Stumpjumpers and Struklji in Slovenia.
Guest post by Anna Van Leemputten:
On Friday, we were met by another GoOpti driver called Robert. An ex-policeman he had once been the driver and bodyguard for the Prime Minister of Slovenia. However, like Greece, Slovenia has had several Prime Ministers in recent times. Thus, he drove us to Kamnik in thick fog, where we picked up our guide. We were then driven up the mountain to the base of the cable car.
The cable car takes you to the base of the chair lift and an area where small wooden alpine lodges are dotted amongst the landscape. Throughout the year these cottages can be hired, each having a wood burning stove and solar panels but no running water. Drinking water is brought up via the cable car, as is food and beer, which we found when a family, complete with young children and puppy joined us in the cable car, up to Velika Planina.
The views from this area are stunning as you are above the fog, and the temperature rose dramatically. There was a little snow but not enough to make walking difficult. During the summer, this area is full of the gentle sound of cow bells as the pastures are still farmed to produce the milk for the Trnic hard cheese. This ball of cottage cheese, cream and salt, not much bigger than a tennis ball, is stamped using wooden moulds. It symbolises love, because of the effort required to create it: 2 litres of milk are required for one cheese and its creation can take 4 to 5 days, whilst drying will take 2 to 3 weeks.
If you are an adventure sports enthusiast then this is your domain. Everything you could possibly want to do is in the area. Our guide mentioned she had been invited to climb, that week, and whilst there we were passed by many alpine walkers, as we mingled amongst the herders lodges. During January and February, there is downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing, all with spectacular scenery.
We had lunch at the Zeleni Rob Mountain Lodge in bright sunshine with a view of the fog in the valley beneath us and the mountain peaks rising in the distance. Lunch for the meat eaters in the group consisted of a Slovenian traditional dish called “ričet”, as a starter, which is a thick soup, containing pot-barley, beans, potatoes, carrots and dried pork meat, served with thick chunks of white bread. Myself and the other vegetarians in the party had a more plain soup of sauerkraut with the odd bean thrown in. This was a followed by sausages and cheese, as the main course, and slightly different fruit strukjli for desert, the presentation of which could have led you to believe we were being served in an in-demand restaurant rather than on the veranda of a log cabin half way up a mountain.
We then donned helmets and were expertly guided down the mountain on bikes by Iztok Slapnik from Outdoor Mania and a friend: a motley bunch of casual riders joining a man who spends his life going downhill very fast. As one who normally rides a road bike, I was joined on my Specialized Stumpjumper, by one whose twin brother runs the Bamboo Bicycle company and cycles to work daily and one who can ride, does so randomly, and who quite literally threw himself down the mountain.
Iztok is rightfully proud of the trails the mountain offers and had safety assessed our route before allowing us to ride. It was thrilling and I learnt a lot in the short time I spent on the bike as he was able to point out braking issues and show us the type of line we should be taking as we traversed across grass, rock, and snow and ice. The latter was the downfall of one of the group, who was bruised but not upset by the experience. I simply couldn’t stop smiling – amazing surroundings, a great guide and great bikes that any pro would be happy to ride.
It is also possible to climb and information is available from Marco Petek or Jure Prezelj, who are based in Kamnik (http://ao.drustvo-pdkamnik.si), whilst Iztok also provides cross-country skiing tours. The trails are also good for hiking and cross country running.
Once back down in the valley were driven back to below the cloud layer to the sleepy town of Kamnik. A town that can trace its history back to Roman times it is proud of its crafts and in particular ceramics known as Majolka. Artisan methods are celebrated throughout the town, from the fountains to the hanging signs outside the shops, as is the ability to buy locally produced food and drink, with alcohol from small local stills being sold in the shops and a market for local farmers in the main square. Be wary of considering local ‘eau de vie’ as anything less than a spirit, as the majority are close to 40% proof, with Rusovc, made from pine cones and honey, being rumoured to be good for colds.
As with many high streets in the UK, shops have found it hard to compete with out of town shopping centres and the internet. However, this has meant that selling local well-produced goods has become important to the sustainability of the town. Thus, a shop we entered not only sold alcohol, but also soap, herb tea, chocolate and the Trnic hard cheese. I would encourage any visitor considering a visit to take a peek inside a local shop, particularly as English is understood if not spoken.
We then travelled to the Terme Snovik , the highest thermal spa in Slovenia. The thermal waters not only provide an alternative to the overly chlorinated swimming pools in the UK, but provide hydroelectric energy. The centre has been awarded the EU Eco Label for environmentally friendly accommodation and would be ideal for families as a base for exploring Slovenia during the summer, having a very large outdoor water park, as well as walking and cycling trails.
We returned to Ljubljana comfortably tired and wondering what could surpass the lunchtime meal experience. We were not disappointed. AS Aperitivo is a bar and restaurant that is leading the charge, as Ljubljana becomes recognised as an ‘it’ place to visit. The simple ethos that life should be enjoyed, that the little details make an evening great and that everyone is important, means that the service is exceptional (thank you Daniel) and the food simply brilliant. The owner even produces his own wine. From the iconic lights to the moths and bugs painted on the floor every detail was considered and came together to make a great evening. We were offered a four-course meal but each course could have been a meal in itself. With no menu but simply an idea of who would like fish, meat or a vegan/vegetarian option we were presented with dishes that were perfect for the atmosphere and for the people around the table. I was presented with an opening salad of shaved pumpkin and green salad, followed by Pad Thai….which I thought would be the sum of the meal for me as at lunch I had simply had seconds of the soup. This was not the case as I was then offered a mushroom risotto, which I simply could not finish. Throughout Daniel kept the wine flowing and discussed what we were eating and drinking in good English. My colleagues then had a different dessert each, from Chocolate Torte to Struklji, via a Lemon Meringue, the plates being swapped around so that everyone got a taste. A meal in Slovenia, however, is not finished until the infamous woody ‘schnapps’ is drunk. This can be walnut, pine or pear and in our case it was walnut, strong enough to make anyone a very happy visitor.
Throughout, a DJ played a strong English based set on the decks, with the vibe in the bar being that of a friendly house party. This was definitely the place to be seen with very smartly dressed and perfectly manicured Slovenians enjoying a night in from the cold outside.
When we left there was a queue to get in. This queue was a party in itself as an open-air bar was less than 3m away. We walked into the main square to the sound of a live band playing the Eagles and puffa-coated, woolly hatted Slovenians partying in the street. There are security personnel, wearing reflective vests, but no heavy police, and when a firecracker went off, it was noted but not admonished. There was no aggression in this crowd, no posturing. It was early but people pace their drinking possibly because of the cold and possibly because it isn’t the fashion to get blindingly drunk but instead to just be happy, with youngsters mingling with the older generation quite easily.
All went to bed happy and another day finished by taking a chunk out of the next.
Our trip to Slovenia staying in Ljubljana was hosted by the Slovenian Tourist Board to learn more about Slovenia, European Green Capital 2016. More information is available here