July, August 2018

Let’s go by train

For keen ecologists (including those of us), it is fitting that they are also brought ‘sustainably’ to the starting point of the travel. If it’s too far by bike, then it’s best by train. Since most of the “Koloartists” are from Primorska and Ljubljana, the railway connects us regullary with Villach, where there is a railway crossroads for eastern Austrian Carinthia. It is where we originally planned the starting point of our trip, as we could pick up our Gorenjska friends along the way. too.

Unfortunately, this plan collapsed, and the main reason was not on the Slovenian, but (very surprising!) On the Austrian side of the railway administrations – our group was simply too big and the Austrian railways were not ready to adapt and allow us to transport such a number – 45 – 50) passengers by bicycle at the same time. The beautiful and fast Austrian trains accept only 6, at most 8 cyclists per train, and the proposal that we should be divided into several consecutive trains was, of course, not acceptable to us.

To our great (and of course very pleasant) surprise, we received a much greater degree of flexibility at the oft-criticized Slovenian Railways. The Passenger Transport Service provided us with all the information and even called us a few days before our departure and checked if everything announced by us was still valid.

Therefore, due to the inflexibility of the Austrian railways (as well as very high ticket prices), we had to change our arrival at the starting point: a rented bus took us from the Ljubljana direction,but a train from Primorska region to Jesenice and then a smaller bus to Pliberk. Of course, I must not forget to mention that on a five-day trip we are always accompanied by the so-called “truck”, which is an old-timer of our co-cycler Marinko. On “truck” we load luggage and sometimes bicycles. This time the truck brought bicycles from Gorizia, and from Ljubljana the bus of a carrier from Grosuplje. He has been transporting cyclists regularly for a long time already and is properly equipped for this – it means he has a trailer for transporting bicycles, as well as knowledge and experience on how to handle this so important sporting item that no one wants to have scratched….

A little after 9 o’clock we all gathered, including our only co-traveler from Maribor, who was brought straight to Pliberk by the recently established cycling train. Unfortunately, it only runs on Saturdays and will be temporarily stopped until September 1, but can accommodate up to 23 bikes, which is a “science fiction” compared to the capacity of the railways “on the other side of the border”. At the same time, it is a great opportunity to organize cycling trips for larger groups.

With our compatriots in the Podjuna valley

We began our journey by visiting our compatriots – Carinthian Slovenes, who were separated from their home country by the Plebiscite in 1920. We were kindly received at the Pliberk Cultural Center by Milan Piko, the manager of the cultural center, and Jožko Hudl, a versatile cultural figure from Podjuna and a retired public school principal.

In the hall of the Cultural Center, they first introduced us to the work and creation of Carinthian Slovenes, and then took us for a walk around the center of Pliberk and presented the sights there. At noon, when we had a plan to start cycling, we barely parted, as there were still so many open questions between us.

The Drava cycling route does not run through Pliberk, so we had to drive a few kilometers to reach it, partly on cycling routes and partly on roads with less traffic. At Dob (Aich) we finally joined our central travel transversal and soon drove over the attractive wooden suspension bridge of St. Lucia to Suha, where lunch was already waiting for us at the Hartl inn. The traditional dish – buckwheat “povitjanki”, which has been served on the tables by locals for centuries, has found its way to our tables in the company of delicious roast pork and salad.

At the inn we were a little saddened that the owner, which is otherwise considered “Slovenian” and, of course, is also the son of Slovenian parents, no longer speaks his mother tongue. The void was filled by the friendly company of the priest from the parish of Suha Matjaž Zupan, who in perfect Slovenian language told us more about life in this village, where the famous octet Suha comes from and where every year they organize a series of events called Festival Suha. The festival takes place in parallel in Dravograd, on Suha, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, it takes place in June already, when for most cyclists is still a little too cold to tour.

