Picerija pri Daretu, Žirovnica – My Go-To (and gluten-free) Pizza Place!

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of my blog when I say that I have always enjoyed eating out. Not just for the food itself but also for a change of scenery; working at home has many advantages, but when one’s home is also one’s office – and hence the place you spend the most time – going out becomes even more of a treat.

However, having recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, I now find myself in a kind of period of ‘mourning’ for all the delicious things that, literally overnight, have become off limits for me. And then there was the realisation that a lot of my blogs are also food-related, so how am I going to square blogging with coeliac disease. Therefore, I was more than delighted when I discovered that Picerija pri Daretu in Selo pri Žirovnici offers gluten-free pizzas, and good ones too!

My first taste of gluten-free pizza in a local pizzeria was, well, a total disaster; it was barely big enough to feed a small child and the dough was all-but raw. So, to be honest, I wasn’t holding out my hope. But, what a revelation, this places does excellent pizzas – the regular kind and the gluten-free ones too – my ‘pizza partner’ for the evening confirmed that his regular (gluten-full!) pizza was also delicious!

It can’t be denied that, from the outside at least, Picerija pri Daretu doesn’t look like a pizzeria per se, and one could easily pass by without noticing it, in fact, I confess that I have been past hundreds of times without giving it much thought. However, as well all know, looks can be deceptive, and, from now on, this will definitely be my ‘go-to’ pizza place!

I got lucky as, following a week of unseasonably cool and wet weather, on Friday afternoon the skies suddenly brightened and it was even warm enough to sit outside and soak up the view!

So, I took the opportunity to ask the owner, Darko Noč, a bit more about the pizzeria and how, and why, he and his team decided to offer gluten-free pizzas.

He told me that since taking over the pizzeria around five years, there has been a noticeable increase in requests for gluten-free pizzas. Therefore, around two years ago the team decided to find out more and undertook some education about the requirements. They then spent the next two years or so perfecting a recipe for gluten-free dough and, as you can see below, it actually looks like – and tastes – like a regular pizza! And, trust me, anyone who has tried gluten-free pizza or bread will know that producing something like this is a major achievement!

And the salads are pretty good too!

I should stress, however, for those with severe symptoms of coeliac (fortunately I’m not among them), as the pizzeria is only small, they do not have a separate area for preparing gluten-free food, so those worried about cross-contamination should chat to the friendly team if they are unsure.

Picerija pri Daretu is open daily from 11am – 10pm, oh and, by the way, they offer delivery too, yippee! And for gluten-free pizzas, it’s recommended that you call in advance as the dough is made fresh to order and therefore takes a little longer to prepare. Click here for more information about this, and other places to eat in the Žirovnica area.

If you want to work up an appetite prior to eating, or even burn off some calories after your meal, I recommend the short hike up to St. Lawrence’s church (725m). There are a number of paths to reach the church, one of which starts almost opposite the pizzeria from where you can follow the road up through the village, past St. Cantius’ church, then follow the sign (to the right) for sv. Lovrenc.

A church was first built here during the time of the Turkish invasions, but was later abandoned in 1821 when a new parish church was built in the village of Breznica. In the 1990s volunteers built a new church on the foundations of the original one.

A particular feature of the church is its presbytery which has painted pictures of the flowers that are found in the area surrounding the church.

On the outside wall there is an unusual mosaic of St. Christopher.

The path to the church is just one of the 16 trails included in the new map of hiking and mountain bike trails in the Žirovnica area, which you download here or pick up a copy (available in Slovene and English) at the Žirovnica Tourist Information Centre in Čop’s House (Čopova hiša).

© Adele in Slovenia

Hiking in Žirovnica: The Turkish Cave

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 path to the cave is just one of the 16 trails included in the new map of hiking and mountain bike trails in the Žirovnica area, which you download here or pick up a copy (available in Slovene and English) at the Žirovnica Tourist Information Centre in Čop’s House (Čopova hiša).

The trail begins at the car park at the Završnica reservoir, which is a very popular place among locals either for just chilling or as a starting point for numerous hiking and cycling trips in the Završnica valley and the surrounding Karavanke mountains, or, of course, both, i.e. first hike or bike, then chill!

Set off along the gravel road towards the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut, where, after cca. 1 kilometre, you will reach a sharp left turn. There is a rest area and a sign showing the path towards the Turška jama cave.

From the sign it takes just 5-10 minutes to ascend through the forest to the cave.

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

The view from the cave is somewhat obstructed by trees…

…so it’s worth venturing (carefully!) a few metres further…

…where you a richly rewarded for your efforts with fabulous views.

You can also extend your trip by visiting the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut – three times the winner in recent years of the title of ‘Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut’ – or you can even continue to Stol, the ‘top’ of the Karavanke!

© 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

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

Visit ‘Shakespeare’s House’ in Slovenia!

Ok, yes, guilty as charged of using an attention grabbing headline! Of course you can’t visit the actual Shakespeare’s House in Slovenia, you can, however, visit the house of Slovenia’s equivalent!

And what better way to do it than in style on a horse and cart ride along the Žirovnica Path of Cultural Heritage.

Despite only living to the tender age of 49, the legacy of France Prešeren (1800-1849), Slovenia’s most famous poet, remains as strong today as ever. In fact, Prešeren was, or rather is, so important to Slovenian culture, that a national holiday is dedicated to him annually on 8th February – Prešeren’s Day. 

The Path of Cultural Heritage takes in Prešeren’s birth house, as well as the birth houses of his friends – the linguist and literary historian Matija Čop in Žirovnica, the writer Fran Saleški Finžgar in Doslovče, and the writer and priest Janez Jalen in Rodine.

Čop’s House (Čopova hiša) is also the home of the Žirovnica Institute for Tourism and Culture, where you can pick up leaflets and find out more about the area.

The path runs through the hamlets that make up the Municipality of Žirovnica, with the Karavanke mountains as a back drop, an abundance of lush green scenery to admire, a number of restaurants serving traditional Slovenian food.

Whilst in the area you can also visit Janša’s Memorial Apiary, as well as the recently-opened Bee Paradise – the brainchild of the president of Slovenia’s Beekeeping Association. Read more here https://adeleinslovenia.com/2018/05/06/cebelji-raj-a-real-bee-paradise/

To mark the recent World Bee Day a memorial plaque was erected in front of the Jansa’s memorial apiary. Read more about the first World Bee Day celebrations here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2018/05/21/zirovnica-the-place-to-bee-to-celebrate-world-bee-day/

All the houses offer a unique insight into life in bygone days and you can see exhibits including an original black kitchen, and other items typical of the era.

Whilst you can visit the house at other times, independently or as part of a guided tour, a unique way to do so is by taking a ride on a traditionallojtrnik‘ – a traditional horse and cart – which runs every fourth Saturday in the month from March to October.

The ride departs from the car park in Vrba, which is also the location of Prešeren’s birth house, at 10am, 11am and 12noon. Upon purchase of a ticket for at least one of the birth houses, rides are FREE. The next opportunity will be on 23rd June.

And here’s my tip: sweet talk Janez and he might even let you ride up front!

Click here for more information about this and other natural and cultural attractions in the Žirovnica area.

© Adele in Slovenia