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SOLČAVSKO: Slovenia’s most spectacular valleys

While the name Solčava (or Solčavsko or even Logarska Dolina) is not widely known outside of Slovenia, the region is truly one of the most incredible places in the country, which of course is the reason why it was selected as an EDEN destination in 2009.

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. In fact, if we weren’t contractually prohibited from playing favourites, it would be tempting for us to declare the Solčavsko region first among equals when it comes to tourist destinations in Slovenia. Geographically isolated by the Kamnik-Savinjska Alps in the far north of the country, the area only got its first road to Ljubno and the rest of the Savinja Valley in 1894. This isolation has led Solčavsko to develop at its own pace, maintain its own distinct cultural identity and extensively preserve and protect its natural heritage. Fortunately for those wishing to visit, nowadays it is a relatively short drive (ie less than 1.5hrs) from Ljubljana, Maribor and Celje – the three largest cities in Slovenia.

Composed of three roughly parallel valleys – Robanov Kot, Logarska Dolina and Matkov Kot – which are connect by a small river valley to the north that eventually becomes the Savinja River, the main town of Solčava gives the region its name. Some 560 or so inhabitants are dispersed over and area of 103km2, and everyone literally knows everyone here, but don’t worry about being an outsider, the close sense of community is one of the things that makes the place so friendly and welcoming for tourists. It’s virtually impossible to get lost on even the smallest unsealed mountain road, because the first person you meet will know exactly where you’re going (and will quite possibly be a relative of the owner!).


LOGARSKA DOLINA: Whenever a new guide book to Slovenia is being published and it’s time for editors to choose what photo will be used on the all-important cover, Solčavsko’s most recognizable valley is inevitably on the shortlist of candidates – and deservedly so. While many people outside of Slovenia may be unfamiliar with the name Logarska Dolina, or Logar Valley, there’s a good chance that they’ve seen photos of it at some point: wide green meadows broken by a single winding road and several perfectly placed linden trees, thick alpine forests spilling down from the sloping mountains on either side, and the craggy Kamnik-Savinja Alps rising like a mirage in the background, often with a light dusting of snow.

Based solely on aesthetics, Logarska Dolina would find itself near the top of any credible list of must-see natural sights in Europe. However, the valley is more than just a pretty face, it’s a true beauty both inside and out who you wouldn’t hesitate bringing home to meet your parents.

Jointly managed by a locally owned tourism development company and a separate dedicated tourist association, as well as the official municipal tourism office, the entire valley is a protected natural landscape park. Its preservation is painstakingly maintained, while at the same time its varied and diverse tourism offering is well-organized for guests. With new development strictly prohibited, virtually every farm in the valley now offers some form of accommodation and/or catering services.

Meanwhile the list of activities available is enough to keep even the most active visitors busy for weeks, with guided tours, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, archery and even paragliding possible during the warmer months, while cross country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding among the more popular activities during the snowy winters.

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RINKA WATERFALL: The second highest waterfall in all of Slovenia, the Rinka plunges a total of 105m from the small river above to the pool below, with a single drop of 90m. Arguably the most impressive individual attraction in Logarska Dolina, if not the entire region, the waterfall is a must-see stop on any visit. From the parking lot at the end of the road running through the valley, a well-maintained footpath leads to the viewing area just below the falls (about a 10-minute walk slightly uphill), although the best place to take in the gushing vertical stream is from the café that clings to a rocky crag just next to the water itself – nicknamed the Eagle’s nest. Refreshingly cold beers, tasty ice cream bars and generously poured glasses of schnapps can all be enjoyed on the terrace. During winter it’s not uncommon to see adventurous climbers scaling the icy cliff face.

ROBANOV KOT: In many ways Robanov Kot is the perfect combination of Solčavsko’s other two valleys, Logarska Dolina and Matkov Kot, as it offers the wide open meadows, photogenic farms and easy yet rewarding walking paths of the former, along with the serenity and authentic undeveloped nature of the latter. Protected as an area of natural importance since 1987, the valley takes its name from Roban farmstead, which was first written into the land registry in 1426, but likely dates back to at least the 12th century. We’re not sure if this makes it one of the oldest continually operating family farms in Slovenia (or perhaps even Europe) but nine centuries and countless generations in the same family seems an impressive achievement to us. While the family’s farm is not open for tourists, they do operate an alpine dairy at the far end of the valley, which also sells homemade goods and is a popular destination for hikers during the summer months. It takes about an hour to walk there from where the road becomes closed to traffic, through wild forests and pastures filled with grazing sheep and cows. From the dairy the trail very quickly climbs upwards leading to Molička Planina and further still to the beautiful Korošica plateau located at over 1800m. From mid-June to the end of the September hikers can stop here at a mountain hut to rest before attempting to reach the peak of Ojstrica at 2350m. Even for those who’d rather keep their hiking on more or less horizontal ground, it’s well worth hiring a guide to accompany you – if for no other reason than to tell you some of the stories and fables of the acclaimed folk writer Jože Vršnik, who was born in Robanov Kot in 1900 and spent a good deal of his seventy years here writing about the true essence of rural life in Solčava.

