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.

Rezultat iskanja slik za valvasorjev dom

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

 

Visit Tržič and Košuta – A Hike Along the Ridge of Slovenia’s Longest Mountain

At 10 kilometres long, the Košuta ridge, part of the Karavanke range situated above Tržič, is Slovenia’s longest mountain.

Its numerous peaks and mountain pastures make it a paradise both for hikers and mountain bikers. And you certainly won’t go hungry whilst on, or beneath, Košuta, as there are several mountain huts and dairy farms on the mountain pastures.

This blog post is day two of the 2-day hike I did on the ridge, with an overnight stay at the Taborniški dom na Šiji (the Šija Scouts’ Hut) – read about the hike up to the hut, the great food and the friendly hosts here. After breakfast, we took one final look back at the hut where we had spent such a pleasant night, then set off to conquer two of the peaks along the ridge.

From the Šija mountain pasture we walked to the Pungrat mountain pasture.

We passed by the dairy farm on the Pungrat mountain pasture (Planšarija planina Pungrat) – no need for sustenance just yet after having only just set off!

From the dairy farm a path leads up towards the Škrbina saddle. As you gain height, the views just get better; first back down towards the mountain pastures below and the mountains in the distance.

Then, on reaching the saddle, the views – in all directions – are magnificent and accompany you all the way along the ridge.

You can choose the path to the east towards Košutnikov turn or to the west towards Kladivo. We chose the latter, not least because my previous attempt to reach the peak didn’t exactly go to plan!

Regular readers might recall a blog I wrote some years back, titled ‘Kindness in the Karavanke‘ about my attempt to reach Kladivo, which, that time, ended up with me in tears and some friendly strangers being very kind! This time, however, I conquered it with relative ease and, in doing so, realised that last time I was literally a few metres from the top before I bottled it, and also discovered that the path down the other side is much easier, so I could have managed it, but that’s hindsight for you!

And the views are, well, you can see for yourself below, but they are even better when you earn them by hiking up and seeing and experiencing them for yourself!

After descending from Kladivo, we carried on along the wonderful ridge walk to Kofce gora and then on to Veliki vrh (literally ‘Big peak’).

Is it a bird, is it a plane…?

From Veliki vrh we descended to the Dom na Kofcah mountain hut which, at the time of writing is in the running for the title of ‘Best Slovenian Mountain Hut 2019‘.

The hut is famous for its excellent štruklji in a myriad of flavours. For me a visit is now a bittersweet experience and (almost) brings tears to my eyes when I see and smell the excellent štruklji as, sadly, there are no gluten-free ones to be had so my once favourite Slovenian food is now off limits for me – a travesty indeed! But for those who are lucky enough to be able to eat ‘normally’, do try the štruklji, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, and maybe you will spare a thought for me whilst doing so!

This is just one of the many great hiking routes in the Tržič area, where you are spoilt for choice. See the Visit Tržič website, and you can also click on the ‘Visit Tržič’ tab above to see all the other blog posts I have written about what to see and do in the area.

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Hike Tržič: Košutica (Ljubeljska Baba) – 2 Countries, 1 Great Hike!

Despite being here over 12 years, I still get a kick out of being able to cover two countries in one hike, and the hike from Podljubelj in Tržič to Košutica (also known locally as ‘Ljubeljska Baba’) – part of the Karavanke mountain range – is up there among my favourites, not least because it makes a fab circular hike!

There are various ways of reaching the peak of Košutica; I like to begin from the monument next to the road and opposite the Mauthausen concentration camp in the St. Ana valley, which is located on the road from Tržič towards the Ljubelj pass to Austria.

The Hunters’ path (Lovska pot) winds its way up through the forest towards the Korošica mountain pasture. It is sparsely marked but well trodden, so orientation shouldn’t prove too much of a problem, well, unless the valley is shrouded in cloud as it was last Sunday morning!

Shortly before reaching the mountain pasture, the path to the peak of Košutica veers off to the left up to a junction of paths and the border with Austria, from where you turn left to take the path up to the peak of Košutica (1968m), marked here as ‘Baba’.

Although I try to pick perfect sunny days for my hikes – both for my enjoyment and in order to get good pictures for my blog – the weather doesn’t always play ball, and despite waiting around 20 minutes at the top, sheltering from the wind in the vain hope that the cloud might lift revealing the magnificent scenery below, it didn’t – well not at least until we had descended from the peak!

At least I had a flask of tea to warm me up!

The fog didn’t deter this pair, who obviously know where to find food!. They were so tame it was amazing, almost eating out of our hands!

And then, of course, the inevitable happened. As we began to descend the fog lifted, as did our spirits, the wind died down and the sun began to break through.

We could even finally see the cows that we had previously only been able to hear – these ones are Austrian (can you tell?!), since they are on the Austrian side of the border!

The donkeys we met on the way down, however, were most definitely Slovenian!

