A World of Winter Sports in Tržič: Ljubelj and Zelenica

The for many (not me, I hasten to add!) long-awaited first significant snow of the year arrived last Friday and, following a cloudy day on Saturday, Sunday’s sunshine and gorgeous blue skies saw almost half, if not more, of Slovenia heading out to pursue their beloved winter sports!

Among the most popular destinations in the Gorenjska region for sledging and other winter sports is Ljubelj, from where you there is a choice of going to either Zelenica or the old Ljubelj pass, or, like me, why not visit both in one day!

The Ljubelj pass is the oldest road pass in Europe. Prior to the building of the Ljubelj tunnel, the steep pass, which reaches 1,369 metres above sea-level, was the main transport route from Slovenia to Klagenfurt in Austria. Since the building of the Karavanke tunnel in 1991, however, the Ljubelj tunnel is far less frequented, while the Ljubelj pass today is a favourite year-round destination for hikers and in winter it turns into a sledger’s paradise!

It takes about 45 minutes to walk up to the top where the border is marked by two stone obelisks.

Having walked up in beautiful blue skies, a wave of fog suddenly swept in when I reached the top. Luckily, its pretty quick to get back down by sledge!

The Koča na Ljubelju mountain hut is located just metres from the border.

Photo: Visit Tržič

The Ljubelj pass road has long-since been closed to traffic other than for one day every year in September when the Hrast Memorial takes place. The event sees hundreds of motorbikes, motorbikes with sidecars, and old-timer cars competing up the 33% gradient.

Photo: Visit Tržič

But Ljubelj isn’t just a winter destination, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore during summer too, on both the Slovenian and Austrian side. However, many of these routes are not suitable for hiking during winter, so be sure to check the conditions, plan carefully and have the correct equipment – which, it goes without saying, applies to all such winter sports.

The Slovenian hiking routes are marked by red signs and the trails marked by red circles with a white inner, whereas the Austrian routes are marked by yellow signs and the trails along the border by green circles with a white inner.

From the large car park just in front of the Ljubelj tunnel the trail to the Ljubelj pass goes to the right, whilst to the left is Zelenica.

Despite no longer being an ‘active’ ski piste, Zelenica was very much ‘alive’ on Sunday with hikers, ski tourers, snowboarders, a mountain rescue team practicing winter mountaineering skills, sledgers, and I even saw one guy carrying a bike on his shoulder up the snow-covered ski piste!

For many the target destination, year-round, is the Dom na Zelenici mountain hut (1,536m) whilst others continue onward to the surrounding peaks such as Triangel (1,704m), Begunščica (2,060m), Vrtača (2,181m) and Na Možeh (1,784m). The hut is open daily in the summer (1.6 – 30.9) and during the rest of the year at weekends and public holidays (1.10-31.5).

In addition to being a ‘regular’ mountain hut offering warm food and drinks for visitors, the hut is also a Mountaineering Education Centre and hosts numerous events, courses, lectures etc. It has 50 beds and can be hired for group events, training sessions etc.

I will be writing plenty more about hiking in Tržič over the course of the year, and Ljubelj, when it isn’t snow-covered, is among the destinations I plan to visit as part of some longer tours to the surrounding mountains. So, keep reading and, in the meantime, you can find more ideas and inspiration on the Visit Trzic website. Happy sledging (or skiing, hiking…)!

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Autumn Time is Tasty Time in Radol’ca – Taste Radol’ca!

Autumn, thus far, has been a very mixed bag! There have been some beautifully warm, sunny days, but also some bitingly cold, crisp mornings, with the first frost already on 25th September – the coldest September morning since 1977, whereas last year it was exactly a month later, on 25th October, when it was time to start scraping the ice of the car windscreen!

However, some things about autumn are stalwarts, among them the magnificent colours of nature and tasty food in Radol’ca!

Hiking in the Radol’ca area, and in particular in the Karavanke mountains, is wonderful in autumn, especially if you set off on one of those pleasantly warm days, as was the case on my hike last week to Begunščica (2,060m) from the Draga valley, when the views and visibility were quite astounding.

Even the sheep grazing just beneath the peak looked happy that the sky was so blue – and, trust me, no photo-shopping was required, it really was that blue!

And since all that hiking works up and appetite, on to the subject of food – my other great love!

Restaurant Week takes place bi-annually, in spring and in autumn, and makes dining at some of Slovenia’s finest restaurants accessible and affordable to all.

All restaurants that are part of Restaurant Week are assessed and have to meet strict criteria to be included, therefore, the fact that there are three Taste Radol’ca restaurantsVila Podvin, Gostilna Kunstelj, Lambergh Chateau and Hotel, included in the 19 restaurants in northern Slovenia, is a sure testament to the quality of Taste Radol’ca.

This year 100 restaurants are taking part in Spring Restaurant Week and from 12th – 21st October will offer fixed menus for just €18 per personReservations are essential, and many of the restaurants get booked up early, so don’t delay, book today!

