Autumn Hiking at the ‘Top’ of Radol’ca – Mount Begunščica!

At a height of 2,060 metres, Begunščica is the highest point of the Radol’ca area. It rises above the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem and can be reached from several directions; from Radovljica the Draga valley is the most convenient start point. From the parking area at the head of the valley, there is a choice of two trails to reach Veliki vrh (literally ‘big peak’) – the highest point of Begunščica.

The slightly longer but easier of the two routes leads first on the forest road then through the forest road to the Roblekov dom mountain hut and from there onwards to the peak. Nowhere is it overly steep.

The other trail, and the one I will describe below, is my preferred choice – especially since it makes the perfect circular route – but in places is most definitely steep! It leads first along the Shepherds’ Trail to the Preval mountain hut and mountain pasture, and from there onwards and upwards towards the top, followed by the less steep trail down to the Roblekov dom hut and back to the Draga valley – and all without a single retraced step!

I have already previously blogged about the Shepherds’ Trail, so won’t go into too much detail here, other than to say that, should you decide to follow it as per the details in my previous blog, you should only do so up until the point where you reach the Preval mountain hut and pasture; from there on the trail to Begunščica leads off in a different direction.

From the mountain pasture take the path that leads directly upwards across a steep grassy slope before entering the forest.

It can seem like a bit of a slog at times, but once you gain some height and in places emerge from the forest, you can forget the more ‘sloggy’ parts and begin enjoying the views!

Once you emerge from the forest there are a couple of metres of scrambling here and there but nothing too demanding.

Once the ground begins to level out you turn left and start heading towards the highest point of Begunščica, but it’s still around half-an-hour to get there yet, even though the sign says 20 minutes!

Then a short section of the walk leads along a ridge – don’t look down if you have a fear of heights!

The views, however, divert your attention and make it all worthwhile!

Until the end of the grazing season you will be ‘greeted’ near the top by a flock of sheep. And even when they have been transported back down to the valley, you will certainly know they have been there!

At the top there is an orientation table and a visitors’ book and you can rest for a while before beginning the descent.

To make an entirely circular route, descend from Veliki vrh towards the west. It takes around an hour to reach the ever-popular Roblekov dom mountain hut, where you can get some sustenance and enjoy more of the stunning views before returning back to the Draga valley – a further cca. 1.5 hours.

Since October is a great month for hiking and enjoying the fruits of the forest, Tourism Radol’ca has launched a prize game entitled ‘The Wealth of the Forest with Taste Radol’ca‘. To enter all you have to do is head off into the forest and share your experience to be in with the chance to win a Taste Radol’ca meal for 2!

More about hiking in Radol’ca can be found here.

© Adele in Slovenia

Kunstelj Inn – A True and Tasty Tale of Tradition!

Kunstelj Inn in Radovljica is a family-run restaurant with rooms that has a long tradition and a great reputation. It is also one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, takes part in other culinary events such as Slovenian Restaurant Week and is featured in the Gault&Millau restaurant guide.

Five year’s ago, Maja Buden (nee Štiherle), daughter of Toni and granddaughter of Tone and the fourth generation to head up the family business, took over as manager of the inn. To mark this anniversary, as well as a certain ‘big’ birthday with a zero at the end, she threw a celebratory gathering last Friday! Happy Birthday and congratulations Maja!

And, of course, a Slovenian celebration wouldn’t be complete without accordion music and traditional entertainment!

Having recently translated a special edition newsletter to mark this special anniversary, I was keen to be able to share with readers of my blog some of the highlights and photographs of the inn’s long and fascinating history, and, fortunately, Maja gave me the nod to do so!

Kunstelj Inn was opened by Franc Kunstelj in 1873 and some years later handed it over to his son Rudolf. Rudolf was very ambitious and had a vision and belief that the small family inn could become the heart and soul of social life in Radovljica.

