Time for Tea at the Čajna Soba Tea Shop!

It might surprise you to know that prior to moving to Slovenia I had never in my life drunk tea! Yes, and that coming from an Englishwoman – since we British are known for liking a cuppa or two!

However, that changed when I moved here, primarily because during the long cold winters I really needed to start drinking something hot, since I don’t like coffee either, or milk come to that! And that’s when I discovered green tea and now I drink nothing but, even during summer.

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Since then I’ve tried hundreds of different varieties of tea – both in tea bag and loose-leaf form. Though the convenience of the humble teabag sometimes can’t be beaten, I am now a convert to loose-leaf teas – none of that traditional English ‘builders’ tea for me and definitely NO MILK!

Therefore, I was delighted when the new Čajna Soba tea shop (‘čajna soba’ means ‘tea room’ though its more of a tea shop than a tea room) opened a few months ago in Linhart Square, the heart of Radovljica’s old town. It offers a wide range of loose-leaf teas, all of which smell delicious, making it tough to choose which to try and buy.

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The owner of Čajna Soba, Nizar, is more than happy to spend time with customers explaining the process of how the tea leaves are picked and prepared and how best to brew tea to ensure the leaves have enough space to fully open thus imparting the most flavour. His enthusiasm is infectious and since my visit I’ve become much more aware of preparing tea as it should be, to do justice to the hard work involved in its production.

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You can also make yourself comfy, have a chat and/or read more about tea whilst enjoying a brew or get a ‘Tea-to-Go’.

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With Christmas just around the corner, there are a selection of gifts for tea lovers, or just treat yourself!

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I also learnt that buying loose-leaf teas is actually a smart choice financially. As Nizar pointed out, when we buy teabags in the supermarket, we – and I include myself in this – usually only look at the ‘small’ price i.e. the price per box of teabags, but what we should look for its the price per kilogramme.

In many cases, even for the seemingly cheapest of teas, this price can be astronomical, added to which the majority of supermarket teabags contain only powdered remnants of the actual tea leaves. Thus buying loose-leaf tea, which at Čajna Soba costs EUR 3.50 per 100g – only around 2g is needed per cuppa therefore 100g makes approx. 50 cups of tea – is a no-brainer, quality tea at winning prices!

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Nizar’s teas are also served at the Gostilna Avgustin restaurant, one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, which is located directly opposite Čajna Soba.

I believe its important to shop locally and support local businesses, so I know where I’ll be buying my tea from now on and, if you live in or near Radovljica, or are visiting the area, pop in and try some for yourself too!

More information here – http://cajnasoba.si/

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Festive Radovljica: Christmas Market and Family Entertainment Galore!

It might not be the biggest of Slovenia’s Christmas markets, but the setting for Radovljica’s Advent Market, in the heart of the medieval old town – one of the 3 best preserved of its kind in Slovenia – makes it among the cutest and most attractive! Combined with the festive entertainment programme, which offers something for all the family, a visit to Radovljica should be on your list if you are spending time in Slovenia during this festive season.

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Photo: Pakt media

The festive programme kicks off this Friday 2nd December with the Christmas lights switch on at 4.30pm, and entertainment from DJ Darmar, performances by the Studio Ritem Dance Studio and the opening of the Advent Market.

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The Advent Market is open every Friday (3pm-8pm), Saturday and Sunday (10am-8pm) throughout December, and additionally on Christmas Eve (10an-5pm), Christmas Day (10am-7pm), and Boxing Day (26th Dec – 10am-8pm).

Below are just some of the highlights of the festive entertainment programme. Unless otherwise stated, all events take place in Linhart Square. Click here for the full programme – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festive-december-in-linhart-square/83/395/

3rd & 11th December – Fairytale Horses for Children

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9-11th December – Open Day at the Lectar Gingerbread Workshop

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17th December at 8pm – Opera Concert: Baritone Ivan Andres Arnšek and pianist Mojca Lavrenčič (Radovljica Manor)

24th December at 11am – Čupakarba: Stilt walkers and jugglers

25th Dec at 5pm – Ana Snežna Street Theatre

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26th December at 5pm – Čupakabra and Priden Možic: Sodrga – street show with fire

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There are also creative workshops for children, performances by local choirs and bands, carol singing and more!