In addition, the whole month of November is a celebration of the best of Taste Radol’ca, with all the nine participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants offering special fixed price menus for just €18.

 

This year’s opening event will take place on Friday 26th October at gostilna Joštov hram in Podnart. The evening will begin at 5pm with a farmers’ market, followed by the opening dinner at 7pm.

As in previous years, all the talented Taste Radol’ca chefs will combine their skills, experience and creativity to create a unique and memorable dinner. Reservations can be made from 8th October at the Radovljica Tourist Information Centre. The price of the opening dinner is €39.00 (drinks excluded).

The theme of this year’s Month of Cuisine is honey. Radovljica, as the beekeeping capital of Slovenia, and in the year when World Bee Day was first celebrated, will also end the year on a culinary-based bee theme.

 

I’m looking forward to seeing what inventive menus the chefs will be cooking up for us this year, and I might, just might, blog about it too!

© Adele in Slovenia

The Begunje Shepherd’s Trail – My Favourite Hike in Radol’ca!

The Begunje Shepherd’s Trail (Pastirska pot) is one of my favourite of all the hiking trails in the Radol’ca area. The sheer variety of the terrain, the stunning views, and the fact that it is entirely circular all add up to one great hike!

The trail begins at the head of the Draga Valley in Begunje na Gorenjskem, where you can park and set off on foot on the 10.2km trail and where there is an information board showing the route.

The first mini ‘challenge’ that you encounter after just a few hundred metres, is crossing a stream – not advisable after heavy rainfall! Note: if it is impassable, then follow the road uphill for about 15 minutes to where it branches off steeply through the forest towards the Roblekov dom mountain hut, but continue past the next bend and then take a forest road (unmarked) to the right, which, eventually, meets the path coming up from the head of the valley.

The trail begins to lead up through the forest, passing a cascade of the stream.

Next comes a slightly bigger ‘challenge’, as the path leads up a steep gully between two rock faces, but there are iron foot rungs and an iron cable to help, so, with a steady hand (and feet!), it doesn’t present a major obstacle.

Its only a short climb, and the path soon levels out, well, until the next bit anyway! But that is why I love this path, as there’s never a dull moment, it keeps you on your toes – literally!

The path crosses the stream in several places, before reaching a ladder, equipped with a rope to hoist yourself up!

You then cross the stream one last time, before reaching a rest area with a bench, and then continuing up, ever steeper, through the forest.

Next you reach a giant fir tree, so giant, in fact, there was no way or being able to photograph it from within the confines of the trail, so you’ll just have to visit and see it for yourself! The statistics on the signpost below give the facts and figures: circumference 347cm, diameter 110cm, quantity of wood 12.5m3, height 35 metres

After about an hour to 1hr 15 mins, you reach the Preval mountain pasture and the Koča na Prevalu mountain hut, the first of four (yes, four!) mountain huts that you pass on this trail, where you can stop for refreshments (note: the huts are open daily during summer, but out of season some are closed whilst others open at weekends only) and enjoy the views before continuing on your way.

Now follow the road for about 10 minutes, which provides a mini-break from the steep path, before the path branches off to the right and begins to climb up again on the path ‘cez Roza’. But, it’s worth it, as you are soon rewarded with wonderful views of the Radovljica Plains, the Jelovica plateau, Lake Bled, and the Julian Alps.

There are still a couple of mini ‘hurdles’ to overcome, in the form of gullies to be crossed, but here and there, iron rods are provided to assist, and eventually the path levels out to become sheer enjoyment.

Shortly before the end of the path, you reach an abandoned manganese mine shaft with an information board, and the views open up further across the valley.

Click here for more information about the other themed hiking trails in the Radol’ca, and here for the Radol’ca hiking and biking map.

© Adele in Slovenia

Srednji Vrh: Seeking the Sun and a Stream in the Karavanke!

This ‘summer’ – not that it can really be called that thus far – hasn’t been kind to us outdoor types. This time last year we were basking in 35 degrees, whilst a week ago we had temperatures half that, and since the start of June there have only been a couple of days when there hasn’t been rain somewhere in Slovenia.

Thus, trying to find days with clear blue skies for hiking and getting some good snaps for my blog have been few and far between. Fed up with waiting, I just went anyway, and, though not as gloriously sunny as I would have liked, I managed to get in a good hike in the Karavanke mountains to Srednji vrh and the Dom pri izviru Završnice (mountain hut at the source of the Završnica stream) – and even stayed dry too!

Despite the less sunny photos, I hope you, nonetheless, enjoy this glimpse into just one of the many fantastic hikes in the Karavanke mountains in the Žirovnica area. Join me on my trip to see the source of the Završnica stream and Srednji vrh!

