The 4th Radovljica Chocolate Festival

No prizes for guessing what I’m writing about this week!! Yes, of course – chocolate AGAIN!!!

The weather didn’t exactly play ball, in fact after a week of beautiful warm sunshine, the rain arrived almost simultaneously with the start of the festival on Friday, and on Saturday it was wet and windy with near freezing temperatures. Sunday, however, was much better with bright, though cold, sunshine and mostly clear skies. But the rain didn’t dent the spirits of the exhibitors or the crowds, and a fun-filled, chocolate-filled weekend was had by all! And besides, chocolate can be eaten come rain or shine, or snow, or hail, or…… in my case anyway!

One of the highlights of the weekend was the 93kg bar of Gorenjka chocolate, seen below left with Radovljica’s Mayor lending a helping hand to break it up before it was shared among visitors. The giant bar was made especially for the show and to celebrate Gorenjka’s 93rd year of production.

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The Radovljica Chocolate Festival, now its in 4th year, was held over 3 days this year, as well as being spread over a larger area and with more exhibitors and an extensive entertainment programme. The bulk of the festival takes place in Linhart Square in Radovljica’s old town centre, as well as in the beautiful Radovljica Manor (grascina), which houses the Museum of Apiculture, the Municipal Museum, a music school, and is the main venue for the numerous concerts and festivals which take place in Radovljica throughout the year.

I had a hunch that it was going to get mega-busy so, keen to get a head start on the crowds, I was there immediately when the festival opened on Friday for a browse, and of course, a taste or two! There was chocolate of every size, shape, flavour and form imaginable and something for all kinds of lovers of chocolate, as well as ‘non-chocolate’ food prepared by chefs from the Taste Radol’ca restaurants.

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Apart from the pure pleasure of eating it, it’s quite amazing what can be done with chocolate these days. This year there were a number of new takes on chocolate including chocolate beer, chocolate tea, chocolate hamburgers, the new tarragon-flavoured Radol’ca choco-o-bee chocolates, and very colourful and on-trend macaroons. I would be hard pressed to pick a favourite, as I love pretty much all kinds of chocolate – except the really dark stuff which I know is supposedly the ‘healthy’ stuff but I don’t eat chocolate to be healthy – but one of my personal favourite stalls was ‘Pravljicne Pite’ (Fairytale Pies) with their ‘to-die-for’ pies and cakes and the Festival certainly provides a good avenue for these kinds of small businesses.

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Entertainment included a mini-Planica ski jump – which was definitely a hit with kids even in the pouring rain – a chocolate photo booth, chocolate fortune telling, cookery shows and, this year for the first time, evening entertainment with live music, stand-up comedy and an after-chocolate party.

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My weekend was largely spent working, as I have a large translating job on-the-go, so a couple of trips to the festival throughout the weekend to get some brain food(!) just about saved my sanity and I managed to amass quite a large stash of all kinds of chocolate which helped to get me through the weekend.

I also had an unexpected visitor this weekend. On Sunday afternoon my phone rang and the lady on the other end pronounced herself as ‘an old lady from Vienna who is a big fan of my blog and had come to Radovljica after reading about the Chocolate Festival on my blog and because she really wanted to meet me’! Despite not having a mobile phone and not knowing where I live she, Herta, managed to track me down – what a tenacious an amazing lady. It was lovely to meet you Herta, thanks for the chocolate wine, and I hope we meet again some day in Radovljica!

I think everyone that was involved and attended will agree, this event just gets better each year and has now become the main, and most anticipated, event on Radovljica’s event calendar

There will be plenty more photos of the festival on my Pinterest page coming soon.

Next week, weather and work permitting, I hope to be partaking in some more active physical rather than mental pursuits!

Hiking, cycling and strolling in sunny Slovenia!

After the excesses of the Easter weekend (see last week’s post), this weekend was devoted to my number one passion i.e. being outdoors, and as a bonus the whole weekend the country was bathed in fabulous warm sunshine. It was certainly a far cry from last weekend’s snowy/windy/cold and very changeable weather and, as you will see below, I managed to squeeze in quite a lot!

