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

Experience Prešeren’s Day 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 FebruaryPrešeren’s Day. 

Find out more about the life and times of Prešeren, as well as that of some of Slovenia’s other great literary writers, along the Walk along the Žirovnica Path of Cultural Heritage.

Although you can visit the attractions along the path year-round, it is a particularly special experience to do so on Prešeren’s Day, when you can join hundreds of others visitors, locals and those from further afield, to walk the path, find out more about life in Prešeren’s time, and feel a part of Slovenia’s cultural heritage.

The 10km circular path leads through the villages beneath Mt. Stol – the highest peak in the Karavanke range – taking in Prešeren’s birth house in the village of Vrba, where there is a car park and information board about the path.

Opposite the car park there is a bust statue of the great man.

In addition to visiting Prešeren’s birth house, you can continue to the birth houses of Prešeren’s friend, 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. All the houses offer a unique insight into life in bygone days and you can see exhibits including an original black kitchen.

For many a particular highlight is a visit to the apiary of Slovenia’s greatest beekeeper and the pioneer of modern apiculture, Anton Janša (1734-1773)in Breznica. It’s easy to find, just follow the brown signs marked with a bee!

The apiary was carefully reconstructed in 2017 and this year will be the focal point of this year’s first ever World Bee Day, which will take place in Breznica on 20th May.

At the time of writing, there’s no snow here in the valley, but that could, of course, change by 8th February! Either way, there’s never a shortage of people joining the walk on 8th February, and there is also a rich accompanying programme on the day for all – regardless of whether you take part in the organised walk or not. It includes free entrance to all the birth houses, stalls along the way offering local food and drink, a honey market in Vrba and small farmer’s market in Rodine, entrance to exhibitions, and more! Find the full programme here (in Slovene only) – http://visitzirovnica.si/pohod-po-poti-kulturne-dediscine-zirovnica-8-februar/

But don’t worry – if you can’t make it on 8th February, you can visit the birth houses and walk, all or some of, the trail independently or, to get the most out of it, on a guided tour. The best time to do so is every fourth Saturday in the month from March to October when guided visits to all four houses are available between 10am and 5pm. For a really special experience on this day you can visit the houses by taking a ride on a traditional horse and cart which begins at the car park in Vrba at set times.

The Visit Zirovnica website has more information about this and all the other attractions in the area.

Come and find out more about why France Prešeren is Slovenia’s equivalent to Shakespeare!

© Adele in Slovenia

Visit Žirovnica: The Sunny Path to St. Lawrence

Welcome to my first blog of 2018 and my first one about a new destination that I will be highlighting this year – Žirovnica! The area has a wealth of natural and cultural attractions, about which I will be endeavouring to write as much as possible in my regular blog posts.

Though not so well known among visitors to Slovenia, pretty much every Slovene knows, and has visited, Žirovnica; specifically to Vrba, to visit the birth house of one of Slovenia’s most famous men and greatest poet, France Prešeren (1800-1849).

At this time of year, when the days are short and sunlight is at a premium, I like to take a walk on the aptly-named Sunny Path (Sonča pot) from Žirovnica to St. Lawrence’s church (sv. Lovrenc).

You can join the path and reach the church from several places. I like to park in Žirovnica then take the path that leads towards the steps that go up towards the distinctive water surge tank. Don’t go up the steps but just to the right the path, though not marked, is easily visible as it traverses the grassy meadows above the villages of Žirovnica.

As the name suggests, on a sunny day the path is bathed in sunlight throughout the day and also offers fantastic views over the wide Radovljica plains and towards the high mountains of the Julian Alps.

You pass a small shrine then continue on the slightly undulating terrain.

On reaching a small wooden cabin a flight of steps lead up towards St. Lawrence’s church which is nestled into the slopes above the hamlet of Zabreznica.

Although usually locked, you can take a peek into the church through the windows of the main entrance door, and with a bit of nifty camera/phone angling, get a great view of the church’s ornate interior which is adorned by the Stations of the Cross.

Other than its particularly unique and serene location and wonderful panoramic views, 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.

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.

There are plenty of well-positioned benches for soaking up the rays and enjoying the view!

Even on a slightly hazy winter’s day, the views are pretty good, I’m sure you’ll agree!

You can choose to return along the sunny path, or take the path that descends steeply and directly down from the church through the forest. On reaching the bottom you can walk back through the hamlets of Breznica and Zabreznica to return to the start.

Find out more about the Sunny Path and other similar walking and hiking paths in the Zirovnica area here – http://visitzirovnica.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

 

 

 

The Begunje Village Trail – Along the Paths of Slavko Avsenik

The village of Begunje na Gorenjskem is the birthplace of the founder of Slovenian folk music, Slavko Avsenik, and a gateway to numerous hikes in the Karavanke mountains.

Get to know more about the village, its history, famous residents, and village life by taking a stroll along the Begunje Village Trail.

The trail begins opposite the Avsenik guest house and restaurant, where you can visit the Avsenik Museum to find out more about the legendary Slavko Avsenik and the music of the Avsenik Brothers Ensemble, as well as about the history of the village.

You can also see some hints and tips from the Avsenik Ensemble about how and where to see and enjoy the best of the area!

Continue past the cemetery through the narrow village lanes, passing the stream in places, heading towards St. Ulrich’s church.

Prior to reaching the church you will see an information board and to the right you can visit Robačnekov mill. It is officially open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9am-12noon, however, outside of these times if the owner is home, as she was when I visited, just smile nicely and she will be happy to show you round!

After passing the church you can continue through the park past Katzenstein Mansion which today houses a psychiatric hospital and, at the rear, the Museum of Hostages. It is worth visiting the museum for a sobering, somewhat chilling, but interesting experience.

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. 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.

 The park is particularly known for its 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.
So, as you can see, Begunje na Gorenjskem may be a relatively small village, but it’s crammed with natural and cultural sights, so be sure to stop-off to wander the village trail to find out more! More information about this and other walking and hiking paths in the Radol’ca area can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

© 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