The Rudolf Kunstelj Inn in 1906. Photo: 110 years of the Radovljica Tourist Association

He set to work building a large lounge with a stage for celebrations, a wine cellar, a freezer and a veranda with views of the Julian Alps. The renovations placed Kunstelj Inn on the map of the most popular local restaurants in Slovenia.

Grandmother Jerica later took over the running of the inn. She had a reputation as a fearless woman who always knew exactly what she wanted and was not afraid to tell people to their face what was on her mind! She survived two wars, became a widow at a very young age, raised two sons, and took over and managed Kunstelj Inn all by herself.

Many of the dishes Jerica introduced onto the inn’s menu can still be found today, albeit with a modern ‘Maja twist’, as well as other traditional Slovenian food, including blood sausages, Carniolan sausage with sauerkraut or turnip, buckwheat polenta, homemade štruklji and more.

Meanwhile, grandmother Maria left home at the age of 14 to work at the Roblek dom mountain hut. Tone and the now legendary Slavko Avsenik – the founder of Slovenian folk music – used to visit the hut as rumour had it that there were a lot of pretty girls there! And it turned out to be true, since Tone and Maria met and later married, and Slavko Avsenik even played at their wedding!

Grandmother Maria (second from left) doing washing at the Roblek dom mountain hut

A particularly amusing tale is that of Grandad Tone and his golf ‘caddy’ Grol. Tone didn’t start to play golf until he was 62, when, due to his weak heart he gave up hunting as well as skiing and golf became a form of relaxation and enjoyment.

As the doctors had instilled in him that he must strictly avoid all forms of exertion, for some time Tone thought about how he could lighten the load of carrying his heavy golf clubs from one hole to the next and he hit on the idea that his faithful companion Grol could help!

Uncle Ivan made Grol a special trolley for transporting Tone’s golf clubs, and Grol adapted really well to his role as ‘caddy’.

Maja’s father Toni regularly went on exchange to Switzerland to “learn from the best”. It was there that he learnt skills from one of the most well known Swiss patisserie chefs, Hans van den Klinkenberg, in Hotel Eden in Lugano. Toni brought all the tricks and secrets he learnt from the patisserie chef to Kunstelj Inn’s kitchen, which led to Kunstelj’s strudels, pies, ice-cream and other cakes soon gaining a reputation as the best desserts in Gorenjska.

Like her father, Maja also has a passion for desserts and, also like her father, she went to Austria to learn her patisserie skills. Her role model, who she met on one of her culinary travels, is Lea Linser; at that time Lea was running an acclaimed restaurant in Luxembourg and was the first ‘tv chef’ on German television. To this day Maja turns to Lea’s cookery books for inspiration for her signature desserts.

Some year’s back Maja created the first Kunstelj ‘grizike’ (cake pops), which later became – and still are – one of the star attractions of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival!

You can also visit during the time of Slovenian Restaurant Week, which takes place twice per year for 10 days in autumn and spring, when you can take advantage of a 3-course menu for just 19 euros per person, the next edition will take place from 11th – 20th October (note: the website is currently only available in English, but menus will soon also be available in English and by next year the entire website too – working on that one too!).

Kunstelj Inn is also part of Taste Radol’ca and for the whole month of November all nine participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants offer special menus based on local ingredients also for a set price of 19 euros  per person.

So, now you know (some of) Kunstelj Inn’s history, why not visit to find out (and taste!) more!

© Adele in Slovenia

The Born Trail from Ljubelj to Preval – Don’t Forget a Torch!

The Born Trail (Bornova pot) leads from the top of the Ljubelj pass along an easy, scenic, though in places narrow, path, which includes a section through the Born tunnel. The trail leads mostly through forest (and the tunnel, of course!), so is ideal in summer when the sun is scorching as it remains pleasantly cool.

