If Slovenia is situated at the geographical crossroads of Europe – with the Alps, great eastern plains and Mediterranean all converging within its borders – and Žiri is at the crossroads of Slovenia, then by our calculation this small town of just under 5000 inhabitants is the unofficial center of Europe!
While this may be a slight exaggeration, Žiri is set in an enviable location in a small basin at the end of the Poljanska Valley, just a short drive away from Škofja Loka to the east, Vrhnika to the south and Idrija to the west.
But Žiri wasn’t always in the centre of things, in fact for much of its history it has been a border town between the great empires of the east and west – most recently during the period between WWI and WWII, when it was only a couple of kilometers from the border separating Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In the years immediately following the Second World War, the borders once again receded and gave Žiri a bit more breathing room. It was at this time that the town’s most recognizable company, Alpina, began to grow from a small cooperative of local shoemakers into the international firm that it is today. A repeat winner of the prestigious Red Dot award for design, many of Alpina’s award winning models can be seen in a special exhibit at the city museum.
ŽIRI MUSEUM: The main tourist site within the town of Žiri itself is the well-maintained city museum, which is arranged thematically to present the main topics of importance for the city and wider area. It is set at the far south end of town in what was originally a country manor house for the noble families of Škofja Loka before being converted to a school and then finally a museum in 1970. On the ground floor there is a presentation of Žiri’s history, including its time as a border town, and it’s possible to watch a short film on the topic with a voiceover in English. If you plan to take a tour of Rupnik’s line and its famous bunkers, we recommend making a stop here first. Here you can also find collection detailing lace-making and the events of the Second World War. The first floor holds a small but impressive exhibition of paintings by local artists, most of which date from the past few decades, as well as perhaps the most complete presentation of shoemaking that we’ve ever seen. In addition to tracing the history of the craft, visitors can also see several large display cases of shoes and boots produced by the local Alpina factory – including those worn by the first Slovene to reach the summit of Mt Everest, the pair of red ski boots responsible for the company’s first Red Dot award in 2008 and some unexpectedly elegant items of lady’s evening wear. Info: +386 (0)4 519 10 83, admission €2.00-2.20.
To discover other unique places in Slovenia, check out THE SLOVENIA BOOK – AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF SLOVENIA