Jezersko: Slovenia’s First Mountaineering Village

The village of Jezersko lies at an altitude of 906 metres above sea-level at the foot of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and the Karavanke range. It is Slovenia’s first, and it could be said ‘best’, true mountaineering village.

As befits somewhere with such pristine nature, it is spotlessly clean, all the hiking trails and attractions are very well marked, and a sense of peace and tranquility reigns over the entire valley.

What you won’t find in Jezersko are hordes of tourists, tacky souvenir shops, and over-priced eateries etc., instead you will find scattered homesteads and farms, a handful of eateries serving local food, friendly locals and ‘to-die-for’ views as far as the eye can see.

What I personally find so appealing about Jezersko, apart from the peace and great hiking, is that although the area, understandably, has a vision in terms of tourism, that vision is exactly what it should be i.e. to remain true to what it is, to avoid mass tourism, to attract the type of people who appreciate Jezersko for its pure simplicity. And that, in my book, is something to be applauded, and is in pleasant contrast to many of today’s tourist traps.

Further proof that Jezersko is a great mountaineering village, is its entry this year into the Bergsteiger Dorfer Association of Mountain Villages. With the exception of Jezersko, all the other villages are in well-known mountainous areas, such as Bavaria and Tyrol.

If walking and hiking is your thing, then in Jezersko there is something to suit all levels; 2 mountain huts, 20kms of easy trails, 10kms of challenging trails; 15kms of very demanding trails, and 1 secured climbing trail.

For an easy walk and a good way of getting acquainted with the area, I recommend a walk along the 8km Ravenska kočna Theme Trail.

It begins at the stunningly beautiful Planšar Lake (Planšarsko jezero)…

…and continues across meadows with magnificent views of the north faces of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps.

Having such excellent natural conditions for alpine sports, Jezersko is home to some of Slovenia’s mountaineering legends. Among them Davo Karničar (seen below), who in 2000 became the first person to ski from the peak of Mt Everest to the base camp, and then, over the next six years to 2006, went on to ski from the highest peaks in all the continents, making him a true legend in the world of alpinism.

As of this year, the entire Jezersko Mountain Trail is now available in English (translated by me!). The trail can be walked in sections or in its entirety. Many of the hikes involve some difficult sections, so if you love challenging hikes, then this is for you, but you can also pick and choose some of the easier trails, too. It includes all the greats such as Grintovec, Skuta, Jezerska kočna, Goli vrh, Velika Baba, Storžič, the Frischaufov dom hut, Kranjska and Koroška rinka, and more.

One of the most popular places for many hikers, either as a destination in itself or as a base for more demanding onward tours, is the Češka koca mountain hut (1543m). In addition to its fantastic location, what makes this hut unique is that it was built in 1900 by the Prague-based Czech branch of the Slovene Mountaineering Association, after which the hut was named. It has been renovated many times over the years but has retained its original style.

Jezersko is also popular in winter, when cross-country , ski touring and sledging are the activities of choice.

Photo: TIC Jezersko

So, this has just been a brief overview of Jezersko, I will be writing more in due course as one blog certainly doesn’t do it justice, but I hope it has at least whetted your appetites!

If you love hiking and appreciate nature at it’s best, when considering your (next) trip to Slovenia, consider Jezersko!

© 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 Lambergh Trail – Explore Kamen Castle, Archeological Sites and Caves in the Draga Valley

The Lambergh Trail (Lambergova pot) begins at the Krpin recreation area in Begunje na Gorenjskem. It leads through the forest past the ruins of Kamen Castle, passing two small archeological sites, and ending in the lush Draga valley at the Gostišče Draga restaurant, where you can enjoy a drink, snack or slap-up meal to gather your strength for the return journey, or you could even continue further on one of the trails that lead into the Karavanke mountains.

It takes around an hour to walk the almost 8km path (one-way), though if you stop to explore the castle, which is a must(!), then you should allow more time. The terrain is undulating, so good footwear is required. There are information boards along the way where you can find out more.

The Njivice archeological site dates back to the Old Iron Age.

There are vast caves to explore, too, some of which make you feel rather small!

Halfway along the trail you emerge briefly from the forest and are greeted by wonderful views over the upper part of the village.

You then reach the mighty and impressive ruins of Kamen Castle.

The castle was once home to the Counts of Lambergh – hence the name of the trail. It has preserved Gothic and Renaissance entrances and the partial restoration works that were recently carried out have made the castle more accessible.

Kamen Castle was built in the 12th century by the Counts of Ortenburg; later it was owned by the Counts of Celje, and from 1436 the Counts of Lambergh. The counts abandoned the castle in the 18th century when they moved to the more comfortable Katzenstein Mansion in the centre of the village.

