I have lived in Slovenia all my life and I was convinced that by now I had seen most of my homeland. But then I went on a road trip to Koroška (or Slovenian Carinthia). Without a doubt this was one of the regions I knew practically nothing about. Even worse, I had a completely distorted perception of it. Thankfully, during the past three days I had an excellent opportunity to experience Koroška in a whole new perspective. As one of the team members of the agency which organizes study tours for journalists to Slovenia for the purposes of promoting Slovenian tourism, I joined the team of six media representatives from Croatia. Together we set out on an exciting adventure to explore everything Koroška has to offer.
In the land down under
The biggest stunt I had to pull during these three days was getting up at 5.30 in the morning on the first day. Everything else after that was easy breezy.
After a brief introduction to the geological heritage of Geopark Karavanke, it was time for our first adventure – a one-of-a-kind bicycle ride through the old mine tunnels of Mount Peca. The mine is one of the oldest in Europe and used to play an important role in the life of the inhabitants of Mežica valley. It was completely shut down in 1994. It took long six years to clear out all of the mechanical equipment once used for the mining purposes, and turn the mine into a sight-seeing attraction for tourists.
A 6 kilometer-long ride was by far one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. The tunnels are narrow, there are some sharp turns here and there, the path is occasionally quite bumpy, and on top of it all, the tunnel is practically pitch-dark. The only light at your disposal is the LED flashlight mounted on your helmet.
The underground adventure was completed with an adrenaline downhill ride on the serpentine road.
If I had to score this experience from 1 to 10 on my woohoo-this-is-awsome scale, I would probably give it an 8. However, do bear in mind that I invented this scale years ago after a terrifying rollercoaster ride that left me sobbing in tears. 🙂 So for some of you this might feel like a morning walk in the park. 🙂 Nevertheless, this bike ride is a must for anyone visiting or passing through Mežica. You will not only have a great time, but you will also learn a lot about the history of the mine and how the miners with their families used to live in the old days.
Koroška is rich in paths and forest roads that are ideal for cycling. Mountain bikers in particular can satisfy their need for a daily dose of adrenaline on the biking trails between the Alps and river Drava. If you’re looking for an adventure but you’re not sure which trail is best for you, get in touch with Dušan Štrucl – Dixie. He and his experienced guides will make sure you get just the right dose of adrenaline you need. If one day of mountain biking is not enough for you and you would like to extend it over a weekend or more, you can book a room in his gorgeous eco-hotel Koroš which is also the first mountain bike hotel in Slovenia. Trust me, you will enjoy it. Even if biking is not your cup of tea and you would just like to have a break from everyday city life, you will definitely find your peace of mind here. The hotel is located in Jamnica village, in the hills northwest of Prevalje.
Prior to my departure to Koroška I did a little bit of research on the region. Apparently you have to take time for eating and drinking in Koroška, that much I knew. However, nobody had warned me that for Carinthian cuisine you have to be prepared in advance. 🙂
Our first “pit-stop” for lunch was Marin – Miler tourist farm, located in the Šentanel village, 700 meters above sea level. It’s a family-owned farm, so we were greeted by the owner, Mr. Janko Miler, at the entrance of the inn. He explained that basically everything on their menu is locally produced and home-made, just as about in any other Carinthian tourist farm or inn.
My stomach was obviously not ready for all the goods that Mr. Miler kept bringing to the table. As if three sorts of soups were not enough, the servings of the main course were plentiful, to say the least. Was there any space left for dessert? Not really, but with the food so delicious you just cannot but eat everything you are served. Oh my God, I thought I would burst! 🙂
With our schedule being packed with so many activities, some of them, including dinner, were delayed. We arrived at the Lečnik inn, located in the center of Ravne na Koroškem, around 10 p.m. We were almost two hours late, still Mrs. Heda Lečnik, the owner of the Lečnik inn, was patiently waiting for us. I was hoping for some easy snacks, as it was really late and I still hadn’t quite digested lunch, despite the fact that some 4 or 5 hours had already passed in between. However, what followed was something I was definitely not prepared for. Mrs. Heda really made the effort to make us feel welcome and pampered.
After some appetizers we were served with the delicious hemp soup. At first glance I thought it was a spinach soup, but the taste clearly indicated that I was wrong. It was slightly bitter and it resembled the taste of nettle.
The soup was followed by the signature dish of the Lečnik inn – a T-bone steak. I don’t think the team was ready for what they were served. 🙂 The steaks were huge! As I am not a meat-eater, I got hemp gnocchi which were definitely the first ones I have ever tasted. Not bad at all! I recommend you try it.
There is one more thing you should know about Koroška region. What makes it different from most of other regions in Slovenia is the absence of vineyards. The climate is not suitable enough for growing vines. However numerous apple trees are scattered around the region and the apples are used to produce apple juice and apple wine or mošt which is similar to cider. I’m not sure about the apple wine as I have not tasted it, but I can assure you that the apple juice made in Koroška is probably the best one I have ever drank anywhere! It is all natural, additive-free and rich in flavor.
Sleeping in nature
After such a long and exhausting day, full of adventures, culture, history and food, a warm bed and a good rest was all we were craving for. We were accommodated in a lovely youth hostel Punkl in Ravne na Koroškem. It is an architecturally unique building, completely made of wood, which gives it a warm and homely atmosphere.
The rooms are simply furnished, but quite comfortable and cosy. It would clearly take more than one night to fully experience our stay at Punkl. However the hospitability of our two hostesses, Mrs. Danica and Anja, was enough to convince me that I must come back and stay there for at least a weekend. 🙂 Knowing I was a vegetarian, they went through that much effort to make sure I had enough options to choose from at breakfast. How nice is that? 🙂
To be continued …
*Photo: G&S Promotion and geminimeri