The Karavanke Mountains – Majestic Mt. Begunščica

At 2060m, Begunščica is amongst the highest mountains in the Karavanke range, and a favourite destination among locals and those looking for a moderately challenging and very scenic hike.

The approximately 120-kilometre-long Karavanke mountain range forms a natural border between Slovenia, to the south, and Austria, to the north. Thus, in late-spring it’s not uncommon for there to be snow on the northern facing slopes of the Karavanke, whilst it’s green on the sunny Slovenian side!

Green and sunny to the south, snowy to the north!

There are several ways to reach the summit; the most popular among them is to start from the Draga Valley in Begunje na Gorenjskem. If coming from Radovljica, drive through the village and continue in the direction of Tržič, then on the left you will see the road towards the valley. The valley is a popular starting point for hikes in the Karavanke range. The routes are well-marked and signposts show approximate walking times.

I recommend taking time to stop in the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem to have a stroll around the park, and also at the entrance to the Draga Valley to see the ruins of Kamen Castle.

Continue to the end of the valley to the parking area and from there you set off on foot. You can choose to either go via Preval on the first part of the Shepherd’s Trail, which is the more direct, short, but steeper route, or hike first up to the Roblekov dom mountain hut (1657m), where you can stop for refreshments either on the way up or down – or of course both ways! You can find more information about the Shepherd’s Trail here – http://www.radolca.si/en/shepherds-trail-begunje/

Looking down on the Preval mountain hut on the path up towards Begunščica

If you choose the route to Preval, it takes a good hour from the valley to reach the Koča na Prevalu mountain hut, again an optional break for refreshments here – then prepare yourself for the very steep path directly up to the summit. Here you leave the Shepherd’s Trail and take the marked path to Begunščica which, at times, can feel like an almost vertical ascent. However, apart from one small rocky section, it isn’t overly exposed and is manageable for competent and experienced hikers.

As you approach the summit you can’t fail to notice the ‘carpet’ of sheep droppings from the sheep that are taken to graze on the slopes of Begunščica during summer! I always wonder how on earth so few sheep manage to produce so many droppings! At the summit there is an orientation table which provides assistance when you are gobsmacked by the stunning views and don’t know where to look first!

Personally I prefer to do the hike in the direction as I have described it: Draga – Preval – Begunščica – Roblek – Draga, as the descent from the summit to Roblek is easier and more ‘knee-friendly’ than the steep path from the summit down to Preval. I also like doing it this way as it makes it an entirely circular route.

The path from the summit down towards the Roblekov dom hut

Whilst there is no hut at the summit, there’s no shortage of huts to visit; in addition to the aforementioned Koča na Prevalu and Roblekov dom huts, there is also the Tomčeva koča hut (1180m) on the Poljška Planina highland and the hut on the Planina Planinca highland (1136m), both of which are found at approximately the halfway point between the Draga Valley and the Roblekov dom hut.

The hut on the Planina Planinca highland

You can find out more about this and other hiking routes nearby on the Tourism Radol’ca website here – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

© Adele in Slovenia

Beguiling Begunje na Gorenjskem

I’m fortunate to live just a few kilometres from the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, which is packed full of natural and cultural sights of interest. I spend quite a lot of time there, too, whether hiking, cycling or eating great Taste Radol’ca food. So, in this blog I’ve focused on some of the highlights of beguiling Begunje.

Fans of popular folk music won’t want to miss a visit to the Avsenik family homestead, where the legendary forefathers of Slovene folk music, Slavko and Vilko Avsenik were born. Though, sadly, Slavko passed away in 2015, the family’s music very much lives on.

You can visit the gallery and museum, and/or attend one of the frequent music evenings and other events. More information here – http://www.radolca.si/en/avsenik-gallery-museum/

The Katzenstein Mansion in the heart of the village has had a long and interesting past. Built in the 14th century, its current Renaissance and Baroque appearance is a result of renovations in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. 1n 1875 the mansion was sold to Austro-Hungarian judicial authorities and a prison, holding 300 female prisoners, was established. During the German occupation, it became a Gestapo prison and political prisoners were incarcerated in the mansion; after the war it again reprised its role as an all-female prison.

The Museum of Hostages (Muzej Talcev) has been housed in the building at the north-western end of the residential wing since 1961. Inside, on the walls of the former prison cells, you can see written records left by the prisoners and announcements by the occupiers concerning executions. This one says ‘Molimo za mir’ (We pray for peace). Sobering stuff, indeed.

