A Green Christmas and a Winter Fairytale!

It’s looking like it’s going to be another green Christmas this year. The last two Christmases were the same, although last year the first snow arrived on Boxing Day. I, of course, am most definitely not complaining! Though, it was somewhat odd to have a mosquito buzzing around my head in bed on Saturday night, you definitely don’t expect that in December!

Despite the Alpine climate here in the Gorenjska region, it really is unseasonably mild and we also have luck that being a little higher in altitude – Radovljica is almost 500m above sea level – we usually manage to escape most of the gloomy fog that so often hangs above the Ljubljana basin at this time of year.

Undoubtedly one of the best vantage points, and for a guaranteed smug feeling, is from up high. So, when I woke to a perfect cloudless morning on Saturday, I just had to decide where to go – that’s often the hardest part! This time I chose Dobrča (1478m) which has a very popular mountain hut – Koča na Dobrči – and is among the favourite winter hikes for locals from in and around the Radovljica area, as well as from further afield. With views like this, is it any wonder!

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Sunday was a busy day which began with a(nother) hike, this time to St. Peter’s Church above Begunje na Gorenjskem, then it was off to Radovljica’s old town to see the Bernese mountain dogs – decked in their finest Christmas outfits – who visit every year at this time to entertain the crowds and small children can take a ride in a horse-drawn cart.

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In the afternoon I visited the Winter Fairytale at the Brdo Estate in Kranj. The estate, which dates back to 1446, has had numerous owners throughout the years, and for a time served as a holiday residence for the former president of the Republic of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito. It is now owned by the state and serves many functions, most notably it hosts all the country’s top protocol events. It is a popular place to hold weddings, has a golf course, a hotel, a small lake, a castle, a park, and also offers a variety of adventures and experiences. During the winter, I often enjoy a walk around the 10km estate boundary, which is also very popular with joggers and runners and where, if you are lucky, you can glimpse some of the estate’s deer grazing.

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Unfortunately the area was shrouded in mist on Sunday, thus it was difficult to photograph the estate at its finest, but nonetheless it was very well attended and a real hit with children who were entertained throughout with fairytales and a visit from Father Christmas.

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Big(ger) children could keep warm around the burning logs.

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There were horse and carriage rides with the estate’s horses as well as other animals to pet.

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A chance to watch ice being creatively carved and to sample food direct from the estate – including venison, jams, chocolates, and home-produced tea.

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Regardless of the season Brdo is worth a visit, be it to walk around the park, to attend one of the many events, or you can just pop in for coffee and cake. Read more about the estate here – http://www.brdo.si/en

To close this week, all that remains for me to say is I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and may Father Christmas bring you all you desire!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down Mexico Way at Krčma Lesce!

Lesce is situated midway between Radovljica and Bled and is part of the Municipality of Radovljica. It is probably most known for the 5-star Šobec camp http://www.radolca.si/en/accommodation/camps/camping-sobec/212/92/, which is hugely popular during the summer months. Lesce is an important rail junction, as it is the station closest to Bled on the direct line from Ljubljana to Jesenice, and a passing point for trains running on the single track.

Considering its modest size, Lesce has quite a wide selection of cafes and restaurants, however, you probably wouldn’t immediately think of coming here to find (possibly) the best Mexican food in Slovenia!

Lesce is home to the noteworthy Church of Mary of the Assumption – http://www.radolca.si/en/lesce-church/, with its impressive interior and bell tower.

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There is also a sports airfield – which offers panoramic flights over the Julian Alpshttp://www.radolca.si/en/adrenaline-in-the-air/, and it is home to the factory of Slovenia’s largest chocolate producer, Gorenjka. More here – http://www.radolca.si/en/lesce/

It’s fair to say that I’ve eaten at the Krčma Mexico restaurant more than a few times, my most recent visit however, just last week, was for a somewhat different reason. Let me explain!

Regular readers may recall that just a few weeks ago I appeared as one of the guest speakers at the Njam Zgodbe (Yummy Stories) bloggers’ event in Ljubljana. The other guest speaker was Isabel, a Mexican who, due to falling in love and subsequently marrying a Slovene, now lives in Ljubljana, though also returns regularly to her homeland of Mexico. Since moving here, Isabel has also starting writing a blog – The Sunny Side of This – where she publishes posts in Spanish and English, and since she has previously written about where to get great Mexican food in Slovenia, and since I was flattered that in a recent post she described meeting me as meeting ‘her blogging idol’, I invited her to come and visit Lesce and try Krčma so we could do a joint blog. And so here it is!