  • A stroll amongst the spring flowers in Ljubljana’s Botanic Gardens where even the terrapins were basking in the sun.

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  • A walk up to Ljubljana Castle.

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  • A hike up to the Potoška highland (Potoška planina).

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As you can see, in places there was still some snow. In fact, it is quite difficult at the moment to choose where to hike because the sunny slopes, up to around 1200-1300m, are now free of snow, however, any higher, and particularly in shaded areas, there is still a lot of snow and ice to contend with, so hikes into the higher mountains will have to wait a while yet. These past couple of days though, due to the high temperatures, it is beginning to melt fast so hopefully it won’t be too much longer until I can begin to start venturing further and higher.

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I began from the reservoir in Žirovnica, which I had cycled to from home, then followed the path up towards the Valvasor mountain hut (Valvasorjev dom). On reaching the road forest road, which is crossed in order to continue towards the hut, there is a sign for Ajdna and Potoška planina to the left. I had actually intended to go to Ajdna but there was a training course for mountain guides taking place there all weekend so I instead continued on the forest road up to the Potoška highland (1270m) from where there are far-reaching views across the Julian Alps and along the Upper-Sava valley towards Kranjska Gora, however, it was rather hazy sunshine so the photos don’t really do the views justice on this occasion. From the highland I turned right to continue towards the Valvasor hut but, rather than going to the hut itself, I continued on to the next highland, Žirovniška planina. There are several such mountain highlands that lie on the slopes beneath Stol, the highest mountain in the Karavanke range.

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  • A ride on the new bike path in Jesenice. I love this new path as its traffic-free and now joins up with the bike path from Mojstrana towards Kranjska Gora and onwards into Italy.

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Next weekend, of course, its the Radovljica Chocolate Festival so will once again be dedicated to my other passion i.e. chocolate! All the chocolately fun kicks off on Friday 17th April at 3pm and continues all weekend. The full festival programme is now available here – http://www.festival-cokolade.si/en/programme/

Easter Snow, Easter Food, and Chocolates Galore at Coko-Hram!

We may not have had a White Christmas, although the first snow of the year arrived on Boxing Day, however, this Easter was marked by abnormally cold and wintery temperatures. In fact, this past few days we’ve really had it all weather-wise; on Friday I was sitting outside a café in the sun drinking tea; on Saturday I was walking in the rain with my umbrella; on Sunday I was gazing out of the window at falling snowflakes and now, as I sit writing this on Monday, there’s another flurry of snow, well almost a blizzard actually combined with gusting winds. Winter certainly had the final say this Easter!

I read an interesting comparison yesterday of the temperature recorded at Kredarica, the mountain hut beneath Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav (2864m), where, on Christmas Day the temperature was +2.9 degrees, whilst on Easter Sunday it was MINUS 12, brrr…….. Thus, any plans for long hikes this weekend were scuppered and therefore my next love – food – was high on the agenda instead!

Food is a big deal in Slovenia at Easter. The most common tradition is for a family breakfast on Easter Sunday, consisting of baked ham with fresh horseradish, pirhi (coloured hard-boiled eggs) and, of course, potica (a rolled filled cake). As I have been asked to write as a guest on an American food blog – what an honour – this year I decided to do some Easter baking of my own and am rather proud of my first attempts at ‘šunka v testu’ – ham baked in a bread crust. Here is a sneek peek photo of my Easter table and I will post the link to the full blog when it is published.

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I already knew that April was going to be an indulgent month, and a heavenly one for a chocoholic like me – what with Easter and the Radovljica Chocolate Festival (see below for more details) both on the agenda. However, it just got even better when, on Friday, I discovered the cutest little café where they produce and sell the most amazing cakes and chocolates. Truly chocolate heaven for me! The place in question is Čoko-Hram in the tiny village of Bohinjska Češnjica near Bohinj lake. Blink and you could miss this place which, from the outside, belies what lies within. It is set just next to the road but a lack of good signage (new signs are being prepared!) means one could easily drive past, as I have done many-a-time, without giving it so much as a second look. But to do so is a crime – seriously – believe me!