The path ends at the Gostišče Draga restaurant at the head of the Draga valley. The restaurant, a member of Taste Radol’ca, is renowned for its game, fresh river trout, and numerous other traditional Slovene dishes.

The štruklji alone, both the sweet and savoury versions, are definitely worth the walk!

You can either return the same way following the signs back to the Krpin recreation centre, or alternatively you could first walk along the valley road beside the stream back to the castle, where you can rejoin the path back to the start.

You could also take time to explore Begunje itself; the Begunje Village Trail is just one of the many theme trails in the Radol’ca area. Click here for more.

© 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

Summit Stol and Take a Seat Atop the Karavanke!

If I crane my neck, I can see Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range, from my desk. Thus, it’s an ever-present feature in my life and, accordingly so, I can’t resist hiking to its top at least a couple of times per year, and yesterday it was time for the first hike to the summit this year!

The word ‘stol’ in Slovenian means ‘chair’, since when viewed from its western side (not the side I can see from here!), its summit forms a kind of ‘back’ for the flatter slightly lower summit which is home to the Prešernova koča mountain hut.

At 2,236 metres, Stol, along with the other mountains in the Karavanke range, forms a natural border between Slovenia and Austria, hence, on a clear day, there are always stunning views to be had in all directions.

Though quite a large percentage of those who hike to the summit of Stol do so by driving the 5km forest road to the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and from there setting off on foot, I always opt to do the entire hike from the valley, as otherwise it just feels a bit like cheating to me!

After parking at the Završnica reservoir, I set off on the first part of the trail to the Valvasorjev dom hut (cca. 50 mins) from where, as you can see below, there are numerous paths leading in various directions.

Regular readers will know that I have a penchant for circular walks, and this time was no exception! I took the shorter, steeper Žirovniška pot (Žirovnica path) up, and the longer, less steep Zabreška pot (Zabreznica path) down, which is always my preferred route.

If you are feeling somewhat gallant, you might opt to not walk past the pile of logs without putting one in your rucksack or on your shoulder – the staff at the Prešernova koca mountain hut will be very grateful for your assistance in keeping the stove burning! Whether or not I was gallant enough to carry one up or not, I will leave you to decide!

It was somewhat overcast for the majority of the hike up, the story of this ‘summer’, but in actual fact a bit of cloud cover was welcome on the long, steep hike up, and on reaching the top, the clouds majestically began to part to reveal blue skies and warming sunshine, and, for a change, it wasn’t blowing a gale up there, as can so often be the case!

Before the final ascent to the top, the path leads up a steep stony gully, from where there is a real bird’s eye view of the Upper Sava Valley and the Julian Alps in the background. The path is distinct and well-marked throughout.

As you reach the summit, you will notice that the typical red and white Slovenian markers change to red and white with a green outer circle, denoting that the path is on the border with Austria – always a kind of exciting feeling, even after 11 years here!

It took me just over 3hrs 15 minutes to reach the summit. And, as is the tradition, don’t forget to sign the visitors’ book as you take your ‘seat’ at the top of the Karavanke!

Once at the top, among the magnificent sights, you can see Lake Bled on one side, whilst on the other Lake Worthersee in Klagenfurt.

You won’t be alone, since even if there aren’t many other hikers (on Sunday, there were!), there are always some brazen birds that don’t seem in the slightest bit scared of humans as they sit in wait for some tasty tit bits!

After descending from the summit, there was time for a quick bit of sustenance at the Prešernova koca mountain hut, where there is simple, but tasty mountain-type food and refreshments on offer, a(nother) visitors’ book to sign, and then it was time to begin the descent – more about which you can read in my next blog about the myriad of mountain pastures beneath Stol, coming soon…!

Click here for the Visit Žirovnica website where there is more information about this and other hiking trails in the Žirovnica area.

© Adele in Slovenia

A Celebration of Birthdays and Bees in Begunje!

Sunday 20th May, in addition to being the first World Bee Day, also happened to be my birthday. So plenty of reason for celebration this year, even if it wasn’t a ‘special’ birthday (thank god!).

When deciding where to hold a small gathering for friends that would comprise great food, a beautiful setting, something active, and some beekeeping-related, the choice was obvious, it just had to be the Draga Valley in Begunje na Gorenjskem!

So, I set about making plans and my plans all came together rather well, even if I say so myself!

We began with an introduction to archery on the parkour archery course. Regular readers may recall, however, that I’m not a complete archery novice, as I went to check out the course last year when I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon under the professional guidance of Robert Levstek.

It’s great fun making your way around the course with its 30 life-size animal targets dotted throughout the forest. Those with a competitive nature, and even those without, will enjoy a fun day out surrounded by the wonderful nature of the Draga Valley. Find out more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2017/04/10/archery-adventures-and-delicious-draga-delights/

Next came the beekeeping-related part of our afternoon, and for this I contacted the local beekeeper Erik Luznar, who has one of his many hives in the valley.