Our short trip through the Podjuna valley, which is one of the three valleys (Rož, Podjuna, Zila) in Carinthia, Austria, which were the cradle of Sloveneness, was an illustrative presentation of the fact that Slovenian language and identity are slowly disappearing. The number of permanent residents who during regular censuses declare themselves to be Slovenians is constantly declining. In some places, you can hardly come across Slovenian-speaking people. Maybe the increased visit of cyclists from Slovenia will encourage some Carinthian Slovenes who no longer speak their mother tongue to learn it again?

After lunch, the path led us past the very interesting Liaunig Museum of Modern Art, for which there was unfortunately no time to visit, to the Vič border crossing. It’s presence the cyclist barely notices, neither feels annoying stopping and checking documents. Our “herd” of almost fifty cyclists drove across the border without anyone asking us anything and immediately “fell” into Dravograd.

Varied history of Dravograd

Dravograd is the first Slovenian city to greet us when crossing the border. With its strategically important position at the confluence of the Drava and Meža and Mislinja rivers, it has a long history and has often been the scene of turbulent events. Through its territory led the Roman route and it was first mentioned as a square in 1185 already with name ‘urbem forum Traberch’. Throughout history, its development has been shaped mainly by crafts and trade, as well as the strategic and economic aspects of power plants in the era of their construction . The old town center with its original medieval appearance is well preserved, but uncomfortable for cyclists, as even the heaviest trucks pass through constantly. Crossing is not pleasant at all, and it is also forbidden. The Drava cycling route therefore surrounds it along the Drava riverbed.  Worth visiting are the Gestapo prisons, which are located in the building of the Municipality of Dravograd. We planned our first stop at the baroque mansion Bukovje, which is less than three kilometers away from the city.

The mansion has been completely renovated, and in addition to a luxurious wedding hall with a salon, there are also interesting museum collections, stemming mainly from the collecting passion of the last owner of the castle, Baron Janez Krstnik Kometra In 1870 rebuilt the mansion into one of the most important monuments of historicist castle architecture in Slovenia. The surroundings of the castle are complemented by the beautiful European Park Bukovje with plantations of organic vegetables, the ruins of the old castle Pukštajn above it and buildings added by the Yugoslav People’s Army, which owned the castle after the First World War. The latter do not adorn the mansion, but its interior is enriched by interesting collections – a private library and a museum of military equipment.

Finally, we must not forget to mention the accommodation facilities for cyclists who have found a place in the mansion. Local guide Franja was reluctant to let us down from the castle to our new experience – a romantic evening wooden raft ride.

Getting to know the rafting tradition

In the rafting port in Gortina we were kindly and loudly received by rafter Anton with his many assistants – rafters and musicians. Rafting under the baton of “Carinthian rafters” is very funny, but in our case also a romantic and gourmet experience. We further enriched it with the presence of Miran Kamnik – singer and songwriter, who sings his country style songs exclusively in native, Carinthian dialect. Of course, we were introduced to the specialties of the Carinthian dialect by rafters, too, who staged a real show for us, spiced with plenty of laughter, which ended with the rafter’s baptism. Thus, at the end of the trip, two more “freshmen” from the ranks of our cyclists joined the large team of qualified rafters. If we add gourmet delicacies from the Pri lipi inn, torches and candles, which illuminated our way back to the port in the company of almost full moons, the experience was unforgettable!

We continued the way to accommodation when it was dark already, The evening ride on the local bike paths was a new exciting experience, attractive to us because of the image of a long “snake” with different lights of illuminated bikes, but probably not for lonely walkers …

Pampering the senses in the Pri lipi inn

The owner of the inn Pri lipi mrs. Helena is famous by the richness of local flavors that she offers in her restaurant. When I first visited the inn with accommodation, I realized that pampering the senses there is even more complex than I thought. Helena’s love for local cuisine is combined with her love for everything beautiful and especially antiques, which she incorporates with a great deal of imagination and innovation into the interior of “štiblci” – the rooms in which guests are accommodated.

