A Taste of the Pivka Lakes

The Taste of Pivka Lakes festival last Sunday was definitely among the best food events I have been to since moving to Slovenia! Not only due to the food – though that was delicious, believe me – but mainly because of the atmosphere and good spirit of the event.

Many of the villages that fall within the boundary of the Pivka Lakes Nature Park, a Natura 2000 area in Slovenia’s Green Karst area, come together on an annual basis to showcase their local specialities, some of which even vary quite substantially from village-to-village.

What I particularly liked about the Taste of Pivka Lakes festival is, unlike the majority of foodie events, there was no element of profit-making, no competitiveness, no-one trying to sell or promote their goods; it is just a case of good old-fashioned co-operation, goodwill and home-cooking by people from all walks or life regardless of their status and without any hint of greed or gluttony from either those participating or those attending – a rarity indeed! Whilst all the stalls had a makeshift box for voluntary donations, these were gratefully received but certainly not a necessity.

Those taking part included residents from local villages – Suhorje, Kal, Narin, Palčje, Šempeter na Pivki, Stara Sušica, Selce, Klenik, Trnje, Juršče, Zagorje, Drskovče – as well as the Pivka Tourist Association and the Pivka Park of Military History.

There was all manner of delicious, local, sweet, savoury, hot and cold dishes and delicacies to try; can you imagine what a tough job I had trying to do justice to it all – all in the name of research, of course!

Nettle burek, various kinds of štruklji, biscuits, numerous flavours of potica, strudel, pancakes, flancati, hearty cauldron-cooked soups, stews, goulash, locally produced cheese, etc. – all served with a hefty side order of goodwill!

A brass band from Pivka’s twin town of Durach in Bavaria, provided the entertainment and joined in the fun, too!

The Pivka Lakes themselves comprise 17 intermittent karst lakes which, during and after heavy precipitation, mysteriously fill with water; at other times the water simply vanishes to leave flower-covered meadows.

The largest of the lakes, when it is a lake, that is, is Palčje Lake (Palško jezero).

Photo: Zelenikras.si

The area is known for its biodiversity, with hundreds of species of plants, insects and butterflies, and the territory is also known for its bear, wolf and lynx. More about the lakes can be found here – https://www.naravniparkislovenije.si/en/nature-parks/the-seasonal-lakes-of-pivka-nature-park

You can read more in this blog from last year about my visit to the 2nd biggest lakePetelinsko jezero – and the new Eco-Museum of the Pivka Seasonal Lakeshttps://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/05/pivka-pause-ponder-play/

Find out more about what to see, do, and taste in the Green Karst area here – http://zelenikras.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

Archery Adventures and Delicious Draga Delights!

The beautiful Draga valley in Begunje in Gorenjskem – home to the ruins of Kamen Castle, the Gostišče Draga restaurant and the start point for numerous hikes in the Karavanke mountains – has just got even better thanks to the new improved 28-target archery range.

Having never so much as held a bow and arrow, I was keen to try it out for myself and, I must say, I’m hooked already and can’t wait to try it again!

If you have your own equipment, you can just turn up and pay in the Gostišče Draga restaurant and then head off on your own, of course taking care to follow the numbered markers in the correct direction.

If you, like me, are a total novice or a relative newcomer to archery, or you skills are a bit rusty, then I suggest contacting the ‘go-to’ man for archery around here, Robert (Robi) Levstek.

We started with a brief safety introduction and a few warm-up shots as Robi demonstrated and talked me through the technique.

I know you probably won’t believe me, since I barely believed it myself, but this was one of my first shots – totally a case of beginner’s luck, though, as it didn’t continue in that vein!

Robi made all of the animal targets and also makes all his own bows and arrows, something he is deservedly proud of.

The archery course is also ideal for families with children, and Robi teaches children from age 3+. It’s also extremely good value, considering it provides several hours of entertainment, at just 10 euros for adults and 8 euros for children.

Sensible footwear is a must, as is comfortable clothing, but other than that all you need is a sense of adventure and good spirits!

