Often confused with its most famous site, the large Minorite monastery complex, and/or the nearby thermal spa down the road in Podčetrtek – with which it shares its name – the village of Olimje is not really a village at all in the classical sense, as only around 250 residents call it home and they are spread out over several kilometres along a small valley.
However, this has not stopped Olimje from being officially recognized as the most beautiful village in all of Europe, winning the gold medal in the 2009 Entente Florale Europe competition. Aside from its undeniable aesthetic virtues and the aforementioned monastery, there are a lot of other things for visitors to see and do here. Not a bad CV at all for a collection of houses with half as many people as some of our classes at university.
OLIMJE MONASTERY: One of our favourite attractions in the whole of the region. It’s visually striking, painted grey with architectural details highlighted in white. In a gorgeous location, on a slope at the end of the valley. The monastery has an interesting and varied history. A fort originally stood here, around 1015. It was remodeled as a country mansion then a castle, before being donated to the Pauline monks in 1657. When Emperor Joseph II abolished the monastery in 1782 it became a castle again. It wasn’t until 1999 that it reverted to being a monastery – again. We adore the monastery’s old pharmacy, said to be the third oldest in the whole of Europe. But that’s not all. The four monks who run this huge place are incredibly warm and friendly. They’re so welcoming they may even invite you for a tea or coffee if they don’t have other matters to attend to. However, it is a working monastery and so the monks are usually busily engaged in their day-to-day business and chores. Masses and prayers are held in the Baroque church daily and both the church and pharmacy are open all day. Self-tours are the norm, but you can book group tours in advance. Info: +386 (0)3 582 91 61, www.olimje.net.
COKOLADNICA OLIMJE: After spending a lovely time visiting Olimia’s monastery, chatting with the friendly monks about their herbs and an upcoming wedding ceremony, you can visit the neighboring chocolate factory! Just follow the path through the monastery’s herb garden and across a little bridge, and you will indeed arrive at Syncerus Chocolate. Although the production facilities are strictly off limits to visitors – presumably to protect the diligent Oompa-Loompas from being distracted from their work or perhaps – there is a large boutique where every chocolate creation you can imagine is for sale, from the standard bars and pralines to more extravagant forms such as nearly full-sized chocolate footballs, various musical instruments made from chocolate, and a large glass case full of chocolate breasts (which feels all the more awkward to see after coming straight from the monastery). The tradition and recipes date back to the confectioner Alfonz Videtič, who was well-known in Vienna around the turn of the 20th century and whose descendants still run the place. Info: Olimje 61, +386 (0)3 810 90 36, cokoladnica-olimje.si, firstname.lastname@example.org.