Highlights of the Škofja Loka Historial 2017

The annual Škofja Loka Historial (Festival of History) took place last weekend in the well-preserved medieval old town and its surroundings.

I attended the festival and managed to dodge (most of !) the afternoon showers which are so often a feature at this time of year. And the spirits of all the dancers, actors, stallholders, and other performers and guests weren’t dampened either!

Below you can see some of the highlights of the festival, as well as see more of this charming town on the Sora river which should be on your list of places to visit whilst in Slovenia.

The fair and the majority of events took place in the main town square (Mestni trg) where visitors  had a chance to try some typical dishes from the area, part of the Taste of the Škofja Loka Countryside project (Okusi loškega podeželja).

One of the foods most synonymous with this area is Visoška pečenka – roast pork from nearby Visoko, studded with carrots, lemon, parsley garlic and laurel.

On the main stage there were performances from, amongst others, the Lonca Dance Society performing historic dances.

A display of flag throwing and sword play was performed by the Taboršti Kupci historic group from the twin town of Tabor in Southern Bohemia.

They certainly weren’t just play fighting! It was pretty brutal, raw fighting which, in addition to swordplay, seemed to involve a lot of bashing each other over the head with (real!) hammers!

In Rotovž, the former town hall building and one of the most prominent buildings in the square with its baroque frescoes and three-storey gothic arcaded courtyard, the main event took place at intervals throughout the day. The drama ‘The Devil’s Footbridge’ (Hudičev brv) tells the story of the devil, the Puštal frogmen and a stone bridge.

From the main square, I headed down through the narrow streets and alleys to the other main town square, Lower Square (Spodnji trg) where there were also various workshops and performances.

Next it was up to Loka Castle and the 16th century Škopar’s House (Škoparjeva hisa) where I had a chance to sample Loška medla, cooked in the original black kitchen; a simple peasant-style dish made of cooked millet which, according to some sources, originates from the Škofja Loka area.

Outside the house there were workshops and puppet shows for children, as well as weaving workshops. Unfortunately I haven’t got so much as a creative bone in my body when it comes to such things, but I’m always willing to give them a try! Weaving on a loom and using a weaving board; the latter, as I discovered, also requires a fair bit of patience!

Even when there aren’t any particular events happening in the town itself, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in and around it, as well as further afield in the Selca and Poljana valleys, about which I’ve already written quite a bit this year, but I’m certainly not finished yet!

And there’s no need to wait until next year’s Historial if you’d like to try your hand at some traditional handicrafts as this can be done all-year round at the DUO Arts and Crafts Centre (more here https://adeleinslovenia.com/2017/01/13/loka-honey-breads-and-handicrafts-at-the-duo-arts-crafts-centre/); you could also take a guided tour of the town to find out more about its history and listen to some of the many local legends, try some of the suggested experiences, or explore the pristine countryside on foot or by bike. More about all this can be found on the Visit Škofja Loka website – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

The Pri Andrejevih Tourist Farm: Fab Food, Family and Fortifications!

Staying at a tourist farm offers a unique experience in every sense. Each of them are different – some of them are working farms with vast with acres of land, others small, simple but homely. Whatever the size and the facilities on offer, you can be sure of a friendly welcome at family-run tourist farms with copious helpings of home-made and home-produced food.

There are over 800 tourist farms in Slovenia spread through the country, so deciding where to stay can be a minefield.

I’ve visited quite a few in my 10 years of living here and, of those that I’ve visited so far, Pri Andrejevih in the village of Narin, stands out.

The village of Narin is situated midway between Pivka and Ilirska Bistrica and is ideally located for exploring all the area has to offer. In this previous blog, you can read much more about what to do and see in Pivka including the Park of Military History, which is well worth a visit – http://wp.me/p3005k-1w8

The family-run Pri Andrejevih farm comprises a working farm, where organic farming is practiced, simple, well-appointed rooms in the upper part of the house, an outdoor swimming pool, and great Slovene home-cooked food, which is available for guests or, upon prior arrangement, also for day visitors.

Immediately upon arrival, I couldn’t help but notice the imposing church on a hill directly above the farm, and I couldn’t wait to set off to explore it!

