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

 

Biking and Hiking in Koroška – Through and On Mount Peca!

For lovers of the great outdoors, particularly hiking and cycling, Slovenia’s Koroška region offers a wealth of opportunities and exciting, unique experiences and was somewhere I had long had on my list of places to get round to visiting.

This is not a place of mass-tourism, and is all the better for it. Instead it’s crammed with unspoilt nature, picturesque alpine valleys, peaceful hamlets, remote and hidden delights, farmsteads and tourist farms with hospitable locals. In fact, Koroška is among the most mountainous of Slovenia’s regions – hence it has my name written all over it!

I stayed at the family-run Bike and Eko Hotel Koroš, in Jamnica, near Mežica – the Alpine and mining centre of the Mežiska valley. As you can see below, the views I woke up to of the surrounding countryside and mountains were pretty breathtaking!

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The hotel stands at an altitude of 900m, and is the first dedicated bike hotel in Slovenia.

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As well as offering 10 simple rooms and excellent home-grown and home-cooked food, it boasts the Jamnica Single Trail Bike Park – a paradise for fans of adrenaline-filled mountain biking. Making the most of the idyllic surroundings, and with the agreement and co-operation of the local community, the hotel’s owners have prepared a network of 30km of single trails which you can tackle alone or with a guide. More information about the hotel and bike park here – http://www.mtbpark.com/si/main/ekohotelkoros

Photo: Rupert Fowler

Lead, zinc and iron ore mining was once the region’s key industry and there was, or rather still is, a labyrinth of tunnels under Mount Peca stretching for around 800 kilometres. At the peak of its production, around 2,000 people worked in the mine’s various units, which operated for three centuries, with production finally ceasing in 1994.

Nowadays, just a small part of the mine is open for tourists who can choose from 3 ways of experiencing it. The more sedentary option is to take a tour of the 3.5km Glančnik tunnel on board an original mining train. You also get to don some miners’ gear, to make the experience even more authentic! However, it’s not entirely sedentary, as the experience also includes a 1.5km walk through part of the mine.

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Another option, and for a unique and thrilling experience, is to explore the tunnels on a guided mountain bike trip – which was my choice!

The mountain bike experience lasts around 3 hours and begins with a short van ride to the entrance at Igrčevo, in Črna na Koroškem. Each participant is provided with a helmet and headlamp. Do make sure to have extra layers of clothing as it is a constant 10˚C inside the mines. It was around 30˚C outside on the day of my visit, so warm clothes were not at the forefront of my mind, though, I sure wish I had taken warm gloves!

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It feels slightly disconcerting at first, but you soon adjust to cycling through the narrow low tunnels. Along the way the guide gives information about the working conditions in the mine and you can see some remains of equipment used and names scribbled on the mine’s walls. The total ride itself is only around 6km, with a negligible incline.

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All the experiences begin at the cross-border Karavanke Geopark in Mežica, which in itself is worth a visit, and in 2013 it became a member of the European and global network of geoparks under the auspices of UNESCO.

The centre offers a glimpse into the more than 400 million-year-old history of the area of today’s eastern Karavanke and comprises an exhibition area with exhibits including a fully-preserved smithy, an information area with a café and gift shop, and it also hosts workshops and other events.

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In an adjacent building there is museum, which gives a further insight into the lives of those working in, or connected to, the mines, and a collection of ores, minerals and fossils.

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Note: for bike and kayak tours, prior reservations are required; the minimum age is 10. More information about the Geopark can be found here – http://www.podzemljepece.com/?lang=en

Having spent the afternoon going through Mount Peca, next morning it was time to go ON Mount Peca – this time on foot! Peca is part of the Karavanke chain, which has a total length of around 120km and forms a natural border between Slovenia and Austria.

