Visit Žirovnica: Autumn Hikes in the Karavanke Mountains

Providing the weather is good, autumn is one of the best times of the year for hiking in Slovenia; the weather is (usually) more stable i.e. there aren’t (usually!) late afternoon thunderstorms like in summer, and the trails are far less crowded than during the peak summer months. On the downside, the days are getting shorter and some of the mountain huts are already closed, with others only open at weekends, but provided you set off in good time and with proper equipment and a well-stocked rucksack, the hiking world – well Slovenia’s little part of it – is your oyster!

The Karavanke mountains above the Žirovnica area are a great destination for hiking year-round.

I have already written numerous blogs about my various hikes in the area, so this blog is a kind of ‘one-stop-shop’ where I have gathered together all, well far from all in truth, my hikes and blogs in the area, as well as a bonus one too!

The hikes listed below are all included in the leaflet ‘Žirovnica Green Energy – Hiking and Mountain Bike Trails in the Municipality of Žirovnica‘.

Valvasorjev dom (Valvasor mountain hut) is the three-times winner of the title ‘Best Mountain Hut in Slovenia’. It can be reached in around an hour from the reservoir in the Završnica valley.

Rezultat iskanja slik za valvasorjev dom

Photo: Planinska Zveza Slovenije

There are numerous onward trails from the hut, including to Stol, the highest peak in the Karavanke mountains.

Ajdna is the name of the tooth-shaped peak beneath Mount Stol and is home to a fascinating archaelogical site. It was settled during the crisis times of the collapse of the Western-Roman Empire in 476 AD. Extensive, expensive and exceptionally complex conservation work was carried out and today there are well-preserved buildings and remains of buildings that are thought to date back to the late Antiquity, though some evidence shows that it may even have been inhabited far earlier.

You can also find out more about Ajdna by visiting the Ajdna Museum Room in Čopova hisa (Čop’s House).

The numerous mountain pastures beneath Mt. Stol are ideal for those seeking easier, more level walks, and/or mountain bike enthusiasts.

The Žirovniška planina mountain pasture and the Zabreška planina mountain pasture are up there among my favourites!

I like to visit the Dom pri izviru Završnice (hut at the source of the Završnica stream) as part of a hike to Srednji vrh.

Starting from the Završnica valley, the trail passes the hut up to the Šija saddle, from where there is no lack of choice where to go next!

Stol is the highest mountain in the Karavanke range. As the Karavanke mountains form a natural border between Slovenian and Austria, you are spoilt for choice with fabulous views in all directions.

The word ‘stol’ means ‘chair’, hence once you are at the top, you are literally taking a seat atop the Karavanke!

The Turkish Cave (Turška jama) is located at an altitude of 835m above the Završnica valley. The name of the cave derives from when, many centuries ago, women and children retreated to the cave to seek refuge from Turkish invaders.

The cave has two entrances, is 18 metres long and 2 metres deep.

I have already written two blogs about Tito’s Village, offering two alternative ways to reach it. The first describes the route from the Završnica valley or, for a more adventurous approach, take the path along the ridge to Mali vrh and onwards to Tito’s village.

The camp provided partisans with shelter from the German occupiers. The camp was in existence from 21 November 1944 – 31 January 1945, which, though only 2 months, was considered long for those times.

And finally, the Hudič babo pere waterfall – the ‘bonus’ walk I mentioned earlier!

One does, however, need a sense of adventure to find this waterfall, not to mention good footwear! I visited in late summer, when water levels were low, but imagine that during autumn the flow of water is somewhat more impressive. You can reach it on foot from the Završnica valley. After around cca. 200 metres from the reservoir, just before a wooden fenced ‘bridge’, take the (unmarked) path to the left. It first crosses a stream over a wooden boardwalk then leads up steeply into the forest where the path almost disappears. Just keep following the water for a further cca.20 mins to reach the top – but please do so with extreme caution!

So, as you can see, there’s no shortage of choice. The hardest thing, as always, is deciding where to go first. Happy Hiking in Žirovnica!

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Hiking in Žirovnica: The Turkish Cave

The Turkish Cave (Turška jama) is located at an altitude of 835m above the Završnica valley. The name of the cave derives from when, many centuries ago, women and children retreated to the cave to seek refuge from Turkish invaders.

The path to the cave is just one of the 16 trails included in the new map of hiking and mountain bike trails in the Žirovnica area, which you download here or pick up a copy (available in Slovene and English) at the Žirovnica Tourist Information Centre in Čop’s House (Čopova hiša).

The trail begins at the car park at the Završnica reservoir, which is a very popular place among locals either for just chilling or as a starting point for numerous hiking and cycling trips in the Završnica valley and the surrounding Karavanke mountains, or, of course, both, i.e. first hike or bike, then chill!