The trail is named after Baron Karl Born (1876-1957), a politician and entrepreneur and owner of large amounts of forest in the Jelendol area of Tržič. The 3,600 hectares of forest he once owned represented a third of the forest in today’s municipality of Tržič. Born’s influence on the area and its infrastructure at that time was far-reaching; he installed and built numerous facilities in the municipality including an electric sawmill in Jelendol, which used electricity from his own small hydroelectric plant, a facility for producing staves for barrels, and even a 5.5 kilometre railway line.

The trail begins at the large (free) car park at the foot of the Zelenica ski piste, where there is an information board and map about ‘Adventures in Tržič‘. The path begins by crossing an area of boulders before entering the forest.

In a couple of places the path is quite narrow and exposed, however, it is not in any way or anywhere difficult. It takes a little over an hour from the car park at Ljubelj to reach the Koča na Prevalu mountain hut and pasture.

To go through the tunnel you will need a torch, or at least the torch on your mobile phone! It’s freeeeezing in the tunnel, though on a hot summer’s day its bearable for the short length of time it takes to walk through it!

About halfway along the trail, shortly after leaving the tunnel – as well as in one place in the middle of the tunnel – there are wonderful views of St. Ana valley towards Tržič and the surrounding hills and mountains.

The trail leads to the Preval mountain pasture at an altitude of 1,311 metres, where you can stop for a rest and refreshments at the Koča na Prevalu mountain hut.

From the pasture you can also choose to extend your hike, either up the (very!) steep trail that leads directly up to the peak of Begunjščica, or follow the forest road towards the Planinca mountain hut and pasture where you can either branch off to the right after cca. 10 mins to take the ‘čez Roza‘ trail to the Roblek mountain hut (Roblekov dom), or continue on the road which descends to reach the Planinca mountain pasture and hut.

Ljubelj is a great starting point for hikes in the Karavanke mountains year-round, while in winter it becomes a ‘hub’ for ski touring and sledding.

Whilst in the area you can also visit the Mauthausen concentration camp, and, if you are hungry after all that hiking and/or exploring, then Gostišče Karavla is the place to go! You can read more about both these places in my recent blog post here.

© Adele in Slovenia

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

Roblekov dom – Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut 2017

The Roblekov dom mountain hut on Mt. Begunščica in the Karavanke mountains has just been announced as the winner of the title ‘Best Mountain Hut 2017’.

Photo: Jani Kolman

The competition was contested by 72 out of the 181 mountain huts (including bivouacs and shelters) in Slovenia, and of the 70,000+ votes cast by the public, Roblekov dom was this year’s clear winner.

There are numerous reasons why Roblekov dom is such a well-known and popular destination for hikers from all over Slovenia – not least due to the popular song, which surely almost every Slovene knows by heart, ‘Na Roblek bom odsel’ (I’m going to Roblek), written and performed by the legend of Slovenian folk music, Slavko Avsenik. Watch and listen here!

These days the song is still performed by the hugely popular Avsenik Ensemble, from Begunje na Gorenjskem.

The Roblekov dom hut has long been a popular destination and now, with the new caretaker managers – Zdenka and Rok Podpečan, who took over the running of the hut last year and assure visitors a warm welcome regardless of the weather – the hut has now become even more popular and they have added a few of their own new touches, too!

For many, myself included, the fact that you can’t reach the hut by car is a major plus i.e. you have to hike up to earn your view and/or tasty treat, making it all the more rewarding, not to mention peaceful and pollution-free.

Roblekov dom is accessible year-round, and is actually probably even more popular during winter than in summer. I love hiking up there in winter to enjoy some winter sun, often finding myself above the cloud that is lingering above the valley.

Even when there is A LOT of snow, you might find me (somewhere!) up there!

Even though I don’t like snow, I will make an exception to visit Roblek dom on a sunny winter’s day!

