The Wild Nature, Waterfalls and Wonderful Sights of Slovenia’s Green Karst

Slovenia’s Green Karst is awash with wild nature and wonderful sights, including an impressive number of lakes and caves, castles, museums, and unique Karst features. Some of these sights, such as the Postojna Caves, the Park of Military History in Pivka etc., are already firmly on the tourist map, whilst others attract less attention, but are no less deserving of a visit. In this blog I have highlighted just a few more of the delights I discovered whilst exploring the Green Karst, but, believe me, there are still so many more!

There are hundreds of waterfalls in Slovenia, some very well-known and which attract visitors in their thousands, others less so, though many of these are equally, if not more, impressive. One such is the Sušec waterfall in Ilirska Bistrica.

The waterfall is just a ten-minute walk from the centre of the town – just follow the signs for Slap Sušec – along a pleasant leafy path beside the brook, where you can immediately feel the chill of the water in the air.

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The Sušec waterfall has 7 springs and is particularly impressive after heavy rainfall when its foam-like waters gush over the moss-covered limestone rocks below.

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For such an impressive waterfall, it was strange to have the place to myself!

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The town of Ilirska Bistrica itself has numerous watermills and sawmills running through it, dating back to a time when the town’s strategically important location – at the crossroads of Ljubljana, Trieste and Rijeka – meant it was a thriving hub. It is located in the valley under Mount Snežnik – the highest non-alpine mountain in Slovenia at 1796m.

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Whilst in the area another ‘don’t-miss’ sight is Prem Castle. The imposing castle, in the village of the same name, occupies a dominant position and makes a mighty impressive sight when looking up from the road through the Ilistrica Bistrica valley and Brkini hills.

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The Romanesque castle was built in the 11th century in a strategic position above the river Reka (‘reka’ means ‘river’ in Slovene, thus it’s the ‘river River’ – I kid you not!). It has been owned by numerous counts (Hapsburg, Walsee, Portia etc.) during its long history and played an important role in battles.

In the 16th century a stronger defence wall and large watch tower were added, seen below with St. Helena’s church in the background. The church’s current appearance dates from 1868 and it is an unusually large church for a relatively small village. The interior of the church contains some interesting frescoes dating from 1921, the work of the famous Slovenian painter Tone Kralj.

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Although the castle was badly damaged after World War II, it has been sympathetically restored. The castle’s interior stone walls and hidden passages tell interesting stories of its history.

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The most impressive room is the Ceremonial Hall, which contains a 17th century baroque mirror, the only original artefact in this impressive painted room.

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The upstairs of the castle houses an exhibition and a small chapel, and is a popular venue for intimate weddings and other small events. The castle is open at weekends from April to October, and outside of these times by prior arrangement.

Even if you visit when the castle isn’t open, I recommend driving up to the village of Prem, from where there are wonderful views over the surrounding Brkini hills and the countryside of the Green Karst, which are currently awash with the vibrant colours of autumn.

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This is but a snapshot of what the Green Karst has to offer. So, be sure to include a visit to the area on your travels in/through Slovenia!

Information about all the above and what else to see and do in the Green Karst can be found here – http://zelenikras.si/en/ and you can also read more here about my visit earlier this year to one of the 17 intermittent lakes and to the Park of Military History in Pivka  – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/05/pivka-pause-ponder-play/

© Adele in Slovenia

Wacky and Wonderful Rainy Day Ideas in Slovenia – The Sunny Side of the Alps!

Autumn can be one of the nicest times of year here in Slovenia. The heat of the summer has subsided, and with it the risk of afternoon showers, the roads and tourist hotspots are less crowded, and the leaves falling from the trees are a wonderful kaleidoscope of autumn gold and russet colours.

However, although Slovenia is often called ‘The Sunny Side of the Alps’, let’s face it, it does also rain at times!

Bohinj Lake in Autumn – Photo: Dunja Wedam_3099_orig

Much of Slovenia’s natural beauty lies in the great outdoors. So, as I know only too well, it can be frustrating when it isn’t possible to get out there and enjoy it. But, it doesn’t have to spell disaster! There are still plenty of things to see and do, whatever the weather. So, in this blog, I’ve listed a few ideas for what to do on those gloomy, rainy, and maybe even snowy, days!