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You can find out more about what else to see and do in Slovenia during the festive period, more about Christmas markets, and some information about Christmas food and customs in my recent blog post here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/11/20/christmas-2016-in-slovenia-christmas-markets-food-and-traditions/

© Adele in Slovenia

The Wild Nature, Waterfalls and Wonderful Sights of Slovenia’s Green Karst

Slovenia’s Green Karst is awash with wild nature and wonderful sights, including an impressive number of lakes and caves, castles, museums, and unique Karst features. Some of these sights, such as the Postojna Caves, the Park of Military History in Pivka etc., are already firmly on the tourist map, whilst others attract less attention, but are no less deserving of a visit. In this blog I have highlighted just a few more of the delights I discovered whilst exploring the Green Karst, but, believe me, there are still so many more!

There are hundreds of waterfalls in Slovenia, some very well-known and which attract visitors in their thousands, others less so, though many of these are equally, if not more, impressive. One such is the Sušec waterfall in Ilirska Bistrica.

The waterfall is just a ten-minute walk from the centre of the town – just follow the signs for Slap Sušec – along a pleasant leafy path beside the brook, where you can immediately feel the chill of the water in the air.

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The Sušec waterfall has 7 springs and is particularly impressive after heavy rainfall when its foam-like waters gush over the moss-covered limestone rocks below.

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For such an impressive waterfall, it was strange to have the place to myself!

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The town of Ilirska Bistrica itself has numerous watermills and sawmills running through it, dating back to a time when the town’s strategically important location – at the crossroads of Ljubljana, Trieste and Rijeka – meant it was a thriving hub. It is located in the valley under Mount Snežnik – the highest non-alpine mountain in Slovenia at 1796m.

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Whilst in the area another ‘don’t-miss’ sight is Prem Castle. The imposing castle, in the village of the same name, occupies a dominant position and makes a mighty impressive sight when looking up from the road through the Ilistrica Bistrica valley and Brkini hills.

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The Romanesque castle was built in the 11th century in a strategic position above the river Reka (‘reka’ means ‘river’ in Slovene, thus it’s the ‘river River’ – I kid you not!). It has been owned by numerous counts (Hapsburg, Walsee, Portia etc.) during its long history and played an important role in battles.

In the 16th century a stronger defence wall and large watch tower were added, seen below with St. Helena’s church in the background. The church’s current appearance dates from 1868 and it is an unusually large church for a relatively small village. The interior of the church contains some interesting frescoes dating from 1921, the work of the famous Slovenian painter Tone Kralj.

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Although the castle was badly damaged after World War II, it has been sympathetically restored. The castle’s interior stone walls and hidden passages tell interesting stories of its history.

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The most impressive room is the Ceremonial Hall, which contains a 17th century baroque mirror, the only original artefact in this impressive painted room.

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The upstairs of the castle houses an exhibition and a small chapel, and is a popular venue for intimate weddings and other small events. The castle is open at weekends from April to October, and outside of these times by prior arrangement.

Even if you visit when the castle isn’t open, I recommend driving up to the village of Prem, from where there are wonderful views over the surrounding Brkini hills and the countryside of the Green Karst, which are currently awash with the vibrant colours of autumn.

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This is but a snapshot of what the Green Karst has to offer. So, be sure to include a visit to the area on your travels in/through Slovenia!

Information about all the above and what else to see and do in the Green Karst can be found here – http://zelenikras.si/en/ and you can also read more here about my visit earlier this year to one of the 17 intermittent lakes and to the Park of Military History in Pivka  – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/05/pivka-pause-ponder-play/

© Adele in Slovenia

Taste Tepka Pear Perfection at Vila Podvin

The tepka pear is a rare variety of pear that is only grown in a few areas of Slovenia and, in recent years, has been coming back into popularity largely due to its unique flavour and versatility.