The Peca massif forms part of the Eastern Karavanke and can be approached from either Slovenia or Austria. I chose to begin my hike from the serene and stunning Topla Valley, which is surrounded on all sides by lush forest and contains just a handful of farmsteads – each with a traditional shingle roof. This protected valley really is like something out of a fairytale and is about as unspoilt as it gets.

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At the far-end of the valley, near the entrance to the Topla mine, a path leads steeply up through the forest taking about 2 hours to reach the Dom na Peci mountain hut (1665m), where you can enjoy delicious home-cooked stews, štruklji, strudel and other types of food, which always seem to somehow taste even better when you have earnt them after a long hike!I

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However, knowing it was still a way to go to reach the top of Peca, Kordeževa glava (2125m), and not wishing to do so with a full stomach, I resisted the temptation and continued onwards and upwards! At first across a meadow, then the terrain becomes more rocky, but still relatively easy, though for those who like more challenging climbing routes (that doesn’t include me, I hasten to add!), there is also an alternative path to the top, which is classified as ‘demanding’.

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The higher you go, the better and more far-reaching are the views, and the more the effort pays off!

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Despite it being a searingly-hot mid-August weekend, I still had the place to myself! Well, not exactly, but in fact there were just about the right number of people for my liking. Enough that one could pass the time of day and exchange a few words with fellow hikers here and there, and find some friendly folk to take the odd snap for me, but not so many that it felt crowded – just perfect!

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Koroška tends to get somewhat overlooked in terms of tourism, at least in terms of those visiting from outside of Slovenia, however, I recommend that for lovers of the outdoors, it definitely deserves to be included in your holiday plans.

This gives just a brief snapshot of the area; more information about what else to see and do can be found here – http://www.koroska.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

Spend a Night with a Knight at Opulent Otočec Castle!

You are never too far away from a castle in Slovenia since there are around 500 of them. One of the most famous is Bled Castle, perched on a cliff above picturesque Lake Bled – an iconic image which is undoubtedly one of, if not the, symbol of Slovenian tourism.

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Another is the mighty Predjama Castle, which is built into the mouth of a cave and is entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest cave castle in the world.

Photo: Nea Culpa

A good majority, though not all, of Slovenia’s castles are open to the public and are well-maintained. There are a few that have seen better days, but somehow even the ruins of once mighty castles seem impressive, such as this one, Kamen Castle in Begunje na Gorenjskem. The castle stands at the entrance to the Draga Valley, a popular start point for hikes in the Karavanke mountains.

Photo: Miran Kambič

At quite a number of castles you can get married or hold various types of functions and gatherings. This one, for example, Sevnica Castle, features an impressive wine vault.

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I can attest that the wine pairs perfectly with salami from Grajske mesnine butchers. You can read plenty more about the castle, my experience of the Sevnica Mountain Marathon, and what else to see and do in Sevnica, in this previous blog post – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2015/09/10/sevnica-so-much-to-see-and-do/

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Surprisingly, however, there are only a handful of castles in Slovenia where you can actually stay and live it up like a King or Queen! Among them my favourite would have to be Otočec Castle. Both the castle itself and the stunning setting, on an islet in the middle of the Krka River, make it quite unique.

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Nowadays the castle operates entirely as a luxury five-star hotel, the Relais & Chateaux Otečec Castle Hotel. The hotel seamlessly blends the castle’s history with modern luxurious furnishings, superior rooms and suites, and gourmet dining. More information here – http://www.grad-otocec.com/en/us/home/

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As with all good castles, there is a knight in shining armour! This one stands guards over the hotel reception – perhaps to weed out any unsavoury looking guests!

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The setting is about as idyllic as it gets!

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For lover’s of the great outdoors, Hotel Sport, within walking distance and owned by the same company, offers a wide range of sports activities available for guests staying at the Otočec Castle Hotel, including an indoor pool filled with thermal water, Turkish and Finnish saunas, covered tennis courts, and the Otočec Adventure Park offers fun for all the family.