MUSEUMS – There are hundreds to choose from, thus it’s nigh-on impossible to single one out, so I’ve whittled down the choice somewhat, though, of course, the list is far from exhaustive. Below are just a few of the largest and most popular.

The Park of Military History in Pivka – even those who don’t consider themselves fans of military history, will find something here. The highlight is the chance to go inside the P-913 Zeta submarine. Read more about my recent visit here – http://goo.gl/nWm3Mq and find more information here – http://parkvojaskezgodovine.si/en/

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Photo: Simon Avsec http://www.slovenia.info

The UNESCO-listed Anthony’s Shaft Idria Mercury Mine – more than 700kms of tunnels, and 500 years of mercury mining. More information here – http://www.antonijevrov.si/index.php/en

Photo: Visitidrija.si

Photo: Visitidrija.si

The Museum of Apiculture in Radovljica – housed in the magnificent Baroque Radovljica Mansion. Learn about beekeeping in Slovenia and see the oldest beehive panel in the world.

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Photo: Tourism Radovljica

Škofja Loka Museum – housed in Loka Castle, one of Slovenia’s finest castles in the heart of the historic medieval old town. It boasts extensive and impressive museum collections. More information here – http://www.loski-muzej.si/en/

Photo: Jana Jocif

Photo: Jana Jocif

The Ptuj-Ormož Museum – housed in Ptuj Castle, in Slovenia’s oldest city. Highlights include the collections of traditional carnival masks, musical instruments and glass paintings, as well as the Castle Gallery. More information here – http://pmpo.si/en/

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Bistra Castle and the Technical Museum of Slovenia. The castle was originally a Carthusian monastery during the period from 1260 – 1782 and was later changed into a manor house. It houses an eclectic mix of exhibitions including the Slovenian Hunting Museum and a collection of ex-President Tito’s cars. Read more here – http://wp.me/p3005k-NM and find more information here – http://www.tms.si/index.php

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Ljubljana’s museums and galleries – being the capital city, there is a wide choice, among them the National Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the City Art Museum, and the Railway Museum. Find out more here – http://goo.gl/WCnyYn

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY! – It certainly doesn’t have to be bad weather to ‘Eat, Drink and Be Merry’, but a dose of traditional hearty Slovene food on a cold damp day is sure to lift your spirits!

Suggested traditional dishes and foods include; bograč, štruklji, jota, ričet, žlikrofi, kremšnita, gibanica. Read more in this previous blog entitled ‘Love Food – Love Slovenia: 10 Must Try Foodshttps://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/02/18/love-food-love-slovenia-10-must-try-slovene-foods/

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WINE or CRAFT BEER TASTING – Take your pick! There is plenty to choose from! You could head to one of the many wine-growing areas, such as Goriška Brda and the Vipava Valley, or, if you are in the capital, leave the choice to an expert and set off on a Ljubljananjam guided food walk, which can be tailored to suit. Read more here http://goo.gl/KqwmVo and find more information here – http://www.ljubljananjam.si/

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EXPLORE A CAVE OR TWO – With a constant temperature year-round, a visit to one of Slovenia’s tourist caves isn’t weather dependant. The Postojna Caves and the UNESCO-listed Škocjan Caves are the most popular, though there are also hundreds of other smaller caves.

Photo: Iztok Medja for Postojnska jama

SOMETHING DIFFERENT – Not necessarily ‘wacky’ but here are a few ‘out there’ ideas for a different way to spend a rainy day.

Cycle through a mountain! Just because it’s not cycling weather, it doesn’t mean you can’t cycle! For a unique experience try mountain biking through the former lead, zinc and iron ore mines under the Peca massif in Koroška. Read more here – http://goo.gl/DOvjXl

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Try and escape the Enigmarium Escape Rooms – Literally lock yourself in (or rather someone else locks you in!) a room, or even an igloo, and try to escape by solving clues before the time runs out. Don’t get locked in! Find out more here – http://escape-room.si/?lang=en

Photo: Enigmarium.si

Photo: Enigmarium.si

And finally, if its wet outside, how about some pampering and/or water-based enjoyment at one of Slovenia’s thermal spas. This year I have been on a journey of discovery of them all – well almost all, just one to go! You can follow my journey here – https://spasinslovenia.com/

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© Adele in Slovenia

 

The Pivka Park of Military History – A Historic Year!

