by Larry Zaletel
“Go walking or go hiking up a mountain” my doctor said, “your knee replacement is fine.” When I visited my cousins in Slovenia four months later I learned that hiking there is a very popular sport. So I decided to take my doctor’s advice and participate.
Slovenia, located south of Austria, is an alpine country with plenty of mountains and places to hike. These include the Karavanken Mountains, Ljubelj Pass the gateway to Austria, Kranjska Gora also known for its skiing, and Mojstrana to name just a few. Hiking trails in the valleys and in the mountains attract visitors from all over the world. The best time to hike the high mountains is from April to November when the hiking hotels and mountain huts are open. Hiking hotels and hut accommodations are usually very basic without showers and have small rooms.
Situated in the province of Gorenjska in Northern Slovenia is the small idyllic village of Begunje. This is the home of the Elan Company known for sports gear, especially skis. Begunje is also the home to the Slavko Avsenik Ensemble, an internationally-renowned Alpine folk music group. The Ensemble has been known for over the past forty years for their original Oberkrainer sound. The group is very popular in Slovenia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The most popular song of the Ensemble is the polka titled “Na Golici” in Slovenian or (On Golica) in English. In the music world it is also commonly know as Trumpet Echo. The title Na Golici is taken from the mountain of the same name, Golica which lies on northwestern edge of Slovenia on the border with Austria.
From Jesenice the road leads north and we drive with my cousins towards the mountain. The road is plainly marked and as we wind our way up the mountain we pass small farms situated off to the left side. The road is narrow in places. The mountain and the trees creep close to us with just enough room for us to pass as we twist and turn. The car climbs higher through the forest until we come upon a mountain guide who shows us the trail where we begin our hike.
We begin to climb at a farm where cows are grazing in the sunny fields,their bells clanging in the cool autumn mountain air. The narrow trails through the woods traverse ground studded with rocks, in places so large we have to gingerly climb over them. Every once in a while the woods open up into a clearings where in the distance the green valleys and mountains are visible. We stop at one location and face north toward the gray stone and granite faces of Mount Triglav (Three Heads) visible in the distance. Along the narrow rutted trail the valley floor is only a few centimeters down the mountainside. We stop occasionally to rest and to enjoy the scenery so it takes about three hours of climbing to reach the tree line at the top of the mountain. We stop to rest and my cousin’s wife provides sandwiches, tea, and water. My cousin unpacks some Slivovitz (Slovenian Plum Brandy) and we toast to our success.
A short distance up at the top of the mountain in a clearing is the remnants of an American B-17 bomber and a monument that was erected in 2002. The plane crashed there on March 19, 1944 near the end of World War II. Luckily the crew was rescued by Slovenian partisans.
On the mountain summit there is a rustic homemade wooden marker with the word Golica imprinted on it. On the ground concrete markers identify the border between Austria and Slovenia. The valleys below are green with hints of color as Mother Nature begins painting the red, yellow, and orange hues of autumn.
From the peak of Golica the panorama view seemed almost forever. It is a clear dayso the view of the adjacent mountains and valleys is unimpeded. I look down the mountain into Austria and see mountains, valleys, lakes, streams, and villages in the distance. Towards Slovenia lie the peaks of the Karavanken Mountains, the Kamnik Alps, the Ljubljana Basin, and the Julian Alps. Overhead in the sky the checkered pattern of contrails was visible from the many planes that fly over the area. As I stand in wonder straddling the border, with one foot in Slovenia and the other in Austria, never have I ever felt so insignificant. I gaze out over the countryside inhaling the smokiness of the fall air, and feel as though I am on top of the world.
If You Go:
There are guides available for hiking in Slovenia, www.slovenianalps.com. For further information and booking arrangements, Email: email@example.com, Telephone: +386 1 510 62 97, Fax: +386 1 510 62 95.
The legend on the illustration officially claims that the peak of Golica is 1834 meters or a little over 5000 ft.
There are no direct flights from the United States to Slovenia. However air travelers can go to Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, or London and connect with Slovenia’s Adria Airlines to Ljubljana Joze Pucnik Airport. Adria Airlines www.adria.si. Roundtrip fares average $1000 – $1500
Where to stay:
In Slovenia there are many places to stay including hotels and gostilnas. A gostilna is a modest country inn serving home cooked meals. There is not a hard and fast rule but many gostilna’s have sleeping arrangements especially if there is a picture of a bed hanging out in front of the establishment. They usually include breakfast in the morning. Slovenia also has many bed & breakfast (sobes). Throughout the country there are signs along the roadsides advertising them. The local tourist bureaus usually have list of sobes with prices and further information. They are highly recommended as a delightful way to meet the people and make new friends. Usually the price can be negotiated. Prices average about $45 – $80 per night and they are much cheaper than hotels and normally include breakfast. We have stayed in sobes in Novo Mesto, Lake Bled, Postojna, and Kranjska Gora and have revisited them on several occasions.
The Gostilna Pri Belokranjcu, Kandijska cesta 63, 8000 Novo Mesto, Slovenia is situated almost in the center of town across the street from the Renault factory and is close to two shopping malls. This family bed and breakfast has 28 rooms with double beds. The owners Branko and Mojca Vrbetic offers daily menus with home made bread and a local wine called Cvicek. Refrigerators and laundry services for extended guests are available. Slovenian, Serbian/Croatian, Russian, German, Italian and English are spoken. Tel 386 7 30 28 444, Price $60-$80 per night. Very good home cooked food. www.pribelokranjcu-vp.si
Where to eat:
Gostilna and Restaurant Ansenik
4275 Begunje, Slovenia
Telephone 386 4 530 70 30
After spending over an hour on the mountain top taking photographs and videos we walked back to the car and drove down the mountain to a local Gostilna (bar, restaurant) where we enjoyed a Lasko beer. In front of the Gostilna is a wooden signpost that describes this area called the Valley under Mount Golica (Planina Pod Golico). This is a genteel family establishment that includes very good home-made Slovenian food, international cuisine, venison, fish and other seafood dishes. Additionally, they also offer both vegetarian and grilled dishes. Prices: Moderate. There is a children’s playground, conference area, and dance-floor. There is music on Wednesdays and Fridays evenings in the multi purpose hall which seats 220 persons. Hours: Daily 10:00 AM – 11:00 PM, Sunday: 10:00AM – 9 PM, Monday: Closed.
Pizzeria & Spaghettarija Don Bobi
Kandijska Cesta 14, 8000 Novo Mesto, Slovenia
Tel 386 7 338 24 00
Extensive menu and moderately priced $8 – $18. Complete with indoor and outdoor dining. This is one of our favorites. Very good pasta and pizza.
About the author:
Larry Zaletel is a retired government auditor, freelance travel writer and an avid and dedicated traveler.
All photographs are by Larry Zaletel.