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Once I stepped inside I was immediately charmed by the cute little chairs, tables, chalkboard drinks menus, and other homely touches; not to mention the glass chiller cabinet bursting full of delicious cakes and truffles, and the corner where home-produced chocolate, of all flavours, shapes and sizes, is displayed and for sale. So, as you can imagine, I had some serious tasting to do!

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Now, I love strong cheese; stilton, extra-mature cheddar – the stronger the better – but I have always turned my nose up at Mohant, a local cheese from the Bohinj area which has an extremely pungent aroma. So, when I was offered a taster of a truffle filled with mohant, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic at the prospect, but I tell you, it works! The combination of the sweet white chocolate and the creamy mohant truffle centre is genius – although I can imagine it might be a bit ‘Marmite’ for some people i.e. you either love it or hate it! Another such daring flavour combinations is dark chocolate with zaseka (smoked minced lard no less!), and others flavours and centres including tarragon, yoghurt, raspberry, honey-lemon-ginger, and many more. And then there were the cakes – oh the cakes! Where should I start? Perhaps it would be easiest to say, don’t just take my word for it, go and try them for yourself!

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Čoko Hram is owned and run by the same family who own the four-star Hotel Kristal in Ribčev Laz, just metres from Lake Bohinj. This is, in fact, how I came to visit Čoko Hram, rather than driving past as I would usually have done, since the chocolates are also on sale in the hotel, which I had visited as I had heard great things about their centre for Ayurveda massage and medicine – Calendula Ayurvedic & Medicinal Clinic – and wanted to see it and try it out for myself. I emerged 90 minutes later and, thanks to the healing hands of the Nepalese masseur, blissfully chilled-out and ready for anything- well almost anything! More about the clinic and hotel, which also features a rich collection of paintings from the annual artist colonies held there, can be found here – http://www.hotel-kristal-slovenia.com/index.php

Tourism Rado’l’ca are slowly tempting us details of the programme for this year’s Chocolate Festival which takes place 17-19th April. The full programme will be made available in the next few days on the festival website (I should know – I’m translating it!) and features such events such as:

  • Mini Planica – Jumping in Chocolate with Franci Petek
  • Culinary Shows by Taste Radol’ca restaurants and 3 of Slovenia’s top chefs
  • Chocolate Fortune Telling
  • Chocolate Adventure through Radovljica

….and much more – http://www.festival-cokolade.si

I have a feeling I will be writing a lot more about chocolate in the coming weeks! Hopefully, though, I’ll be offsetting all the indulgence with some hiking too, well if the weather plays ball that is!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Multi-culinary Slovenia

One of the features of Slovenia’s cuisine that makes it so unique is its diversity, which is largely due to the influence from surrounding countries – Austria, Italy, Hungary. These days it is perhaps even more diverse due to the emergence of some world-class chefs who are taking traditional Slovene food and giving it a modern twist, and also due to the increasingly multi-cultural population consisting, in particular, of people from other former-Yugoslav nations.

An example of this was the event ‘Multikulinarika‘ event which took place last Friday in Jesenice. Held in the Kolpern Hall at the Stara sava area (which I wrote more about in last week’s blog), the event is designed to showcase food from various nations and unite them all under one roof. There were 21 different countries represented at this year’s events including; Macedonia, India, Mexico, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Belarus, Spain, Kosovo and of course Slovenia!

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Taking the lead from Radovljica’s Chocolate Festival – more about that below – tasting takes place through the purchase of tasting coupons. As you can see from the photo below, I bought some and began to work my way through the cuisine of various countries!  The only problem was that there were so many different things on offer, and it was so busy, with the stands so tightly packed together, that I lost track of what I was eating and from which country! I was hoping to have a chance to chat with the stall holders, to find out more about what they had on offer, their country specialities etc., however, the crowds and the lack of space made it almost impossible. So, in the end I just headed to the stalls that were most reachable and managed to come away with plates laden with various types of burek, breads, potica, cakes, baklava and more!