It’s great fun making your way around the course through the forest, crossing the stream and trying to spot the life-like animals. Those with a competitive nature, and even those without, will love it. For those who want to get competitive, you can tot-up points, join the club and/or compete in the regular Parkur tournaments, whilst for others it can merely be a fun day out surrounded by the wonderful nature of the Draga valley.

The archery range is open year-round and even in winter, provided the snow cover is not too deep, you can spot the animal targets!

And no visit to the Draga valley is complete without a meal at the Gostišče Draga restaurant. Known for its fresh trout, venison, and other traditional Slovenian dishes, of late the restaurant has also become a mecca for lovers of all kinds of štruklji – sweet and savoury. Unable to decide on which to try this time, I went for the triple whammy and tried 3 different versions – buckwheat with wild garlic, classic curd cheese, and blueberry – all of which were so delicious I took some home for the next day (or two) too!

 

 

You can contact Robi and/or find out more information via the Facebook pages Parkur Draga https://www.facebook.com/parkurdraga/ and Lokostrelstvo Robert Levstek https://www.facebook.com/Lokostrelstvo-Robert-Levstek-sp-679804982054234/

Enquiries and reservations for the archery range can also be made at the Gostišče Draga restaurant – http://www.gostisce-draga.si/

But watch out, you might, like me, get hooked – on both the archery and the štruklji!

© Adele in Slovenia

Gostilna Gačnk – Slovene Food and Hospitality at its Best!

Gostilna Gačnk, in the settlement of Log near Cerkno, is a family-fun traditional Slovenian guest house and restaurant with a more than 100-year tradition. I stayed there last weekend whilst exploring Cerkno and the surrounding areas for a future blog post and had originally intended to just mention where I’d stayed, however, I soon found out that to do so would be an injustice, since this place deserves a blog all of its own, so, here it is!

Despite being mid-summer, on the day of my arrival it was unseasonably chilly thanks to a brief cold front that had spread across the country the day before. So, I took a seat next to the wood burner, had a cup of tea (as we English do!), and enjoyed a lovely natter with the very affable owner, Matjaž.

After discussing what to see and do during my weekend visit, and following a short walk, I was offered a glass of homemade schnapps made from ‘palaj‘ (Latin: Micromerio thymifolio), which grows exclusively in the area around Novaki, specifically on and between the peaks of Kopa and Porezen, and, as such, is a real speciality and rarity.

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This was just a prelude to the excellent hospitality and meals I was to enjoy over the weekend. For a change I had some company for dinner, when a fellow blogger, who lives in Cerkno, joined me and was to prove great company as we shared tales of blogging. We left it to the team in the kitchen to surprise us with some local delights (other than instructions from me for ‘no fish!’). I particularly enjoyed the starter as it was something I’ve never tried before – ‘smukavc‘ – a thick soup made from cabbage and served in a pastry ‘bowl, with home-produced sausage.

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Gačnk specialises in dishes cooked outside over an open fire and other traditional Slovenian dishes such as žlikrofi and štrukjli.

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As I was planning a full day of exploring the next day, I arranged for a ‘packed breakfast’ which was excellent and included bread freshly baked in the clay oven, which is a weekend speciality at the gostilna.

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Gostilna Gačnk is ideally situated for visiting the Franja Partisan Hospital, the entrance to which is only 10 minutes away on foot. The gostilna’s main dining area is dedicated to the physician Franja Bojc Bidovec, after whom the hospital was named.

After a full day out exploring, I returned starving and eagerly awaiting dinner. There was also a wedding taking place, one of many that are held regularly at weekends here, so I was able to look on and enjoy watching others enjoying their celebration whilst savouring a beautifully presented, and equally delicious, dinner.

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Though it could be considered a little out of the way for some, Gostilna Gačnk is actually excellently located for exploring the Cerkno area, and even further afield, particularly if you like hiking, skiing, cycling, or other outdoors activities and are seeking peace and quiet. I will be writing plenty more about what to see and do in the area in a future blog coming soon, so stay tuned!

You can find more information here – http://www.cerkno.com/

© Adele in Slovenia

Seriously Scrumptious Štruklji!

