The Begunje Shepherd’s Trail – My Favourite Hike in Radol’ca!

The Begunje Shepherd’s Trail (Pastirska pot) is one of my favourite of all the hiking trails in the Radol’ca area. The sheer variety of the terrain, the stunning views, and the fact that it is entirely circular all add up to one great hike!

The trail begins at the head of the Draga Valley in Begunje na Gorenjskem, where you can park and set off on foot on the 10.2km trail and where there is an information board showing the route.

The first mini ‘challenge’ that you encounter after just a few hundred metres, is crossing a stream – not advisable after heavy rainfall! Note: if it is impassable, then follow the road uphill for about 15 minutes to where it branches off steeply through the forest towards the Roblekov dom mountain hut, but continue past the next bend and then take a forest road (unmarked) to the right, which, eventually, meets the path coming up from the head of the valley.

The trail begins to lead up through the forest, passing a cascade of the stream.

Next comes a slightly bigger ‘challenge’, as the path leads up a steep gully between two rock faces, but there are iron foot rungs and an iron cable to help, so, with a steady hand (and feet!), it doesn’t present a major obstacle.

Its only a short climb, and the path soon levels out, well, until the next bit anyway! But that is why I love this path, as there’s never a dull moment, it keeps you on your toes – literally!

The path crosses the stream in several places, before reaching a ladder, equipped with a rope to hoist yourself up!

You then cross the stream one last time, before reaching a rest area with a bench, and then continuing up, ever steeper, through the forest.

Next you reach a giant fir tree, so giant, in fact, there was no way or being able to photograph it from within the confines of the trail, so you’ll just have to visit and see it for yourself! The statistics on the signpost below give the facts and figures: circumference 347cm, diameter 110cm, quantity of wood 12.5m3, height 35 metres

After about an hour to 1hr 15 mins, you reach the Preval mountain pasture and the Koča na Prevalu mountain hut, the first of four (yes, four!) mountain huts that you pass on this trail, where you can stop for refreshments (note: the huts are open daily during summer, but out of season some are closed whilst others open at weekends only) and enjoy the views before continuing on your way.

Now follow the road for about 10 minutes, which provides a mini-break from the steep path, before the path branches off to the right and begins to climb up again on the path ‘cez Roza’. But, it’s worth it, as you are soon rewarded with wonderful views of the Radovljica Plains, the Jelovica plateau, Lake Bled, and the Julian Alps.

There are still a couple of mini ‘hurdles’ to overcome, in the form of gullies to be crossed, but here and there, iron rods are provided to assist, and eventually the path levels out to become sheer enjoyment.

Shortly before the end of the path, you reach an abandoned manganese mine shaft with an information board, and the views open up further across the valley.

Click here for more information about the other themed hiking trails in the Radol’ca, and here for the Radol’ca hiking and biking map.

© 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

Slovenia’s Historic Towns and Cities

Statistics show that the large majority of people who visit Slovenia tend to do so for just a few days, either as just a mini-break or as part of a longer trip taking in some of the neighbouring countries. And for those limited in time, the focus is usually on the ‘usual’ tourist hot-spots i.e. Bled Lake, Ljubljana, Postojna Caves, Piran... However, in visiting just these, admittedly marvellous, places, you miss – in my opinion – a large swathe of the country and the chance to see the ‘real’ Slovenia.

Granted, I might be a bit biased since I’m fortunate to live in Radovljica, which has one of Slovenia’s best-preserved medieval old town centres and is a member of the Association of Historical Towns and Cities of Slovenia, but since Slovenia is a perfectly compact country, it is very easy to get around and make detours to other places of interest. So, sure, go to the usual tourist hotspots to tick them off the list, but do take time to see more of Slovenia’s countryside, culture and history too!

Looking over Radovljica and beyond to the Karavanke mountains

For example, if you are visiting Bled, then turn off the motorway (or get off the train or bus) just one stop early, and within minutes you will be in the historic old town centre of Radovljica where you can see, amongst others, the frescoed townhouses, the Baroque St. Peter’s Church, and the Šivec House Gallery.

Vidic House, just one of the frescoed buildings in the old town

The Radovljica Mansion is home to the Museum of Apiculture, the Municipal Museum, and a music school. During daylight hours the building is always open and visitors are welcome to go in and look at the photographic exhibitions in the entrance foyer.

