and puppet shows for children, as well as weaving workshops. Unfortunately I haven’t got so much as a creative bone in my body when it comes to such things, but I’m always willing to give them a try! Weaving on a loom and using a weaving board; the latter, as I discovered, also requires a fair bit of patience!

Even when there aren’t any particular events happening in the town itself, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in and around it, as well as further afield in the Selca and Poljana valleys, about which I’ve already written quite a bit this year, but I’m certainly not finished yet!

And there’s no need to wait until next year’s Historial if you’d like to try your hand at some traditional handicrafts as this can be done all-year round at the DUO Arts and Crafts Centre (more here https://adeleinslovenia.com/2017/01/13/loka-honey-breads-and-handicrafts-at-the-duo-arts-crafts-centre/); you could also take a guided tour of the town to find out more about its history and listen to some of the many local legends, try some of the suggested experiences, or explore the pristine countryside on foot or by bike. More about all this can be found on the Visit Škofja Loka website – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

Active and Historic Loka: The Škofja Loka Cycle Route

I’m really enjoying getting to better know the Škofja Loka area this year. So far I’ve done most of my discovering on foot, so this time I set off by bike to discover part of the Škofja Loka Cycle Route. The route is divided into 13 sections and covers a total area of 390km. There is something to suit all levels and kinds of cyclist; some of the routes are shorter and easier, others longer and more demanding.

You can rest assured that whichever route you take, you will cycle through unspoilt nature, past numerous sights of interest, soak up the great views, enjoy fresh, clean air, and take a breather for refreshments at tourist farms and other refreshment stops. The hardest part is deciding which of the great routes to take! A ride through the historic old town centre is the obvious place to start, and a must!

Luckily I didn’t have to make the tough choice about where to go as I had a fab guide – Matej Hartman – who runs mountain bike tours in Slovenia as well as abroad. I really recommend hiring a guide, particularly when cycling in an area you are not so familiar with. Instead of having to faff about with maps and lose precious time, riding with Matej I was able to focus on enjoying the ride whilst taking in the views and listening to his wealth of insider knowledge about the area. Oh and the fact that he also happens to be a dab hand with a camera was an added bonus. Thanks Matej! You can find out more about Matej and his mountain bikes tours on the website MahMTB.com here – http://mahmtb.com/

If you plan to cycle multiple sections of the route, your first port of call should be the Škofja Loka Tourist Information Centre, where you can pick up a map and a card on which you can collect stamps at the various control points along the route. Bikes can also be hired at the centre, trekking or mountain bikes, and decent ones too – mine was a Scott!

With only a few hours available for our trip, we agreed on taking some of the routes around the outskirts of the town, through Puštal, across the Sorica fields and to Crngrob. One of the highlights was seeing Škofja Loka Castle from an entirely different perspective – from Hribec, part of the Path to Puštal. Stunning, I’m sure you’ll agree!

We crossed fields, meadows and pastures, and Matej led me to hidden beauty spots in the cool of the forest.

We crossed numerous bridges over the crystal clear Sora river.

And visited Crngrob, home to the Church of the Annunciation, which is known for its treasured frescoes. The pilgrimage church has a fresco of Saint Christopher with Jesus on his shoulder on the front façade, whilst in the shelter of the neo-gothic porch on the facade, the fresco of Holy Sunday can be seen. This originates from the middle of the 15th century and shows tasks which were at the time prohibited on Sundays.

More information about the Škofja Loka Cycle Route can be found on the Visit Škofja Loka website here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/active-breaks/cycling

If you, like me, like running, then the Four Bridges Night Run, is for you! It is one of the most popular running events in Slovenia and takes place this year on 17th June. As the name suggests, the 10km route crosses four bridges and runs through the historic old town and around the picturesque town of Škofja Loka and over the Sora river. The main event begins at 9pm with children’s runs taking place earlier and even a pasta party the night before the race! More information about the route and race registration can be found here – http://www.tekstirihmostov.si/razpis-t4m-2016/?lang=en

Another ‘Don’t miss’ event, and one that I won’t be missing is the Škofja Loka Historial (Festival of History), which this year will take place on Saturday 23rd June. There is a jam-packed programme of events with something for all the family. The full programme can be found here – http://www.historial-skofjaloka.si/home.aspx

Just one more reminder of my trip to round off this scenic cycling blog!

