There’s more to Slovenia than Lake Bled, Postojna Cave and its beautiful capital city, Ljubljana. If you spread out a map of Slovenia, close your eyes, circle three times and pinpoint a spot, I can guarantee without hesitation that you will find treasures worthy of exploration: be they natural, cultural, historical or culinary. If you get really lucky, and that’s not hard in a country with such diversity and breathtaking landscapes, you will find all of those elements in close proximity. Working with a local guide adds even more value.
A recent example of this approach took me to north eastern Slovenia – itself a little off the beaten track – and specifically to Slovenske Konjice with tourist guide Mateja Kregar Gliha who in turn enlisted the help of local tourist guide, Nina Buh. It all started with a place called Žiče. Unusual name, I thought. And I wondered what I might find there. Sure enough, a little research unveiled the Charterhouse which in itself aroused my curiosity, and the large town nearby, Slovenske Konjice. That’s how it happens with Slovenia and me. Before I knew it, Mateja and Nina had filled in the blanks, so to speak, and lined up an array of experiences. By the end of the day I’d been filled to overflowing with the following, all within a stone’s throw of Slovenske Konjice, and who would have known!!
Tree Top Walk Pohorje on Rogla
Open for only a month at the time I walked it, this is an inspirational wood structure (brought in kit form and assembled on site with local materials and expertise) in the spruce forest just over the hill from the Rogla ski slope. The boardwalk rises steadily from ground level to 22 metres until one is making eye contact with the tips of the tops of the trees. Breathe in, breathe out. Along the way one can engage with information boards and interactive tools specifically targeting rock formation of the area, animal life and plant species. There’s also a trampoline for those with bravery and daring, and a clatter bridge for those who like to add some challenge to their balance and vertigo limits. The boardwalk leads to a tower that takes the walker another 17 metres higher. The walking gradient is 6% and again quite manageable for anyone, including those with a mobility aid. And from this vantage point the views of the Pohorje and the distant mountain ranges are spectacular. Already and deservedly the Tree Top Walk Pohorje with nature as its focus is attracting hundreds of visitors each day. It’s suitable for all age groups and accessible for all abilities.
Zlati Grič Wines
While the natural plant life of the forested areas around Slovenske Konjice is a mixture of various deciduous and non-deciduous species, the cultivated plant life is largely the grape vine. The view of their rows of vines juxtaposed in various directions and displaying a full range of autumn colourings is uninterrupted because the relatively new Zlati Grič wine cellar is completely constructed underground. All that’s visible from the hilltop is a green mound and a large skylight. Production is largely white wines, but some of the lighter reds like Pinot Noir and Blue Franconian are making their way into the range. I chose to taste Konjiška Penina in both white and Rosé (because it was a sparkling kind of day) and was intrigued that Zlati Grič has adopted the practice of serving sparkling wine in white wine glasses – to allow it to be tasted at its fullest and best. So much better for tasting! Both wines were clean and refreshing with a fine lingering bead. My third taste was a four year old Chardonnay. That one was like gold in a glass – all the characters of a good Chardonnay. I could have finished the whole bottle. On my own! Even though it’s underground, the wine tasting area offers a splendid view of the lovely old mansion house across the road and up the hill. And the vineyard workers busily engaged in autumn tasks.
A short distance up the road and past the golf course is Gostilna Grič. The earlier tasting led me to Chardonnay once again as my accompaniment for a food choice from the day’s lunchtime specials: sea bass served on sweet potato purée with large black mushroom crisps, broccoli sprigs and wedges of crumbed mushroom. That was a taste sensation. The mushroom crisps were a first, and I hope not the last. Delicious! From the dining area adorned with wall to wall glass, my eyes could feast on bucolic views of the surrounding vineyards, golf course, and the 15thC Wine Growers’ Mansion offering accommodation in the form of three apartments. After lunch it was very tempting to remain there, in the sunshine, beholding the landscape and letting one’s eyelids relax a little, and a little more, but we had things to do and places to be…
Slovenske Konjice Old Town
Another short drive, and before my eyelids had a chance to reach the second level of relaxedness, I found myself exploring the core of the old town of Slovenske Konjice. It has that sense of stepping back in time; nothing hurried here, just the occasional car making its way along the narrow throughway between buildings and stream. The stream tumbles gently downhill and through the square from the park to join the river at the lower end of the old town. There’s something refreshing and invigorating about walking beside flowing water. And I couldn’t help thinking how lovely it would be to be living in one of the row houses, with front windows overlooking such a life-sustaining element. Up at the edge of the park, the bells from the Church of St George ring through the town as time passes, and further up the hill Trebnik Mansion stands supreme. The facades of the houses lining Stari trg (Old Square) add a splash of pastel colourings as they stand cheek by jowl observing the day’s comings and goings. It was time to move on…
The narrow valley of the Žičnica stream leads to a secluded site where the Carthusian community established their first monastery outside of France in the 12th Century. Dedicated to silence and solitude, the philosophy of The Order can easily be imagined when one is at the site. It is protected on all sides and appears as a world within the world. Some of the buildings have fallen victim to time, and various plants have claimed them as their own. And those buildings that have survived since the Carthusians abandoned the site have been thoughtfully renovated. One houses a museum with a host of really interesting aspects from the centuries of activity. Many significant building stones and stone features have been recovered from buildings in and around Slovenske Konjice. At the time when many buildings were constructed from wood, the town burnt down and the townspeople were invited to use stone from the abandoned Charterhouse site to rebuild their homes. There is an extremely solid white marble table with two equivalently solid L-shaped seats taking pride of place in one museum room. The seats were discovered in a home where they had been cut to make four stairwell steps. Now they have been restored to their former glory and sit as a set with the table.
The guesthouse near the entrance to the monastery was established by the Brothers of the Order in the 15th Century and was the first of its kind in Central Europe. Meanwhile the Monks were engaged in writing, copying and illuminating manuscripts. Some of their incredibly scholastic work can be viewed in the Museum. Local guide Nina’s knowledge of everyday life as it happened here at the Žiče Charterhouse was invaluable and added so much more to the experience. Of course there are mysteries too, like where the substantial library was situated (given the humidity in the valley), and this poses thoughtful discussion among visitors. Plans are afoot to further develop the wine cellar and the apothecary. The sun was beginning to dip behind the mountain tops, but there was still one place to see, or should I say to embrace diversity and treat my olfactory sense…
Zeliščni vrt Majnika
In the lingering light that heralds the end of an autumn day I encountered the delightful herb gardens of Zeliščni vrt Majnika. The harvesting of herbs had almost been completed for the season and so the plants were finished with growing and looking very much as though they were sporting fresh haircuts for winter. Even so, it was possible to see the scale of the operation, and to imagine more hectares located offsite. To peep into the processing room where trays and baskets of freshly cut herbs were waiting to be dried was like scent heaven – just as the outdoors garden is a pollen and nectar heaven for bees and birds. Most of the dried herbs are directed into teas, one of which I tasted while viewing the indoors operation, and salts. Zeliščni vrt Majnika products are available in various locations and they offer a range of workshops throughout the year, also conducting guided tours. I think that this herb garden would be worth visiting each season to observe the changes and practices associated with growing herbs organically.
#touristguides #sloveniaguides #localexpert #argos #localguides