The park in the ground of the mansion is a lovely place for a stroll. It contains a pavilion and the Chapel of St. Joseph, designed by the most famous Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik, and is also home to a small cemetery where 457 hostages and 18 World War II combatants are laid to rest. The bronze statues of a hostage and a prisoner, as well as the karst marble sculpture of a female hostage are the work of the sculptor, Boris Kalin.

Also in the heart of the village, near the entrance to the hospital and park, is the Gostilna Pr’ Tavčar restaurant, one of the 13 Taste Radol’ca restaurants. In the relatively short time it has been open it has become a firm favourite among locals.

At the end of the village you reach the Draga valley and the imposing ruins of  Kamen Castle, built in the 12th century by the Counts of Ortenburg. More information here – http://www.radolca.si/en/kamen-castle/

Photo: M Kambic

The short drive to the end of the valley brings you to Gostišče Draga, another of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, where specialities include venison goulash, fresh trout, homemade sweet and savoury štruklji, and more. Situated in the shade of the forest beside a stream, it is particularly popular with those seeking refreshment and sustenance after expending their energy in the surrounds.

The Draga valley is a gateway for numerous hiking trails in the Karavanke mountains including, amongst others, to Begunščica, the ever-popular Roblekov dom mountain hut, and the Preval mountain hut.

As you can see, despite it’s modest size, Begunje packs in a lot, so be sure to include a visit on your trip to the Radovljica area.

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Kindness in the Karavanke

In this often turbulent world we live in, the kindness of strangers is something to be valued and cherished, as I discovered on my latest adventure in the Karavanke mountains last weekend!

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Those of you who also follow me on my Adele in Slovenia Facebook page are likely to have already read my (mild) rant last week about the queues of people and two hour wait to ascend to the top of Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav, on a busy Bank Holiday weekend in August.

I have often waxed lyrical here about the Karavanke mountains, which seem to get so overlooked by those visiting Slovenia who automatically head for the better-known Julian Alps. The Karavanke form a natural border between Slovenia and Austria so, in addition to offering myriad possibilities for day and multi-day hikes, there are the added bonuses of less crowds and far-reaching views across 2 countries.

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My home town of Radovljica is in a perfect location to base yourself to explore the Karavanke mountains, being in close proximity to Stol – the highest peak of the Karavanke, as well as Begunščica and numerous other peaks, many of which I have written about previously. Note: you can use the search facility on this blog to find previous posts by using keywords and/or visit the Tourism Radol’ca website for more information – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

So, back to my latest adventure. This time I headed slightly further from home to hike in the Karavanke mountains, first to Tržić, then to the village of Dolina, near Jelendol, from where I hiked up to the ever-popular Kofce highland and mountain hut (1488m). The sky really was that perfectly blue – no photo-shopping required!

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From there I continued to the Šija highland and hut and past grazing cattle, of which there are plenty on the highlands along the length of the range.

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Next I continued along an old unmarked path to the Pungrat highland before joining the path up to Škrbina ridge (1869 m) from where there were bird’s eye views across both Slovenia and Austria.

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As much as I hate crowds (as per the Triglav rant), there was barely a soul to be found here so I was more than elated to encounter two kindly, gallant strangers who came to my rescue when I got myself into a spot of bother just beneath the peak of Kladivo (2094m). They were passing in opposing directions but didn’t hesitate to help, which served as the wonderful reminder of how such altruistic acts of simple kindness can make the world a much better place.

So, thank you once again Olga and Anže for for your help and part in a (mostly!) wonderful, and certainly unforgettable, day. As was well that ended well and new acquaintances were made to boot. So, all in all, despite my little ‘moment’, it was a(nother) great day in the Karavanke!

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© Adele in Slovenia

 

The Karavanke and the Čepa Gorge

I know my blog is named ‘Adele in Slovenia’ so it may seem somewhat odd that this week I’m writing about Austria, but let me explain…

The Karavanke mountains form a natural border between Slovenia and Austria, and here in Radovljica we are fortunate to have part of the Karavanke range right on the doorstep. Particular favourites among locals, in which I include myself, are Stol (the highest in the Karavanke range) and Begunščica, whilst just slightly further afield there are other popular peaks such as Golica, Dovška baba and others.

