By Don and Linda Freedman

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SLOVENIA Spring 1999 (3)

Kranjska Gora

After enjoying a perfect variety of quality offerings for breakfast, we said our farewells and were off. We followed the Soca River for about 65-km to Kranjska Gora, twisting and turning through the mountains, valleys, ravines, gorges and canyons dazzled by unpolluted and unspoiled nature. The sun was shining and the river, waterfalls and white, limestone mountains were glittering and shimmering and the forests and flowers smelled heavenly. This intersection of three states - Austria, Italy and Slovenia - is a unique place of beauty.

The Trenta Museum is dedicated to the theme that man and nature co-exist. The design of the museum is high, wide, open and light. The multi-media presentation about the Triglav National Park powerfully and beautifully presents the natural beauty and wonders of what we partially witnessed driving through. A wide, curved film presentation shot under water in the River Soca is amazing. The constantly changing nine panels kept us spellbound, bringing the river to life for us. There is a demonstration of how easily the environment can be ruined, which is done with great impact. Learning about the park, the wonders of nature and the protection of the environment are powerful themes and worth a visit to Trenta. The top floors of the museum offer a perspective of the rural life with authentic replicas of a typical black kitchen, a room with traditional open fireplace where the family lived, and a shed for milking the animals and making cheese.

It was a short run from Trenta to Kranjska Gora. This adorable town sits in the heart of the Zgornjesavska Valley, which lies in the northwest corner of the country bordered by Austria and Italy. The southern part of the valley from which we arrived is a gateway to the Triglav National Park. This valley is a sport and recreation-lovers dream. The Julian peaks and the luscious forests offer opportunities for year round outdoor activity. Kranjska Gora is a winter sports center, famous for world Alpine ski championships and ski-jumping championships which take place at the Planica Ski Jump, the site of the first ski jump of over 200 meters. While we were there everyone was waiting to hear if Slovenia's combined bid with Austria and Italy would win for them the 2006 Olympics. (They were to lose to Torino.) If you love snow sports, this place looks awfully inviting. If snow sports are too tame for you, they offer frozen waterfall climbing using ice picks and sledge riding on torch lit slopes.

This town has the relaxing Alpine feel as a great place to be after a day outdoors, enjoying a drink, a good meal and, depending upon your energy level, a visit to the casino or the discotheques.

We found Sandra Rakovec of the tourist board who had recommended that a local mountain guide would be a good idea. She introduced us to Janez Mertelj. This was a happy man. He grew up in this part of the world, knows every inch of the valley (and beyond) and oozes love and affection for every tree, flower, haystack, ski run, river - you get the picture.

We drove by a well-known protected swamp area that seriously contributes to the preservation of nature. Janez proudly showed us the ski jumping facilities of Planica, expressing hopes that they would be used for the 2006 Olympics. Stopping the van, he urged us to get out and led us to a small bed of running water and started to lead us across by stepping from one stone to another. Linda didn't want to risk wetting her shoes so she balked at the possibility of a misstep. In the blink of an eye, Janez swept her up into his arms and carried her across. On the other side, we began a climb up a rock-strewn path alongside the Nadiza Waterfall, which roars from a cliff above the Tamar Valley. This waterfall is the beginning of the Sava River, which journeys to the Black Sea. We ran into a group of primary schoolers and their teachers scrambling along the same path and admired the devotion of these women to the children guiding and helping them along this difficult path. It was exhilarating hiking and gawking at the tumbling, clear waters while concentrating on our footing. Of course Linda had her ride through the air at the end to look forward to.

The village of Ratece is nearby the falls. It sits in a deep valley below the mountains at the meeting point of Slovenia, Austria and Italy. As we drove through this old village, on our way to the summit where the borders meet. Janez told us that life in the village carries on in traditional ways. One of the traditions is that each family has two cows that they take up the mountains every day for grazing and that the cows, when finished, find their own way home.

The summit is 1509 meters high and the views into all three countries are lovely. The monument at the top that proclaims the meeting of the three borders is aptly named "Dreilandereck". Janez began to dig into his knapsack and removed a small tablecloth, four small glasses and a bottle of homemade blueberry liqueur. It is the custom to toast at this place. On our way to lunch, Janez stopped at an astonishing spot. We walked down a narrow, tree-lined path at the end of which is the small, magnificent, Zelenca River bed. The pure, clear water gave off hues of green, blue, purple and yellow blending together in a glistening harmony. Janez took us to the bank and told us to look down into the water. What we saw through the brilliant waters was a series of white rings in the center of which we could see water bubbling up through the river bed, fed by the underground waters that run throughout the country from which the numerous caves have been created. It was eerie and intriguing.