From the junction of paths, you can either return the same way, walk down to the mountain hut on the Korošica mountain pasture, and/or follow the path adjacent to the fence that forms a border between Slovenia and Austria – we opted for the latter two, i.e. first down to the hut for some sustenance, then back up to the junction and into Austria.

The hut is only open during the grazing season – usually mid-June to mid-September. It offers typical Slovenian mountain food, such as Carniolan sausages, buckwheat with pork crackling, sour milk, and, if you arrive early enough (we clearly didn’t – not that I would have been able to indulge anyway, sadly), freshly-baked strudel and potica.

Feeling fortified, we walked back up to the junction of paths, then followed the path along the border, from where there are wonderful views back towards Košutica – now looking magnificent in the sun!

The path continues along pastures before descending to an iron ladder. I wouldn’t advise this route when it is, or has recently been, wet, as in places it is rather steep, muddy and slippery when wet.

After a while the path eventually descends to reach a forest road (in Austria!), where we turned left and walked slightly uphill for around 5 minutes before reaching the Ljubelj pass – the oldest road pass in Europe – and returned back into Slovenia.

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!

You can visit the Koča na Ljubelju mountain hut (1369m) for (more) refreshments, if required, before making the cca. 45 min walk back down to the start.

And that rounds off another great hike in the Karavanke mountains in Tržič! Click here to find out more about what you can see and do in the area.

© Adele in Slovenia

 

By Bike to Begunje and Bees!

Not only is cycling good for you and for the environment, it’s also a wonderful way to explore an area, and the Radol’ca area is no exception. In fact, I find it the best way to get around and much prefer two wheels to four! There’s no need to worry about where to park, you are out in the fresh air, and you can see so much more than you do in a car and can stop at your leisure.

So, join me on a bike ride to, and through, Begunje na Gorenjskem to discover some of the sights of the Radol’ca countryside!

I have listed the places below in order so as to suggest a circular ride, however, you can of course pick and choose what to see and do, and the list is by no means exhaustive. Starting from Radovljica head past the Spar supermarket, pass under the motorway then continue to the village of Nova vas.

On reaching the t-junction in Zapuže, turn left then shortly afterwards turn right (there is a bar on the corner) towards Zgoša. On reaching the junction, as seen below, turn left towards Begunje.

After a few minutes you will reach the Elan factory, shop and Alpine Skiing Museum, more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2019/01/27/test-your-skiing-skills-at-the-elan-alpine-skiing-museum/

Continue towards the village of Begunje, the birthplace of Slavko Avsenik, who, together with his brother Vilko Avsenik, were the founders of Slovenian folk music. You can also visit the Avsenik Museum.

Opposite the Avsenik Museum is the Begunje Tourist Information Centre, where you can pick up more information about the area.

Continue through the village towards the Draga Valley, stopping first to admire and explore the ruins of Kamen Castle (grad Kamen).

Shortly after leaving the castle, there is a small cemetery that contains graves of hostages from the time when Begunje fell under German rule during World War II. You can also make a side trip to visit the Museum of Hostages, housed in Katzenstein Manor.

Now its just a few minutes more to reach the head of the Draga valley and the Gostišče Draga restaurant, which situated next to a stream and makes an ideal place to cool down, rest and/or enjoy some sustenance in the form of a drink, ice-cream, something sweet or some hearty traditional Slovenian food.

You can even stay overnight in one of the newly-renovated rooms and continue your cycling trip the next day! Or stay longer and enjoy the tranquility of the valley, which is also a great place for hiking in the Karavanke mountains.

On the way back, instead of returning the same way, after leaving the valley, you can turn left at the junction just after passing a sawmill. You could also make a detour to visit the Robačnekov mill. It is officially open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9am-12noon, however, outside of these times if the owner is home, ask nicely and she will be happy to show you round!

Those interested in beekeeping, and even those who think they might not be interested but will likely discover that actually they are(!), can visit Luznar Beekeeping (Čebelarstvo Luznar).

Upon prior arrangement, you can call in to visit Erik at home, where you can purchase his award-winning honey and other honey products, and/or you could arrange to meet him in the Draga valley, where you can get up close to one of his many hives and his amazing new ‘book’ hive, which allows a fascinating, close up, and unique view of Slovenia’s indigenous Carniolan grey bees hard at work. Email cebelarstvo.luznar@gmail.com or call 040 321 556.

Photo: Erik Luznar

Photo: Erik Luznar

You can also visit Begunje and the Draga valley – as well as Erik and his bees(!) – on the Hop-On Hop-On tourist bus, which runs every summer throughout July and August. It’s a great way to discover the villages and countryside of the Radol’ca area. In addition to the ride, there are guided tours and walks as well as other attractions to see and visit at each destination.

Click here for more information about cycling in the Radol’ca area.

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Visit Žirovnica and Dine Hunter-Style at Lovski dom!

Lovski dom (Hunters’ Lodge) in the Završnica valley has long been a favourite place to dine among locals from the Žirovnica area as well as those from further afield. It has a reputation for its great wild game dishes, among others, as one would expect from a Hunters’ Lodge!

