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

 

Autumn Hiking in the Karavanke

After a less than promising start to autumn, it finally arrived in style last week with nature offering a palette of the most resplendent autumnal hues. This, together with the warm, sunny days – which lasted all weekend too – made it perfect weather to enjoy the great outdoors. As the Karavanke mountains are right on my doorstep, that’s where I most often head to get my hiking fix!

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On Sunday morning I headed off on my bike from home in Radovljica to the Draga valley, then on foot – initially up to the Preval highland and the Preval mountain hut (Koča na Prevalu) – part of the Karavanke range.

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From the hut there are a number of paths; steeply (very!) up through the forest to the top of Mt. Begunščica; through the Baron’s Tunnels to Ljubelj, back down to the Draga valley – either through the forest or via the road – or across Roža (čez Roža) to the Roblek mountain hut (Roblekov dom). I chose the latter, as it is one of my favourite walks, particularly as it is circular and offers wonderful views across the Radovljica plains, the Jelovica plateau, and onwards towards the Julian Alps.

As can be seen below, with such perfect weather and views across to the snow-capped Julian Alps, no photo-shopping is required!

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It’s always a particularly wonderful feeling being in the mountains and looking across at other parts of the country which are shrouded in low cloud, as was the case on Sunday morning!

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The opening event of this year’s month-long Taste Radol’ca is drawing nearer. Reservations are being taken for the opening event this Friday and participating restaurants have finalised their special Taste Radol’ca menus for the month of November – all available at just 15 euros for 3 courses and with the key focus on local ingredients.

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Additionally this year there are a range of accompanying events during the month of November. Below are some of the highlights, the whole list can be seen here –  http://radolca.si/kaj-poceti/dogodki/okusi-radolce/83/930/

  • Every Wednesday: Live accordion music evening at Lambergh Château & Hotel
  • Every Friday: Live music evening at Vila Podvin
  • Every Sunday at 1pm: Presentation of the Zupan Fish Farm at Vila Podvin
  • Saturday 7.11: Podvin Local Food Market at Vila Podvin
  • Sunday 8.11 from 12 – 5pm: Presentation and tasting of honey from the Draga valley at Draga Inn
  • Saturday 14.11 & 21.11 at 11am: Cookery workshop with tastings of St. Martin’s dishes at Kunstelj Inn
  • Friday 27.11: Culinary Evening with Sartori wines and live music at Grajska Gostilnica
  • Friday 4.12: Taste Radol’ca Closing Party at Joštov hram (tickets can be obtained by participating in this year’s 2 prize competitions)

@AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Celebrating Carnival Time – Avsenik Style!

This year, Carnival Saturday (Pustna sobota) also happened to fall on Valentine’s Day and Radovljica’s Carnival Dance (Pustni ples) took place at the Krek Hotel and Restaurant in Lesce. It is traditional to dress up in masks and costumes for pust, and the theme of this year’s dance was the music of the famous Avsenik Ensemble, from the nearby village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, since this year marks the 60th year since the issue of the hugely popular track ‘Na Golici’, which is also one of the most widely played. Since Avsenik have produced more than 1000 songs, attendees had a wide range of songs and lyrics to allow them to get creative with their costumes. Perhaps some of the best known songs, in this area at least, are ‘Na Robleku’ and ‘Na Golici‘ – named after two peaks in the Karavanke mountains which are popular destinations with hikers.

Here you can listen to the original version – http://youtu.be/r7gFNaGYEs8

And here you can listen to, and watch, a recent modern interpretation of ‘Na Golici’ – Riverdance style! – http://youtu.be/VUVN3mGiL9c

The music of the Avsenik Brothers is actually a world-wide phenomenon; it is particularly popular in Slovenia and neighbouring European countries, but is also known in the USA and even further afield, and their music has won countless awards. The home of Slovene popular folk music is at the birthplace of its founders, Slavko and Vilko Avsenik, at Pr’Jožovcu in Begunje. It is regularly visited by coach loads of fans of their music and the restaurant hosts regular music performances by the Avsenik House Ensemble, as well as workshops, festivals, competitions and other events. There is also a gallery and museum, music school, and guest accommodation. If you are visiting the Radol’ca area, then a visit isn’t complete without popping in to see, listen to, or even dance to, a bit of Avsenik!