SOLČAVSKO BY THE NUMBERS

Population: 518 /Size: 103 km2 / Farms: 50 / Protected area: 80% / Municipal holiday: 5 august / Postcode: 3335 / Mayor: Katarina Prelesnik / Known for: logar Valley

MATKOV KOT: The wildest and most preserved of Solčavsko’s three valleys, Matkov Kot was ironically the first to have a proper road, which was built here around 1860 to connect the region with Austria and was mainly used for the export of wood and charcoal. The road is still used and little changed (meaning largely unsealed) to this day.

The bottom of the valley is completely uninhabited, while the several farmsteads here are clustered around the pastures well up the western slopes of the mountain. One of these farms is that of the Matk family, from which the valley takes its name and at 700 hectares was once one of the largest farms in all of Slovenia.

Most of the visitors who come to the valley are after some serious hiking (or even more serious mountain biking), although many tourists also opt for the relatively straightforward hike all the way to the upper end of the valley. Their goal is to see, and perhaps venture into, the famous matkov škaf, an up to 30m deep hole created in the compacted snow by a powerful seasonal waterfall each spring.

The main hiking route follows along the Jezero stream and much larger dried riverbed through which it runs. The stream’s rather odd name (jezero means lake in Slovene) is a reference to the giant glacial lakes that once filled much of the valley floor before they broke through the natural dam that restrained them and were drained.

PANORAMIC ROAD: Winding its way along the foothills of Olševa mountain at an average height of over 1200m, the Solčava Panoramic Road is one of the most scenic drives (or rides if you’re an avid cyclist up for a challenge) in all of Slovenia. Beginning at the fields in the upper reaches of Matkov Kot in the west, the road twists and turns its way through various farmsteads and vantages points, past countless flocks of sheep and small herds of cattle, all the way to the settlement of Podolševa in the east and then back down to Solčava from there – covering a total of nearly 20km. Cyclists and those unaccustomed to off-road driving should be aware that roughly one third of the route is along unsealed roads, most of which are to the east, but the entire road does stay open year-round with the local farmers keeping it clear of snow in the winter.

Even for those who have spent time exploring the valleys below, and have thus become used to the imposing sight of Kamnik-Savinja Alps looming overhead, the views from the panoramic road are truly a sublime sight, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that you feel like you’re on top of the world. Other than the various vantage points and unobstructed views down to Matkov Kot and Logarska Dolina below, highlights include the grassy meadows and homemade cheese at Žibovt farm, the ethnological exhibition at Klemenšek farm, a half dozen or so other unique tourist farms (which are described in more detail in the accommodation section), the Iron Water Spring, the small exhilarating Ložekar Ski Resort and the picture-perfect Church of the Holy Spirit.

If you’re feeling even more adventurous, activities such as paragliding and hikes up to the famous Potočka Zijalka cave can also be arranged. The route is maintained and promoted by the Panorama Society (Društvo Panorama) and even has its own website (www.nad1000m. si), which is a good resource for prospective visitors.

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RINKA CENTRE: Officially called the multipurpose center for Solčavsko development, Rinka is the geographical, administrative and tourism center of the town of Solčava. Originally built in the early 1950s, during a period of reconstruction following the devastating destruction wrought in the final years of WWII, Rinka long-served as a meeting place for locals and offices for various local services before falling into disrepair in the late 1980s. The building was purchased by the city in 2007, and beautifully renovated, modernized and reopened with the help of funding from Norway.

With a sheer façade of mountain wood and jagged geometrical design resembling one of the many mountain peaks that surround it, the building is a glowing testament to what can be achieved with local initiative and proper support. The basement is now home to the region’s tourist information center, which in addition to the usual brochures, guides and maps, also boasts a multipurpose hall and well-arranged permanent exhibition that combines historical, natural and ethnological presentations.

Looking like something out of a Scandinavian design magazine, on the ground-floor there’s a bright, modern and entirely wood covered space that includes a café, gift shop with local crafts and agriculture products, an internet corner, and a children’s play area (complete with toy sheep and thick wool rugs). Meanwhile, the upper floors have local municipal offices and facilities for use by local businesses under the framework of a rural development incubator. Info: Solčava 29, +386 (0)3 839 07 10, +386 (0)3 839 07 11, info@solcavsko.info, www.solcavsko.info.

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