The restaurant was originally established by hunters, hence the name, and has now been under the same ownership for 27 years. Its winning recipe for success is a combination of great, traditional Slovenian food, hearty portions, friendly service and reasonable prices.

In fine weather you can sit outside and enjoy the views of both the surroundings and the restaurant’s own menagerie of animals, including Mici the bear.

…while during the colder months you can join the array of animal indoors – not live ones though!

Mici, originally from Kočevje, has been at ‘home’ at Lovski dom for 16 years now, and seemed more than happy to show off her climbing skills to get a treat of oranges and apples. The merits of keeping a bear in captivity are for some, obviously, questionable, however owner Ingrid explained to me that Mici has been in captivity all her life and would likely be unable to survive now in the wild.

Now, on to the food! Being somewhat limited in what I can order these days, I was unable to indulge, as I would have liked, in the huge meaty platters laden with Wiener schnitzel and other such traditional delights for which Lovski dom is known, including venison goulash, river trout and homemade štruklji.

Fortunately, however, I was able to indulge – and did – in the delicious and humungous pork ribs, the mixed grill, buckwheat with crackling, sauteed potatoes and salad, so, for a change, I didn’t feel short changed by being unable to eat anything containing gluten.

Reservations are recommended at weekends. Call 041 945 347 or email okrepcevalnica.stol@gmail.com

There is plenty to see and do in the vicinity of Lovski dom to build up an appetite for your hearty meal. You can hike in the Karavanke mountains, for example to Stol – the highest mountain in the Karavanke range – and/or visit the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut, which is the three-time winner of the title of Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut (2014, 2016, 2018).

For a less strenuous option, you can visit the Turkish Cave or just take a leisurely stroll around the Završnica reservoir and recreation park – the choice is yours!

Find out more about what to see, do, and taste in Žirovnica here.

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Taborniški dom na Šiji – Homely Hospitality and Hiking at the Scouts’ Hut on Šija

Unlike the majority of Slovenia’s mountain huts, the Taborniški dom na Šiji mountain hut (translation: the Šija Scouts Hut) is privately run, and the difference is obvious from the moment you arrive.

The hut lies at an altitude of 1,528 metres under the ridge of Slovenia’s longest mountain. There are numerous mountain pastures beneath the Košuta ridge, where cattle graze in summer, and the Šija hut makes a great place to base yourself for a couple of days to hike the pastures or along the ridge. The hut is also ideal for small groups, clubs, school outings, etc.

Owners Simona and Miha pride themselves on the homely atmosphere and home-cooked traditional food. So, I went to check it out for myself and within minutes of arriving, we were chatting like long-lost friends!

And I soon made friends with Jerry the dog too!

The Šija mountain pasture can be reached from several directions; the easiest and most direct of which is from the village of Jelendol, from where you can either set off on foot (cca. 2 hours) or, if you don’t mind getting a dusty car (I do mind, hence I walked!), then you can take the mountain road.

Whether on foot or by car, continue on the mountain road to the sign as seen in the photo below, from where it takes approx. 45 minutes to reach the hut on foot.

The čez frata (translation: through a clearing) path leads up to reach the Ilovica mountain pasture from where its just a 5 minute walk to reach the Taborniški dom.

Note: the path is well marked, however, when you reach the gate at the top of the pasture there isn’t a sign and it’s not immediately obvious whether to turn left or right; turn right and you reach the hut in around 5 minutes.

After a good old chinwag, I was shown to my room for the night. The hut has 4 bedrooms with a total of 34 beds, and a separate 6-bedded room. It has an indoor toilet (always a bonus when staying in the mountains!) and electricity.

I left it to my hosts to choose what to serve for dinner – albeit with strict instructions that it had to be gluten-free. And they didn’t disappoint with jota (a thick cabbage, potato and Carniolan sausage soup) and bržola, a traditional Tržič lamb stew, which these days is getting harder to find, hence Miha and Simona are keen to try to preserve its presence in the Tržič area.

But the best was still to come. The house special dessert – buckwheat omelette with forest fruits – which was seriously scrummy and, even better, is naturally gluten-free too! Well worth the hike! The only problem is I want another one, or two…!

I was fortunate that the weather was glorious, both on the evening that I arrived and the next morning. What a view to wake up to!

And not a bad view for breakfast either!

Speaking of breakfast, you can opt for a more simple continental-style breakfast, or opt to try some traditional specialities such as masunek (a mixture of flour, eggs, salt, butter) and/or buckwheat žganci (buckwheat flour cooked to a porridge-like consistency topped with pork crackling), all served with a mug of kislo mleko (sour milk).

You can visit the Taborniški dom website here (currently in Slovene only, but expect an English version soon), and the Facebook page here.

There are numerous onward hikes from the Šija mountain pasture, either along the mountain pastures or traversing the peaks of Slovenia’s longest mountain. It was sad to bid farewell so soon, but I was equally looking forward to day two of my adventure. Keep reading and following my blog to find out about my ridge hike – more coming soon!

© 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