The sun really shone on my last day in this incredible country and in the capital in particular. I tried to capture some quirky images of Ljubljana and am simply going to put them up here as a sort of gallery. See what you think. Love to have some comments.
The weather has broken at long last and low temperatures and persistent rain has driven us from the damp streets of Ljubljana back to the hotel and an opportunity to share with you some reflections about this beautiful country.
As the plane lands the first impression of the land laid out below is one of neatness and order. The landscape is a palette of greens and a patchwork of fields and forests interspersed with collections of painted ginger-bread houses. 68% of the country is forested.
Slovenia is made by its people. Just over two million people live in this small country. The vast majority speak English with a pleasant, warm disposition that is immediately welcoming. There is a colossal link between Slovenes and nature. At weekends most will head for the hills, literally, and ski or bike or canoe. Most families have an allotment and gardening is the number one participation activity. Whatever it is down to, it works. Slovenes are friendly, warm, softly-spoken. They seem grounded and content. Their quality of life and their attitude to living is worth emulating.
Food is very much meat based. Most menus contain locally sourced beef, veal, pork, chicken, venison, even boar. In some more remote parts bear is still found, but not on menus of local restaurants. Dishes are accompanied by locally grown fruit and vegetables. Beer is good and wine, particularly the whites, is exceptional, even for a red lover like me.
Every settlement of any size boasts a church, usually Catholic, and a protecting castle in various states of repair. These places all have a medieval core that transports one back to the old days of ancient monasteries and narrow, cobbled streets and timber bridges. On the small strip of coast Venetian ports remind us that these links are as relevant to the history of Slovenia as the mountain passes and the river valleys. This country has been moulded by its stunning and wonderfully diverse scenery – mountains, rolling hills, rivers, streams, lakes, evergreen pine forests, mixed deciduous woodland, meadows and farmland, allotments and orchards, fields of hops and vines.
So, all in all, a beautiful place with stunning scenery inhabited by friendly people who value their culture and history. What else do you want?
As always there is a delight or two to find on any journey in this country around the one back to the capital is no exception. Following a slightly longer route than necessary, the first is Slovenia’s smallest town, but nothing like any town you may have visited. Firstly, Kostanjevica na krki, occupies an island 200m wide & 500m long in the middle of the River Krka. This sleepy place dates back to 1252. Two old timber bridges connect it to either bank so it is possible to drive straight through without stopping. Not that you would want to. The place has an old charm to it that is almost timeless.
Just a few kilometres out of town is the Pleterje Monastery, belonging to the Cathusians, the strictest of all the monastic orders. Only the Gothic church is open to the public. This, in itself, is worth a visit as its empty space arouses the inner spirit, settling anxieties and inspiring awe and wonder. There is no sign of white-hooded monks quietly going about their chores; they have taken a strict vote of silence. The main building, dating from 1407, can be seen from the outside and signs are everywhere reminding visitors of where you are and to respect the tranquillity of the place.
Finally, Otocec Castle, also on a tiny island in the middle of the Krka River but further up stream, is reached by similar timber bridges from opposite banks. The castle is completely restored now and has been converted into a very smart hotel. But hey, not one to miss an opportunity to rub shoulders with the posh & glamorous, it is in through the main door to use the toilets and then order some refreshments. They were very happy to serve some excellent coffee, along with a very tasty choccie with the hotel’s emblem on it rather than, as is normal elsewhere, a simple marciponi biscuit, and not charge the tourists in the scruffy shorts and faded T shirts too much for the presumption.
Last day up here in the mountains in the eastern part of Slovenia, where mountains and agriculture meet and hops and vines stand gloriously side by side, proudly extolling the quality of the other. So, if its beer or wine that floats your boat you will find excellent products of each for your delectation.
Tomorrow it is back to Ljubljana for a few days before its back home on Tuesday. I am going to miss this place. I will miss the view every morning, now covered in distant haze as a storm builds. I am so familiar with it that I can lean out and reach through the murky horizon and caress those far, glorious lines in my mind. I will miss the cows , just a handful in each of two fields, and their relentless routine from pasture to shed and back again. I will miss the hoarse, screaming call off the two big boys (eagles, buzzards, kites, am not sure which) who appear every morning and rise the thermals and float off to a neighbouring valley to carry out their business out of sight but within sound. I will miss the handful of cars & clanking tractors who periodically negotiate the narrow lane around and down the head of the valley, disappearing into forest and reappearing at the same spot each time, a few hundred metres further on. Such repetition has set these sights in my mind so I can take them out and enjoy them whenever I please.
