Visit Žirovnica: Autumn Hikes in the Karavanke Mountains

Providing the weather is good, autumn is one of the best times of the year for hiking in Slovenia; the weather is (usually) more stable i.e. there aren’t (usually!) late afternoon thunderstorms like in summer, and the trails are far less crowded than during the peak summer months. On the downside, the days are getting shorter and some of the mountain huts are already closed, with others only open at weekends, but provided you set off in good time and with proper equipment and a well-stocked rucksack, the hiking world – well Slovenia’s little part of it – is your oyster!

The Karavanke mountains above the Žirovnica area are a great destination for hiking year-round.

I have already written numerous blogs about my various hikes in the area, so this blog is a kind of ‘one-stop-shop’ where I have gathered together all, well far from all in truth, my hikes and blogs in the area, as well as a bonus one too!

The hikes listed below are all included in the leaflet ‘Žirovnica Green Energy – Hiking and Mountain Bike Trails in the Municipality of Žirovnica‘.

Valvasorjev dom (Valvasor mountain hut) is the three-times winner of the title ‘Best Mountain Hut in Slovenia’. It can be reached in around an hour from the reservoir in the Završnica valley.

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Photo: Planinska Zveza Slovenije

There are numerous onward trails from the hut, including to Stol, the highest peak in the Karavanke mountains.

Ajdna is the name of the tooth-shaped peak beneath Mount Stol and is home to a fascinating archaelogical site. It was settled during the crisis times of the collapse of the Western-Roman Empire in 476 AD. Extensive, expensive and exceptionally complex conservation work was carried out and today there are well-preserved buildings and remains of buildings that are thought to date back to the late Antiquity, though some evidence shows that it may even have been inhabited far earlier.

You can also find out more about Ajdna by visiting the Ajdna Museum Room in Čopova hisa (Čop’s House).

The numerous mountain pastures beneath Mt. Stol are ideal for those seeking easier, more level walks, and/or mountain bike enthusiasts.

The Žirovniška planina mountain pasture and the Zabreška planina mountain pasture are up there among my favourites!

I like to visit the Dom pri izviru Završnice (hut at the source of the Završnica stream) as part of a hike to Srednji vrh.

Starting from the Završnica valley, the trail passes the hut up to the Šija saddle, from where there is no lack of choice where to go next!

Stol is the highest mountain in the Karavanke range. As the Karavanke mountains form a natural border between Slovenian and Austria, you are spoilt for choice with fabulous views in all directions.

The word ‘stol’ means ‘chair’, hence once you are at the top, you are literally taking a seat atop the Karavanke!

The Turkish Cave (Turška jama) is located at an altitude of 835m above the Završnica valley. The name of the cave derives from when, many centuries ago, women and children retreated to the cave to seek refuge from Turkish invaders.

The cave has two entrances, is 18 metres long and 2 metres deep.

I have already written two blogs about Tito’s Village, offering two alternative ways to reach it. The first describes the route from the Završnica valley or, for a more adventurous approach, take the path along the ridge to Mali vrh and onwards to Tito’s village.

The camp provided partisans with shelter from the German occupiers. The camp was in existence from 21 November 1944 – 31 January 1945, which, though only 2 months, was considered long for those times.

And finally, the Hudič babo pere waterfall – the ‘bonus’ walk I mentioned earlier!

One does, however, need a sense of adventure to find this waterfall, not to mention good footwear! I visited in late summer, when water levels were low, but imagine that during autumn the flow of water is somewhat more impressive. You can reach it on foot from the Završnica valley. After around cca. 200 metres from the reservoir, just before a wooden fenced ‘bridge’, take the (unmarked) path to the left. It first crosses a stream over a wooden boardwalk then leads up steeply into the forest where the path almost disappears. Just keep following the water for a further cca.20 mins to reach the top – but please do so with extreme caution!

So, as you can see, there’s no shortage of choice. The hardest thing, as always, is deciding where to go first. Happy Hiking in Žirovnica!

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Discovering the Taste(s) of Žirovnica – Gostišče Osvald

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have written numerous posts about the fantastic hiking opportunities the Žirovnica area offers, among them an ascent of Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range. And now, since all hungry hikers (as well as cyclists and those pursuing other active pursuits) need plenty of sustenance and a ‘reward’ for their efforts, I have now set about delving more deeply into what is on offer at Žirovnica’s restaurants and inns – all in the name of research, of course!

So, let’s begin with a popular and traditional Slovenian restaurant – Gostišče Osvald, which is located on the main road through Žirovnica in the hamlet of Selo pri Žirovnici and is the oldest restaurant in the area.