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I can see this event going from strength-to-strength, however, the organisers really need to find a larger venue which allows more space for the exhibitors, the visitors and the accompanying programme. Here are a couple more pictures of the various dishes on offer, more can be seen on my Pinterest page!

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I have been fortunate to be privy to some of the as-yet closely under wraps, and still being finalised, details of this year’s Radovljica Chocolate Festival. The festival takes place over 3 days from 17-19th April and, in addition to the regular programme of chocolate tastings, sales and entertainment, the programme this year has quite a number of exciting new features too including; an extended festival area including a Chocolate Avenue and Chocolate Kitchen; an exclusive children’s entertainment area; a marquee where the chefs from the Taste Radol’ca restaurants will be cooking up special dishes; a Chocolate Party and other evening entertainment. You can also follow the latest news about the festival on the festival website – http://www.festival-cokolade.si/en/ and on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/events/341095372765995/

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In last week’s blog I wrote about the new route being launched by Adria airlines, Slovenia’s national carrier, offering flights 3-times per week from Maribor, Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, to Southend-on-Sea in the UK. I’m definitely a supporter of more flight connections to/from Slovenia, especially if they are reasonably priced. The Adria flights went on sale yesterday with prices from 69 euros return and, unlike the so-called ‘low-cost’ airlines, these flights include 23kg of luggage, plus hand-luggage at no extra cost. Additionally, as an opening offer, they are throwing in a free return train ticket to London. What’s not to like! Click on the link on the right-hand-side of my blog to get booking those bargain flights!

Still on the theme of transport, I read this week about a new daily bus route from Vienna to Trieste in Italy, via Ljubljana. This also has to be another useful addition as many tourists visiting Slovenia from further afield, fly into one of the surrounding airports, such as Vienna or Trieste and this offers another choice of ways to reach Slovenia. More information here (in Slovene)  – http://www.javniprevoz.si/prevozi/avtobusni-prevozniki-slovenija/nova-vsakodnevna-avtobusna-povezava-dunaj-ljubljana-trst/

This article, published in The Guardian newspaper yesterday, about 10 of Europe’s best national parks, lists Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park, at number 2. Just another reason to come and visit! http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/mar/30/10-europe-best-national-parks-italy-france-spain

Finally, I wish you all a very HAPPY EASTER!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Slovenian Woodenware (suha roba)

I was pleased to read this week that Adria, Slovenia’s national airline, is launching new flights from Maribor, Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city and 2nd largest airport, to Southend in the east of the UK. It’s not terribly helpful for me as my friends and family are scattered far from Southend, though, if the price is right it might be an option and hopefully for some – both in Slovenia and the UK – it will be a boon.

Southend might seem something of an odd choice – the airport is named ‘London Southend’ but a quick look at the map will reveal that it isn’t actually ‘London and isn’t actually even that close, being in the county of Essex. However, Central London can be reached in less than an hour and it will at least hopefully bring some much needed regeneration to Maribor and the Štajerska region as a whole. It also offers an alternative to the so-called ‘low cost’ airlines which, apart from the few months a year over the summer that Adria fly to Gatwick and Manchester, are currently the only choice to/from the UK. It looks the prices should be competitive too, which is even better. You can read more here (in Slovene)  -https://www.adria.si/sl/novice/2015/nova-redna-letalska-povezava-adrie-airways-iz-maribora-v-london/

On Saturday I visited the Stara Sava area of Jesenice, 20 mins by car from Radovljica or just a few stops on the train, to look around the museum area and the St. Jožef’s Fair, held annually to celebrate the municipal holiday and the patron saint. Granted, from the outside Jesenice really doesn’t appear to have much going for it, dominated as it is by the chimneys and pluming smoke from the Akroni steel factory, however, the town is surrounded by some wonderful nature and the Stara sava area in particular has been nicely restored and exhibits the technical heritage of the area. The area comprises the 16th century Ruard Manor, the 17th century Church of St. Mary’s Assumption and typical worker’s houses from the 18th century, as well as being the museum, cultural and tourist centre of the town.

