LAŠKO: The town of beer and flowers

Laško: throughout Slovenia and the entire region of South East Europe, the name is synonymous with the green cans and bottles of the locally-produced Zlatorog brand pilsner.

In fact, in Slovenia the word Laško has almost become the equivalent of beer. This in itself is no small achievement for a small medieval town of only some 3,600 residents. However, there is much more to Laško than its internationally renowned brewing tradition.

To begin with the town itself is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Slovenia, with a compact old city centre located in an enviable position amongst rolling hills and picturesque valleys that spread out in all directions from the river Savinja. The surrounding area is perfect for exploring by either bike or on foot, and long before beer was produced on a large commercial scale, the town was known for the healing powers of its thermal springs – which made it a favourite holiday spot of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph during the middle of the 19th century. Since then, Laško’s Thermal Spa has grown into one of the most important health resorts and tourist centres in all of Slovenia, with its modern hotels packed year-round with guests from all over the world.

There’s also a second thermal spa centre a few kilometres to the south of Laško in the charming village of Rimske Toplice, smaller than the complex in Laško proper, it’s been recently renovated and is a great value. Elsewhere in the municipality, the main attraction is the ruins of the 12th century Cathusian monastery in Jurklošter (about 15km to the east of Rimske Toplice) and the imposing settlement of Zidani Most, set high above the confluence of the Sava and Savinja rivers at the far western edge of the region.

Laško’s famed beer and thermal spring traditions along with the region’s rich cultural and natural heritage have even been recognised by the European Commission, receiving a prestigious EDEN (European destination of excellence) award in 2013.  Laško was rewarded also with Cerificate of Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, Slolevina Green Destionation Bronze.

Of course the highlight of the year remains beer-related, with some 150,000 visitors flocking to the area for the annual Beer and Flower Festival every summer – something like Slovenia’s version of Oktoberfest (only with more flowers and cheaper beer). All this is only a scant 10 minute drive, or train ride, south of Celje.

LAŠKO MUSEUM: Set back off the city’s main square in a beautifully renovated villa, the small but noteworthy museum was originally opened in 1910 in a different location. Dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of Laško and the surrounding region, its collection is divided into three main areas: Laško throughout the course of time, beer brewing and spa tourism and the geological history of the area, with displays of archaeological findings and fossil records. Occasional exhibitions are also held. Info: Aškerčev Trg 5, tel. +386 (0)3 734 02 36, muzej@ stik-lasko.si, www.stik-lasko.si.

 LAŠKO BREWERY TOUR: Founded all the way back in 1825 by a local producer of mead and gingerbread (and a tasty combo that is!), the brewery was originally located in the Valvasorjev Špital building in the city centre. By far the most popular beer in Slovenia, Laško – or more specifically it’s flagship Zlatorog brand (which for those keeping track, means ‘mountain goat’ in Slovene and is a Czech-style lager) – is also widely found on menus at restaurants and pubs throughout the former-Yugoslav states and beyond.

For those interested in finding out more about Laško’s eponymous brew, a tour of the brewery is a must. The tour includes a stop by the city museum, where well-presented exhibits outline Laško’s nearly 200 year brewing history – including the short-lived attempt at using water from the city’s healing thermal spring in the process. After the museum, the tour moves across town to Laško’s state of the art facilities and one of the largest breweries in the region, and concludes with a requisite beer tasting. While our all too well-documented taste for drink probably makes us biased, for our money the Laško brewery tour easily deserves a place among Slovenia’s must-see attractions. Admission is €8,50 per person, and includes entrance to the museum, brewery and beer tasting. Info: Valvasorjev Trg 1, tel. +386 (0)3 733 89 50, tic@stik-lasko.si, www.lasko.info.

TABOR CASTLE: Perched on a small hill to the east of the town centre, Laško’s castle is reached relatively easily on foot and provides great views of the town below and the river valley meandering off in both directions. The castle was likely built in 11 or 12th century, and later came under the ownership of the Counts of Celje, who were the region’s most powerful family for several generations during the 14th and 15th centuries. After being burnt to the ground by the Turks in 1487, the castle was for a time used as a camp and then left to slowly decline into ruins over the following two centuries. It was finally restored after being purchased by Laško Brewery in the mid-1980s, and today houses the award winning Pavus restaurant, a summer garden and an incredibly popular wedding hall – if you visit on any given Saturday you’ll like find the latter in use. Info: Cesta na Svetino 23, tel. +386 (0)3 620 07 23, +386 (0)41 264 478, info@pavus.si, www.pavus.si.

 THE HOME OF ANTON AŠKERC: The family house of legendary Slovene poet Anton Aškerc (1856 – 1912) in the village of Senožete near Rimske Toplice is not only open for tourists, but actually run by the poet’s own grandnephew, who has turned the premises into a museum. Visitors can see displays of Aškerc’s work as well as some traditional furnishings such as a black kitchen, which were commonly used in Slovenia during his life. Best known for his epic poems and romantic ballads, the grounds and area surrounding the house have also been restored and are appropriately worthy of a contemplative stroll after viewing the exhibition. The house also has a little store with a fine selection of local hand-made goods. Info: Senožete 1, Rimske Toplice, tel. +386 (0)3 573 62 98, www.lasko.info. Open by prior arrangement.


TOURIST INFORMATION CENTRE: Laško’s tourist information centre is situated in the old town just across the bridge from the main bus and trains stations, and is pretty much a one-stop shop on any visit to town. Aside from providing the standard maps and brochures, the office is also your best bet for gifts and souvenirs. In terms of services the staff arranges guides, tours and accommodation, and can pretty much fill you in on everything you need to know about Laško, its sights and history. Info: Valvasorjev trg 1, tel. +386 (0)3 733 89 50, tic@stik-lasko.si, www.stik-lasko.si.