Some of the territory which lies just the other side of the Karavanke, though these days geographically in Austria, was formerly Slovene and thus, even today, many Slovenes remain living in these areas and therefore places names and all official documentation etc. is found written in both Slovene and German languages. One of such places is the area just on the other side of the Ljubelj pass (more about this in a previous blog here – https://adeleinslovenia.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/zelenci-pools-ljubelj-pass-and-forever-young/), near Ferlach/Borovlje. Once through the tunnel and into Austria, its just a few minutes drive to the Čepa Gorge (Tscheppaschlucht in German – no idea how to pronounce that!). In addition to the gorge itself, there is also an Adventure Park within its grounds – run by a Slovene company!

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The gorge has been very well arranged with wooden walkways, steel ladders and bridges. The walk involves quite a lot of going up and down but the amazing sights of the rushing water and canyons ensures it doesn’t feel like hard work, and also there are a number of choices of routes that can be taken in one direction with a bus journey (included in the entrance price) for the return journey. Be sure to pick up a bus timetable at the start so avoid a long wait, but fortunately, the bus stations are mostly sited at, or near, restaurants/inns, so even if you have a while to wait you have somewhere to wait and enjoy a drink, piece of strudel etc.

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The new Sava River Trail (Pot ob Savi) will be officially opened this week on Thursday with a guided walk beginning at the Fux footbridge (Fuxova brv). This path is a great addition to the numerous paths available in Radovljica and the surroundings and will be a particularly pleasant place to walk in the heat of the summer as much of it runs through the forest and beside the Sava River.

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More information about the Sava river can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/the-sava-and-its-tributaries/ and maps of the Sava River Trail are available from the Radovljica Tourist Information Centrehttp://www.radolca.si/en/

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Snowy Hikes and Winter Bites!

It was a very chilly start to 2015 with temperatures midweek well into minus figures. Babno polje, which regularly measures the coldest temperatures in Slovenia, was minus 24 degrees, whilst Celje wasn’t far behind with minus 19. Here in Radovljica it was a (balmy!) minus 15! Fortunately, on Friday the polar temperatures subsided a little and the temperatures in some parts of the country even got into positive numbers during the day.

Having not strayed too far from home for a few days, due to the cold, snow and bitter wind, I was itching to get out and therefore was mighty pleased to be able to make the hike up to one of my favourite winter destinations, the mountain hut Roblek dom, located on the western slopes of mount Begunščica, part of the Karavanke range. The route up to the hut is popular all year round and can be approached from several directions, however, the safest and only really viable route when there is heavy snow, is to begin from the Draga valley and continue up to the hut at 1672m.

During the winter you may share the lower part of the path, the part which is on the road, with sledgers, before the path veers off, steeply in places, into the forest. Probably the reason it is such a popular destination is also the relative wideness and safeness of the path as it is not in an area prone to avalanches (I’m of course touching wood as I write this!), the path is well-trodden and you are rarely alone en-route or at the top; there’s always someone to pass the time of day with. However, it should be noted that at present the path is treacherously icy in places and a pair of small crampons really are a must. On reaching the hut, the thermometer showed +4 degrees, which is almost 20 degrees warmer than it had been in the valley during the previous few days so actually felt remarkably warm. I’m not usually the greatest at taking pictures but, if I say so myself, this one below (on the left) isn’t a bad effort – though of course these days the camera does most of the work and I can just ‘point and click’!

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During the festive season, it is a tradition in many households in Slovenia to construct nativity scenes made out of various materials such as wood and moss. In the village of Rodine, just a few kilometres from Radovljica, more precisely in Jalnova hiša (Jalen’s House), the birthplace of the Slovene writer and priest, Janez Jalen (1891-1966), an impressive displays of nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes is set up each year. These days the house also operates partly as a museum with an exhibition about his life and work, and it also forms part of the Žirovnica Route of Cultural Heritagehttp://www.zirovnica.eu/dozivetja/tematske-poti/pot-kulturne-dediscine/znamenitosti-na-poti/ (Slovene), OR http://en.zirovnica.eu/ (English).

The owner is more than happy to greet visitors and show them around. During this period, the exhibition is open daily for visitors, this year until 10th January (daily from 10am-6pm), so there is still time to visit. There is also a traditional black kitchen. Entrance is free.

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People often ask me if I ever run out of ideas for what to write about in my blog. Well, thankfully so far that hasn’t happened and I hope it won’t for a while yet. So, its onwards into another year and I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey….

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015