Janez' home village of Podkoren is a bed of folklore with beautifully maintained Alpine houses. Like Ratece and Kranjska Gora, a fine place to stay and head off into nature. The restaurant, Domacija Serc, in Podkoren is housed in a well-preserved old home. There are several arched-ceiling dining rooms with wonderful local artifacts adorning the white walls. We sat comfortably on old wooden chairs at tables with that homelike feeling. Everything here is made in the kitchen and the recipes are steeped in tradition. The fresh from the oven whole wheat and sourdough breads quickly disappeared and the spinach and cottage cheese omelet was delicate and delicious. Our waiter informed us that the recipe for the next offering of snails wrapped in bacon with garlic, butter and herbs was 200 years old. Easy to understand why it survived. Tiny, battered and fried, farmed frogs were a finger food special. Game is an essential here and a platter of roasted bear, venison and wild boar with a side of rosti-style potatoes was a final convincing tribute to the mastery in the kitchen. Well, almost, we did have to taste-test tarragon and cheese dumplings, walnut dumplings and apple strudel - each better than the next. This was a truly outstanding meal and a perfect way to end our stay in this top of page
Lake Bled

We proceeded east around 40 km to Lake Bled, which we had visited in 1996, and were looking forward to a return visit. The first stop was at the train station to drop off our dear friend, Goran, for his return trip home. My special thanks to Goran for keeping Linda distracted from the mountain driving which she fears.

Lake BledOnce you have seen the beauty of the mountains, the castle on high and Bled Island reflecting on the sparkling waters of Lake Bled, you are hooked. Hotel Vila Bled, a Relais and Chateau property is a splendid retreat for a romantic moment. It is sheltered on the shores of Lake Bled in a 12-acre park of magnificent trees, shrubs and flowers. The villa was rebuilt in 1947 as the country estate of Josip Broz-Tito, where he welcomed world leaders. The villa became Hotel Vila Bled in 1984. The architecture and design remain untouched; marble surroundings, wide corridors and spacious public rooms charmingly maintaining the dated atmosphere. Our large room, bathroom and balcony overlooking the gardens and the lake was a Hollywood setting. When we opened the balcony door and took a deep breath of the best of Mother Nature, we knew for sure that we were glad to be back. There are 10 rooms and 20 suites, a restaurant with a lovely terrace and a piano bar. There are also two conference rooms, a private beach, rowing boats and a tennis court. But best of all there is the Director, Janez Fajfar. This man makes your stay extra special. He and his staff will take care of your every need with kindness and care. Johnny is not just a man of great intellect and humor, he is Mr. Bled; thermal lake waters run through his veins.

We had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Bled, Eva Stravs Podlogar, Public Relations and Marketing Manager of the Bled Tourist Board. They are Mr. And Mrs. Bled in our book because they are both committed to making your stay in Bled and the region as interesting and enjoyable as top of page
After getting settled, we made a return visit to Mayer Gostisce, Zeleska 7, for dinner. This attractive guesthouse and dining room sit on a lovely landscaped property not far from the lake. The rustic rosewood dining room puts you at ease, Bled style. The salad bar had an inviting array of fresh vegetables along with some excellent oils and vinegar. The spaghetti with shrimp, calamari and mussels tossed in their own juices, olive oil and herbs was a delight as was the ravioli stuffed with minced meat in a tomato, cream and herb sauce. Wild blueberries and strawberries topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream was a nice closer. Oh yes, let us not forget the blueberry schnapps; lucky for us it's berry season.

The morning was bright and sunny and it was a pleasure enjoying the lake and garden views through the large windows of the breakfast room. The exemplary buffet and the guests were serviced by a gracious woman who managed to give every guest personal attention and keep the buffet replenished and attractive. With a happy demeanor, she promptly filled special orders for such things as coffees and eggs.

When we visited in 1996, we had spent a half-day in neighboring Bohinj, strolling around the grand Lake Bohinj and visiting the wonderful, small villages nearby. We had, however, missed getting to the Savica Waterfall. So right after breakfast, away we went and fortunately for us, Janez offered to accompany us and give us a history lesson along the way. The region of Bohinj is mountains, tall pines, gushing waters, Alpine pastures and small villages where life goes on in the traditional way. Bohinj is in the heart of the Julian Alps. It's a mountaineer's delight, with the king of the high peaks Mt. Triglav (2864 meters), the highest mountain in top of page
The waters of Bohinj are amongst its treasures. There are several major waterfalls,
Savica falls the most famous of which is the Savica. The drive to where we began our ascent on foot was through gorgeous and sweet-smelling forest. As we drew closer to the falls, the sound of the cascading waters was sweet music to our ears. It's a hearty 20-minute walk up wooden stairs to a platform from which we viewed the spectacular scene of the water gushing down the mountainside into a large pool and then downward to a foamy finish into Lake Bohinj far below. We shared the platform with a group of happy school children, pleased to pose for photos and practice their English.

We stopped in the village of Srednja Vas at Gostilna Rupa for delicious cappuccino and cookies. This picturesque family-run Gostilna, with a wonderful sounding regional menu and live trout swimming in a tank, goes on our next time list. Back to Bled and a not-to-be-missed ride on a special boat Pletna to Bled Island. Our oarsman had recently finished building this traditional beauty so it was the newest in the fleet. The island's small church has lovely frescoes on the walls and altar. The belfry is separate from the church, indicating that it was built by Venetians. If you're hungry, go to Gostilna Blejski Otok, which looked very inviting. It's a tiny, green island and you look around you are totally surrounded by the blue/green waters, the gorgeous shoreline, the mountains and, of course, the castle sitting on high not far away - really cool. As we walked around the perimeter of the island and looked down into the water, the sight of zillions of fish was incredible.