It’s kind of difficult to describe štruklji, and when reading menus there are all manner of descriptions that get lost in translation –  the majority of which certainly don’t do them justice! I love them and was therefore even more delighted when I recently saw that Draga Inn, which is among my favourite local restaurants, and which already makes great savoury štruklji, has now added a new range of sweet štruklji to its menu, which can also be bought to take home.

It didn’t take me long to go and try them out for myself, especially since chocolate is involved! Oh my, are they good, if you like štruklji, you simply have to try them! This is the white chocolate version, which was my favourite among the new varieties, though the walnut one came a close second!

Draga struklji bela cok

Štruklji are made using a light dough, of which there are many variations but the most basic ingredients are flour, water, a dash of oil and a pinch of salt – some doughs also contain egg. Once the dough has been allowed to rest it is rolled out, filled, wrapped in a soft muslin cloth, then boiled, or occasionally wrapped in foil and baked.

They can be eaten either as a side dish, instead of potatoes, rice etc., as a main meal in itself, or sweet versions as dessert.

The most common type of štruklji are filled with skuta – a type of curd cheese (not cottage cheese as it is invariably translated). At Draga Inn the savoury version are served as an accompaniment to their delicious venison goulash, which I can also highly recommend.

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Of course, the quality varies, as does the ratio of dough to filling. Sometimes they can be somewhat bland and dry, but the ones at Draga Inn have a perfectly light dough with a very generous amount of filling and are anything but bland. It was impossible to choose which one(s) to taste, as they all looked and sounded so delicious, so I just tasted all the new flavours – blueberry, walnut, white chocolate, and dark chocolate – and left both very content and fit to burst!

Draga struklji tem cok

Draga Inn is one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants, where the emphasis is on using local ingredients, and these štruklji are no exception. Read more here – http://www.radolca.si/en/taste-radolca/

Draga sruklji oreh

Draga Inn is located at the end of the Draga Valley, in Begunje na Gorenjskem. The valley is a very popular starting point for hikes in the Karavanke mountains and en-route to the valley you can visit the ruins of Kamen Castle.

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You can find more information about Draga Inn here (note that the website is currently being reconstructed) – http://www.gostisce-draga.si/

Until the expiry of the offer on 8th June, you can also use the Adele in Slovenia Discount Card at Draga Inn. Even more reason to go and try the delicious food! More here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/contact/

© Adele in Slovenia

The extremely panoramic Solčava Panoramic Road!

Despite English being my mother tongue, and despite the English language being rich in superlatives, I’m struggling to come up with suitably apt words to describe the breath-taking scenery I witnessed last weekend when I journeyed to see the Solčava Panoramic Road. So, I’ll do my best to give you some impressions and a sneek peek of some of the views you can expect, however, I urge you to go and see it for yourself!

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Views of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps

Though it is a little off-the-beaten-track, the Upper Savinja valley has to be one of the most scenic places in Slovenia. It is bursting with waterfalls, the craggy Kamnik-Savinja Alps, sublime views, high-lying farms, and other natural phenomena, not to mention the friendly locals – of which there are only around 500 dispersed across an area of just over 100km³.

The area comprises three valleys, the most known among them is the Logar Valley (Logarska dolina), together with Robanov kot and Matkov kot. The 96 km-long Savinja river flows through the valley and onwards, eventually flowing into the Sava river.

My first port of call was the Rinka Centre in Solčava, which houses the Tourist Information Centre, post office, and a café and gift shop which sells handicrafts and food produced exclusively in the local area including delicious cheeses and the speciality of the area zgornjesavinjski želodec (Upper Savinjska pig stomach) – akin to salami but far more succulent. One could easily while away a couple of hours in the centre looking at the exhibition, watching the film presentation and tasting the local products. In the rectory opposite there is a paleontology exhibition and a separate room with a collection of several hundreds of species of butterfly.

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A traditional black kitchen

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The Lintver Dragon which accompanies you along the Solcava Panoramic Road.

Directly opposite the centre the impressive Gothic Church of Our Lady of the Snows stands proudly, as if guarding the village, on a small rise above the village. Since Solčava has not had its own priest for some time, the church is kept locked, apart from during mass, but the staff at the Rinka Centre can arrange a visit.