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The main day of pust is pustni torek (Shrove Tuesday) when, wherever you are in Slovenia you could be forgiven for thinking it is Halloween as children go to school dressed up as all kinds of ghosts and gouls, and some can be seen going from door-to-door trick-or-treating. However, there is actually a point to pust; to help drive winter away by scaring it with various costumes and masks. So, despite not being one inclined to fancy dress, masks etc., I am more than happy to join in and help drive winter away!

All the different regions of Slovenia have their own pust traditions, customs and characters. Among the most known are the ‘kurenti‘ from Ptuj (seen below left), where the country’s largest carnival takes place, with celebrations lasting a whole 2 weeks, and also the ‘laufarije‘ from Cerklje (below right). I think they look frightening enough to shoo-off winter!

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After 4 long weeks, and following an x-ray last Tuesday I was finally free of my immobilising shoulder immobilser last week and what a relief it was. To be able to quickly and easily get dressed and have a shower, do up my shoelaces etc. I, of course, wasted no time on my mission to regain my fitness and on Wednesday morning I was already up and out at 7am and at the mountain hut Roblekov dom in record time! Well, you didn’t expect any less did you?!

Oh and I should just add, here in Slovenia we eat doughnuts for Shrove Tuesday, instead of pancakes. I will, of course, oblige!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Snowy Hikes and Winter Bites!

It was a very chilly start to 2015 with temperatures midweek well into minus figures. Babno polje, which regularly measures the coldest temperatures in Slovenia, was minus 24 degrees, whilst Celje wasn’t far behind with minus 19. Here in Radovljica it was a (balmy!) minus 15! Fortunately, on Friday the polar temperatures subsided a little and the temperatures in some parts of the country even got into positive numbers during the day.

Having not strayed too far from home for a few days, due to the cold, snow and bitter wind, I was itching to get out and therefore was mighty pleased to be able to make the hike up to one of my favourite winter destinations, the mountain hut Roblek dom, located on the western slopes of mount Begunščica, part of the Karavanke range. The route up to the hut is popular all year round and can be approached from several directions, however, the safest and only really viable route when there is heavy snow, is to begin from the Draga valley and continue up to the hut at 1672m.

During the winter you may share the lower part of the path, the part which is on the road, with sledgers, before the path veers off, steeply in places, into the forest. Probably the reason it is such a popular destination is also the relative wideness and safeness of the path as it is not in an area prone to avalanches (I’m of course touching wood as I write this!), the path is well-trodden and you are rarely alone en-route or at the top; there’s always someone to pass the time of day with. However, it should be noted that at present the path is treacherously icy in places and a pair of small crampons really are a must. On reaching the hut, the thermometer showed +4 degrees, which is almost 20 degrees warmer than it had been in the valley during the previous few days so actually felt remarkably warm. I’m not usually the greatest at taking pictures but, if I say so myself, this one below (on the left) isn’t a bad effort – though of course these days the camera does most of the work and I can just ‘point and click’!

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During the festive season, it is a tradition in many households in Slovenia to construct nativity scenes made out of various materials such as wood and moss. In the village of Rodine, just a few kilometres from Radovljica, more precisely in Jalnova hiša (Jalen’s House), the birthplace of the Slovene writer and priest, Janez Jalen (1891-1966), an impressive displays of nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes is set up each year. These days the house also operates partly as a museum with an exhibition about his life and work, and it also forms part of the Žirovnica Route of Cultural Heritagehttp://www.zirovnica.eu/dozivetja/tematske-poti/pot-kulturne-dediscine/znamenitosti-na-poti/ (Slovene), OR http://en.zirovnica.eu/ (English).

The owner is more than happy to greet visitors and show them around. During this period, the exhibition is open daily for visitors, this year until 10th January (daily from 10am-6pm), so there is still time to visit. There is also a traditional black kitchen. Entrance is free.

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People often ask me if I ever run out of ideas for what to write about in my blog. Well, thankfully so far that hasn’t happened and I hope it won’t for a while yet. So, its onwards into another year and I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey….