I started my hike from the Završnica valley. How far you go by car is a matter of choice – some choose to drive as far as possible along the valley, whilst I prefer to leave the car and set off on foot along the gravel road. You will want to stop and admire the reservoir (seen below on a sunnier day!), but if you have transport, then do continue along the valley further before parking, as its a long walk from here.

From here the road gets much rougher and it’s best to set off on foot. The area, with its many mountain pastures, is also popular for mountain biking.

The road rises gradually to reach the Tinčkova koca hut, which isn’t actually an official mountain hut, rather a private hut, but somehow the name has stuck!

The Dom pri izviru Završnice hut. which was recently renovated and has new beds and furniture, is situated at an altitude of 1425m above the Smokuč mountain pasture (Smokuška planina) and on the backside of the Zelenica ski piste (sadly, no longer operational).

The hut is open from 1st June to 1st October, and at other times at weekends, weather permitting, and by prior arrangement for groups. From the hut there are numerous options for continuing to explore the peaks of the Karavanke including Vrtača, Begunščica and Stol.

I always find the springs of rivers and streams fascinating. Where on earth does all the water come from? At the source of the Završnica stream, there is barely a trickle of water to be seen – and that despite the abundance of snow and rain this year – yet just a little further down the valley, it turns into a gushing stream.

The beauty of hiking in the Karavanke, particularly in the ‘summer’ (ahem!), is the lack of crowds. I hiked for close to 5 hours and only met around a dozen people in that time – bliss for those who really want to get away from it all.

As I like to make my hikes circular, where possible, I continued from the hut up the ski slope before turning left and heading on the slopes beneath Vrtača. In this area there is a lot of loose rock and scree, so you need to keep your wits about you. As you get higher, you are rewarded with a glimpse of Lake Bled in the distance.

Where the path branches off right to ascend the summit of Vrtača, I took the left fork marked for Stol. On reaching a junction I then descend to the Šija saddle, from where there is certainly no lack of choice of where to go next!

I chose the path to Srednji vrh (1796m), which is just a further 15 minute climb from the saddle. At the top there is a visitors’ book, a solitary bench and fab views!

I then descended back down towards the hut, which is less than half-an-hour from the Šija saddle before returning on the same road.

Click here for more information and this and other hikes in the Žirovnica area.

© Adele in Slovenia

Roblekov dom – Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut 2017

The Roblekov dom mountain hut on Mt. Begunščica in the Karavanke mountains has just been announced as the winner of the title ‘Best Mountain Hut 2017’.

Photo: Jani Kolman

The competition was contested by 72 out of the 181 mountain huts (including bivouacs and shelters) in Slovenia, and of the 70,000+ votes cast by the public, Roblekov dom was this year’s clear winner.

There are numerous reasons why Roblekov dom is such a well-known and popular destination for hikers from all over Slovenia – not least due to the popular song, which surely almost every Slovene knows by heart, ‘Na Roblek bom odsel’ (I’m going to Roblek), written and performed by the legend of Slovenian folk music, Slavko Avsenik. Watch and listen here!

These days the song is still performed by the hugely popular Avsenik Ensemble, from Begunje na Gorenjskem.

The Roblekov dom hut has long been a popular destination and now, with the new caretaker managers – Zdenka and Rok Podpečan, who took over the running of the hut last year and assure visitors a warm welcome regardless of the weather – the hut has now become even more popular and they have added a few of their own new touches, too!

For many, myself included, the fact that you can’t reach the hut by car is a major plus i.e. you have to hike up to earn your view and/or tasty treat, making it all the more rewarding, not to mention peaceful and pollution-free.

Roblekov dom is accessible year-round, and is actually probably even more popular during winter than in summer. I love hiking up there in winter to enjoy some winter sun, often finding myself above the cloud that is lingering above the valley.

Even when there is A LOT of snow, you might find me (somewhere!) up there!

Even though I don’t like snow, I will make an exception to visit Roblek dom on a sunny winter’s day!

The hut can be a destination by itself, just sit and soak up the views whilst enjoying some tasty mountain food, or as part of a hike to the top of Mt. Begunščica, which you can read more about in this blog post from earlier this year here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2017/06/18/the-karavanke-mountains-majestic-mt-begunscica/

The most usual place to begin a hike to Roblekov dom is from the Draga valley, which is reached through the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, and is home to the impressive ruins of the mighty Kamen Castle. You can either take the direct route up or take the Shepherd’s Trail to Preval then the path ‘čez Roža’ to reach the hut. Note, however, that during winter, when there is snow and/or ice, it isn’t advisable to attempt the Shepherd’s Trail. More about the Shepherd’s Trail can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/shepherds-trail-begunje/

Photo: Miran Kambić

Roblekov dom is open year-round; daily during the summer months and at weekends only throughout the remainder of the year, as well as on public holidays.

So, don’t delay, visit today, and find out for yourself why Roblekov dom has been voted Slovenia’s best mountain hut!

© Adele in Slovenia

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