When we arrived with the whole group of cyclists in complete darkness to the Pri lipi inn, we were “anointed” there with an extremely tasty dessert – buckwheat strudels with walnut filling and blueberries. Although the busy day was behind us and the hour was late, no one could resist her …

The next morning we reunited for breakfast, which was again very tasty and, just like the other delicacies the day before, locally colored. We rounded off the experience by visiting the nearby Church of St. John the Baptist, one of the oldest Slovenian churches. This was followed by mandatory group photography and hop – we were on our bikes again. Before us was a slightly different experience – swimming in a nearby natural pool.

Not quite the usual pool

A pleasant surprise that awaits the traveler along the Drava cycling route is the natural pool in Radlje ob Dravi, built within the water park in 2014. We too, could not resist the temptation of refreshment in water that is naturally purified through watercress, water lily and other water-purifying plants, without any chemical additives. For such a large group, the hosts provided us with a guided presentation, in which they introduced us to all the features of the pool, its operation and maintenance, and the strict restrictions that apply in the complex to maintain natural balance. On a hot late July day, refreshment was even more welcome, and the natural pool environment, surrounded by vegetation, offers relaxation for both body and head. In addition to the water park, nature lovers in his neighborhood can also find accommodation in wooden “glamping” buildings, built on the model of mill houses, of which there were many in the vicinity, so very rich in clear watercourses.

Continuation of the journey led us to the town of Radlje ob Dravi. The administrative and economic center of the Drava Valley was called Marenberg until 1952. Thus today we can still find here a hostel, a café and a restaurant with same name. A special feature of this part of the Drava valley is also hops. The production and processing is currently carried out by Hmeljarstvo Čas, with 106 hectares one of the largest estates in Slovenia. Through their plantations, which in early August reach the full height of seedlings up to five meters and more, we drove along a field path from the pool to the town of Radlje.

In Radlje we were received by a friendly employee of ŠKTM Radlje Dominika, who introduced us to the history of the zown and its main sights. At the end of the visit she left us in the hands of Mr. Edi Korat, owner of the oldest house in Radlje, almost half a millennium old Rose Palace – Rosenhof. He generously took us through all the rooms of his private residence and introduced us how it has become his passion over the years. He restores it with the greatest possible care for the authenticity of its interior and exterior.

Ascent to Lovrenc na Pohorju

After lunch at the Marenberg café, we were waiting for the ascent to Lovrenc na Pohorju. This is a temporary “detour” until the appropriate bike paths are built along the river itself, but the trip to the heart of the Pohorje forests gives the trip a special stamp. The ascent to Lovrenc na Pohorju is not technically demanding, despite several hundred meters of altitude. Mild slopes alternate with almost flat sections, and just before the last, the only slightly steeper slope, we are delighted by even a few hundred meters of descent. Of course, we have to “admit” that in the last part of the route we left DravaBike and took a shortcut to our accommodation in the gym of the local primary school. Lovrenc on Pohorje cannot offer such a large group of cyclists an adequate number of beds.

The dinner and breakfast the next morning was served us at the Maks Urbanc snack bar in the very center of the town. There, in the authentic environment of the dining room in the hunting servant, where we were even greeted by a bear trophy in a display case, we were served environmentally friendly food – delicious venison goulash. This oldest inn in the place preserves the spirit of the time and offers the look of a bar, full of testimonies and memories from the past. The place, whose recent history changed its character with the construction of a piece and sickle factory, was a pre-war climatic health resort and always an important hunting area. Today, it is increasingly turning into a sleeping settlement, closely connected to nearby Maribor.

Through the end of the Drava valley to Ptuj

Shortly after the start, the descent from Lovrenc was interrupted for a short time by a visit to the important Church of the Virgin Mary in Puščava, a pilgrimage church that represents the pinnacle of 17th century art in the Podravje region and is one of the most important monuments of the late Renaissance / early baroque architecture in Slovenia.

