KOROŠKA: Nature’s little secret

Most people associate Carinthia with Austria, but its south-easternmost province lies in the territory of Slovenia, close to the Austrian border 100km or so to the northeast of Ljubljana. Koroška (Slovene for Carinthia) encompasses three valleys, the Meža, Drava and Mislinja as well as the three mountain ranges of Pohorje, Karavanke and the Savinja Alps.

koroŠkA3.jpg

It may be one of the smaller regions in Slovenia, but it’s all the more diverse and picturesque. Its plentiful gems are scattered throughout numerous little towns, villages and the surrounding valleys stretching far below the mighty mountain peaks, which dominate the skyline. Koroška is one of the hilliest and most forested regions in Slovenia. It is marked by white stones and the soft edges of the hills which form its distinctive vista with green forest tones of the deep, dark and at some points almost impenetrable woods. It’s perfect for hikers as they have many options to choose from such as the European Long Distance Path E6 or the Slovenian Mountain Trail, which cut through the region. Trails popular with hikers include the Koroška Alpine Trail, the peaks of Uršlja Gora, Pohorje, Kozjak and Smerkovec as well as the more demanding ascents to Peca, Olševa and Raduha. The experience of unspoiled nature is enhanced by the solitude. You will almost never stumble upon hordes of mountaineers. Koroška boasts more than 1,000 kilometers of marked (either on the ground or with maps) cycling tracks, so you can create unlimited combinations for a tour up, down, between or even (literally!) through the mountains. The strategic position of the turbulent border region has always dictated the lively cultural and artistic vibe of Koroška, which can be viewed through its rich heritage. Koroška boasts farms of the highest altitude in Slovenia, which are dispersed throughout the entire region. Local hospitality can be experienced at the numerous inns and tourist farms dotted across the countryside. Natural, homemade and traditional are the perfect words to describe the local cuisine, the best of which is the tasty brown or rye bread and the excellent cider made from age-old varieties of apple. Info: www.koroska.si.


THE MEŽA VALLEY: The Meža Valley is a part of the cross-border UNESCO global Geopark Karavanke. Here you can find a truly inspiring and successful example of how to turn one industry into another, where the former mine in Mežica has been cleverly transformed into the fascinating Tourist Mine and Museum, an underground visitors’ attraction where it’s possible to not only learn about the work that used to take place in the mine but to also indulge in things such as subterranean cycling and kayaking deep in the mine’s former working shafts. For those who prefer to cycle outdoors and with stunning views, the nearby Peca Mountain Bike Park offers some incredible experiences. There is a veritable labyrinth of paths and tracks snaking around and through the valleys and mountains. The park currently consists of the Single Trail Park Jamnica and the heart-stopping 12km-decent Flow Trail Petzen (the longest in Europe) on the other side of the border. For the really adventurous mountaineers there’s also the Koroška Mountain Challenge, over 80km over and around five of the highest peaks in the region, which if completed in less than 24 hours earn the climber’s membership to the prestigious Club 24. For others it’s recommended, these amazing trails should be savored over a period of several days. For the less adventurous, the region also has several other tempting treats including excursions to the 770-year-old ‘mother of all Slovenian lime trees’ and the amazing Topla Regional Park at the foot of Mount Peca. And, if you’re craving something less wild, we suggest a visit to the charming little town of Ravne na Koroškem, the biggest in the region where you’ll find the Forma Viva steel sculptures exhibition and a modern sports center plus plenty of things to see and do.

THE DRAVA VALLEY: Discover the natural beauty of the Drava Valley by cycling along the Drava River Cycling Route or by taking a walk along one or more of the educational water paths. Famed for its natural beauty and cultural diversity, the Drava River Cycling Route, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful of its kind in Europe, begins at the river’s source in Italy and runs through Austria into Slovenia where the route is divided into five stages between Dravograd and Varaždin in neighboring Croatia. Mostly running along paved roads with a small percentage being on more challenging paths and trails, the route in Koroška features some long and steep hills suitable for the more experienced trekking bikers. The Drava Valley’s abundance of water also provides plenty of unique and fascinating adventures, among them the highly recommended traditional timber-rafting trips along the River Drava. Timber-rafting, an essential component of the region’s former industries, has survived as a tourist activity using original rafts. Rafting adventures can be had at the harbors in Gortina and in the village of Javnik, where a fascinating timberrafting museum can be found that charts the history of the transportation method. For those who prefer to spend their time in rather than on the water, the Water Park Radlje ob Dravi immediately south-west of the town of the same name close to the River Drava offers large outdoor pools, water slides and an attached adventure park featuring cycling and other outdoor leisure pursuits.

THE MISLINJA VALLEY & WESTERN POHORJE: As one would expect, the often densely forested, mountainous region that makes up the Mislinja Valley and Western Pohorje region provides ample opportunities for lovers of winter sports. The combined Kope and Ribniško Pohorje ski and outdoor activities resort, at the western-most and highest part of Pohorje, is an excellent example. Located at a peak altitude of 1,542m and featuring several kilometers of runs and slopes, the resort, which is fully equipped with everything necessary for a satisfying active break, is surrounded by beautiful and mysterious primeval forests where among other sights is the so-called Sgerm’s Spruce, a vast Norwegian variety believed to be about 250 years old and a shade under 62m tall. For something more restrained, the Štrekna cycling route in the Mislinja Valley is among the best in Slovenia. Covering 24km of former railway line, and taking in Otiški vrh, Slovenj Gradec, Mislinja and Gornji Dolič along the way, it provides a healthy alternative for all the family whilst providing a little history on the former railway and some spectacular views along the way. Of the places to visit en route, we recommend Slovenj Gradec, an 11th-century masterpiece with a handful of interesting churches, a pleasant art gallery, a fascinating regional museum and a couple of decent hotels for those looking to spend a little time in the region. Keep reading the guide for more about Slovenj Gradec.

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