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

 

The Draga Valley: The Lamberg Trail and the Draga Inn

The Draga Valley lies at the far end of the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem. The valley is little more than a couple of kilometres in length yet is a very popular destination, particularly as it is the start point for hiking to numerous destinations in the Karavanke mountains. The road through the valley has a monument and cemetery in remembrance to hostages of the second world war who were held in the Gestapo prison in the nearby Katzenstein Mansion in Begunje.

The Draga Inn (Gostišče Draga) is situated at the end of the valley alongside the Begunščica stream, making it an oasis of calm and tranquillity. During the summer months its position affords welcome relief from the heat, thanks to the freshness of the stream, whilst in the winter the Inn is toasty warm thanks to the log-burning fire –  just perfect for me! The Inn is particularly popular with weary hikers looking for some sustenance after a long hike. However, it also offers a more gourmet experience for those looking for something finer.

One of the most popular destinations to visit from the Draga valley is the Roblek mountain hut. From the valley it takes around 2 hours to reach the hut at 1672m and since it was dark when I went for dinner, and since the valley was shrouded in pesky low cloud most of the weekend and I just knew that the sun had to be up there somewhere, I returned over the weekend to take some photos and to hike up to Roblek in search of the sun. I didn’t have to go for as it was sunny up above 800metres, so I was rewarded for my efforts with fantastic views and warm sunshine up above the clouds. Other than the final 10 minutes, most of the path was free of snow but, as you can see from the picture below, winter has already arrived in the mountains.

 

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You can visit the valley by car, by bike or on foot, and a great way to reach the Draga Inn is via the Lamberg Trail which officially begins at the car park opposite the Avsenik Restaurant and Museum in Begunje. However, you can also park, as I usually do, at the Krpin Recreation Ground in Begunje and begin the walk from there. The trail runs behind the ruins of Kamen Castle and ends at the Inn, passing several information boards and sights of interest. The path is a little undulating but not difficult and takes about 45-1 hour minutes each way. More about the trail can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/lamberg-trail-begunje/ Keep your eyes pealed for wildlife though, who knows what you might encounter!

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As it is still November, and therefore the month of Taste Radol’ca, my friend and I decided we just had to take the chance to sample the Taste Radol’ca menu, and in fact because Gostišče Draga are offering 2 Taste Radol’ca menus, we plumped for one of each so we could try each others too (don’t we all do that?). However, since I don’t eat fish and menu 2 is predominantly fished-based, I lost out a bit there! The food was thoughtfully presented, tasty, and with generous, but not over-the-top, portion sizes, which was just as well as there were 4-courses to try.

We began with game pate with cranberries (menu 1) and smoked trout (menu 2). This was followed by pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds.

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Next came fillet of deer (in my case substituted for beef) in a honeyed-pepper sauce, cheese strukelj and, one of my favourite things on their menu, house dumplings filled with cranberry sauce. Menu 2 was trout fillet in cornmeal with buckwheat and mushrooms.

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Dessert was apple strudel (menu 1) and hot-chocolate soufflé (menu 2).

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Oh, and of course all capped off with a little glug of one of the myriad flavours of schnapps on offer!

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In addition to the Taste Radol’ca menu, Gostišče Draga offer a full and varied menu with an emphasis on game and fresh fish. Their philosophy is based on traceability of ingredients; many of the ingredients used, such as fruit, vegetables and flour, are home-grown and produced. More information can be found here – http://www.gostisce-draga.si/

So, I have now completed the (arduous!) task of reviewing this year’s new additions to Taste Radol’ca and am no doubt a few kilogrammes heavier for having done so! More information about all the participating restaurants can also be found under the Taste Radol’ca heading at the top of the blog.

With the festive season rapidly approaching, this week Radovljica’s residents are invited to help decorate the old town to help make it into a festive winter wonderland. Decoration, and the making of decorations, will take place on Wednesday (9am – 1pm), Thursday (9am – 1pm and 3pm – 7pm) and Friday (3pm – 7pm) in the atrium of the Radovljica Mansion. Come and join us and get in the festive spirit!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2014