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We sat down with the restaurant’s owner, chatted about all things ‘Mexican’ and tried a variety of things from the menu, all of which were, as usual, delicious and plentiful. You certainly never leave Krčma hungry, even someone like me with a big appetite!

Anyone for chimichangas?

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Or how about steak in barbeque sauce with spicy rice?

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And as for the desserts, well, where should I start? Pancakes tend to feature heavily on dessert menus at many traditional Slovenian restaurants, however, I usually find them somewhat underwhelming as they are all pancake and no filling. The pancakes at Krčma, however, are far from underfilled and, though not exactly Mexican, are absolutely awesome!

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And since you can never have enough desserts, how about baked pineapple with caramel too!

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Isabel gave the food the thumbs up and since she’s a real Mexican, it must be good! But don’t just take my, or her, word for it, try it for yourself. But do book in advance, its no secret that great food can be found here, and ‘Buen apetito!’ – as they say down Mexico way!

Christmas in Slovenia; Markets, Food, Traditions and more!

Slovenia hasn’t been celebrating Christmas for that long, well not in the form that many of us know it. However, the country has certainly caught up with, and caught onto, the festive spirit and now there are Christmas-related events happening throughout the land.

So, how is Christmas celebrated in Slovenia? What is/isn’t open? What is there to do, where to go?

As in many other countries in Europe, the evening of the 24th is when most families celebrate and get together for a special meal, exchange gifts and/or attend midnight mass. If you are visiting Slovenia at that time it is worth noting that many restaurants may be closed on this evening 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.

There are Christmas markets taking place in all the major cities, the largest being in Ljubljana, where there are numerous markets. The main market is held alongside the banks of the Ljubljanica river, but there are also other markets spread across the city’s squares, with a vast range of events and entertainment taking place from now until the New Year. More information here – https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/activities/entertainment/77402/detail.html

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Festive Ljubljana (Dunja Wedam)

In Maribor, Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, there are numerous events taking place including the Fairy City (Vilinsko mesto), a Festive Fair and a long list of concerts and other events. More information here – http://maribor-pohorje.si/festive-december-in-maribor0.aspx

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Maribor Christmas Market (photo MP produkcija)

In Celje, ‘Fairytale Celje’ (Pravljično Celje), including a Christmas market, runs from 29th Nov – 31st Dec – http://www.dezela-celjska.si/en/node/72073

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Festive Celje

Other towns with smaller Christmas markets include the Festive Winter Village in Bled – from 4.12 – 17. 1 – http://www.bled.si/en/events/2015/12/04/2264-Festive-Winter-Village

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Festive Winter Village, Bled

The Alpine Village in Kranjska Gora – from 28.11 – 3.1 – http://www.kranjska-gora.si/si/files/default/plakat%20dec.pdf

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Alpine Village, Kranjska Gora

And not forgetting the Advent Market in small, but perfectly formed, Radovljica – where I live – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festive-december-in-linhart-square/83/110/

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Advent in Radovljica (pakt media)

If you’ve never been to Radovjlica, just watch this video of a Christmas commercial shot here 2 years ago to see how magical it looks – http://klip.si/video-reklama-za-bauli-snemana-v-radovljici-4484

Those in, or heading to, the Slovene coast will also find a Christmas market in Portorož (http://bit.ly/1jhWPkH)

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Christmas Market in Portorož

There are of course many more towns that have Christmas markets and events – too many to list here – and many of these, including those listed here also have open-air ice-skating rinks.

If you are looking for a festive event with a difference, every year, weather conditions permitting, there is a live ice nativity play held in the Mlača Gorge in the village of Mojstrana. With the freezing temperatures we have had of late, this year’s event looks sure to be going ahead and the performances are scheduled to begin on Christmas Day. The entrance fee also includes a walk through the ice kingdom, a gallery of nativity scenes and the nativity performance held in the frozen waterfall. Be sure to wrap up warmly! More information can be found here – http://lednoplezanje.com/zive-jaslice-v-ledu/

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Live Ice Nativity in Mojstrana

Turning to food, no Slovene home is complete over the festive season without potica – a traditional rolled and filled cake. You will find it everywhere; in cafes, supermarkets, and in almost every Slovene’s home. Potica come in many varieties, the most popular varieties are filled with walnut or poppy seeds, but there are also other fillings including tarragon or coconut, and special editions with dual fillings, such as the one below – named ‘potica of our roots‘  prepared by one of Slovenia’s top chefs, Uroš Štefelin, from Vila Podvin.