Set off along the gravel road towards the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut, where, after cca. 1 kilometre, you will reach a sharp left turn. There is a rest area and a sign showing the path towards the Turška jama cave.

From the sign it takes just 5-10 minutes to ascend through the forest to the cave.

The cave has two entrances, is 18 metres long and 2 metres deep.

The view from the cave is somewhat obstructed by trees…

…so it’s worth venturing (carefully!) a few metres further…

…where you a richly rewarded for your efforts with fabulous views.

You can also extend your trip by visiting the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut – three times the winner in recent years of the title of ‘Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut’ – or you can even continue to Stol, the ‘top’ of the Karavanke!

© Adele in Slovenia

Discovering the Taste(s) of Žirovnica – Gostišče Osvald

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have written numerous posts about the fantastic hiking opportunities the Žirovnica area offers, among them an ascent of Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range. And now, since all hungry hikers (as well as cyclists and those pursuing other active pursuits) need plenty of sustenance and a ‘reward’ for their efforts, I have now set about delving more deeply into what is on offer at Žirovnica’s restaurants and inns – all in the name of research, of course!

So, let’s begin with a popular and traditional Slovenian restaurant – Gostišče Osvald, which is located on the main road through Žirovnica in the hamlet of Selo pri Žirovnici and is the oldest restaurant in the area.

One of my desires when writing such blogs is to try and uncover and share with readers any particular dishes that are a real speciality of a particular restaurant or area. Hence I left it to owner Anže to dish me up his specialties!

I hit gold with this giant buckwheat ‘krap’! ‘Krapi’ are usually smaller, individual dumplings, filled with curd cheese. This giant one, however, has a small amount of yeast mixed into the buckwheat dough to allow it to rise, is filled with a mixture of curd cheese and millet, and topped with pork crackling – ingenious and delicious!

Another speciality of the Žirovnica area is buckwheat with porcini mushrooms. It’s not dissimilar to a mushroom risotto, albeit it with grains of buckwheat instead of rice, with onion, herbs and sour cream to finish. It can be a hearty and filling dish on its own or a side dish.

Served together with a roast, I left fit to burst!

Anže then showed me around the other parts of the deceptively large building, which features two additional rooms for functions.

The restaurant was built in the mid-19th century. In bygone days there was a barn next door for the horses of horsemen who stopped in Selo pri Žirovnici on their onward travels and stayed in rooms above the barn.

Today you too can stay there – though above the restaurant rather than in the barn! – in the recently refurbished attic rooms, which are simple but make a bargain place to stay and ideal base for exploring the area.

Gostišče Osvald is in close proximity to Čopova hisa (Čop’s House), the birth house of Matija Čop, the first Slovenian philologist, literary historian and librarian, one of the greatest European scholars of his time and a good friend and mentor of France Prešeren.

His birth house is now also home to the Žirovnica Tourist Information Centre as well as the Ajdna Museum Room, featuring an exhibition of artefacts found during archeological excavations at Ajdna. Read more about hiking to Ajdna in one of my previous blog posts.

Also close by is the Avenue of Famous Men, located in front of the primary school in Žirovnica, and part of the Žirovnica Path of Cultural Heritage. You can take a horse and cart ride along the path every fourth Saturday in the month from March to October.

The ‘avenue’ features bust statues of five of the most famous and influential men from the Žirovnica area –Anton Janša, France Prešeren, Fran Saleški Finžgar, Janez Jalen and Matija Čop.

Click here for more information about what to see and do in Žirovnica and here for more about what, and where, to taste Žirovnica, and keep an eye out for more ‘tasty’ blogs to come too!

© Adele in Slovenia

Valvasorjev dom – Voted Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut for the 3rd Time in 5 years!

So, it’s official, Valvasorjev dom is the winner of the title of Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut – making it the third time it has won this prestigious title!

Last year, due to the rules of the competition which state that huts cannot be nominated two years in-a-row, Valvasorjev dom wasn’t in the running, but this year it once again breezed to become the holder of the title ‘Slovenia’s Best Mountain Hut 2018’. Congratulations to Aleš Štefe and the team!

Having already won the title in 2014 and 2016, this is a pretty impressive feat for a hut that doesn’t even have much of a view! But what it lacks in views, it makes up for with its great food, friendly team and welcoming atmosphere – all of which have proved to be a winning combination.

Valvasorjev dom (1,181m) lies beneath Stol (2,236m) – the highest peak in the Karavanke range. For those looking for a short hike, the hut can be a destination in itself – you can reach it in a little over an hour from the car park at the Završnica reservoir, or you can visit as part of a longer hike to Stol itself or numerous other destinations – as can be seen from the signs (below) in front of the hut.

During summer, you can also visit the other mountain hut on Stol, Prešernova koča – just a short distance from the summit – from where there are also numerous choices of onward routes.