The Radovljica Mansion

Don’t miss a visit to Lectar Inn where you can try traditional Slovenian food and downstairs visit the workshop with it’s 250-year tradition of making red-iced and decorated gingerbread hearts.

The Lectar gingerbread workshop

Radovljica also offers a wealth of great places to stroll, hike, cycle, do water sports, or partake in other active or less active pursuits. Or you can just sit on one of the benches at the viewing area and and soak up the views of the Julian Alps, the Jelovica Plateau and the Sava River.

Looking back at the old town with majestic Mr. Stol in the background

And be sure to come hungry as you won’t want to miss the chance to taste some of the delicious locally-produced food at the 13 restaurants that collaborate in the Taste Radol’ca project.

In addition to Radovljica , there are a further 13 towns and cities included in the Association of Historical Towns and Cities of Slovenia – Idrija, Kamnik, Koper, Kostanjevica na Krki, Kranj, Metlika, Novo Mesto, Piran, Ptuj, Slovenske Konjice, Škofja Loka, Tržič and Žužemberk.

More information about Radovljica can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/radovljica-area/ and more about the association here – http://www.zgodovinska-mesta.si/eng/index.php

© 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

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

New Zip Line over the Sava river / Panoramic Bled

Other than the almighty storm last Monday evening, which brought with it another wave of damage and destruction, summer sunshine and high temperatures reigned last week and I even managed a whole week without getting drenched! Once again I took full advantage of this and had a weekend packed full of action and adventure.

On Saturday morning I set off from home by bike to Kranjska Gora; riding first to Bled, then through Gorje to reach the cycle path through the Radovna Valley (read more about this in a previous post here – http://wp.me/p3005k-hH). On reaching the village of Mojstrana I joined the D2 cycle path which runs along the route of the ex-railway line all the way to Kranjska Gora then onwards to Rateče before continuing into Italy. On this occasion, my destination was Lake Jasna in Kranjska Gora, which took a little under 3 hours to reach from home.

The cycle path is traffic-free and rises very subtly up towards Kranjska Gora. You do have to keep your wits about you though, particularly when the weather is fine, as being one of the rare traffic-free, and therefore safe and child friendly, cycle paths in this area, it is very popularč not only with cyclists but also roller skaters, ski rollers (think cross-country skiing minus the snow!), dog-walkers and joggers. I nearly came a cropper a couple of times due to errant cyclists admiring the (admittedly) stunning scenery and not looking where they were going and lost tourists straying onto the path with their cars. Oh well, just another couple of scrapes and bruises to add to my already battle-weary legs!

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Just 2 kilometres from Kranjska Gora, Lake Jasna is a small crystal-clear alpine lake which sits at the foot of the Vršič pass, Slovenia’s highest mountain pass (1611m).  The statue of Zlatorog (Golden Horn), as seen below, stands proudly at the lake shore.

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After cycling home, this time via Mojstrana and Jesenice, rather than back through the Radovna Valley, I had a quick rest and then headed down to the Sava river at Radovljica to the opening of the new zip line over the Sava river at the Tinaraft Centre. Below you can see me getting prepared, and others rafting on the Sava river, which I was about to zip across from 20 metres high – yikes!

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After a short safety briefing, I was off; across the bridge, up to the start and then the fun part! As well as the zipline, as the name implies, Tinaraft offer rafting and other adrenalin-fuelled activities such as canyoning, paintball and zorbing. More information can be found here – http://www.tinaraft.si/

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Despite being a little tired, when I awoke to another beautiful morning on Sunday, I couldn’t resist the pull of the mountains and set off to hike up to Begunščica. At 2060m, Begunščica is among the highest of the mountains in the Karavanke range. There are a number of ways of reaching the highest point of the ridge, named ‘veliki vrh’; from the Draga valley via the Roblek dom mountain hut, from Ljubelj via Zelenica or, as I did, from the Draga Valley to Preval and then via the (very) steep path which leads seemingly almost vertically upwards for about one hour through the forest before emerging into a rocky area, where a few metres of climbing is required then on to traverse the ridge (note: the approach from this direction is not advisable if you are scared of heights as there is a sheer drop on either side) before reaching the top where an orientation post points out all the surrounding mountains and there are far-reaching views across both Slovenia and Austria. Unfortunately, the clouds beat me to the top on this occasion, so I didn’t take any photographs at the top itself, but there’s already more than enough for this week, and anyway I’ll be back up there sooner or later no doubt! I made the return by the easier, less steep route via Roblek dom and then back down to the valley.