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Golf Grad Otečec is just a stone’s throw away from the Otočec Castle Hotel and is one of Slovenia’s longest and most attractive golf courses.    http://www.golf-otocec.si/en

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To whet your appetite further, you can watch this short video and, if you have the chance, do go and experience Otočec for yourself!

© Adele in Slovenia

A Sunny Saturday on Ajdna!

It’s not exactly something to boast about, in fact it’s a rather unenviable fact that as of today, 20th June 2016, there has not yet been a single day in June when there hasn’t been some kind of precipitation. Even on Saturday, which was a glorious, sunny day, there was a short, sharp shower. However, looking at the forecast, it seems we could be in for plenty of hot, sunny days for the week ahead (didn’t I say that last week too?!).

So, back to last week’s glorious Saturday. I couldn’t decide whether to hike or bike, so in the end did a combination of the two! Or I should say ‘we’, since I had a friend visiting for the weekend from the U.K, so it was lovely to have some company for a change.

We began by cycling from home in Radovljica to the Završnica reservoir then hiked up to Smolnik, beneath Stol in the Karavanke mountains. More here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/04/25/spring-in-the-karavanke-mountains/

We then continued to the Ajdna archaelogical site, which I have blogged about previously, though it was some years back – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

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We took the steep route up, which involves a little climbing but is secured with iron rope and footholds.

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And the easier route back down!

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At the top there are well-preserved buildings and remains of buildings that are thought to date back to the late Antiquity, though evidence, some of it dating back as far as the collapse of the Roman Empire (476 AD), shows that it may have been inhabited far earlier. The peak provided locals with an excellent refuge from the troubles taking place down below in the valley. Ajdna is thought to be the highest lying settlement of its kind in Slovenia. Read more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

 

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By lunchtime the clouds were beginning to gather but the views down the valley towards Jesenice and Kranjska Gora were still more than worth the effort!

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With the (promised) sunny days ahead, hopefully there will be plenty more of this to come!

© Adele in Slovenia

Spring in the Karavanke Mountains

After all the excesses of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival, last week was all about my other great love – Slovenia’s great outdoors!

Spring has arrived in the Karavanke mountains and, particularly on the south facing slopes, the snow is melting at a pace, or rather ‘was’. When I started writing this blog last week, it certainly was ‘Spring in the Karavanke Mountains’. Now, however, looking out of my window at the fresh snow, and digging out my gloves and warm clothes again, it feels anything but spring-like! Nevertheless, the blog below remains ‘as was’ and hopefully spring-proper will return very soon.

It is, however, a different matter on the north facing slopes of the Karavanke, so it’s still a bit too soon in the season for any serious hiking above 1,500 metres, and it’s an entirely different matter in the Julian Alps, where there is still a significant amount of snow, even at lower levels.

It’s still a little nippy early morning, especially for cycling, but wrapped up well I cycled from Radovljica to the Završnica reservoir then headed on foot to Smolnik (1002m). What I particularly like about Smolnik is that despite it being near the Valvasor mountain hut (Valvasorjev dom) – a very popular destination for hikers, Smolnik itself is relatively unknown as the path is not marked, thus only those ‘in the know’ frequent it – until now perhaps!!!

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Though I also often hike up to the Valvasor hut at this time of year, what sets Smolnik apart is the view, since the views from the hut are rather restricted. The path up through the forest is very steep, so I consider a pair of hiking poles a must – though there is an option to approach it from the opposite direction, via the road that leads to the Ajdna archeological site, which is a far less steep option. In places it little more than a mass of tangled tree routes, however, the path is clear and easy to follow.

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On reaching the top of Smolnik there are wonderful views across the valley and towards Bled Lake, a great reward for my effort.

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There is a bench for resting weary limbs if required, with Stol, the highest peak in the Karavanke range, dominating the backdrop, and looking very ‘moody’ on this occasion.