© Adele in Slovenia

Bountiful Beekeeping Beneath Blegoš

The Beekeeping Path in the Poljane Valley was established by the Blegoš Beekeeping Association, whose beginnings date back to 1911. The idea behind the path is to allow beekeeping enthusiasts, as well as lovers of hiking and nature, to discover the beauty of the countryside beneath Blegoš – at 1562m Blegoš is the highest of the areas peaks, as well as uncover a part of its history, taste delicious honey and honey-related products and learn more about beekeeping in the Poljane Valley.

The path begins at the Pri Jakuc – Inglič farm (Kmetija pri Jakuc – Inglič) where the owner, Stefan Inglič, has created a mini museum of all things beekeeping, an area for tasting and buying honey and honey products, and, of course, keeps his beautiful bees in an equally beautiful hive!

There are information boards at the start and at other main points of the route as well as green and yellow signs.

I recommend beginning with a look at the small museum where owner Stefan Inglič will acquaint you with his collection.

Of course, whilst there you will want to try, and maybe buy, some of the local honey which is produced and sold under the label ‘Med izpod Blegoša’ (Honey from beneath Blegoš), as well as other honey products such as liqueurs, propolis, candles etc.

There are 12 points of interest along the Beekeeping Path. You can choose to walk just part of it, picking and choosing among the points of interest, or you can undertake the entire 14.6km path, which runs through the forest ranging in altitude from 400m – 690m leading to various bee hives, farms, view points and churches.

From the Jakuc – Inglič farm, which is at Sredna vas 2, Poljane, cross the main road to reach the covered wooden bridge across the river Sora to the village of Žabja vas. A short walk uphill leads to the ‘v duplu’ hive. From there the path continues to its highest point, the viewpoint Pešarjev grič (699m). At the chapel in Vinharje the path leads downhill to the Pri Ljubici tourist farm (refreshments available).

The oldest beehive on the path, dating from the late 1800s, is found at the Pri Bačnarju – Peternelj farm.

Unfortunately on the day of my visit, the weather gods were not on my side, dampening (literally!) my plans to hike along the path. Therefore I visited a couple of the hives on foot and others by car, However, as you can see below, when the sun did eventually come out late afternoon, it was glorious and worth the wait!

Each of the beehives is unique and, if you are lucky, you will find the friendly beekeepers at home who will be delighted to tell you more about their hives, as was the case when I reached point no. 10 on the path the beehive ‘čebelnjak Pavla Čadeža’.

It’s amazing how placid Slovenian bees are. Despite getting right up close to take a look and get some photos, not once did they bother me, but, nonetheless, I couldn’t resist the chance to get up even closer and try out a proper beekeeper’s hat!

To arrange a visit or for more information and to download the leaflet with the entire route, see the Visit Škofja Loka website here http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/theme-paths/beekeepers-path or you can contact Mr Inglič direct by email: inglic.stefan@siol.net to arrange individual or group visits.

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Wonderful Weddings and Award-Winning Cheeses in the Poljane Valley

The Poljane Valley is known for its unspoilt nature and is synonymous with one of Slovenia’s most renowned writers – Ivan Tavčar (1851-1923).

Tavčar Manor in Visoko is where the writer found inspiration for many of his best works. The manor dates from the 14th century and was originally used by the Lords of Loka as a hunting manor. Later it passed into the hands of the Kalan family before being bought by Tavčar in 1893 when he returned to his homeland.

Legend has it that he found an iron chest in the attic of the manor that contained notes about the Kalan family. Tavčar used these notes, together with his rich imagination, to write his famous Visoko Chronicle (Visoško kroniko).

Today the manor’s gorgeous, romantic, country setting makes it a very popular venue for weddings as well as a hosts of other events, festivals, family days, concerts etc. Weddings are held in the wedding hall which is adorned with ceiling and wall paintings.

Photo: Izidor Jesenko

The Master of Ceremonies, dressed as Ivan Tavčar, conducts the ceremony, adding to the special charm of a wedding at Tavčar Manor.

Photo: Izidor Jesenko

Inside there is an exhibition dedicated to Tavčar which includes an authentic, and still working, black kitchen.

Whilst visiting the manor you can’t help but notice the beautiful, prominent hilltop St. Volbenk’s pilgrimage church with its two bell towers in the settlement of Log just minutes from Tavčar Manor. The church was built in the second half of the 17th century and its baroque altars and altar pictures are especially valuable – the work of the Šubic family of painters from Poljane.