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Potica of Our Roots

Wherever you choose to visit and/or spend Christmas in Slovenia, I hope you have a great festive season!

Rimske Toplice – A Spring of Health in the Heart of Nature

Slovenia has its fair share of spa and wellness hotels, however, it’s also fair to say that many of them are geared towards medical services, others towards the family market – swimming pools with water slides etc. i.e. great for kids. The Rimske Terme spa, located in the village of Rimske Toplice, near Laško, is, for me at least, out there on its own when it comes to total relaxation and wellness, and is especially suitable for adults.

On approach you can already see that it’s something special, thanks to the thoughtful design of the buildings which manage to both blend into the surrounding countryside and stand out at the same time.

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Rimske Toplice is situated in the picturesque valley of the Savinja river. The village itself comprises mainly residential buildings and a notable church (see below), however, it is the spa and the surrounding countryside which makes this place so special, as well as its proximity to Laškohome of the famous Laško beer. Whilst there I also spent a day exploring Laško and will be writing a more detailed post about that soon since there’s way too much to squeeze into just one blog and to do so would be a shame.

The railway line between Ljubljana and Zidani most runs through the valley, which makes it particularly easily accessible for those reliant on public transport; my tip – if, like me, you are a light sleeper and don’t want the distant rumble of the (infrequent) trains to disturb your slumber, ask for a forest-facing room.

Rimske terme is situated beside a fault that is approximately 1000m under the earth’s surface. Thermal water, with a temperature of 39 degrees Celsius, rises from this depth and research has proved the many healing effects of the water, especially for rheumatic, orthopaedic, neurological, gynaecological and dermatological illnesses. As well as being used in medical treatments, there is a spring right outside the front door of the hotel and guests are encouraged to taste the water and enjoy its pleasant and healing effects.

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The Amalija Wellness Centre offers a full range of beauty, pampering and medical wellness services. The hotel’s signature treatments are its Roman bath experiences, which take place in authentic stone bathtubs (it does feel slightly like getting into a coffin at first, but you soon relax and forget that!) filled with pure thermal water. If you are visiting with a loved one, you can also indulge in a romantic bath for two.

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A walk around the Energy Path, among the magnificent sequoia trees, was one of the highlights of my visit. Sequoia are not native to Slovenia; these trees were planted in 1879 as a tribute to the visit by Princess Victoria, heiress to the Prussian throne; the saplings were sent by the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew. There are 14 energy points, each with an information board explaining the effects on various chakras.

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As great as the Rimske terma spa is, it would be a crying shame not to get out and explore the surroundings too, so, of course, I did!

The Lurd church (Lurška Mati Božja) was built in 1886 and contains altar stones brought from the famous French Lourdes and is, in fact, the first church outside of France to be consecrated to the Blessed Virgin. Today, it is a popular pilgrimage sight.

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The start of the hike to the peak of Kopitnik (910m) begins right on the doorstep of the spa. This was an added bonus for me during my stay as it meant I could indulge my passion for hiking in the morning – and didn’t have to use my car the whole time I was there – then enjoy some well-earned rest, relaxation and pampering during the afternoon. It takes 1-1.5 hours to reach the mountain hut Koča na Kopitniku (865m) – depending on which of the 2 routes you choose. Although it was dry and clear when I set off, unfortunately it was cloudy at the top so I didn’t get a chance to soak up the views. Oh well, I’ll just have to go back again!

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The Aškerc Homestead (Aškerčeva domačija) is just a few minutes walk uphill on the road leading to the hamlet of Senožete. The former home of Anton Aškerc (1856-1912) – the poet, priest, journalist, traveller and campaigner for the freedom and education of Slovene people – today the 500-year old house operates as a museum where visitors can see the original black kitchen, the granary and the linden tree planted in Aškerc’s memory in 1856.

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The area is also ideal for cycling – beside the Savinja river for easier, flatter rides, or into the surrounding hills for something more challenging. Bikes can be rented at the hotel and during the summer months there are guided bike trips.

Fortunately, for me at least, this is far from being a ‘fat farm’ and good food is plentiful. Breakfast and dinner are buffet style but for an upgraded dining experience there is also an a-la-carte restaurant, and the cakes in the café were also delicious and very difficult to avoid, especially since I had to walk past them every time I went to use the wellness facilities!

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In short, there is a wealth to do, inside or out, at the Rimske terme spa and in the surroundings of Rimske Toplice. I liked it so much I visited twice in two weeks and I will surely be going back!