The church is located in the small settlement of Šilentabor, which, though there is nothing left today to suggest so, was once the largest fortification complex in Slovenia. You can reach the settlement on an easy path which is part of the Circular Trail of Military History which runs almost past the door of the Pri Andrejevih farm.

From the farm you cross the railway line – observing the stop sign, of course!

Then, just keep following the green signs! Here the path leads up to Šilentabor, or you can continue on the circular path.

You pass the family’s pastures where their horses graze.

Once there the views over the entire Green Karst area are breathtaking, so much so you may need to take a lie down!

From the viewpoint continue past the bear (!) onwards towards the church. Shortly before reaching the church the return route to Narin leads down to the left, but it’s worth making the extra few minutes detour to St. Martin’s church.

It takes about 1.5 hours for the route from Narin to Šilentabor and back, or, for the entire 11.3km circular path allow 3-4 hours.

Of course, by now, hunger had set in and it was time for a delicious dinner, which I had been looking forward to ever since my previous visit to Pri Andrejevih, as they cook and serve the most natural and delicious food – simplicity at its best.

They also produce and sell their own honey, vinegar, juices and fruit liqueurs.

When not out walking and exploring, there’s a chance to relax in the farm’s outdoor swimming pool and to ‘get to know’ the family pets.

Then watch the sun setting from the terrace. A perfect end to a perfect day!

After a good night’s rest and more farm products at breakfast, I set off on another day of exploration of the Green Karst, about which you can read here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2017/05/07/sneznik-and-slivnica-witches-and-castles-in-the-karst/

Find more details about the Pri Andrejevih Tourist Farm here – http://www.andrejevi.com/ and about the Green Karst region here – http://zelenikras.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

http://www.andrejevi.com/

 

The UNESCO-Listed Škofja Loka Passion Play

When UNESCO deems something important enough to be included in its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, you know it’s something of great value and importance, as is the case with the Škofja Loka Passion Play.

Staging of the play is based on the oldest preserved text in Slovenian language, written by Father Romuald, a Capuchin monk who lived for a time in the monastery in Škofja Loka.

Staging of the Passion Play, Photo: Andrej Tarfila Photography

Where better, then, to start my journey of discovery of the Passion Play, than with a look around St. Anne’s Church and the Capuchin Monastery – where the original manuscript is preserved – in the heart of the medieval old town of Škofja Loka.

I was greeted by the sprightly 80-year monk Father Bernard who is a good testament to the benefits of clean living. It was a pleasure and a privilege to get an insight into life in the monastery and hear some of this tales of the various Capuchin monasteries where he has lived in Slovenia.

The church and monastery date back to 1707 when the foundation stone was laid, with regular church services beginning on New Year’s Day 1710.

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

Father Bernard first showed me around the monastery’s gardens and courtyard and was particularly keen to point out the two sundials.

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

We moved on to look at the monastery church. Its layout is simple – a single nave with three chapels – however the fittings, altars and paintings are opulent. Mass takes place twice daily on weekdays at 6am and 8am, and three-times per day on Sundays and public holidays, at 8am, 11am and 6pm (at 5pm during winter) and is open to everyone.

Photo: Tomaž Sedej

The pride and joy of the monastery, however, is undoubtedly the library on the first floor which contains 25,000 items, among them are 21 incunabula – books printed before 1501, the oldest of which dates from 1473, and the original manuscript of the Škofja Loka Passion.

The precious original manuscript. Photo: Tomaž Sedej

The library in itself is a work of art, featuring intricate hand-carving work by the acclaimed local carver Petra Podlogar Plestenjak. I met Petra and witnessed her work up close earlier this year when she taught me how to make Loka honey breads using her hand-carved moulds at the DUO Arts and Crafts Centre. Read more here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/?s=Loka+honey+breads

Carving by Petra Plestenjak Podlogar, Photo: Kati Sekirnik

Conditions in the library are maintained at a constant level of light and humidity to ensure preservation of the centuries-old precious books. I was almost afraid to breathe, such are the pristine conditions of the books in the library and the sense of history they convey.

There is also a separate exhibition area which includes copper reliefs of scenes from the Passion Play, and historical photos of the Capuchin monasteries in Slovenia.