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There was a small market selling a range of typical Slovene goods including ‘suha roba’, meaning ‘woodenware’, which are traditional handmade wooden products, originally made in Ribnica in the southeast of Slovenia, where the tradition dates back as far as the 14th century. These days suha roba products can be found on sale from mobile vans, stalls, and even hawkers who walk around selling the various products hanging from their every limb, at many markets and other larger events throughout the country. If you are looking for a gift to take home for friends or family, you will surely find something; kitchen implements, garden tools, toys, small items of furniture, and myriad other useful household objects.

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It’s now only 24 days until the 4th Radovljica Chocolate Festival – not that I’m counting or anything! If you share my love of all-things chocolate, take a look at this short video of last year’s event to see why its become so popular. Hope to see you there – but you’d better get there quick before I eat ALL the chocolate! – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHheIefC_-g

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Spring in Slovenia; cycling, flowers, chocolate and more!

In last week’s blog I wrote about the St. Gregory’s Day celebrations which take place annually on the eve of St. Gregory’s Day, in this case, last Wednesday 11th March, in the villages of Kropa and Kamna Gorica. I was a little disappointed that due to work commitments I was unable to go this year, however, as luck would have it one of the locals from Kamna Gorica, put together this short video so I, and now you, can have a glimpse into the custom and see the colourful creations made by local children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABGRQ79oC7k&feature=youtu.be

What struck me initially on watching it is that it was still daylight, whereas last year when I attended on the same day and date -11th March 2014 – it was already dark. This year spring seems to have come early, and with it, longer and warmer days, and the forests are now carpeted with beautiful spring flowers. Ok, I know its a bit early to be celebrating spring ‘proper’, after all it could, and probably will, still snow. However, after last year’s washout of a spring and summer, this dry, mild(ish) period is much appreciated.

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So, with spring in the air, my thoughts have started turning to cycling and I began dusting off my bike this weekend. After month’s of not cycling, and with a nip still in the air, the first rides of the year are always gentle ones, on flat, easy surfaces, such as from Radovljica via Lesce and Hraše to join the 12km-long Imperial Road (cesarska cesta), a gravel road that leads towards Žirovnicahttp://en.zirovnica.eu/experiences/active-breaks/cycling/family-cycling-trips/along-the-imperial-road/

Another such flat(ish) and easy(ish), as well as being particularly scenic and traffic-free, cycle path is that from Bohinjska Bistrica to Bohinj Lake then onwards towards the villages of Stara Fužina, Studor and Srednja vas. The cycle path is well-marked and the views of the Julian Alps and the surrounding villages and lake certainly take your mind off the couple of short, but very steep, inclines. This section, seen below, leads from Srednja vas towards Studor. with the imposing Baroque St. Martin’s church on a small hill directly above the village.

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It’s worth making the short detour to see the church, which contains paintings by well-known Slovene artists, and also nearby is the Ribnica waterfall and the Bohinj Cheese Dairy (Bohinjska sirarna) where one can stop off to buy locally produced cheese (open weekdays 7am – 2pm).

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Preparations are now in full flow for this year’s Radovljica Chocolate Festival. This event just keeps growing and growing in popularity, and this year it will be even bigger and better. The Festival will take place over 3 days (instead of the previous 2) from Friday 17 to Sunday 19 April and will also be extended to take place not only in the historic old town centre and the Radovljica Manor (grascina), but also in the Town Park. Read more about the Festival here – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festival-of-chocolate/83/309/

I can’t wait!!!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Hell’s Cave

The last few days have been a perfect mixture of brilliant spring sunshine with cold, bright, crisp mornings, and warm afternoons. The week ahead looks like being more of the same. So, no complaints here – for a change!

