Mak­ing mem­o­ries in Slove­nia

They’ve just played Eng­land in the World Cup qual­i­fiers, but what’s Slove­nia re­ally like? NIGEL HEATH has the an­swer

Solihull News - - TRAVEL -

IT was time for the brief­ing held in a com­fort­able fam­i­lyrun ho­tel in the me­dieval town of Radovljica.

There were 15 of us, mainly strangers, who had flown in from the UK, the US, Hong Kong, Aus­tralia and New Zealand – all united by our love of walk­ing and ex­plor­ing new places.

Ex­pe­ri­enced lo­cal guides Ales Govekar and Miha Lo­boda wel­comed us to the start of our Ex­o­dus hol­i­day, five glo­ri­ous days of trekking in a lush re­gion of moun­tains, forests and lakes.

Af­ter days of sun­shine, thun­der­storms were on the way, and they de­cided we would set out on one of the higher walks early the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

That evening my wife Jenny and I dined on a ter­race be­neath chest­nut trees with views across to the jagged Ju­lian Alps, get­ting to know our fel­low trav­ellers.

The con­ver­sa­tions con­tin­ued as we be­gan slowly as­cend­ing the forested, then open, slopes of the Karanka moun­tain range to be re­warded by a mag­nifi- cent view north into Aus­tria as we topped the ridge at 1,835 me­tres.

Lunch was taken at an alpine hut where we sam­pled bean soup with cab­bage and cheese dumplings, and then be­gan our de­scent by another route, soon to come across Slove­nian and Amer­i­can flags on a small rise.

This com­mem­o­ra­tive crash site, a poignant re­minder of World War Two, prompted me to ask how Slove­nia fared af­ter the death of Tito, the wartime re­sis­tance leader who went on to found and rule the former Yu­goslavia for 35 years.

The coun­try was, it seemed, the first to de­clare in­de­pen­dence in 1991, some 10 years af­ter Tito’s death, but be­cause it was small and bor­dered by Aus­tria, Italy, Hun­gary and Croa­tia, it es­caped the trou­bles that later swept the re­gion.

Thunder rolled around the moun­tains overnight, but by 11am the rain had stopped and we were walk­ing around sparkling Lake Bled, with its fairy­tale is­land cas­tle and small shoals of hire boats.

Tito again came to mind as we strolled past his former sum­mer res­i­dence, now a smart ho­tel with an el­e­vated ball­room where he en­ter­tained many fa­mous peo­ple.

Next day we hiked into to the Mar­tul­jek Gorge with its dra­matic falls and climbed be­side cas­cad­ing wa­ters to reach a grassy alpine meadow with a moun­tain hut and a back­drop of suit­ably stun­ning peaks.

What a lovely spot to rest we thought, as our com­pan­ions headed off to climb to a sec­ond wa­ter­fall ac­com­pa­nied by a new com­pan­ion – the hut owner’s bor­der col­lie, Amon.

That evening, while writ­ing up my notes on our ve­randa over­look­ing the gar­den and the wooded val­ley, ho­tel owner Maja Bu­den came by, pick­ing roses for the ta­bles.

The Pen­sion Kun­stelj had been ac­quired by her great- grand­mother and Tito was a guest for lunch on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, she told me.

Wed­nes­day was our free day so seven of us hired a minibus and driver and vis­ited two fa­mous Slove­nian at­trac­tions. When we ar­rived at the theme park- like en­trance to the Pos­to­jna Caves I ad­mit I wished we’d just chilled out around our pic­turesque town.

But 90 min­utes later, emerg­ing into bright sun­shine af­ter trav­el­ling – first on a train and then on foot – through five kilo­me­tres of tun­nels, gal­leries and vast halls with their gi­ant ma­jes­tic sta­lag­mites and sta­lac­tites, we were glad we had

not missed the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Af­ter lunch we vis­ited the spec­tac­u­lar 16th cen­tury Pred­jama Cas­tle, built above a precipice and in the en­trance of a gi­ant cave. A mem­o­rable day fin­ished with a short walk around the his­toric cen­tre of the cap­i­tal, Ljubl­jana, and a tast­ing of lo­cal wines with tapas in a tav­ern just around the cor­ner from our ho­tel.

A sur­prise was in store the fol­low­ing day af­ter we’d trekked past more wa­ter­falls in the densely wooded Triglav Na­tional Park to come to the head of a small val­ley sur­rounded by high hills. It looked as if a stiff climb of sev­eral hours lay ahead.

But no, we trended around to the right through more wood­land to emerge at the top of a wide grassy slope at the head of another small val­ley which had been com­pletely hid­den from view – and there, of course, was another alpine hut and lunch.

Here, we dined on de­li­cious wild mush­room and veg­etable soup with chunks of bread be­fore strolling back down the val­ley to spend a chill­out hour be­side tran­quil Lake Bo­hin­jsko, another shim­mer­ing pearl sur­rounded by moun­tains.

That evening, a fur­ther treat was in store with a Fla­menco show in the small me­dieval square close to our ho­tel whose owner Maja cooked sausages in pas­try as part of the street fare, while her fa­ther Tony was the of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher.

My high­light of the hol­i­day was our drive the fol­low­ing morn­ing up through the wooded foothills of the Ju­lian Alps.

We climbed the last 700 me­tres to the top of the 2,009 me­tre- high Brda Peak where we were re­warded with a breath­tak­ing 360 de­gree view of moun­tains.

On the way down, we came across one of Tito’s hunt­ing lodges, now just a ru­ined pile of tim­bers, yet another re­minder of the man who left his own large foot­print on the his­tory of the 20th cen­tury.

That evening af­ter our farewell din­ner, Jenny and I strolled out into the lamp- lit square where just a few lo­cals lin­gered out­side a bar, their voices car­ry­ing on the warm evening air. A bearded fig­ure ap­peared and sit­ting be­side the foun­tain, took out a vi­o­lin and be­gan play­ing some of the most haunt­ing clas­si­cal pieces I had ever heard.

His mu­sic echoed around the square and peo­ple emerged, pied piper- like, from the shad­ows, as if en­tranced by the haunt­ing notes, and qui­etly stood around or stooped to­wards his open black case to ex­press their ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

It was the per­fect fi­nalé to a truly mem­o­rable hol­i­day.

Nigel de­scend­ing with his fel­low walk­ers from the bor­der ridge with Aus­tria Nigel and his wife at the sum­mit of Brda

Ljubl­jana

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