The hut can be a destination by itself, just sit and soak up the views whilst enjoying some tasty mountain food, or as part of a hike to the top of Mt. Begunščica, which you can read more about in this blog post from earlier this year here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2017/06/18/the-karavanke-mountains-majestic-mt-begunscica/

The most usual place to begin a hike to Roblekov dom is from the Draga valley, which is reached through the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, and is home to the impressive ruins of the mighty Kamen Castle. You can either take the direct route up or take the Shepherd’s Trail to Preval then the path ‘čez Roža’ to reach the hut. Note, however, that during winter, when there is snow and/or ice, it isn’t advisable to attempt the Shepherd’s Trail. More about the Shepherd’s Trail can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/shepherds-trail-begunje/

Photo: Miran Kambić

Roblekov dom is open year-round; daily during the summer months and at weekends only throughout the remainder of the year, as well as on public holidays.

So, don’t delay, visit today, and find out for yourself why Roblekov dom has been voted Slovenia’s best mountain hut!

© Adele in Slovenia

The Karavanke Mountains – Majestic Mt. Begunščica

At 2060m, Begunščica is amongst the highest mountains in the Karavanke range, and a favourite destination among locals and those looking for a moderately challenging and very scenic hike.

The approximately 120-kilometre-long Karavanke mountain range forms a natural border between Slovenia, to the south, and Austria, to the north. Thus, in late-spring it’s not uncommon for there to be snow on the northern facing slopes of the Karavanke, whilst it’s green on the sunny Slovenian side!

Green and sunny to the south, snowy to the north!

There are several ways to reach the summit; the most popular among them is to start from the Draga Valley in Begunje na Gorenjskem. If coming from Radovljica, drive through the village and continue in the direction of Tržič, then on the left you will see the road towards the valley. The valley is a popular starting point for hikes in the Karavanke range. The routes are well-marked and signposts show approximate walking times.

I recommend taking time to stop in the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem to have a stroll around the park, and also at the entrance to the Draga Valley to see the ruins of Kamen Castle.

Continue to the end of the valley to the parking area and from there you set off on foot. You can choose to either go via Preval on the first part of the Shepherd’s Trail, which is the more direct, short, but steeper route, or hike first up to the Roblekov dom mountain hut (1657m), where you can stop for refreshments either on the way up or down – or of course both ways! You can find more information about the Shepherd’s Trail here – http://www.radolca.si/en/shepherds-trail-begunje/

Looking down on the Preval mountain hut on the path up towards Begunščica

If you choose the route to Preval, it takes a good hour from the valley to reach the Koča na Prevalu mountain hut, again an optional break for refreshments here – then prepare yourself for the very steep path directly up to the summit. Here you leave the Shepherd’s Trail and take the marked path to Begunščica which, at times, can feel like an almost vertical ascent. However, apart from one small rocky section, it isn’t overly exposed and is manageable for competent and experienced hikers.

As you approach the summit you can’t fail to notice the ‘carpet’ of sheep droppings from the sheep that are taken to graze on the slopes of Begunščica during summer! I always wonder how on earth so few sheep manage to produce so many droppings! At the summit there is an orientation table which provides assistance when you are gobsmacked by the stunning views and don’t know where to look first!

Personally I prefer to do the hike in the direction as I have described it: Draga – Preval – Begunščica – Roblek – Draga, as the descent from the summit to Roblek is easier and more ‘knee-friendly’ than the steep path from the summit down to Preval. I also like doing it this way as it makes it an entirely circular route.

The path from the summit down towards the Roblekov dom hut

Whilst there is no hut at the summit, there’s no shortage of huts to visit; in addition to the aforementioned Koča na Prevalu and Roblekov dom huts, there is also the Tomčeva koča hut (1180m) on the Poljška Planina highland and the hut on the Planina Planinca highland (1136m), both of which are found at approximately the halfway point between the Draga Valley and the Roblekov dom hut.

The hut on the Planina Planinca highland

You can find out more about this and other hiking routes nearby on the Tourism Radol’ca website here – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

© Adele in Slovenia

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