Copper reliefs of scenes from the Passion, Photo: Tomaž Sedej

The Passion Play was originally performed on Good Friday each year until 1751. Almost 300 years later it was again held in 1936, before being revived in 1999. The play is now staged every 6 years, with the last full performance being held in 2015. So, we may have to wait until 2021 for the next performance, but, as they say “All the best things are worth waiting for!”

Around 800 people, including actors, volunteers, dressmakers etc., are involved in the staging of the largest open-air theatre production in Slovenia (and surely further afield too).

There is currently an exhibition of pictures of the Passion Play on view in the Sokolski dom building in the centre of Škofja Loka’s old town. The exhibition by Jože Štukelj is based on the UNESCO session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, held from 27.11-2.12.2016, where the Passion Play was officially inscribed into the afore-mentioned UNESCO List. Entry to the exhibition is free and it is open until 17th April.

The current exhibition in Sokolski Dom, Photo: Tomaž Sedej

More information about the Škofja Loka Passion Play can be found here – http://www.pasijon.si/en/ and about the Capuchin Library on the Visit Škofja Loka website here – http://www.visitskofjaloka.si/en/experiences/culture-and-art

2021 will come around before you know it, so mark the date now!

© Adele in Slovenia

Like Beekeeping? Love Radovljica!

Those interested in beekeeping should definitely make a beeline for Radovljica!

The Radovljica area has a wealth of beekeeping-related sights of interest, all within close proximity, thus making it ideal place to visit for beekeepers or those with an interest in beekeeping.

One such example is the group of 38 beekeepers from Estonia who I helped with their plans to visit Radovljica.

Whilst the main purpose of their trip was beekeeping-related activities, they also managed to find time to do some sightseeing in Ljubljana, took a traditional pletna boat to the island on Lake Bled, and visited Vintgar Gorge.

The main beekeeping day began with a visit to Kralov med in the hamlet of Selo near Bled, where owner Blaž Ambrožič told them everything, and more, that they could possibly want to know about beekeeping in Slovenia. I wrote more extensively about my visit to Kralov med in a previous blog, also about World Bee Day, which you can read here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/17/world-bee-day-the-anton-jansa-honey-route/

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The undoubted highlight, whether a beekeeper or not, is the chance to see and experience up close the hive found on a nearby tree trunk and transported to its current home. The fact you can get so close is testament to the calm nature of Slovenia’s Carniolan grey bee.

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Next the group came to Radovljica, beginning at the Tourist Information Centre where they tasted local honey and chocolate, and had the chance to buy some gifts to take home. They even brought us some of their own Estonian honey, which, as you can see, the staff enjoyed tasting!

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We then took a stroll through the medieval old town to see the main sights of interest – the Šivec House Gallery, the Radovljica Mansion, St. Peter’s Church, and the other wonderful frescoed buildings.

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Then it was on to the viewpoint for wonderful views of the Julian Alps, the Jelovica plateau and the Sava river.

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The next stop was to Lectar Inn to watch the process of making and decorating the traditional ‘lectar’ gingerbread’ hearts, made with honey, of course!

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And a chance to buy souvenirs and/or gifts for loved ones.

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Having seen Radovljica, it was then time to Taste Radol’ca, with a traditional Slovene lunch, also at Lectar Inn, one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants. During lunch, the owner Jože entertained us with a few of his favourite songs played on the harmonica – never something to be missed!

The final stop in Radovljica was to the Museum of Apiculture, housed in the Radovljica Mansion, where visitors can learn all about the history of beekeeping in Slovenia, watch a video (narrated in English by me!), and in summer watch the bees hard work diligently in the hive.

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The group’s very last stop on the jam-packed, or should I say honey-packed, day, was to the Gorenjska Beekeeping Development and Education Centre in Lesce. You can read more about the centre and its wide-ranging activities here – http://www.radolca.si/en/gorenjska-region-beekeeping-development-and-education-centre/

So, as you can see, the Radovljica area really is a beekeeper’s paradise!