Flying the flag for the tepka pear is one of Slovenia’s top chefs, Uroš Štefelin, at Vila Podvin. Uroš’ ethos of cooking is based on using local ingredients to give traditional Slovene food a modern twist, thus, incorporating tepka pears into his dishes fits the bill perfectly.

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Curious to find out more about this rare pear, and, of course, taste it, I went along to Vila Podvin in Mošnje last week (luckily for me it’s only a few kilometres from where I live!) to try an entire menu based around tepka pears, with the aim of helping to spread the word about this gem of a fruit.

In their natural form, as seen below here on the left, one could be forgiven for thinking that the brown inside of the pear means it is rotten, but this is quite normal, though, for my taste at least, the texture is a little gritty. The tepka pear seen on the right below is the dried version and, and, as is the case with many fruits, drying or cooking them makes the flavour far sweeter and more intense.

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The tepka pear works equally well in sweet and savoury dishes – all that is needed is a little imagination, which Uroš has in spades! So, if you’d like to get to know this interesting little fruit, read on, and, if you like what you see, be sure to pay a visit to Vila Podvin to try some for yourself!

If you opt for the tepka-based menu, you can expect your table decoration to be tepka-based too!

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Menus at Vila Podvin are seasonal and based on locally available ingredients so, although there is usually always something tepka-based available, if you want the full tepka works, then be sure to book ahead!

The first of the 6 course tasting menu I devoured was beef carpaccio with sliced cooked tepka pear and horseradish mayonnaise.

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Next up was barley risotto with tepka pear, horseradish and goats cheese.

Vila Podvin also has its own in-house pottery workshop in the entrance lobby. The unique plates and bowls in/on which the food is served are designed by the house artist, Barba Štembergar Zupan, who transforms clay into Podvin ceramics decorated with motifs of Ljubno potters. It’s this attention to detail, both in the food and presentation, that makes all the difference.

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Although Vila Podvin is a superior-quality restaurant with a renowned head chef and excellent and knowledgeable waiting staff, the atmosphere is pleasantly relaxed and intimate and doesn’t feel in any way stuffy or formal. So, if you want to go into the kitchen, just ask – as I did!  I was just in time to see my third dish being served up!

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Carniolan sausage, otherwise known as Kranjska klobasa, with tepka, served with plum jam with mustard seeds.

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The next course was pasta filled with goose liver and tepka pear with a clear mushroom broth.

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The final savoury dish was saddle of roe deer on a base of red polenta with tepka pear, black walnuts with berries and a honey sauce.

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Fortunately I still had room, just about, for dessert – which is always my favourite part of every meal! A deconstructed apple strudel with tepka pear ice-cream – delicious!

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The final icing on the cake was the dried, soaked, succulent chocolate-covered tepka pears, which I opted to take home!

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You can also buy tepka pear treats to take home, including fruit juice, liqueur, and sausages, and there is a chance to sample them at the monthly Vila Podvin local market. Read more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/09/05/shop-locally-at-radovljicas-farmers-and-craft-markets/

Find out more about Vila Podvin, which is also one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants and will this year host the opening event at the end of October, here – http://www.vilapodvin.si/EN/

© Adele in Slovenia

 

The Pivka Park of Military History – A Historic Year!

It’s been quite a year thus far for the Park of Military History in Pivka. Visitor numbers are up by an astonishing 40%, as word spreads about this fascinating museum and its extensive and diverse collections. Last week the park celebrated its 10th birthday – in true military style of course – with a week of events culminating in the annual Festival of Military History, which I attended on Sunday.

It’s easy to reach Pivka, which is in Slovenia’s Green Karst region. It can be a destination in itself, or you can combine it with a visit to one of the other nearby attractions in the area, such as the Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle or the Lipica Stud Farm. The park is also an ideal place to visit on those pesky rainy days!

For those without transport, a bonus is that it is easy to reach Pivka by train. Direct trains run from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana and onwards toward Rijeka in Croatia. On arrival you can already see the imposing renovated barracks in which the museum is housed. When exiting the train station, just look for the museum symbols marked on the pavement.

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After crossing the tracks, head downhill, following the green signs, and within 10 minutes you are there!