Useful links:

Rimske terme –http://www.rimske-terme.si/en/

Aškerc Homestead – http://www.lasko.info/en/askerceva-domacija-na-senozetih

Lurd Church – http://www.slovenia.info/en/religious-heritage/church-of-lurska-mati-bozja-rimske-toplice.htm?sakralna_dediscina=10545&lng=2&rd=desktop

Let the Radovljica festive season begin!

In Radovjlica the Christmas tree, decorations and lights are up in the old town centre, the cafes and bars are serving mulled wine, and we’ve even had a bit of snowfall to add to the festive feel – so let the festive season begin!

The official switching on of the lights will take place on Friday 4th December at 4.45pm, so come and join the fun! It looks especially magic at night.

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There’s a full programme of events taking place throughout the festive season, with particular emphasis on entertainment for all the family.

In December the Advent Market will take place every Friday from 3-8pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-8pm. As in previous years there will be stalls selling a variety of hand-made local handicrafts and products which make ideal gifts for friends and family – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festive-december-in-linhart-square/83/110/

Some of the other highlights include:

  • A visit by St. Nicholas (Miklavž)
  • Fairytale Horses for Children
  • ‘This Happy Day’ with Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • A visit by Grandfather Frost (Dedek mraz)
  • Various concerts and performances featuring singing, dancing and street shows

New for this year, from 4-31st December, families can also take part in ‘Finding Grandfather Frost’s Postbox’ (Poišči nabiralnik Dedka Mraza). Start your visit at the Radovljica Tourist Information Centre in Linhart Square, where you can collect a booklet with instructions and tips about where to search. Then, just follow the markers to discover the treasures of the old town centre and complete the tasks at the seven points along the way. What a great way to discover more of Radovljica – for the young and the young at heart! More about this here (Slovene only) – http://www.radolca.si/kaj-poceti/dogodki/poisci-nabiralnik-dedka-mraza/83/1083/

Preparations are now underway for the Taste Radol’ca closing party at Joštov hram, which takes place this Friday, 4th December, starting at 8pm and once again the chefs are putting their heads together. This time its will be a simpler affair – more finger-food style – but I’m sure it will still be equally delicious! Tickets are available from Tourism Radovljica. http://radolca.si/kaj-poceti/dogodki/okusi-radolce-zakljucna-zabava/83/1023/

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Here are some of the winners of this year’s Taste Radol’ca photo competition, which rewarded those who sent in their photos of their meals at one of the participating restaurants. Congratulations to the winners and see you at the party!

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@AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Kunstelj Cooks & Draga Delights!

We’ve been spoilt with another week of warm autumn sunshine which was perfect for hiking and even a bit of cycling too. Unfortunately it looks set to end this week but it was certainly nice while it lasted!

In addition to the month-long of special menus at participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, this year there are also a number of accompanying events which are open to everyone and FREE to attend.

These days there is ever more interest in where the food on our plates actually comes from. Knowing exactly where our food comes from is not only good for our health – food direct from the farm isn’t stuffed full of E numbers and the like – but it also helps support local farmers, producers and small businesses.

Since moving to Slovenia, and in particular since the launch of Taste Radol’ca, where the focus is on local food, I too have very much begun to embrace this style of buying and eating.

This week I visited two of the restaurants, this time not to indulge in the special menus – as delicious as they are – but to see the opening of a new mini-shop at Draga Inn and to participate in a culinary workshop at Kunstelj Inn.

The Draga Valley, at the far end of the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, is the starting place for a number of hiking paths in the Karavanke mountains. The valley is also home to the restaurant with rooms Draga Inn (Gostišče Draga).

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The inn has now expanded its offer by opening its own mini-shop stocked with products exclusively from the valley or the family farm; a range of pickled vegetables grown in the Inn’s garden, home-cooked jams, honey from the valley’s beekeeper and these rather attractive hand-painted and produced rucksacks, which are apparently ‘flying off the shelves’.CIMG0144

On Saturday the first Kunstelj Cooks (Kunstelj kuha) workshop took place at Kunstelj Inn in Radovljica. The fine autumn weather was a bonus and meant that the workshop could be held outside on the terrace, which just happens to be one of my favourite places in Radovljica, to sit and admire the views of the Julian Alps, the Jelovica plateau, and the lush Lipnica valley.

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At this first workshop, to coincide with the celebrations for St. Martin’s Day, Kunstelj’s talented head chef, Maja Buden, used ingredients that are typical for St. Martin’s meals and showed how they could be used in a novel way.