If you’d like any more information about Slovenian beekeeping, or are interested in taking a tour of the town and/or visiting some of the above-mentioned sights, feel free to get in touch or contact Tourism Radol’ca – http://www.radolca.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing in Slovenia’s Julian Alps

I’ve had quite a few enquiries recently via my blog regarding winter hiking in Slovenia. So, I thought I would put together a new blog post with some ideas about where to hike here in winter, and also about another alternative winter sport – snowshoeing.

Before I go on, however, one thing I would like to emphasise – and cannot emphasise enough – is that you MUST be properly prepared and equipped for winter hiking. In the past couple of weeks there have been a number of deaths in our mountains, and, as is so often the case, among them are tales of people going to the mountains in trainers or other such inappropriate attire. Proper equipment is essential year-round, but particularly so in winter, as is knowing the terrain. Personally, during winter, particularly when hiking alone, I stick to routes that I know and that I know are well-trodden.

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As I’m not a skier – never have been and never will be – snowshoeing provides great exercise and (can be!) great fun too, provided the conditions are right. Putting on a pair of snowshoes for the first time is a slightly strange experience. One feels rather awkward and clumsy walking around with, what look and feel like, tennis racquets strapped to your feet, though the modern versions, as seen below, are somewhat sleeker in their design.

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Once you get used to walking with a wider and slightly ungainly gait, you soon get used to it, though a pair of hiking poles is a requisite. Walking with snowshoes enable you to access places on foot that would otherwise be inaccessible during winter. However, snowshoes aren’t suitable for scaling high peaks, but rather for traversing wider, flatter snow-covered terrain.

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One of the best, and one of my favourite, places for winter activities is the Gorenjska region, where I live in the northwest of Slovenia, is the Pokljuka plateau. The entire forested Karst plateau, 20kms in length, is within Triglav National Park, and reaches an elevation of 1,400m. The highest peak is Debela peč (2014m), which, together with the peaks of Brda, Mrežce and Viševnik, are among the most popular with hikers year-round.

As can be seen below – me en-route to Debela peč – winter hiking, when at times you can be waist deep (or deeper!) in snow, can be exhausting at times, so isn’t for the faint-hearted!

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But the rewards can also be fantastic, provided you are well-equipped, sensible, know the terrain, and are fit enough!

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Pokljuka is approximately 15kms from Bled. Other than for a few months during summer, there is no regular, scheduled public transport to the plateau, so a car is essential. The plateau can also be reached from the road which turns off near Bohinjska Bistrica and leads up towards Gorjuše.

This year on 8-11th December Pokljuka hosted the annual BMW Biathlon World Cup. The plateau is a favourite training destination for many winter sports people from across Europe as well as for the Slovene military who have a barracks at Rudno Polje, which is also home to the Pokljuka Sports Centre and the Hotel Center http://www.center-pokljuka.si/en.html

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Pokljuka is a very popular destination with fans of cross-country skiing. I have tried it, on a few occasions, but me and skiing – of any kind – are never going to get along! Here’s me trying to ‘play it cool’ whilst a group of Slovenian military recruits go whizzing by!

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I’ve been there at times when the weather is less than favourable too, though once home in the warm with a cuppa, all is forgiven and forgotten!

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With its wide, open pastures and traditional wooden huts, the beautiful Planina Zajavornik highland is among the most popular parts of Pokljuka. The highland is also equally stunning during summer. You can cross the highland on foot and then head further up to the Blejska koča mountain hut, where you can enjoy hearty, traditional Slovenian food such as Carniolan sausage or a stew such as ričet, or, if the road is clear of snow, you can drive a little further by taking the road to the right from Mrzli studenec then park on the opposite side of the highland before continuing on foot up to the mountain hut.

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There are so many lovely parts of Pokljuka, it’s hard to choose a favourite and it’s equally beautiful, if not more so, during summer. Below you can see the Kranjska dolina highland, which you pass if you take the road as described above. I particularly like cycling in this area in summer.

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It’s fairly easy to navigate your way around Pokljuka, but a map of the Julian Alps will certainly aid you in planning routes.

I hope this has provided some ideas and inspiration for winter hiking in Slovenia. I wish you happy, and above all, safe, hiking!

© Adele in Slovenia

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

It’s Wine Time – the Vinarium Tower and the Lendave Gorice Hills!