But one last pleasure is required before we got the bustle of the capital again – a special lunch at the Gric Restaurant I told you about a few days ago, in amongst the patterns of vines on the gentle slopes of Slovenske Konjice.
Beef Tartare and Sea Bream Tartare to start with a sparkling white for company
A routine has developed. We wake up and have breakfast on the veranda.
There follows an excursion into the locality to appreciate the area’s culture and history. We return for lunch.
A snooze follows whether planned or not, shower, dinner, and red wine this time, on same veranda watching the sun dusk on the. same stunning view and the plumping moon come around the corner along with singing stars, in a slightly different place each night.
Today’s trip out is focussed on Slovenske Konjice, a small market town started about 1,000 years ago, nestling under the northern slopes of Konjiska Gora. From the tourist bumf it seems nothing special but it has all kinds of secrets to reveal. A small stream runs down from the mountains through the middle of the main. main street. Locals call it ‘dragon’s slobber’ after the local saint, George, supposedly killed the beast who lived in the mountains.
A ruined castle overlooks the town.
An intriguing main street has smart, plaster-painted houses lining each side, looking dapper in their fresh colours. However further investigation reveals more. Built in the 16th century the houses had new facades created 200 years later. Go through an open door and it is as if you have arrived in medieval times with an open courtyard surrounded by balconies and windows.
The surrounding hills are patterned with beautifully maintained vines which produce grapes to create high quality red, white & sparkling wines. Wine has been produced here for 800 years.
Every day has a special nugget. Today’s wonder place is the tranquil, partially ruined Zice Charterhouse Carthusian Monastery. It is situated in a small valley surrounded by rolling hills and forest. Over lunch there is no-one there and the full impact of the place hits you. Serene, peaceful, contemplative, harmonious. The white habits of the twelve monks who inhabited these hallowed walls since they first arrived in 1165, still linger in these empty cloisters, studying their ”book for the day’ as they did all those years ago until the monastery was dissolved in 1782.
Just down the valley is the Church of Virgin Mary’s Visitation. This lower monastery housed lay monks who looked after the 12 ‘proper’ guys up at the big one, and also took in guests and travellers.
50 minutes drive and late lunch on the balcony follows. Aaarh. Hard work this exploring.
I have been quiet for a couple of days. Only because I’ve been chilling out, taking in the view from this place. So magnificent. There are two ways to tell that time is passing here. Firstly shadows surge and shrink as the sun passes over. Secondly the cows wander further away from their milking shed and then, as THE time approaches, they wander back again. But the urge comes around again and ignites the desire to explore further afield.
Ptuj rises gently above a wide valley. It is one of the oldest towns in Slovenia, beginning life as a Roman outpost on the banks of the Drava River. The castle, stayed in the 14th century overlooks the clay roofs, the red-roofed burgers’ houses and the river itself.
In front of the City Tower stand the Orpheus Monument, a 2nd century Roman tombstone with scenes from the story of, you guessed it, the story of Orpheus.
Ptuj is an ordinary town with this ancient feel to it. Its squares and narrow alleys and passages ooze history combined with a summer arts festival which juxtapositions installations alongside flaking plaster and ancient brick & stone work.
This is not an installation. Just a customer at the local hair salon waiting for her roots to be done. Well in is cooler outside rather than in.
Heading up into eastern Slovenia sees changes in the landscape. The route is through rolling forested hills that follow wide valleys of farmland. The landscape is more agricultural with round hay bales awaiting collection in the fields rather than the traditional hay ricks. Cattle, proper cattle with white patches on brown or is it brown patches on white, graze in the swathes of snooker table green meadow. In a patchwork of farmland and forests, small allotments and meadows have given way to larger fields of maize, alfalfa, hops (this must be beer country).
Gradually the land rises into the Pohrje Massif, an adventure land of outdoor activities and historical centres with castles, medieval streets and alleys and ancient churches. Sounds like Slovenia all over. Our chalet is on the edge of this region of forests, mountains and highland meadows and made for outdoor activities like skiing, hiking and biking.
It is Sunday. The hills and mountains stretch away into the distance. I can count at least 14 layers of pastel-hued greens and greys laid out for my eyes to feast on. Forests, fields, farms, barns, hills, mountains, clouds. The only movement is the slow plod of chomping cows making their lazy way up the field, a soaring eagle or buzzard (a big bird anyway) and a rickety tractor crunching its gears around the tracks. The only sound is the chirp of unknown birds and a gentle breeze whispering in the trees. Twice a church has peeled its bells up the valley. This gives the place a historic, almost timeless feel. I’m going to like it here.