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

Triglav National Park Information / Garden Village, Bled

On Tuesday last week I went to the opening of the Triglav Roža Information Centre, which reopened its doors after a lengthy closure for refurbishment. The centre is located on the main road into Bled (Ljubljanska cesta 27) and is an excellent point-of-call for visitors to the Gorenjska region, especially those planning to spend some time in Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park. The centre contains some interesting permanent exhibitions including about Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav and the National Park, as well as information about other parts of the Gorenjska region. Visitors can also watch a video and obtain maps and information. The centre is open daily from 8am – 6pm during the summer and from 8am – 4pm in the winter.

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Whilst in Bled, I also took the opportunity to go and have a look at the new Garden Village Resort, which opened last month and wow is it AMAZING! Those that know me, will attest to the fact that I’m not exactly known for my ability to relax (always hiking/biking/running…..) but even I felt relaxed there among the green and serene surroundings, sitting by the pool area, sipping a cool elderflower cordial……. Happy Days – even if only briefly whilst I watched how the other half live!

The resort, located just 5 minutes from Lake Bled, is certainly ‘glamping’ at its best. It comprises a mixture of luxury tented accommodation, tree houses and apartments. The whole ethos of the resort is built around being ‘green’ – both visually and operationally – and it shows. The attention to detail is remarkable in every area including the restaurant, wellness and the gardens, where guests are able to literally pick and eat whatever is growing around the resort. Their website says ‘Adventurous, Romantic and Exclusive’ and I’d have to agree. Now, if only I could find someone adventurous and romantic to share it with!!! For those of you lucky to have found adventure and romance, here’s the link (it’s already pretty much booked up for this summer season) – http://www.gardenvillagebled.com/

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With the weather being so glorious for the weekend, I had a tough decision to make as to where to go and what to do – so much choice – so in the end I did a bit of everything! Saturday began with an early morning start, cycling from home to the lake at Bohinj. I then took the gondola up to the Vogel Ski Resort, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary of operation and thus had 50% discount on the usual ride charge. There was a great party atmosphere up there with plenty of entertainment including national folk music, presentations of national costumes and old-timer bikes, guided walks, workshops for children and market stalls. As a non-skier, I have only previously visited Vogel once during the autumn when it was shrouded in mist and there were no views to be seen and I was unable to explore the area fully. This time, it couldn’t have been more different. It was a glorious day and I was able to grasp just how extensive the area is and how much there is to see and do up there, regardless of the season. Being a ski resort, I’d always considered it more of a winter venue, but how wrong was I, and it has now been added to my list of summer destinations too – next time I might even consider hiking up there too! There are a wide choices of walks, either shorter, easier ones such as the Vogel Trail, or longer ones to one of the many peaks or highlands of the Julian Alps, such as Rodica or Planina Sija. The Orlove Glave chairlift also operates during the summer and can be used to shorten some of the hikes. There is also a bike park, several places to eat and drink and of course, it goes without saying, stunning and far-reaching views in all directions.

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It’s going to be another busy week ahead with lots going on in the Radovljica/Bled area. Here is just a pick of the events:

Tuesday 8th July

  • Open Day at the Sextons’ Museum House in Kamna Gorica, 10am-6pm, entrance free (also on Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th July)
  • Free guided tour of Kamna Gorica, 4.30pm

Thursday 10th July

  • Music Thursdays in Linhart Square in Radovljica’s old town centre – Every Thursday in July from 8.00pm – this week ‘San Di Ego Band’
  • Story-telling by the fire at Camp Šobec – Join the Triglav National Park rangers to listen to some of the myths and legends of the Slovenian mountains – 9pm, free event (also for those not resident at the camp)

Saturday 12th July

© AdeleinSlovenia 2014