St. Martin’s Day is celebrated every November in Slovenia in a big way! Throughout the country, whether in a wine-growing region or not, you will find wine-related events taking place, and, even if like me you aren’t a big wine drinker, soaking up the atmosphere and savouring the excellent accompanying homemade food makes a visit to one of the ‘Martinovanje‘ events a must!

One such wine-growing area is Lendava, in the far northeast of Slovenia, which is a melting-pot of culture and cuisine, with influences from its neighbours – Hungary and Croatia.

The town’s star attraction is undoubtedly the Vinarium Tower, which opened in 2015 and has rapidly become a favourite destination for visitors from far and wide. The 53.5m-high tower offers superlative panoramic views over the Lendavske gorice hills and further to the Mura river and the lowlands of neighbouring Hungary, Croatia and Austria. There is a lift which rapidly takes visitors up to the observation deck on the upper level, or, those up for it, can tackle the 240 stairs instead! Information about opening hours and ticket prices can be found here – http://www.vinarium-lendava.si/

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As one would expect from being up so high, the views extend as far as the eye can see. The Lendave gorice hills are prime wine-growing territory, and it would be rude not to try a drop or two of the local wine after your visit! On the drive between the town up towards the Vinarium Tower, there are numerous small domestic wine producers, where you can stop and sample and, of course, buy some to take home – at prices that you will love!

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In front of the Vinarium tower, there are a handful of food and drink outlets, where you can enjoy, amongst others, a white wine spritzer – the most typical refreshing drink in this area – and local food such as bograč and langaš.

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Lendava is synonymous with bograč, which is a dish fairly similar to goulash, however, the secret is in the 4 different kinds of meat and a few other key ingredients (each cook, of course, has their own secret formula!). Langaš is a potato-based dough, deep fried and topped with lashings of garlic and oil – healthy it’s not, but then you only live once!. My visit to the area coincided with the annual Bogračfest – a festival and competition in cooking bograč.

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The centre of Lendava itself has a pleasant relaxed air to it; a mixture of pavement cafes, the imposing St. Catherine’s Church and Lendava Castle perched on a small hill overlooking the town. The castle’s baroque appearance dates from the 18th century, though it was first mentioned in records dating as far back as 1192. Today it houses archaeological, historical and ethnologic collections as well as a gallery.

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The Cultural Centre, which comprises a theatre and concert hall, is a magnificent eye-catching building. It was actually designed by one of Hungary’s most famous architects, Imre Makovecz. In this part of the country, you will notice all public signs in both Slovene and Hungarian languages, and there are strong ties between the minorities of both nations living in harmony on either side of the border.

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If, like me, you like cycling, then the area is perfect and you can even visit 3 countries in one ride. Not wishing to be greedy (Ok, time was also an issue, as Bogračfest was calling!), I ‘just’ visited 2 countries on my 3-hour, cca. 60km bike ride.

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After crossing the border into Croatia, I, or rather ‘we’ cycled alongside the Mura river, which forms a natural border between the two countries.

I was lucky enough to have a cycle pal for this ride, in the form of Paul, a fellow Brit who lives not far from Lendava who knows the cycle routes in this area like the back of his hand. I admire Paul hugely, and he and I share the same virtues, struggles, joy and passion for living in Slovenia. He has painstaking, and single-handedly, renovated an old mill – Slomškov Mlin in Razkrižje (more about that when its time for the official opening!) – and also runs a cycle tour company offering guided or self-guided tours and the chance to hire bikes and e-bikes. Find out more about Simply Cycling Slovenia here – http://design-it.si/cycling/

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After having a guided tour of the mill, we stopped at a pleasant picnic area near one of the few remaining famous floating mills which are found on both sides of the Mura river.

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This mill, called ‘The Island of Love’, is located on the Slovene side of the Mura river.

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The centrally-located Lendava Thermal Spa is an ideal place to base yourself for exploring the area, with its indoor and outdoor thermal pools, saunas, energy park, traditional cuisine, and full range of treatments, many of them based on its unique paraffin water known for its healing and rejuvenating properties. Find out more here – http://goo.gl/GRXeZz

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Enjoy celebrating St. Martin’s Day – wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate it – no excuses needed!

© Adele in Slovenia