One of my desires when writing such blogs is to try and uncover and share with readers any particular dishes that are a real speciality of a particular restaurant or area. Hence I left it to owner Anže to dish me up his specialties!

I hit gold with this giant buckwheat ‘krap’! ‘Krapi’ are usually smaller, individual dumplings, filled with curd cheese. This giant one, however, has a small amount of yeast mixed into the buckwheat dough to allow it to rise, is filled with a mixture of curd cheese and millet, and topped with pork crackling – ingenious and delicious!

Another speciality of the Žirovnica area is buckwheat with porcini mushrooms. It’s not dissimilar to a mushroom risotto, albeit it with grains of buckwheat instead of rice, with onion, herbs and sour cream to finish. It can be a hearty and filling dish on its own or a side dish.

Served together with a roast, I left fit to burst!

Anže then showed me around the other parts of the deceptively large building, which features two additional rooms for functions.

The restaurant was built in the mid-19th century. In bygone days there was a barn next door for the horses of horsemen who stopped in Selo pri Žirovnici on their onward travels and stayed in rooms above the barn.

Today you too can stay there – though above the restaurant rather than in the barn! – in the recently refurbished attic rooms, which are simple but make a bargain place to stay and ideal base for exploring the area.

Gostišče Osvald is in close proximity to Čopova hisa (Čop’s House), the birth house of Matija Čop, the first Slovenian philologist, literary historian and librarian, one of the greatest European scholars of his time and a good friend and mentor of France Prešeren.

His birth house is now also home to the Žirovnica Tourist Information Centre as well as the Ajdna Museum Room, featuring an exhibition of artefacts found during archeological excavations at Ajdna. Read more about hiking to Ajdna in one of my previous blog posts.

Also close by is the Avenue of Famous Men, located in front of the primary school in Žirovnica, and part of the Žirovnica Path of Cultural Heritage. You can take a horse and cart ride along the path every fourth Saturday in the month from March to October.

The ‘avenue’ features bust statues of five of the most famous and influential men from the Žirovnica area –Anton Janša, France Prešeren, Fran Saleški Finžgar, Janez Jalen and Matija Čop.

Click here for more information about what to see and do in Žirovnica and here for more about what, and where, to taste Žirovnica, and keep an eye out for more ‘tasty’ blogs to come too!

© Adele in Slovenia

Valvasorjev dom – Voted Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut for the 3rd Time in 5 years!

So, it’s official, Valvasorjev dom is the winner of the title of Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut – making it the third time it has won this prestigious title!

Last year, due to the rules of the competition which state that huts cannot be nominated two years in-a-row, Valvasorjev dom wasn’t in the running, but this year it once again breezed to become the holder of the title ‘Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut 2018’. Congratulations to Aleš Štefe and the team!

Having already won the title in 2014 and 2016, this is a pretty impressive feat for a hut that doesn’t even have much of a view! But what it lacks in views, it makes up for with its great food, friendly team and welcoming atmosphere – all of which have proved to be a winning combination.

Valvasorjev dom (1,181m) lies beneath Stol (2,236m) – the highest peak in the Karavanke range. For those looking for a short hike, the hut can be a destination in itself – you can reach it in a little over an hour from the car park at the Završnica reservoir, or you can visit as part of a longer hike to Stol itself or numerous other destinations – as can be seen from the signs (below) in front of the hut.

During summer, you can also visit the other mountain hut on Stol, Prešernova koča – just a short distance from the summit – from where there are also numerous choices of onward routes.

The fascinating Ajdna archaelogical site is just a 30-minute walk from Valvasorjev dom.

Or you can visit one or more of the numerous mountain pastures beneath Stol such as the Zabreška planina highland (1,225m), or the Zirovniška planina (1,200m) highland.

Valvasorjev dom is also a popular destination for mountain bike enthusiasts, who can ride up the 5km forest road before heading off to traverse some of the afore-mentioned mountain pastures.

The fact that it is one of the few huts that is open year-round is also an added bonus, and Valvasorjev dom is as popular in winter as it is in summer.

When conditions permit, the 5km road from the valley is turned into a sledging track, too.

So, as you can see, there are more than enough reasons to visit the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and to find out for yourself why it is a three-time winner!

Click here to find out more about hiking and other activities in the Žirovnica area beneath Stol.

© Adele in Slovenia

A Spectrum of Sports and Culture Beneath Stol!

Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range, which presides majestically over the Žirovnica area, together with the villages that lie beneath it, offer a whole spectrum of sporting activities with something for everyone – from challenging hikes to summits and family-friendly meanders along the many mountain pastures, to horse riding, cycling, running and even an adrenaline-filled zipline over the Sava Dolinka river.

Zipline Dolinka is a new, exciting way to get some adrenaline whilst marvelling at the stunning scenery around and below you. Its 5 cables offer a total of 2,371 metres of descent over the Sava Dolinka river.

For those who prefer to have both feet on solid ground, the Žirovnica area offers walks and hikes for all the family.

For example, if you looking for a more level walk, you could drive the 5km mountain road up to the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and then set off on foot, first passing the Žirovniška planina mountain pasture and then on to one of my favourite spots – the Zabreška planina mountain pasture.

Though not an official mountain hut, in fine weather at weekends you may be able to get refreshments at the pasture hut, where you can take a seat on the wonderful, unique wooden furniture and soak up the views!

Kids – big and small – will love it too!

You can even continue further to the Doslovška planina mountain pasture and towards the Dom pri Izviru Završnice mountain hut, which I wrote about in a previous blog here.

Those wanting more challenging hikes are well catered for too, with trails to the summit of Stol itself, as well as, among others, to the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and the Ajdna Archaelogical Site. Find more information here about this and other hikes in the Žirovnica area.

For those that like running, why not take part in the popular ‘Run Under the Free Sun‘ (Tek pod svobodnim soncem) on Saturday 1st September. The 10.7km route, which begins at 10am, leads past the important sights along the Path of Cultural Heritage. There are also shorter 200m, 400m, 600m and 900m routes, beginning at 9am, for children. Hurry with your registrations by 28th August. Find more here about this event and running in the Žirovnica area.

Cyclists are also well catered for in the Žirovnica area. From short, easy rides on the flat Imperial Road, and along the Path of Cultural Heritage, to longer, more challenging rides in the Završnica valley and onwards to the numerous mountain pastures beneath Stol. More information and route descriptions can be found here.

So, as you can see, there really is something for everyone and lovers of sports, culture and, not forgetting, beekeeping, should make a beeline for Žirovnica! There’s a fair chance you will find me there on my bike or on foot too!

© Adele in Slovenia

The Forgotten Village on Ajdna – A Fascinating Archeological Site and a Great Hike Too!

Ajdna is the name of a tooth-shaped peak that lies beneath Mt. Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range. A hike to Ajdna is fascinating, interesting and, if you take the steep way up, also a little challenging – but don’t worry, there’s an easier route up there as well!

The site was first discovered by the field archaeologist Andrej Valič, who climbed to Ajdna with hunters in the 1970s. He identified the remains of an ancient village and archaeological excavations began in 1977. What they uncovered was, or rather is, truly fascinating. Below is an artist’s impression of the village on Ajdna.

Ajdna provided locals with an excellent refuge from the troubles taking place down below in the valley, though one can only imagine what conditions must have been like that led people to flee to somewhere so inaccessible and, particularly in winter one would imagine, inhospitable. Mind you, they certainly found a place of peace and with stunning views!

Ajdna was settled during the crisis times of the collapse of the Western-Roman Empire in 476 AD. Extensive, expensive and exceptionally complex conservation work was carried out and today there are well-preserved buildings and remains of buildings that are thought to date back to the late Antiquity, though some evidence shows that it may even have been inhabited far earlier.

It is estimated that Ajdna was destroyed at the end of the 6th or beginning of the 7th century. The desecration of the church points to the destruction most likely being the result of it being pillaged and set alight by attackers of other religions.

There are several ways to reach Ajdna, depending on which direction you are coming from and also depending on how far you want to walk. I took the path that leads from the reservoir in the Završnica valley. It first follows the path towards the Valvasor mountain hut, where, about 15 minutes before reaching the hut, you turn left onto a gravel road. From here its along the road for approximately 15-20 minutes until the junction with the turn off marked for Ajdna. The path at first goes downhill, through the forest, until reaching the base of the peak. From here there is a choice of the harder, climbing path (15 mins) or the easier path (20 mins). It is well marked throughout.

I chose the harder path up and the easier path down. The path up, though not technically difficult, does require sturdy footwear, a steady hand, concentration and no fear of heights as it leads directly up the rock face – but it is well-equipped with steel cable and rungs. For those not so keen on such ascents, or those with small children, take the slightly longer and easier path to the right. Whichever way you reach Ajdna, you will be richly rewarded for your efforts!