On Saturday I went, almost literally, ‘to Hell and Back’, since I visited Hell’s Cave (Jama Pekel), near Šempeter in the Savinjska valley! Actually, I’d struggle to tell you exactly where it is since finding it was far from easy and in the end it was more by luck than judgement. The journey from home in Radovljica began relatively easily, following the motorway to Ljubljana, then onwards in the direction of Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, Maribor, taking the exit for Šempeter. I suppose I only had myself to blame as I was armed with only a basic map but, in my defence, many of the larger tourist attractions throughout the country have familiar brown signs beside the major roads to direct visitors, this one, alas, did not and is woefully lacking in signage;  rather strange since it seems to be a relatively popular and visited one. Oh well, at least I got to see some of the hidden parts of the countryside which I wouldn’t have otherwise! If you plan a visit, as long as you turn right on leaving the motorway, you will, eventually, pick up the signs to the cave as it is only a couple of kilometres from the motorway – just don’t, whatever you do, turn left!!!

Anyway, once I arrived at the cave, all was forgotten and it was well worth the effort. When one thinks of caves in Slovenia, of course the world-famous Postojna caves and the UNESCO listed Skocjan caves are the ones that immediately spring to mind. Slovenia, though, actually has over 10,000 registered caves, and to think that those are the ones that are known about, who knows what else lurks in the mysterious underworld. Many of them are largely unexplored whilst others, those that are open to the public, are not as vast as the aforementioned ones, but nonetheless each offers an intriguing glimpse into the underground karst world. Hell’s Cave is no exception, and the highlight is most certainly the 4m waterfall which is actually inside the cave, the only of its kind in the country.

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The Ponikvica stream carved out the cave and runs through it throughout the part that is now open to the public. It is well-equipped with boardwalks, ladders, lights etc. though very narrow in places and quite a lot of ducking is required for anyone over a few feet tall (oops, metres tall – still can’t get to grips with European metric measurements!). The name of the cave originates from the rocks at the entrance to the cave which, with a bit of imagination, appear to form the shape of the devil and additionally, during the winter when the temperature inside is warmer than the outdoor temperature, it appears as if steam is coming from the cave’s entrance.

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Guided tours of the cave are available daily on the hour, from 10am-5pm from 1st April – 30th September; in March and October it is only open at weekends with the last tour at 4pm. During our group’s tour, we witnessed a pair of sleeping bats, yet to wake up from their winter hibernations, as well as a crab-like creature which is at home in the stream within the cave. Following the tour I took a walk on the forest nature trail which begins at the entrance to the cave and is easy to follow; just follow the green owls! The 2km circular trail takes less than 30 minutes and is nice way to begin, or end, a visit to the cave.

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Nearby is a Roman Necropolis which I had also planned to visit but on this occasion was unable to since the monuments are still covered up for the winter period. About 2000 years ago a Roman road ran through the area around Šempeter and the necropolis, discovered quite by chance in 1952, is considered the most important of the remains from the Roman era, not just in Slovenia, but in Central Europe. So, it will, for the time being, remain on my lists of ‘places to go’ and about which I hope to write about some time soon – I’ll go equipped with a map next time though!

You can read more about the cave, the necropolis, and the other attractions in the area on the Šempeter Tourist Association website here – http://www.td-sempeter.si/en/

The tradition of making and floating models vessels, made by local children and illuminated by candles, in the streams in the villages of Kropa and Kamna Gorica will take place this week. This age-old iron-forging custom takes place annually on the eve of St. Gregory’s Day. The models, which are a mixture of unique art creations made from paper, cardboard and wood with candles affixed either on the exterior or interior, create a colourful effect against the dusk setting. This custom dates back to the era of manual iron forging, before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the name day of St. Gregory was considered the first day of spring. With the weather we’ve been having in the past few days, this year it holds true. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I likely won’t be able to attend this year, which is a shame as it is a spectacle worth seeing, so here are a couple of photos from last year.

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© AdeleinSlovenia 2015