You can walk – as I did – or drive up to the church from where you can look down over Tavčar Manor and the Poljane Sora river.

And whilst at the manor enjoy the view back up towards the church!

Just a few kilometres further along the valley you reach the family-run, award-winning Pustotnik dairy.

The dairy is a real family affair with all four children involved in the business.

The dairy cows have their own ‘creche’ and ‘maternity unit’. What a cute little new-born calf!

Friendlier cows you couldn’t wish to meet! Content cows!

Pustotnik produces cheeses using cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk and offers over 70 different products. As someone who loves strong cheese – the stronger the better – the aged gauda really hit the spot for me and I took some home too!

In November 2016 the Pustotnik Dairy won silver at the 2016-2017 World Cheese Awards for its Kozovč cheese – made with a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk.

Individuals can visit the cheese-making boutique with no prior reservations required. However, for groups, guided tours and other special arrangements, such as cheese-making workshops, then do be sure to call or email ahead to avoid disappointment as this place is popular!

You can also find Pustotnik cheeses, yoghurts and other products on sale at farmers markets in the Gorenjska region as well as in Ljubljana and further afield. You can find more information about the Pustotnik Dairy here – http://www.kmetijapustotnik.si/

For more information about weddings at Tavčar Manor and what else to see and do in the Poljane Valley see the Visit Škofja Loka website here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/weddings/weddings-in-visoko

© Adele in Slovenia

Discovering ‘The Most Žiri’ Things

The town of Žiri, located 28km from Škofja Loka between the basins of the Sora and Idrijca rivers, is known, above all, for its long history of shoemaking and bobbin lacemaking, as well as its unspoilt idyllic location.

On the sunny spring Sunday when I visited, Žiri was about as scenic and tranquil as it gets, and I found myself wondering why on earth I hadn’t been there before!

Granted, it’s not exactly ‘on the way’ to anywhere, thus it has always been slightly off my radar, but at the same time its location at the meeting point of 3 of Slovenia’s regions – Gorenjska, Notranjska, Primorska – makes it actually easily accessible and, from what I’ve seen of it so far (I fully intend to go back!), it’s definitely somewhere that should be on my, and your, radar!

The best place to start to find out more about the town is at Žiri Museum, which since 1970 has been housed in the old school and former lace school, considered one of the town’s most beautiful buildings. The museum has collections dedicated to the history of the town and its surroundings as well as its main economic activities – agriculture, bobbin lacemaking and shoemaking.

Before even setting foot in the museum there are exhibits to see, including fortifications of the former Rapallo border.

The entire area used to be a lake and you can find out more about that through the museum’s exponents and exhibitions titled ‘Žiri and its People Through Time’, ‘Žiri’s Painters’ and ‘Welcome, Fortress Lovers’.

Another exhibition is ‘Shoemaking in Žiri’ – the town is home to the Alpina footwear factory. The craft began to develop in the town towards the end of the 19th century and although the ‘golden age’ of shoemaking in Žiri has been and gone – the majority of the shoemaking shops have closed – the Alpina factory is still going strong. There are around 30 Alpina shops throughout Slovenia and their footwear is used by many top sportsmen and women.

The other craft for which Žiri is known is bobbin lacemaking – it is one of the three centres of bobbin lacemaking in Slovenia. One of the highlights of the calendar year is Lacemaking Days (Klekljarski dnevi), which this year takes place from 27th April to 2nd May. The Cvetke Žiri Bobbin Lacemaking Association prepares exhibitions, workshops and competitions, and a chance for all generations to get an insight into this skilled craft. During the festival, the nearby Alpina factory also opens its doors and offers visitors footwear at bargain prices.

One of the exhibitions at this year’s festival is ‘Trees in Lace’, prepared in collaboration with the Slovenian Forestry Institute. The exhibition comprises 12 tree species and their fruits, blossoms and leaves. Getting up close to the pictures, you can really see just how much work went into creating these intricate trees made entirely out of lace – each tree took 100-200 hours to make – and the exhibition has received an exceptional reaction wherever it has been displayed since it was opened in 2011 to mark the 70th anniversary of the institute.

There are a handful of bars and restaurants in Žiri, among the most known and popular is the family-run Gostilna Župan. I’d had an insider tip that their house cake – Županova torta – is the bee’s knees, so, well…. it would be rude not to! The restaurant also has a full menu of traditional Slovene dishes.