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The Church of Our Lady of the Snows in Solcava

Next I returned to Robanov kot where I was staying at the Govc-Vršnik tourist farm. I was immediately made to feel welcome in this large, family-run home-cum-farm. The lady of the house, Marija, immediately offered me a drink we enjoyed a lovely chat during which she told me that the number of repeat guests to the farm speaks for itself about its popularity. For me the definite highlight was the total serenity. No cars or other noise pollution, total silence, which, in these frenetic times, is something to really cherish.

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The Govc-Vrsnik Tourist Farm in Robanov kot

The other highlight is most certainly the food which is all home-produced and delicious. I was treated to the local speciality soup ‘sirnica‘, made using milk whey, eggs, and a few other secret ingredients, followed by a delicious main-course consisting of chicken, pork, štruklji, pumpkin, and potato. Dessert was warm apple and curd cheese strudel. I was well set up for the next day’s hiking!

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Tasty dinner at the Govc-Vrsnik tourist farm

From the farm there is an easy path which leads to Robanova planina, taking around 45 minutes, where, during the summer months, the alpine dairy is open and you can enjoy homemade soups, cheese, cold-cuts, or strudel.

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On the way to the Robanova planina highland

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The Alpine Dairy at Robanova planina

The next morning I made an early start and by 7am was hiking up to the Potok cave (potočka zijalka) beneath Mt. Olševa. You can either, as I did, hike the whole way up, beginning at the wooden bear adjacent to the Firšt Inn and Fidov gaj Museum, though, in truth, this first part of the path, which leads steeply up through the forest, initially lacks views and the more favourable option may be to begin at the Rogar Tourist Farm on the Panoramic Road. The Bear Trail is well marked throughout.

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The start of the Bear Trail at Gostisce First

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Just follow the bear!

This 115m-long cave was first excavated in 1928 and, over a seven-year period, hundreds of objects were found including tools, bones, and animal remains, including an estimated 1000 cave bears as well as almost 40 other species including lynx, wolves and chamois. The world’s oldest sewing needle (which can be seen in the Rinka Centre) was also among the findings. It is thought the cave might have been used as a hunting station. From the cave you can either return by the same route or you can continue on to Govce, the highest part of Olševa (1929m). However, this is considered a demanding path as there are exposed sections and, in places, steel ropes to assist, therefore, it is only suitable for experienced and well-equipped hikers.

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The entrance to the Potok Cave Archaeological Site

Next came the main reason for my trip. to travel along the newly improved, and now entirely accessible, Solčava Panoramic Road. You can choose to drive, cycle, or walk along the road which winds its way along the foothills of the Olseva mountain, and surely has to be among the most scenic roads in Slovenia. The road is also named ‘The route with the most beautiful views’ and the description is certainly apt. The total length is 37km, there are 4 access points, and 4 different routes. Therefore, it’s easy to pick and choose what you want to see dependent on how much time you have. I’d recommended devoting it as much time as possible and taking time to stop at all the points of interest along the road such as the numerous tourist farms, each offering delicious homemade goodies. I stopped at two of them and bought some tasty cheese, bread, and supped some tea made from mountain flowers.

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The Church of the Holy Ghost on the Panoramic Road

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More great views, this time Mt. Olseva in the background

Along the road there are various viewpoints, newly equipped with benches and information boards. One particular sight of interest is the spring of iron water (železna voda). The water from this underground spring originates from the tectonic fault that runs along the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. It’s in rich in iron and, believe me, it tastes like it! It’s like coins, however, locals says it has healing powers so I took a quick slurp nonetheless!

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At the Zibovt Tourist Farm

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The spring of iron water

Here are some useful links to help plan a trip to the Solčava area:

Solčava Tourist Informationhttp://www.solcavsko.info/index.php?jez=EN OR http://logarska-solcavsko.si/

Govc-Vršnik Tourist Farmhttp://www.govc-vrsnik.com/en/

Solčava Panoramic Roadhttp://www.solcavska-panoramska-cesta.si/en

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015