IVANČNA GORICA: At the heart of the 12 pearls

If you are hoping to escape the city, and experience the authentic Slovenian countryside, look no further than Ivančna Gorica. The municipality lays right at the edge of Central Slovenia and the start of Southern Slovenia, and because of this unique natural intersection you will find very peculiar landscapes.

Slovenia’s trademark green colour appears in the form of rolling hills and thick layers of forests, and impressive large parcels of wheat, corn and potatoes seem to dominate the area.

Despite being known for its agricultural way of life, it is an impressively active town. It’s also the starting point of the so-called 12 pearls, or the 12 localities surrounding the town Ivančna Gorica. Each area has an incredible mix of cultural and outdoor activities to choose from, and all of them can also be visited during a three-day hiking marathon around Ivančna Gorica’s Loop Path, which you can hike, run, cycle or tour with a caravan or car with the whole family. And we hope you like traditional Slovenian folklore music though, it is the favourite music genre amongst the locals during frequent festivities.

Nowadays, the municipality is a commercially strategic point, situated along the motorway connecting Ljubljana and Novo Mesto, while during Roman times some two thousand years ago, Ivančna Gorica led the way to Emona, today’s Ljubljana. You can still use this Roman milestone as reference today, since it is visible from the municipality’s main crossroad, and it also emblazoned on the town’s coat of arms.

MULJAVA: Muljava is well-known in Slovenia for being the birthplace of Josip Jurčič, the author of the first Slovenian novel. His childhood home is now an open-air museum where people gather to perform famous stories about the lifestyle and wisdom of the ancient rural population. The museum has preserved all the original household appliances, furniture, tools and devices from that time, and it certainly feels like stepping into the past – only that you can still access the Internet from your phone. Every year, residents of Ivančna Gorica commemorate Josip Jurčič’s life by hiking the 13-kilometre route he used to walk every day from his home to school. That certainly puts things into perspective, and encourages us to have a toast to the comforts of modern times. Info: +386 (0)41 686 382, muzej.muljava@siol.net, www.jurcic.si.

STIČNA ABBEY & CISTERCIAN MONASTERY: In case you find yourself yearning for some spiritual guidance, you can visit the oldest operating Cistercian monastery in Slovenia located in Stična Abney, which was built in the first half of the 12th century. The architectural style is an eclectic combination of Baroque and traces of some Romanic and Gothic buildings. The monastery includes a Basilica with a transversal nave that connects its five apses. Impressively enough, it is still an active religious and cultural centre in the Dolenjska region, and each year some 8,000 young believers gather in the abbey on World Youth Day to celebrate the Pope’s message to the young. The site’s main attractions are the gallery of the painter friar Gabrijel Humek, and the memorial exhibition of the friar and world-renowned herbalist Simon Ašič. In order to promote tourism, Stična Abbey opened an herbal pharmacy in 2000 under a new registered trademark called Sitik, and the establishment now manages some 4,000 square meters of herbs and plants every year, selling its herbal remedies to the public. Info: +386 (0)41 689 994, info@mks-sticna. si, www.mks-sticna.si.

IVANČNA GORICA BY THE NUMBERS

Population (municipality): 16,182 / Population (town): 2,078 Size: 227.0 km2 / Postcode: 1295 / Municipal holiday: 29 May / Mayor: Dušan Strnad / Known for: Birthplace of Josip Jurčič

VIŠNJA GORA: We’ll somewhat ashamedly admit that in the years before we actually set foot in Višnja Gora we knew it primarily for two things: its motorway exit when travelling from the direction of Ljubljana, which plunges so abruptly that it surely violates some kind of EU regulations on such matters, and the fact that the same motorway goes on to cleave the town into two, with the main church and cemetery resting on the hill to the north and the town centre falling to the south. In other words, we considered it an unlucky victim of Slovenia’s march towards the modern era. However, there’s much more to Višnja Gora than can be surmised whilst zipping by along the A2 on the way to Ivančna Gorica. For starters, there’s its adorable name, which directly translates to Cherry Mountain in English. What family with kids wouldn’t want to stop off for a short visit in Cherry Mountain on their visit to Slovenia? And while you won’t find many cherry trees here, there is one of the region’s best-preserved medieval town centres, as well as the scenic ruins of the 12th-century Stari Grad castle perched on top of a hill to the south. From the outskirts of the town it’s a pleasant half-hour walk to Kosca Waterfall (or Slapišče Kosce), which at 20m has the distinction of being the highest travertine waterfall in Slovenia.

KRKA: With its ever-green landscapes extending all over the surrounding valley, Krka is truly a sight for the senses. The spring that becomes the Krka river not coincidentally starts in the town of same name, and meanders some 95km through the sleepy countryside before reaching the Croatian border. When the spring is not filled with water, its cave-like structure is accessible to the public and used as a music and theatre hall. Meanwhile the town of Krka is most famous for the official opening of kayaking season, an event that takes place at the end of May each year and gathers up to 300 kayaking aficionados. Krka is also a great place to practice other outdoor activities like fishing, swimming and camping. Info: +386 (0)41 276 252, info@tdkrka.si, en.tdkrka.si.

To discover other unique places in Slovenia, check out THE SLOVENIA BOOK – AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF SLOVENIA