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From the peak of Smolnik it’s easy to reach the Valvasor mountain hut, from where you can continue to one of the mountain highlands as I did – in this case the Žirovniška planina highland, for marvellous views of the snow-capped Julian Alps, or continue towards Ajdna, which is well worth a visit. You can read more about that in a previous blog here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

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It’s just the start of the season, so plenty of this, and more, to come!

© Adele in Slovenia 2016

Archery, Hiking and Taste Radol’ca in the Draga Valley

Even a very rainy Saturday didn’t dampen the spirits of the 150+ archers who came from far and wide to take part in the recent archery tournament in the Draga Valley.

I am often in the Draga valley, as it is a starting point for a number of hikes in the Karavanke mountains, and is also home to Draga Inn, which offers tasty home-cooked, traditional Slovene food. The Inn is one the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants where you can also take advantage of the ‘Adele in Slovenia Discount Card’. More information here – http://wp.me/p3005k-1oe

On this occasion I actually visited on the day prior to the archery tournament since a) rain was forecast for the day of the tournament itself; b) I wanted to take some photos of the targets and not to become a target myself during the tournament!;  c) I anticipated parking in the narrow valley to be nigh on impossible on the day of the tournament; and d) I wanted to walk up to the Planinca planina highland, 1136m, (seen below) before the next snowfall.

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There is a very pleasant path which runs from Draga Inn, through the forest, past the remains of Kamen Castle, before emerging near the parking area at the Krpin recreation ground in Begunje na Gorenjskem. It was on this path that I first came across the targets and since then, on a number of occasions, I have been back to search for more, as each time I go I discover new ones – which is a real thrill!

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The annual archery tournament attracts teams from Slovenia as well as from neighbouring countries.

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The targets are positioned in strategic places in the forest.

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It makes a great walk, especially with kids, who will love trying to spot the targets! So far I have found 7, though I think there are probably several more.

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If you are visiting the valley for a walk or hike, I’d also recommend a meal at Draga Inn, which specialises in game, trout, and other local and traditional Slovene dishes.

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© AdeleinSlovenia 2016

Stories of Slovene Success: Peter Prevc & Elan – Passion, Commitment and Pride

New from me this week, the first in an occasional series of ‘Stories of Slovene Success’, and there is currently no greater story of Slovene success than that of Peter Prevc.

The village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, within the Radovljica municipality, is home to the world-renowned manufacturer of skis and sailboats, Elan.

Elan has a long tradition dating back to 1944 and though it may not be the biggest manufacturer of skis in the world, it is certainly right up there when it comes to innovation. The dictionary description of the word Elan – enthusiasm, confidence and style – sums up the company’s passion and commitment to producing world-class skis and sailboats.

Elan skis and sailboats are produced right here in Slovenia in the factory in Begunje, a picturesque village beneath the Karavanke mountains, whilst its snowboards are produced in neighbouring Austria and motorised yachts in Croatia.

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If you are visiting the area you can call into the Elan Sports and Leisure Equipment Store, which sells not only skis and ski accessories, but also a range of clothing, bikes, and other outdoor equipment and accessories. Read more here – http://www.radolca.si/en/elan/

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Sadly, as has been the fate of so many Slovene-owned companies since the start of the financial crisis (is it officially over yet or not?), Elan is no longer under Slovene ownership, however, production at the factory in Begunje continues unhindered and, with a Slovene workforce, it can still be considered a story of Slovene success.

The current Slovene hero and world-class ski jumper, Peter Prevc – who is dominating this season’s ski jumping world cup – uses Elan skis and is a great advert for doing so!

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On Wednesday last week he won the Golden Eagle trophy for the 4 Hills Tour, making him the first Slovene to have done so for 20 years. To say that the nation is proud of him would be a gross understatement. Just wait until this year’s Planica World Cup Ski Jumping Final (17-20th March), where I have a feeling most of Slovenia will be there supporting him and it will be off-the-scale crazy! More about Planica here – http://www.planica.si/Programme

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© AdeleinSlovenia 2016