To walk off some of that cake, I took a wander on the scenic Path by the Sora river (Pot ob Sori) and along a short part of the Path Along the Rapallo Border, part of which runs along the hilltop ridges above the town.

Žiri Museum is open on Sundays from 3pm and 6pm, and at other times by prior arrangement – http://muzej-ziri.si/ (website in Slovene only).

For more information about Žiri or to arrange custom-designed excursions of the area, see the Visit Škofja Loka website http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/skofja-loka-area/ziri. The Visit Škofja Loka Facebook page has regular updates about events and activities in the area – https://www.facebook.com/skofjaloka/?fref=ts

© Adele in Slovenia

 

The UNESCO-Listed Škofja Loka Passion Play

When UNESCO deems something important enough to be included in its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, you know it’s something of great value and importance, as is the case with the Škofja Loka Passion Play.

Staging of the play is based on the oldest preserved text in Slovenian language, written by Father Romuald, a Capuchin monk who lived for a time in the monastery in Škofja Loka.

Staging of the Passion Play, Photo: Andrej Tarfila Photography

Where better, then, to start my journey of discovery of the Passion Play, than with a look around St. Anne’s Church and the Capuchin Monastery – where the original manuscript is preserved – in the heart of the medieval old town of Škofja Loka.

I was greeted by the sprightly 80-year monk Father Bernard who is a good testament to the benefits of clean living. It was a pleasure and a privilege to get an insight into life in the monastery and hear some of this tales of the various Capuchin monasteries where he has lived in Slovenia.

The church and monastery date back to 1707 when the foundation stone was laid, with regular church services beginning on New Year’s Day 1710.

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

Father Bernard first showed me around the monastery’s gardens and courtyard and was particularly keen to point out the two sundials.

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

We moved on to look at the monastery church. Its layout is simple – a single nave with three chapels – however the fittings, altars and paintings are opulent. Mass takes place twice daily on weekdays at 6am and 8am, and three-times per day on Sundays and public holidays, at 8am, 11am and 6pm (at 5pm during winter) and is open to everyone.

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

The pride and joy of the monastery, however, is undoubtedly the library on the first floor which contains 25,000 items, among them are 21 incunabula – books printed before 1501, the oldest of which dates from 1473, and the original manuscript of the Škofja Loka Passion.

The precious original manuscript. Photo: Tomaž Sedej

The library in itself is a work of art, featuring intricate hand-carving work by the acclaimed local carver Petra Podlogar Plestenjak. I met Petra and witnessed her work up close earlier this year when she taught me how to make Loka honey breads using her hand-carved moulds at the DUO Arts and Crafts Centre. Read more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/?s=Loka+honey+breads

Carving by Petra Plestenjak Podlogar, Photo: Kati Sekirnik

Conditions in the library are maintained at a constant level of light and humidity to ensure preservation of the centuries-old precious books. I was almost afraid to breathe, such are the pristine conditions of the books in the library and the sense of history they convey.

There is also a separate exhibition area which includes copper reliefs of scenes from the Passion Play, and historical photos of the Capuchin monasteries in Slovenia.

Copper reliefs of scenes from the Passion, Photo: Tomaž Sedej

The Passion Play was originally performed on Good Friday each year until 1751. Almost 300 years later it was again held in 1936, before being revived in 1999. The play is now staged every 6 years, with the last full performance being held in 2015. So, we may have to wait until 2021 for the next performance, but, as they say “All the best things are worth waiting for!”

Around 800 people, including actors, volunteers, dressmakers etc., are involved in the staging of the largest open-air theatre production in Slovenia (and surely further afield too).

There is currently an exhibition of pictures of the Passion Play on view in the Sokolski dom building in the centre of Škofja Loka’s old town. The exhibition by Jože Štukelj is based on the UNESCO session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, held from 27.11-2.12.2016, where the Passion Play was officially inscribed into the afore-mentioned UNESCO List. Entry to the exhibition is free and it is open until 17th April.

The current exhibition in Sokolski Dom, Photo: Tomaž Sedej

More information about the Škofja Loka Passion Play can be found here – http://www.pasijon.si/en/ and about the Capuchin Library on the Visit Škofja Loka website here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/culture-and-art

2021 will come around before you know it, so mark the date now!

© Adele in Slovenia