A traditional St. Martin’s Day meal in Slovenia comprises roast goose or duck, served with mlinci, as seen below (a kind of thin dried pastry that is prepared by boiling over liquid – water, stock or soup, over then ), and red cabbage.

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Maja used all these traditional ingredients to create these delicious bite-size St. Martin’s mouthfuls!

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Next Saturday, 21st November, there will be another Kunstelj Cooks workshop. This time Maja promises she will be rustling up desserts. Do come, it’s tasty, interesting and FREE!

More information:

Taste Radol’ca – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/taste-radolca/83/380/

Kunstelj Inn –

Draga Inn – http://www.gostisce-draga.si/

Adventures on Kum – Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut and Mountain Dessert!

Hiking is very popular in Slovenia. There are over 170 mountain huts spread across the hills and mountains of the Julian Alps, the Karavanke, the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, the Pohorje, Jelovica and Pokljuka plateaus and all the other areas. The huts range in facilities, in general the higher you go the more basic they become. Some, particularly the higher lying ones, are only open in the high season (July-September), others are open year-round though, out of season just at weekends, whilst a small handful, including this one, are open all year round, regardless of the season.

Every year in Slovenia the public votes for their favourite mountain hut to win the title of ‘Best Mountain Hut’. This year the competition was won by the mountain hut on Kum (Koča na Kumu) and since I’d never been there, and since the warm autumn weather we’ve been experiencing of late has meant the hills and mountains beckoning for hiking, I visited Kum last weekend and, well – wow – now I know why!

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At 1220m Kum is the highest peak in the Posavje region. It can be reached from a number of places, including from Trbovlje, Radeče and Zagorje ob Savi. However, having read about the mini-cabin used to cross the Sava river at Zidani most, where one of the routes begins, I decided that sounded like an adventure with my name on it! This little cabin (for want of a better word) is also used by locals wishing to cross the river to avoid an otherwise lengthy detour.

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As I wanted to make an early start on Sunday morning, and also because I wanted to suss out the cabin in advance, I decided to stay the night before at my new favourite hotel, Rimske terme in Rimske Toplice. I say ‘favourite hotel’ because I visited once and liked it so much, and there was so much to see and do, that I returned a week later, hence there’ll be much more about that in a coming blog.

Zidani most is one of Slovenia’s most important railway junctions, and is also known for its 3 bridges – two railway and one road – as well as being at the confluence of the Savinja and Sava rivers. Though surrounded by wonderful nature, to be honest, from what I saw of the place, there’s not really an awful lot else to see or do there, though I might be doing it a disservice since I only used it as a base for my walk.

If arriving by train, on exiting the station turn left then walk along the road for about 1km to where the road crosses the railway. If arriving by car then you can park on the dirt road beside the Sava river. Then, its a quick hop into the cabin to wizz (ahem!) over the river to begin the hike. Well, at least that was the plan! If there is a group of you, it would be far easier as those on the opposite side of the river bank can help by winching the cabin if (and when!) it doesn’t quite make it over the river!

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So, just get in, take the obligatory photo, close the ‘door’ and let gravity do its thing!

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The cabin is just big enough for 2 people. If, however, you are alone, you might want to ask a friend to help (or flutter your eyelids at a friendly local – though you could have a bit of a wait, there aren’t many!) when you (inevitably) get stuck halfway across the river and don’t have the strength to pull yourself the rest of the way!

The path leads up alongside a stream, steeply at first, crossing the stream in several places (I’d advise against taking this path after heavy rainfall as imagine it gets pretty slippery and treacherous). It emerges to meet a road then continues up along a sunny balcony, passes weekend houses from where the endless and rewarding views begin.

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The panoramic views are breath-taking and, despite not being that high, you really do feel on top of the world. On a clear day, you can see all of Slovenia’s mountain ranges and Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav, as well as peaks in neighbouring Croatia and Austria.

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On the top there is a large antenna, the mountain hut and St. Neža’s church. There is also a small play area for children, farm animals and an orientation table.

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Inside the hut, where I was warmly greeted, the first thing that caught my eye was the chiller cabinet full of cakes! That in itself is a rare sight as most mountain huts have the usual fare of soups, stews and strudel. It’s not surprising then that the hut’s kremšnita (a cream slice, otherwise known as ‘Bled cake’) was declared the best mountain dessert of 2015. Of course there’s plenty of other tasty food on offer too.

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Kum is also popular destination during the winter and the hut is open all-year round, so, what are you waiting for?!

Useful links – Kum Mountain Hut – http://bit.ly/1kEitRE