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One of the biggest draws at the Park is undoubtedly the P-913 Zeta submarine, which visitors have a chance to go inside, accompanied by a guide, to experience the cramped conditions the submarine crew worked under.

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Photo: Simon Avsec – http://www.slovenia.info/

The renovated barracks housing the museum collections were built by the Kingdom of Italy around 1930 in order to defend the Rapallo border and were later home to the Yugoslav People’s Army. Since 2004 the Park has been developing and has now become the largest museum complex in Slovenia, as well as one of the largest military historical complexes in this part of Europe.

Of the numerous military-related events that take place at the Park throughout the year, last weekend’s 10th Festival of Military History, which was meticulously organised, is the largest. Below you can see some of the action that took place.

Demonstrations of tanks operating in combat situations.

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A dynamic display of anti-terrorist measures with the helicopters of the Special Forces and the Slovene Army.

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Recreations of various World War II military camps – Partisan, Soviet, American, and German. At times I felt like I had walked onto the set of MASH!

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There was even fresh Jerry soup!

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A chance to walk through a cavern. Provided, of course, you could get past the guards!

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There was plenty of opportunity to get involved, ask questions, and, of course, pose for a few snaps for posterity!

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A chance to get ‘hands on’ with the ammunition. The first, and hopefully only, time I will be holding such a weapon!

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Not even the occasional torrential downpour dampened the spirits of these strapping Romans (from Ptuj)! Can you spot the odd one out?

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There was also archery, a small market area, a collection of old-timer cars, and free transport to/from the railway station. The festival was a roaring success and another testament to the Park’s popularity.

You can find out more about the Park here – http://parkvojaskezgodovine.si/en/ and also read more about other things to see and do in the area, including the 17 intermittent lakes, in a previous blog from earlier this year – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/05/pivka-pause-ponder-play/

You don’t need to especially be a lover of museums, history, or military history (I wouldn’t consider myself to be!) to enjoy a visit. The exhibits are fascinating and there’s something for all the family. I highly recommend a visit!

© Adele in Slovenia

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Rupert Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Adele in Slovenia

Shop Locally at Radovljica’s Farmers and Craft Markets

Radovljica now boasts two monthly local markets, where you can buy direct from farmers, producers and local craftspeople. As anyone who has ever shopped at a farmers’ market will know, it’s a lovely, relaxed way to shop; safe in the knowledge there are no food miles involved, no added nasty additives etc., and, at the same time, you are helping to support the local community. So, a win-win all round!

The monthly Vila Podvin local market takes place on the first Saturday morning of each month in Mošnje near Radovljica. It is something of a mixture of a farmers and craft market, where you can buy locally produced food and other handmade products.

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The market is always popular and, of course, the fact that it is held in the beautiful gardens of Vila Podvin, where one of Slovenia’s top chefs, Uroš Štefelin, conjures up delicious and creative dishes, is also a factor, as is the added bonus of being able to stay after the market and enjoy a specially prepared lunch, made using products available for sale on the day. And if you’d like to enjoy a tipple too, there are also 5 well-appointed double rooms available, located in the previous stable area of the building, with views of the (sadly) long-abandoned Podvin Castle.

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Uroš’ ethos is on using forgotten local ingredients, such as tepka pears – a variety of pear that only grows in this area of Slovenia – to create new dishes in his own distinctive way. At the local market there is also a chance to try these unique sausages made with tepka pears.

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What is on offer at the market varies from month to month, but as a general rule you will food items such as find fruit and vegetables, cheese, jams, flour, cordials, eggs, dried meats etc.

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As well as non-food items such as jewellery, trinkets and other homeware goods.

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Vila Podvin is one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, the focus of which is on using local ingredients, and about which you can find out more here – http://www.radolca.si/en/taste-radolca/

Find more information about Vila Podvin here – http://www.vilapodvin.si/EN/

The other market, and a welcome new addition, is the small farmers’ market held on the 2nd Saturday of each month, from 9am to 1pm, at the building known as Sarčeva hisa, next to the library in Radovljica. The next such market will take place this Saturday 10th September.

© Adele in Slovenia