Also this week, as if Bled wasn’t already picturesque enough, a new panoramic photo frame has been installed on the small Straža hill, above Lake Bled (read more about Straža here in a previous post – https://adeleinslovenia.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/hop-on-hop-off-bus-bled-radovljica-and-the-julian-alps/). If you want THE ultimate photo shot of Bled, then its well worth making the trip up to Straža.

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Good News – Following the winter damage, the stairways and bridges at Kamen Castle have been repaired. The ruins of the castle are situated at the end of the village of Begunje, at the entrance to the Draga Valley.

This coming weekend, from Friday to Sunday, the Festival of Fish Delicacies will take place in the village of Bohinjska Bela, just a few kilometres from Bled. The festival features a fly-fishing competition, live music, food (fish of course!) and more. Read more about it here – http://www.bled.si/en/events/2014/08/15/1737-Festival-of-Fish-Delicacies-in-Bohinjska-Bela

© AdeleinSlovenia 2014

 

Swimming: Lakes, rivers and pools in Radol’ca and Bled

At this time of the year a lot of people’s thoughts turn to how, and where, to keep cool. So this week I thought I would offer some ideas along those lines. Personally, as someone who can feel the cold even in the midst of a heat wave, I’m not one for cold water, it has to be like a jacuzzi for me to get in it. However for many people, locals and tourists alike, going for a swim or a quick dip in a pool, lake or river is the perfect way to cool down and seek respite from the heat.

RADOVLJICA SWIMMING POOL – The Olympic-size swimming pool in Radovljica is open all year round. During the winter it is covered over but during the summer it is open-air. It also has a pool for kids, beach volleyball, a pizzeria and there’s a campsite right next door.

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KROPA SWIMMING POOL – A 25mx12.5m pool with a separate pool for kids, beach volleyball, a café and a picnic area. The pool is located in the Lipnica Valley at the junction towards Kropa and is open daily during the summer.

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CAMPING ŠOBEC – Take a dip in the Šobec lake at the campsite of the same name. It is also open (admission charge payable) to those not staying at the camp.

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More information about the above can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/swimming/

BLED CASTLE LIDO – The only designated bathing and swimming area by Lake Bled. It is set right beneath Bled Castle and has ample facilities including changing rooms, lockers, toilets and showers, rental of beach umbrellas and rowing boats, snacks and drinks stands.

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BLED LAKE – You can also take a dip directly into the lake. Due to the changeable weather this year, the temperature of the water is a little lower than usual and is currently around 22 degrees.

More information here – http://www.bled.si/en/what-to-do/summer-sports/swimming

For those brave enough, the Sava river is also an option, be it for cooling off, water sports such as rafting, or, as I did last weekend, just sitting relaxing on its banks. Yes, I do relax sometimes – though I had been for a 4 hour bike ride first!!

Of course there are also many other ways of keeping cool in the heat. My preference is to go for a walk in the cool of the forest or high in the mountains and since Slovenia is largely covered by forest and here in Gorenjska there are mountains a plenty, these things are not difficult to find!

And not forgetting ice-cream – an essential summer ingredient which you certainly don’t have to go far to find. There are numerous cafes offering homemade ice-cream. One of my personal favourites in Radovljica is Vidic House (Vidičeva hisa) in the old town centre of Radovljica where there are a wide variety of flavours and generous portions to match, whilst in Bled I usually head for the famous Šmon Pattiserie which, in addition to ice-cream, offers an impressive (and irrestistible!) range of cakes and pastries.

Here’s a selection of events coming up in the week ahead:

Tuesday 22nd July – Concert of the 17th Pikolo Flute Workshop – 8pm at Bled Castle

Wednesday 23rd July – Concert from the opera ‘La Boheme –  8pm in the Radovljica Manor – Tickets available from the Radovljica Tourist Information Office

Thursday 24th July – Music Thursdays ‘Neomi’ – 8pm in Linhart Square, Radovljica – Free open-air concert

Friday 25th July – Concert of the 17th Pikolo Flute Workshop – 6pm at Bled Golf Hotel

© AdeleinSlovenia 2014