The fascinating Ajdna archaelogical site is just a 30-minute walk from Valvasorjev dom.

Or you can visit one or more of the numerous mountain pastures beneath Stol such as the Zabreška planina highland (1,225m), or the Zirovniška planina (1,200m) highland.

Valvasorjev dom is also a popular destination for mountain bike enthusiasts, who can ride up the 5km forest road before heading off to traverse some of the afore-mentioned mountain pastures.

The fact that it is one of the few huts that is open year-round is also an added bonus, and Valvasorjev dom is as popular in winter as it is in summer.

When conditions permit, the 5km road from the valley is turned into a sledging track, too.

So, as you can see, there are more than enough reasons to visit the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and to find out for yourself why it is a three-time winner!

Click here to find out more about hiking and other activities in the Žirovnica area beneath Stol.

© Adele in Slovenia

A Spectrum of Sports and Culture Beneath Stol!

Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range, which presides majestically over the Žirovnica area, together with the villages that lie beneath it, offer a whole spectrum of sporting activities with something for everyone – from challenging hikes to summits and family-friendly meanders along the many mountain pastures, to horse riding, cycling, running and even an adrenaline-filled zipline over the Sava Dolinka river.

Zipline Dolinka is a new, exciting way to get some adrenaline whilst marvelling at the stunning scenery around and below you. Its 5 cables offer a total of 2,371 metres of descent over the Sava Dolinka river.

For those who prefer to have both feet on solid ground, the Žirovnica area offers walks and hikes for all the family.

For example, if you looking for a more level walk, you could drive the 5km mountain road up to the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and then set off on foot, first passing the Žirovniška planina mountain pasture and then on to one of my favourite spots – the Zabreška planina mountain pasture.

Though not an official mountain hut, in fine weather at weekends you may be able to get refreshments at the pasture hut, where you can take a seat on the wonderful, unique wooden furniture and soak up the views!

Kids – big and small – will love it too!

You can even continue further to the Doslovška planina mountain pasture and towards the Dom pri Izviru Završnice mountain hut, which I wrote about in a previous blog here.

Those wanting more challenging hikes are well catered for too, with trails to the summit of Stol itself, as well as, among others, to the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and the Ajdna Archaelogical Site. Find more information here about this and other hikes in the Žirovnica area.

For those that like running, why not take part in the popular ‘Run Under the Free Sun‘ (Tek pod svobodnim soncem) on Saturday 1st September. The 10.7km route, which begins at 10am, leads past the important sights along the Path of Cultural Heritage. There are also shorter 200m, 400m, 600m and 900m routes, beginning at 9am, for children. Hurry with your registrations by 28th August. Find more here about this event and running in the Žirovnica area.

Cyclists are also well catered for in the Žirovnica area. From short, easy rides on the flat Imperial Road, and along the Path of Cultural Heritage, to longer, more challenging rides in the Završnica valley and onwards to the numerous mountain pastures beneath Stol. More information and route descriptions can be found here.

So, as you can see, there really is something for everyone and lovers of sports, culture and, not forgetting, beekeeping, should make a beeline for Žirovnica! There’s a fair chance you will find me there on my bike or on foot too!

© Adele in Slovenia

Summit Stol and Take a Seat Atop the Karavanke!

If I crane my neck, I can see Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range, from my desk. Thus, it’s an ever-present feature in my life and, accordingly so, I can’t resist hiking to its top at least a couple of times per year, and yesterday it was time for the first hike to the summit this year!

The word ‘stol’ in Slovenian means ‘chair’, since when viewed from its western side (not the side I can see from here!), its summit forms a kind of ‘back’ for the flatter slightly lower summit which is home to the Prešernova koča mountain hut.

At 2,236 metres, Stol, along with the other mountains in the Karavanke range, forms a natural border between Slovenia and Austria, hence, on a clear day, there are always stunning views to be had in all directions.

Though quite a large percentage of those who hike to the summit of Stol do so by driving the 5km forest road to the Valvasorjev dom mountain hut and from there setting off on foot, I always opt to do the entire hike from the valley, as otherwise it just feels a bit like cheating to me!

After parking at the Završnica reservoir, I set off on the first part of the trail to the Valvasorjev dom hut (cca. 50 mins) from where, as you can see below, there are numerous paths leading in various directions.

Regular readers will know that I have a penchant for circular walks, and this time was no exception! I took the shorter, steeper Žirovniška pot (Žirovnica path) up, and the longer, less steep Zabreška pot (Zabreznica path) down, which is always my preferred route.

If you are feeling somewhat gallant, you might opt to not walk past the pile of logs without putting one in your rucksack or on your shoulder – the staff at the Prešernova koca mountain hut will be very grateful for your assistance in keeping the stove burning! Whether or not I was gallant enough to carry one up or not, I will leave you to decide!