Eva's associate, Monica, and her family live with Monica's parents on 220 year old farm, not far from the lake. It's a beautiful setting and a well-kept property. What is particularly interesting is that Monica and her mother have renovated a part of a building to house a small, rustic pub which is open only Saturdays and Sundays, where they serve food and beverages at very modest prices. The products they serve are homemade from homegrown ingredients and each of the offerings was mouth watering. Unfortunately we had to limit our tasting because we had made plans for lunch.


We actually began to formulate the lunch plan in 1996 when we visited the nearby town of Radovljica and discovered the Gostilna Lectar, Linhartov Trg. 2. When we peeked in while walking along the main street, we were struck by the rustic charm, which drew us in to look at the menu. We were enraptured by the aroma, which could only come from a fine kitchen. So here we were fulfilling our desire to find out if our instincts were correct.

Lili and Joze Andrejas are the owners and they lean toward vegetarian food, which we thoroughly appreciate and were in the mood to enjoy. We sat on the large, covered patio that overlooks a portion of the town and the mountains in the distance. Inside the restaurant, there are rustic, small dining rooms that will be a treat for another time.

We were immediately served scrumptious breads and a mixture of cottage cheese, turnip, eggs and herbs presented in a hollowed-out turnip. Already on the table were walnuts and fresh and dried apples. A luscious cherry wine went very nicely with these starters. A fresh mint and lemon drink made for a nice break. The mushroom soup was served in bread shaped like a mushroom, after which a fresh-squeezed orange juice provided another relaxing intermission. Time now for a veggie plate of baby zucchini with flowers, asparagus, cheese struklji, fried vegetable patty, sautéed chanterelle mushrooms and onions, leek, celery root and a side of mixed salad. This was an incredible experience - each morsel was delectable. But we're not finished. This is also ice cream fantasyland. All homemade and today it was apple ice cream served in a large hollowed out apple and topped with whipped cream. Outrageous! As we were parting, Joze broke out his harmonica and serenaded us with The Tennessee Waltz followed by some Slovenian tunes.


Janez and Eva had joined us for lunch because Janez wanted to guide us to the village of Kropa, which was on our way back to Ljubljana. There he would show us the iron-forging museum, where he had been director many years before. West of Radovljica, Kropa is an old smelting and iron forging settlement. The museum preserves the history of iron manufacture as well as the economic, social, demographic and cultural development of Kropa and the neighboring villages. The museum houses wonderful displays and collections from old iron foundries.

Kropa villageThe village is unique. It is extremely narrow with a rushing river running through the middle. Water wheels on the river generated the power for the foundries. Today, standing in the middle of the old buildings with rhythmic sounds of the gushing river is kind of mystical and delightful. Janez pointed out the Gostilna Pr' Kovac, for a great meal when we might find ourselves in the area again. It's a cozy place with an outdoor patio on the riverbank. They have a delightful wine cellar where they frequently hold wine tastings. Again, operated by young people, a husband, wife and brother, full of special enthusiasm for hard work and the drive to succeed.

We couldn't thank Eva and Janez enough for the kindness they had shown. Janez told me, one gets what one gives. It is the Slovenian way.

Ljubljana again

Off to Ljubljana and a farewell dinner with Rok and Nina. It was a treat reliving the trip and seeing Rok so pleased that we still loved his country - and now with more reasons. The big news in town was of course President Clinton's arrival in a few days, which everyone in government had been working on for months. We had dinner at Gostilna Lovec, Trg. MDB 1, located in the center of the city next to the embassy district and the headquarters of the Slovene government. The restaurant dates back to 1840 and still has the character of an old country inn. It was again a fine evening and we opted to dine in the beer garden. The menu is fairly broad. One of the specialties is venison prepared several ways, which caught our attention. Tortellini with game sauce was an exquisite starter and the venison with sour cherries and bread dumplings to finish was deer to my heart;-) Cabernet Frank, Emerau Reya, 1997 was another Slovenian winner.

Our flight to Zurich was in the late afternoon, so we were able to enjoy our last sunny, warm day to the fullest. The streets were full of folks handing out free tickets for Clinton's appearance and speech. We went over to the Union Hotel, where the President would be staying, to check out the security arrangements. Meandering around town, we found our way to the fabulous fish restaurant Operna Klet, discovered during our last trip, for lunch. The outdoor patio was just right as was a wholesome, natural fish soup, mixed salad and Parisian (fluffy egg batter), fried, melt-in-the-mouth calamari.

A nice stroll along the riverbanks with a cappuccino stop completed our last day and we were off on another excellent flight with Adria Airways. We bid Slovenia a fond farewell.

Internet Resources

The tourist offices in Slovenia are committed to making your trip to their country as fruitful as possible. We have found them ready to help in any way they can. The following is a list of email addresses and www sites you will find useful in planning your trip: to top of page
Email Dolenjske and Krajine

Email Bled

Email Bohinj

General information on Slovenia

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Otocec, Postojna, Kobarid

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