Pull up a map of Slovenia, pick a spot, and I guarantee that you will find a path with enough cultural and historical treasures to fill at least a day, if not more. Engage a Tour Guide from the Association of Regional Guides of Slovenia (ARGOS)* and your time will be truly value-added.
Case in point: the countryside surrounding Grosuplje, just a stone’s throw southeast of Ljubljana and within the shadow of Magdalene Mountain, a prehistoric site of ancient dwellers. From the highway heading in the general direction of Novo Mesto I’d passed the signs to Groslupje many times, but never imagined what was lying in wait!
There’s something intriguing about encounters with food. Especially when those encounters reach back into times gone by, times when people ate only what they grew or raised, and made the best possible use of the excess by preserving it in some form. In the village of Gradež, just a short distance east in the general direction of Turjak, villagers have restored Sušilnica sadja Gradež (a fruit drying house), now something of a rarity, and revived the associated food and drink traditions of the region. A summer walk through the village revealed fruit trees in their plenty: apples, pears, and plums – with dense dark green foliage and fruit ripening to fullness. Come autumn it will be cut and dried, without additives, on large wooden trays inserted into a giant closet. A fire of oak and birch will be lit underneath and the fruit will dry slowly until it is ready for consumption. “Trubar’s Meal’, a staple from days gone by, is offered in the heritage-furnished rooms behind the drying room and it was indeed an encounter of a special kind.
Visually Trubar’s Meal spoke of simplicity: a ceramic bowl of millet porridge, a wooden spoon placed carefully next to it, and a tin mug of dried fruit-infused tisane. Texturally the millet had a grainy consistency. A sprinkling of sugar added a crusty layer of crunch with the first mouthful. As the spoonfuls disappeared inward another surprise awaited: the softened leatheriness of plump boiled prunes, adding natural sweetness and contrasting smoothness. A perfect pairing indeed!. Soul in a bowl! A basket of dried fruit bread completed the offering. For someone not raised on millet it was a unique experience, not to mention discovering the many ways that dried fruit was utilised in the everyday diet.
Just a little to the east, and at the end of a narrow winding track snaking off from the road between Grosuplje and Škocjan is a building of rare occurrence in Slovenia. It is Tabor Cerovo, a small fortified church sitting proudly at the top of a hill within a thickly wooded forest. The pretty little church itself dates from the 12th Century, the fortifications were added in the 15th Century to shield the locals from attacks by the Turks as they forged their way north towards Austria, and the frescoes of such ageing clarity were added in the 16-17th Centuries. A climb to the top of the tower revealed why the positioning of little church was one of such importance. Like pushing one’s head above the clouds, it takes in views above the treetops of the rolling hills of Doljenska, a great advantage for ‘receiving’ news, potentially un-welcome, in times without Internet!
A short distance south of Tabor Cerovo one finds Županova jama (Mayor’s Cave). The familiar white Karst rock peeps above ground here and thrusts upwards there, mosses and tiny ferns grow in crevices and on impossibly vertical surfaces, and the forest trees cast their protective arms over the whole scene. While the caves of Postojna and Škocjan are well known to tourists and locals alike, this lesser known cavernous treasure of 8 halls is also part of the geological structure of the Slovene Karst. 610 metres of viewing path within the 8 halls reveals sinter pools, stalagmites and stalactites, columns and flowstones. It is also a really cool place to be on a hot day, which it was when I visited!
From the confines of thickly forested hills to the open spaces of Radensko polje there couldn’t be a greater contrast. With tractors moving about like giant red beetles, and crops growing almost before our eyes, it was hard to imagine the unpredictable nature of this specific natural phenomenon that stretched out before us. These fields sit on Karst country, and they come complete with sinkholes, springs and estavelles synonymous with karst. Water from river and spring sources fills the polje, and just as quickly it disappears only to rise up kilometres further on, feeding the Ljubljanica River to the west, and the Krka River to the east. I could only hope that the farmers get their timing right when it comes to sowing and reaping. Imagine the heartache if they didn’t! Then again, the vagaries of the polje are well known.
*More information about these places and more in the area can be found by contacting local guides at this link ARGOS https://www.facebook.com/AORTGOS/