It’s been quite a year thus far for the Park of Military History in Pivka. Visitor numbers are up by an astonishing 40%, as word spreads about this fascinating museum and its extensive and diverse collections. Last week the park celebrated its 10th birthday – in true military style of course – with a week of events culminating in the annual Festival of Military History, which I attended on Sunday.

It’s easy to reach Pivka, which is in Slovenia’s Green Karst region. It can be a destination in itself, or you can combine it with a visit to one of the other nearby attractions in the area, such as the Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle or the Lipica Stud Farm. The park is also an ideal place to visit on those pesky rainy days!

For those without transport, a bonus is that it is easy to reach Pivka by train. Direct trains run from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana and onwards toward Rijeka in Croatia. On arrival you can already see the imposing renovated barracks in which the museum is housed. When exiting the train station, just look for the museum symbols marked on the pavement.

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After crossing the tracks, head downhill, following the green signs, and within 10 minutes you are there!

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One of the biggest draws at the Park is undoubtedly the P-913 Zeta submarine, which visitors have a chance to go inside, accompanied by a guide, to experience the cramped conditions the submarine crew worked under.

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Photo: Simon Avsec – http://www.slovenia.info/

The renovated barracks housing the museum collections were built by the Kingdom of Italy around 1930 in order to defend the Rapallo border and were later home to the Yugoslav People’s Army. Since 2004 the Park has been developing and has now become the largest museum complex in Slovenia, as well as one of the largest military historical complexes in this part of Europe.

Of the numerous military-related events that take place at the Park throughout the year, last weekend’s 10th Festival of Military History, which was meticulously organised, is the largest. Below you can see some of the action that took place.

Demonstrations of tanks operating in combat situations.

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A dynamic display of anti-terrorist measures with the helicopters of the Special Forces and the Slovene Army.

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Recreations of various World War II military camps – Partisan, Soviet, American, and German. At times I felt like I had walked onto the set of MASH!

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There was even fresh Jerry soup!

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A chance to walk through a cavern. Provided, of course, you could get past the guards!

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There was plenty of opportunity to get involved, ask questions, and, of course, pose for a few snaps for posterity!

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A chance to get ‘hands on’ with the ammunition. The first, and hopefully only, time I will be holding such a weapon!

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Not even the occasional torrential downpour dampened the spirits of these strapping Romans (from Ptuj)! Can you spot the odd one out?

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There was also archery, a small market area, a collection of old-timer cars, and free transport to/from the railway station. The festival was a roaring success and another testament to the Park’s popularity.

You can find out more about the Park here – http://parkvojaskezgodovine.si/en/ and also read more about other things to see and do in the area, including the 17 intermittent lakes, in a previous blog from earlier this year – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/05/pivka-pause-ponder-play/

You don’t need to especially be a lover of museums, history, or military history (I wouldn’t consider myself to be!) to enjoy a visit. The exhibits are fascinating and there’s something for all the family. I highly recommend a visit!

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Hell’s Cave

The last few days have been a perfect mixture of brilliant spring sunshine with cold, bright, crisp mornings, and warm afternoons. The week ahead looks like being more of the same. So, no complaints here – for a change!

On Saturday I went, almost literally, ‘to Hell and Back’, since I visited Hell’s Cave (Jama Pekel), near Šempeter in the Savinjska valley! Actually, I’d struggle to tell you exactly where it is since finding it was far from easy and in the end it was more by luck than judgement. The journey from home in Radovljica began relatively easily, following the motorway to Ljubljana, then onwards in the direction of Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, Maribor, taking the exit for Šempeter. I suppose I only had myself to blame as I was armed with only a basic map but, in my defence, many of the larger tourist attractions throughout the country have familiar brown signs beside the major roads to direct visitors, this one, alas, did not and is woefully lacking in signage;  rather strange since it seems to be a relatively popular and visited one. Oh well, at least I got to see some of the hidden parts of the countryside which I wouldn’t have otherwise! If you plan a visit, as long as you turn right on leaving the motorway, you will, eventually, pick up the signs to the cave as it is only a couple of kilometres from the motorway – just don’t, whatever you do, turn left!!!