Since the average age of Slovenia’s 10,000 beekeepers is 57, Erik is certainly bucking the trend in this respect, and his youth, spirit and enthusiasm made listening to him waxing lyrical about his beloved bees both pleasurable and fascinating.

And also in contrast to the majority of Slovenia’s beekeepers, beekeeping is not just Erik’s passion and hobby, it is his livelihood. He offers various types of honey (floral, acacia, forest, linden, chestnut, pine, fir), as well as royal jelly, pollen, propolis and beeswax. He also breeds queen bees, which are then sent throughout the world. So, whilst in the Radovljica area, if you would like to have a tour of his hives – independently or as part of a Taste Radol’ca tour – find out more about Slovenian beekeeping, or buy some of his award-winning honey or other bee products, he’s your man! Contact: cebelarstvo.luznar@gmail.com

Of course, no good celebration is complete without great food, and in the Draga Valley that comes in spades at Gostišče Draga, one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants. If you want to enjoy a drink or three without worrying about getting home, there are rooms available above the restaurant too!

Since the Draga Valley is also an excellent starting point for hikes in the Karavanke mountains, the restaurant is a very popular choice for some post-hiking sustainance, but is equally as popular as somewhere to enjoy great Slovenian cuisine – in summer in the cool of the garden next to the stream, in winter next to the roaring wood burner.

Continuing with the honey theme, we dined well on dishes such as rumpsteak in pepper and honey sauce, štruklji with honey, and other savoury delights, and not forgetting a cake, too!

For an added twist, throughout the evening there was a chance to taste many varieties of honey, with the aim of guessing which was which.

Then, to see how much we had all taken in from Erik’s educational session, I had prepared a quiz about Slovenian beekeeping, too! Of course, this meant a bit of work on my part too. I felt like a school teacher marking tests!

For the perfect end to the evening, I was given some lovely birthday gifts, including vouchers for massages (can’t wait Simona Slegel!) and this hand-embroidered apron that reads ‘Ta prava Radol’canka‘. Radol’canka is the word used for a female from Radovljica, so it reads ‘A real Radol’canka‘!

So, as you can see, the Draga Valley is a one-stop destination for active and tasty outings, and with a bit of added ingenuity and forward planning, a great place for group celebrations and events. Thanks to everyone who contributed to a lovely evening!

® Adele in Slovenia

 

 

Gostilna Knafel: Dine with the stars…in Žirovnica!

Through the years, the Žirovnica area has been home to numerous of Slovenia’s most well known talents. Of this, the most well known are the ‘famous five’ – Anton Janša, France Prešeren, Fran Saleški Finžgar, Janez Jalen and Matija Čop.

You can ‘meet’ these five by visiting their birth houses and also see bust statues of them outside the Žirovnica primary school at the Alley of Famous Men, which is part of the Žirovnica Path of Cultural Heritage.

The Karavanke mountains form a backdrop to the villages and hamlets that form the Municipality of Žirovnica, and, on one of the first truly warm and sunny spring days this year, yesterday it was at last, after the long, bleak winter, time to get out exploring again- hooray!

 

Then it was time to ‘dine with the stars‘ at the Gostilna Knafel restaurant, which is in close proximity to the Alley of Famous Men, where you can enjoy a hearty meal in the company of Žirovnica’s famous men! Depending where you choose to sit in the restaurant, you can ‘dine’ with one of them, or rather in the knowledge they are watching over you as you eat!

France Prešeren (1800-1849), Slovenia’s most famous poet.

And read some of their words of wisdom…

Anton Janša – Slovenia’s greatest beekeeper and the pioneer of modern apiculture.

Not far from Gostilna Knafel you can also visit Anton Jansa’s apiary, which was reconstructed in 2017.

There’s a kid’s corner, where Fran Saležki Finžgar keeps a watchful eye!

The team at Gostilna Knafel strive to offer traditional Slovenian dishes such as buckwheat krapi (similar to ravioli) filled with curd cheese topped with pork crackling,

Take a peek into the kitchen and you can even see krapi being freshly made! The before…

And the after…

One of my favourite Slovenian foods is štruklji, so I was spoilt for choice with homemade savoury štruklji (a light dough filled and rolled like a swiss roll) with a porcini mushroom sauce.

As well as sweet buckwheat štruklji with curd cheese, honey and walnuts.

There is also a full a-la-carte menu, daily malice (light lunches from Mon-Fri), and pizzas – something for every taste!

The Visit Žirovnica website has more information about Gostilna Knafel and the other food and beverage outlets in the Žirovnica area, which I am looking forward to getting more acquainted with – and tasting too, of course!

© Adele in Slovenia