All the information boards at Ajdna are in both Slovenian and English (I should know, I translated them as part of the exhibition catalogue!), so you can read more about the finds and the history of the site.

In addition, to complement a visit to Ajdna, you can visit the Ajdna Museum Room in Čop’s Birth House (Čopova hisa) in Žirovnica, where you can learn more about the site and see exhibits of the many fascinating finds including tools, earthenware, jewellery and weapons.

The house is also the seat of Tourism Žirovnica, thus you can also find out more about what to see and do in the area and/or click here for more information.

© Adele in Slovenia

A Sunny Saturday on Ajdna!

It’s not exactly something to boast about, in fact it’s a rather unenviable fact that as of today, 20th June 2016, there has not yet been a single day in June when there hasn’t been some kind of precipitation. Even on Saturday, which was a glorious, sunny day, there was a short, sharp shower. However, looking at the forecast, it seems we could be in for plenty of hot, sunny days for the week ahead (didn’t I say that last week too?!).

So, back to last week’s glorious Saturday. I couldn’t decide whether to hike or bike, so in the end did a combination of the two! Or I should say ‘we’, since I had a friend visiting for the weekend from the U.K, so it was lovely to have some company for a change.

We began by cycling from home in Radovljica to the Završnica reservoir then hiked up to Smolnik, beneath Stol in the Karavanke mountains. More here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/04/25/spring-in-the-karavanke-mountains/

We then continued to the Ajdna archaelogical site, which I have blogged about previously, though it was some years back – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

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We took the steep route up, which involves a little climbing but is secured with iron rope and footholds.

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And the easier route back down!

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At the top there are well-preserved buildings and remains of buildings that are thought to date back to the late Antiquity, though evidence, some of it dating back as far as the collapse of the Roman Empire (476 AD), shows that it may have been inhabited far earlier. The peak provided locals with an excellent refuge from the troubles taking place down below in the valley. Ajdna is thought to be the highest lying settlement of its kind in Slovenia. Read more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

 

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By lunchtime the clouds were beginning to gather but the views down the valley towards Jesenice and Kranjska Gora were still more than worth the effort!

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With the (promised) sunny days ahead, hopefully there will be plenty more of this to come!

© Adele in Slovenia

Spring in the Karavanke Mountains

After all the excesses of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival, last week was all about my other great love – Slovenia’s great outdoors!

Spring has arrived in the Karavanke mountains and, particularly on the south facing slopes, the snow is melting at a pace, or rather ‘was’. When I started writing this blog last week, it certainly was ‘Spring in the Karavanke Mountains’. Now, however, looking out of my window at the fresh snow, and digging out my gloves and warm clothes again, it feels anything but spring-like! Nevertheless, the blog below remains ‘as was’ and hopefully spring-proper will return very soon.

It is, however, a different matter on the north facing slopes of the Karavanke, so it’s still a bit too soon in the season for any serious hiking above 1,500 metres, and it’s an entirely different matter in the Julian Alps, where there is still a significant amount of snow, even at lower levels.

It’s still a little nippy early morning, especially for cycling, but wrapped up well I cycled from Radovljica to the Završnica reservoir then headed on foot to Smolnik (1002m). What I particularly like about Smolnik is that despite it being near the Valvasor mountain hut (Valvasorjev dom) – a very popular destination for hikers, Smolnik itself is relatively unknown as the path is not marked, thus only those ‘in the know’ frequent it – until now perhaps!!!

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Though I also often hike up to the Valvasor hut at this time of year, what sets Smolnik apart is the view, since the views from the hut are rather restricted. The path up through the forest is very steep, so I consider a pair of hiking poles a must – though there is an option to approach it from the opposite direction, via the road that leads to the Ajdna archeological site, which is a far less steep option. In places it little more than a mass of tangled tree routes, however, the path is clear and easy to follow.

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On reaching the top of Smolnik there are wonderful views across the valley and towards Bled Lake, a great reward for my effort.

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There is a bench for resting weary limbs if required, with Stol, the highest peak in the Karavanke range, dominating the backdrop, and looking very ‘moody’ on this occasion.

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From the peak of Smolnik it’s easy to reach the Valvasor mountain hut, from where you can continue to one of the mountain highlands as I did – in this case the Žirovniška planina highland, for marvellous views of the snow-capped Julian Alps, or continue towards Ajdna, which is well worth a visit. You can read more about that in a previous blog here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

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It’s just the start of the season, so plenty of this, and more, to come!

© Adele in Slovenia 2016