Anyway, once I arrived at the cave, all was forgotten and it was well worth the effort. When one thinks of caves in Slovenia, of course the world-famous Postojna caves and the UNESCO listed Skocjan caves are the ones that immediately spring to mind. Slovenia, though, actually has over 10,000 registered caves, and to think that those are the ones that are known about, who knows what else lurks in the mysterious underworld. Many of them are largely unexplored whilst others, those that are open to the public, are not as vast as the aforementioned ones, but nonetheless each offers an intriguing glimpse into the underground karst world. Hell’s Cave is no exception, and the highlight is most certainly the 4m waterfall which is actually inside the cave, the only of its kind in the country.

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The Ponikvica stream carved out the cave and runs through it throughout the part that is now open to the public. It is well-equipped with boardwalks, ladders, lights etc. though very narrow in places and quite a lot of ducking is required for anyone over a few feet tall (oops, metres tall – still can’t get to grips with European metric measurements!). The name of the cave originates from the rocks at the entrance to the cave which, with a bit of imagination, appear to form the shape of the devil and additionally, during the winter when the temperature inside is warmer than the outdoor temperature, it appears as if steam is coming from the cave’s entrance.

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Guided tours of the cave are available daily on the hour, from 10am-5pm from 1st April – 30th September; in March and October it is only open at weekends with the last tour at 4pm. During our group’s tour, we witnessed a pair of sleeping bats, yet to wake up from their winter hibernations, as well as a crab-like creature which is at home in the stream within the cave. Following the tour I took a walk on the forest nature trail which begins at the entrance to the cave and is easy to follow; just follow the green owls! The 2km circular trail takes less than 30 minutes and is nice way to begin, or end, a visit to the cave.

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Nearby is a Roman Necropolis which I had also planned to visit but on this occasion was unable to since the monuments are still covered up for the winter period. About 2000 years ago a Roman road ran through the area around Šempeter and the necropolis, discovered quite by chance in 1952, is considered the most important of the remains from the Roman era, not just in Slovenia, but in Central Europe. So, it will, for the time being, remain on my lists of ‘places to go’ and about which I hope to write about some time soon – I’ll go equipped with a map next time though!

You can read more about the cave, the necropolis, and the other attractions in the area on the Šempeter Tourist Association website here – http://www.td-sempeter.si/en/

The tradition of making and floating models vessels, made by local children and illuminated by candles, in the streams in the villages of Kropa and Kamna Gorica will take place this week. This age-old iron-forging custom takes place annually on the eve of St. Gregory’s Day. The models, which are a mixture of unique art creations made from paper, cardboard and wood with candles affixed either on the exterior or interior, create a colourful effect against the dusk setting. This custom dates back to the era of manual iron forging, before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the name day of St. Gregory was considered the first day of spring. With the weather we’ve been having in the past few days, this year it holds true. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I likely won’t be able to attend this year, which is a shame as it is a spectacle worth seeing, so here are a couple of photos from last year.

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© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Snowy Slovenia and Happy 2015!

Although Christmas Day itself wasn’t ‘white’, just 2 days later, as had been forecast, the snow arrived – and plenty of it too. On Sunday morning I woke up to the familiar winter sound of snow ploughs and people outside shovelling snow from one pile to another, digging out their cars and clearing their pathways and driveways. Those that know me, and regular readers of my blog, will know only too well that I’m far from a fan of the white stuff although actually I don’t mind the virgin, powder, dry snow; what I don’t like are the inevitable icy pavements and paths that follow and wish it were possible to just enjoy the snow for a few days and to then wake up one day and find it all gone – if only! This was the view from out of my window on Sunday morning, and the path down to the Šobec camp (right).