It was somewhat overcast for the majority of the hike up, the story of this ‘summer’, but in actual fact a bit of cloud cover was welcome on the long, steep hike up, and on reaching the top, the clouds majestically began to part to reveal blue skies and warming sunshine, and, for a change, it wasn’t blowing a gale up there, as can so often be the case!

Before the final ascent to the top, the path leads up a steep stony gully, from where there is a real bird’s eye view of the Upper Sava Valley and the Julian Alps in the background. The path is distinct and well-marked throughout.

As you reach the summit, you will notice that the typical red and white Slovenian markers change to red and white with a green outer circle, denoting that the path is on the border with Austria – always a kind of exciting feeling, even after 11 years here!

It took me just over 3hrs 15 minutes to reach the summit. And, as is the tradition, don’t forget to sign the visitors’ book as you take your ‘seat’ at the top of the Karavanke!

Once at the top, among the magnificent sights, you can see Lake Bled on one side, whilst on the other Lake Worthersee in Klagenfurt.

You won’t be alone, since even if there aren’t many other hikers (on Sunday, there were!), there are always some brazen birds that don’t seem in the slightest bit scared of humans as they sit in wait for some tasty tit bits!

After descending from the summit, there was time for a quick bit of sustenance at the Prešernova koca mountain hut, where there is simple, but tasty mountain-type food and refreshments on offer, a(nother) visitors’ book to sign, and then it was time to begin the descent – more about which you can read in my next blog about the myriad of mountain pastures beneath Stol, coming soon…!

Click here for the Visit Žirovnica website where there is more information about this and other hiking trails in the Žirovnica area.

© Adele in Slovenia

Srednji Vrh: Seeking the Sun and a Stream in the Karavanke!

This ‘summer’ – not that it can really be called that thus far – hasn’t been kind to us outdoor types. This time last year we were basking in 35 degrees, whilst a week ago we had temperatures half that, and since the start of June there have only been a couple of days when there hasn’t been rain somewhere in Slovenia.

Thus, trying to find days with clear blue skies for hiking and getting some good snaps for my blog have been few and far between. Fed up with waiting, I just went anyway, and, though not as gloriously sunny as I would have liked, I managed to get in a good hike in the Karavanke mountains to Srednji vrh and the Dom pri izviru Završnice (mountain hut at the source of the Završnica stream) – and even stayed dry too!

Despite the less sunny photos, I hope you, nonetheless, enjoy this glimpse into just one of the many fantastic hikes in the Karavanke mountains in the Žirovnica area. Join me on my trip to see the source of the Završnica stream and Srednji vrh!

I started my hike from the Završnica valley. How far you go by car is a matter of choice – some choose to drive as far as possible along the valley, whilst I prefer to leave the car and set off on foot along the gravel road. You will want to stop and admire the reservoir (seen below on a sunnier day!), but if you have transport, then do continue along the valley further before parking, as its a long walk from here.

From here the road gets much rougher and it’s best to set off on foot. The area, with its many mountain pastures, is also popular for mountain biking.

The road rises gradually to reach the Tinčkova koca hut, which isn’t actually an official mountain hut, rather a private hut, but somehow the name has stuck!

The Dom pri izviru Završnice hut. which was recently renovated and has new beds and furniture, is situated at an altitude of 1425m above the Smokuč mountain pasture (Smokuška planina) and on the backside of the Zelenica ski piste (sadly, no longer operational).

The hut is open from 1st June to 1st October, and at other times at weekends, weather permitting, and by prior arrangement for groups. From the hut there are numerous options for continuing to explore the peaks of the Karavanke including Vrtača, Begunščica and Stol.

I always find the springs of rivers and streams fascinating. Where on earth does all the water come from? At the source of the Završnica stream, there is barely a trickle of water to be seen – and that despite the abundance of snow and rain this year – yet just a little further down the valley, it turns into a gushing stream.

The beauty of hiking in the Karavanke, particularly in the ‘summer’ (ahem!), is the lack of crowds. I hiked for close to 5 hours and only met around a dozen people in that time – bliss for those who really want to get away from it all.

As I like to make my hikes circular, where possible, I continued from the hut up the ski slope before turning left and heading on the slopes beneath Vrtača. In this area there is a lot of loose rock and scree, so you need to keep your wits about you. As you get higher, you are rewarded with a glimpse of Lake Bled in the distance.

Where the path branches off right to ascend the summit of Vrtača, I took the left fork marked for Stol. On reaching a junction I then descend to the Šija saddle, from where there is certainly no lack of choice of where to go next!

I chose the path to Srednji vrh (1796m), which is just a further 15 minute climb from the saddle. At the top there is a visitors’ book, a solitary bench and fab views!

I then descended back down towards the hut, which is less than half-an-hour from the Šija saddle before returning on the same road.

Click here for more information and this and other hikes in the Žirovnica area.

© Adele in Slovenia