SLOVENIA – UNKNOWN MAKES UNLOVED
At the airport in Ljubljana, my guide for the next few days is already waiting for me. What a luxury! Just looking around, meeting people and doing some mileage. All this should culminate in an article you are now beginning to read, which may make you enthusiastic about traveling to Slovenia as well. In a brochure we read: a visit to Slovenia will be a lasting memory and is comparable to your first love encounter. In short: never to be forgotten.
From the airport, we went for our first bike ride to the extreme southeast of Slovenia and ended up in the town of Podzemelj where on the Kolpa River, which forms the border with Croatia, is the Bela Krajina campsite, named after the region. Brother and sister Pešelj, hotel and campground owners respectively, welcome us. Everything is waiting for guests. Coffee pots are ready and, as a special feature, a belokranjska pogača lies on the table. Just to explain: it is a traditional Slovenian bread/egg bake, garnished with bacon, egg and other products. Everyone can always break off a piece. Nice to drink your coffee while talking. But we have come to cycle. Our intention is to make a large tour of the slightly more southerly Kolpa National Park. A handy (German-language) cycling map is available for the entire area with fifteen routes classified from one to five stars, altimeters etc. Some routes go to the Mirna Gora (1048 m.). Every year on the second Sunday of September a tour on the climb of 18 km with 800 m. altitude difference is organized. To cycle here it is recommended to use a mountain bike or a trekking bike. We get on the ready-made e-bikes rented at the campsite. Matjaž Pešelj who knows the region like the back of his hand will show us the region where he was born and raised. All we have to do is follow! Immediately we plunged into the agricultural interior and soon found ourselves on gravel roads with Strade Bianche allure. As we turn into the woods, the road surface gets worse with potholes and stones. It is constantly maneuvering. The real graveller feels in his element here. After about 25 km it is time to look around again.
In Žuničih we are met by a lady in traditional white linen clothing. She has a tray with three glasses and a bottle of some kind of schnapps in her hands and gives us a welcome drink before we enter the farm museum. We are introduced to past farm life and the whole process of making linen from flax, from which people made clothes like the ones she wears. Such things make it fun to bike around here. You learn something, too. Meanwhile, we also got back into more open countryside. What is special is that you always see a white village church in the background. For a second tour, which mainly takes us through the vineyards around Metlinka, Petra Pešelj joins us. Of course, we have to stop at a winery in one of the villages with the lovely name of Krmačina, and after touring the cellars, the inevitable tasting follows. Petra is right at home here and pours lavishly. Such are the pleasures of life! Then we got back on our bikes for the final kilometers. Brother Matjaž is waiting for us in Metlika at his hotel Bela Krajina. Here we will spend the night and enjoy the regional cuisine.
Another starting point is Brestanica near Krško, north of the region where we started. When we get off the bus, someone is already waiting for us on the terrace. For me an unknown person but for the Slovenians a national sports hero. It is Primož Kozmus, the Olympic champion in Beijing 2008 and 2009 world champion in Berlin. On site, he runs a hostal with a total of 50 beds. One of his assets is that there are free bikes available for his guests. We too can use them to explore the region. Before we set off we had a chat with Primoz over a cup of expresso. A little photo session follows, of course, and then we are off. Ksenja Kragl from the Tourist Office shows us “her” region. We crisscross the village: ride through an old railroad tunnel, which is now a bicycle tunnel, visit the Basilica and climb to the high Grad (castle) Rajhenburg.
Important residents of the castle have been the Trappists since 1881. It was they who developed the region (animal husbandry, viticulture, agriculture, beekeeping, cheese making, etc.). In their own house they made chocolate and liquor. Now the castle is a museum, looking back on the Trappists and where, among other things, an entire wall is reserved for the sporting achievements of Primož Kozmus. In showcases you can admire his gold medal, his shoes, his national shirt and, of course, the bullet. After the visit, we descend again to the Sava River, which flows from the Alps from west to east across Slovenia. With Ksenja we then make and round trip through the surrounding hilly landscape. Through said website and at her desk there is enough material to make a choice for a few days of cycling. On the way we pass the Hiša trt & Hiša čokolade (house of wine and house of chocolate). Here, in cooperation with Primož Kozmus, the sparkling wine Primus in Cosmos is produced. Another product is chocolate wine. Taste it and you will be sold immediately! Wife Emanuela makes chocolate bonbons (in the Trappist tradition). Her husband is somewhat grateful to her and has even named one of his wines after her. We taste and snack on the goodies here and then dive back into the green countryside. Watching, drinking, local food. It’s a good place to be here. Take the test for yourself!
Bohinjsko Jezero (Lake Bohinj)
Our third bike tour is around Lake Bohinj at 523 meters, in the immediate region where my guide Grega lives. Here we are in the most northwestern part of Slovenia. A totally different landscape than the previous days. Now the Alpine giants with their snow peaks form the backdrop. Of course he wants to show a lot. In between cycling, we take the gondola elevator to 1535 meters to the Vogel Ski Center in no time at all and we end up in the snow. A little later we reach on foot after taking 553 steps to the 78-meter high Savica waterfall where the river Sava rises. By the way, going up and down the steps is good for your (cycling) legs! Of a completely different order in Sveti Janez Krstnik (on the east side of the lake) is the visit to the little church. Outside, Pastor Martin Golob, a young enthusiastic thirty-something, is mowing the lawn. He takes us inside and then it’s wooow.
A little church full of frescoes and he just talks. Some of the frescoes date from the thirteenth century. On the outside wall a fresco of St. Christopher/Christopher, the patron of pilgrims, travelers, all traffic participants (that includes us cyclists) etc. Those who have time and are interested will find themselves in seventh heaven here! At the church also begins the Kolesarska pot Bohinj (Bohinj cycling trail) through the upper and lower valley as it is called here. It is a round trip, so one ends up back at the beginning. On the way we ride through the town of Studor, with its distinctive wooden barns where hay for cattle is stored in the fall. After lunch we move to Bled to get some more impressions.
When cycling around Lake Bled several things stand out. First of all the unmissable castle. It takes some time to change gears by bike, but the effort is compensated by the view. In front of you, in the middle of the lake, you see the little island with the churches. An idyllic picture. Where you can also stop on your tour is at the port of the rowers and marvel at their rankings at the World Championships and the Olympic Games, depicted in photographs and on metal strips in the pavement. Everyone will experience such a tour in his/her own way. Before we cycle to our hotel we settle down on one of the many terraces and look back on the past days. At the hotel, while enjoying a local beer, we talk with the hotel owner Matija Blažič about his two hobbies: cycling and managing his hotel. He says, “I live my hobby.” With that beautiful way of life we can certainly conclude this reportage!
Text and Fotos: © Teus Korporaal