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Of course, owners of Slovenia’s ski resorts will be doing cartwheels to celebrate this big dump of snow as it means their season can start in earnest and will provide a much needed boost to their coffers. Some of the country’s largest and most popular are; Krvavec, Vogel, Cerkno, Maribor’s Pohorje, and Kranjska Gora. Others include Golte, Stari vrh, Soriška planina and many more. Sadly, Kanin, Slovenia’s highest ski resort in the Soča valley, still remains closed and it can only be hoped that a rescue package can be found for what was once a thriving winter destination. The advantage of many of Slovenia’s ski resorts is their ease of access and, in comparison with neighbouring countries, the relative cheapness of ski passes.

It all looked so different on Christmas Day when I took my parents, who were visiting from the UK, for a surprise trip to see the Live Christmas Nativity in the Postojna Caves. A visit to the caves is magical whenever you visit, but on this occasion it was made even more so by the cast of actors and singers performing nativity scenes and Christmas songs. Before reaching the entrance of the caves, there is a working watermill, as seen below, and which you can visit to see flour-grinding demonstrations.

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The Postojna Caves are one of the top tourist attractions in Slovenia and really worth a visit. The experience begins with a ride on the mini-train which takes visitors into the heart of the vast cave system and thereafter a large part of the trip is made on foot, accompanied by guides, before returning to the train to exit the caves. The UNESCO listed Škocjan Caves are equally as impressive (minus the train) so if you are visiting Slovenia, do make sure to visit one of Slovenia’s karst caves, you won’t be disappointed. I’m afraid since flash photography is not permitted, I don’t have any great photos of the interior of the caves; all the more reason then to come and see them for yourselves!

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In Radovljica meanwhile, we were entertained on Boxing Day by Tobia Circus performing live in the old town centre with an impressive, though bizarre, act which consisted entirely of various tricks performed with brooms!

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So, it’s almost the end of another year and thus time for reflection on the highs and lows of my year. I’ll get the ‘lows’ out of the way first, since there really was only one; the weather! It began with the devastation caused by the glaze ice in February (http://wp.me/p3005k-bf), the effects of which are still very much in evidence in forests and woods, particularly in the central area of the country. Otherwise, it was the rain and lack of sun that meant it was a bit of a wash-out of a year, meaning my hiking and biking trips were less frequent and ambitious than I had hoped.

Now, on to the ‘highs’. On the professional side, after almost 8 years living here, my efforts seem to be finally paying off and I have a marked increase in the amount of translating and proofreading work I have been doing of late. But perhaps the astonishing success of my blog is one of my proudest achievements of the year. When I began writing it in 2013, I had no idea if anyone would find it/read it, however, in it’s first year, it had 10,000 readers; this year it has racked up over a further 30,000 readers taking the total to over 40,000 since I began writing it. Along the way I’ve had lots of positive feedback, helped many readers who have contacted me for advice and/or assistance, and met some of my readers too. I believe the thirst for information about Slovenia will continue to grow and I hope to try to keep providing as much up-to-date information about my life here in Radovljica and the surrounding areas; my hikes, bike trips, and trips further afield. My Adele in Slovenia Facebook page has also mirrored the success of the blog and I will also endeavour to keep providing relevant up-to-date information there too, as well as photos on my Pinterest page.

On the personal side, well my year is ending much the same as it began i.e. alone. However, I don’t see that as a negative. This year for me was about regaining some of my lost confidence and assertiveness, meeting new people, building friendships, and continuing to live a relatively quiet, but content, life in this tiny corner of Europe. So all in all, 2014 was a good year and here’s hoping 2015 will be even better!

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2014

Humanfish (proteus) in Slovenia / Hotel and Restaurant Krek

In last week’s blog, written when it was dry, sunny and mild, I mentioned the new Sava River Trail, vowing to write more about it this week once I had had time to further explore it. However, once again the weather scuppered my plans. I must admit, I did wonder about the wisdom of erecting the signage and arranging the path at this time of year which is notoriously wet, since, as the name suggests, the path runs alongside the Sava river and even during the driest of months will be wet in places.

After last week’s torrential rain and flooding, it will be impassable in places so I’ll write about that at another, drier, time of year; goodness only knows when that will be though as this year anything is possible! Last week it started raining on Monday evening and continued until the early hours on Sunday – literally – it didn’t stop, not even for five minutes. This has inevitably led to more widespread flooding, villages being entirely cut-off, and more heads being scratched and questions asked in a year that has, so far, seen an unprecedented 15 extreme weather events in Slovenia; beginning with the glaze ice in February and continuing fairly unabated since then. The sheer frequency alone should surely be more than a warning that we, and by ‘we’ I mean all of us – not just here in Slovenia – need to take climate change more seriously and, although we can’t interfere with nature, we can at least take more preventative measures and governments need to be assigning more funds to addressing flooding and other climate related issues. Oops, I’ll get off my soap box now!

However, the flooding did turn up one interesting discovery, the very rare proteus, sometimes also known as a humanfish due to the colour of its skin, which was found in the flooded cellar of a house in Kompolje. These rare cave dwelling vertebrates live, eat, sleep and breath in the subterranean waters of the karst caves, and are an endemic species of the Dinaric Alps. They are only found in Slovenia, specifically at the Postojna caves, and occasionally in neighbouring parts of Italy and Croatia which share the same karst characteristics. In this case, it was carefully captured and collected by the relevant cave experts who could ensure a safe return to its habitat.

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Also in last week’s blog I mentioned the arduous task facing me(!) of visiting the remaining restaurants which have now joined the Taste Radol’ca collaboration, and which I have yet to review. This week then, it was the turn of Hotel and Restaurant Krek in Lesce. The hotel is situated just off the motorway at the exit for Lesce/Bled, next to the services, a casino and a coupe of supermarkets. It is a particularly popular destination for those transiting through Slovenia, as well as those looking for a mid-priced, convenient hotel close to Bled, Radovljica and the surrounding areas. The hotel’s restaurant is particularly popular at lunchtime with locals who pop in for daily light lunches (malice) and it’s large function area also regular hosts business events, seminars etc. Lesce Sports Airfield, from where panoramic flights across the Julian Alps can be taken, is just a few minutes from the hotel.

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Having lived here for over 7 years now, I have been past the hotel hundreds of times, on my way to the shops and/or for petrol. However, I will admit, that it never occurred to me to go there for lunch or dinner. Having met and had a similar discussion with the management, I realise this is perhaps a common misconception as one wouldn’t necessary think of going to a hotel restaurant for dinner, thinking of it as being merely for hotel guests. However, this is certainly not the case and by joining the Taste Radol’ca collaboration, Krek hope to further spread the word among locals and visitors about their restaurant and fortunately I also now know and can contest it is worthy of a pit-stop.

A friend and I had the special ‘Taste Radolca’ menu, which is available for the whole month of November at 15 euros for 3 courses (the same price applies at all the other participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants during November). However, the restaurant also offers a full menu of other typical Slovene, and non-Slovene, dishes.

The food was beautifully presented, tasty and excellent value;  mushroom soup to start (although I requested pumpkin soup as having tasted it at last week’s opening event, I knew just how delicious it was!), followed by the main course of roast pork with honeyed-apples and a trio of struklji, for dessert triple-chocolate cake which was rich and chocolately enough even for me!
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The Slovene television programme Na Lepše, about tourism in Slovenia, broadcast a feature about Taste Radol’ce (Okusi Radol’ce) in last Friday’s edition. You can watch it here, with a thankfully minor appearance by me, here – http://4d.rtvslo.si/arhiv/na-lepse-oddaja-o-turizmu/174303338

Of late, Slovenia seems to be cropping up increasingly in articles published in the press and online, and in various ‘Top Ten’ lists. Many of the articles are inevitably about Bled, which is indisputably picturesque, however it has all kind of been said before. So this week it was nice to see Slovenia’s only national park, Triglav National Park, featuring in one of these lists. Despite it being referred to as ‘Solvenia’, the Park appears at number 9 in this list of 24 awe-inspiring National Parkshttp://www.buzzfeed.com/mackenziekruvant/national-parks

© AdeleinSlovenia 2014