After Puščava church the path led us to the oldest of the power plants on the Drava River – the Fala Power Plant. When replacing old devices with a newer, digitally operated drive turbine,, the interior of the old part of the building were restored to the museum, which is now open to the public. The tour of the interior, which begins with a film screening, continues in the spacious hall with old, magnificent turbines and continues all the way to the modern, now functioning part of the power plant. It usually takes about an hour, but we stayed much longer, as the guide, impressed by our unbridled curiosity, barely let us down to the place of our lunch at the Drava Center, once known as Limbuška boathouse.

Today, the pleasant bay offers an excellent restaurant with an even more pleasant bar in the ground floor, facing the river and the rich wildlife in it. The bar is open all days of the week, while the restaurant is open on weekends only. But for our large group, of course, a solution was found to get lunch on Monday as well. On the site of the former boathouse, where once on weekends there was a lot of entertainment and sports activities for eager visitors, there is still a large meadow for lounging and playing, as well as boating opportunities. In the nearby neighborhood, the offer is complemented by a stomach and eye-pleasing chocolate bar Teta Frida.

We cycled to Maribor through the dense shadows of the Limbuški forest and descended to the Drava river just at the right moment to catch an eye to the extreme eastern cape of Maribor’ Island, a nature reserve with a popular city pool in the middle. Since we had visited the city of Maribor in detail a few years earlier, this time we just passed by the Studenška footbridge and along the panoramic viewing path on Lent. We returned to the right bank of the river to the recently established part of the DravaBike over plain of Miklavž and Hajdino under the two-storey Melje bridge . The ascents and descents here are almost negligible, and the path leads partly along less busy asphalt roads and partly along cart tracks and field paths. The latter are still a bit “rough” from freshly sprinkled gravel, but they lead along beautiful paths along watercourses or rivers, where we meet the endless wealth of aquatic and bird life.

An ancient city of traditions and wine

We cycled to Ptuj past the Ptujske toplice thermal complex and “fall” directly into the center of this historic pearl by passing over the pedestrian bridge. In the ancient city, we were offered accommodation by the Minorite Parish, whose administrator is a relative of our co-cyclist. Our accommodation in the shelter of the former monastery was less comfortable, but the panorama of Ptuj Castle just above our courtyard and the kindness of our host outweighted it. Not only by offering us true pilgrimage hospitality and an atmosphere of homeliness, but also enabled us to visit the nearby architectural gem of Ptuj – the Minorite Church, accompanied by a detailed presentation of the history of the Minorite family and the architecture and interior design of the church.

Despite its boutique nature, the city of Ptuj offers a whole bunch of sights, the important feature of which is that they are only a stone’s throw away – everything is close in Ptuj. So the next morning we left our “two-wheeled horses” in the care of friendly hosts and went on foot to see the city. For a start, we learned about the history of the place and some of its most important architectural and historical sights in the company of local guide Maruša, and later in the morning we slipped into the pleasant coolness of the famous Ptuj cellar. There, sommelier Franc Brodnjak showed us the cellar with hundreds of years old, richly ornamented wooden barrels, including the one that gave its image to the trademark of Slovenian wines with protected geographical origin. He also took us to a rich warehouse of archival wines, which were during the storms of war, to protect them from the “greed” and debauchery of the soldiers, closed by a wall, built by the guardians of the cellars. Today, the cellar can thank these guardians for possessing a collection of archival wines of almost inestimable value. We ended the visit with a guided tasting, of course, in our case it was a “wedding” of wine and chocolate. In the end, almost all of us bought a few more bottles of excellent wines for our home archives.

To Borl and Ormož and a little further

Before continuing our journey, we had a light lunch in Ptuj. After it we rpde our two-wheeled friends for the journey along Lake Ptuj, the largest Slovenian lake, which the locals affectionately call the Ptuj Sea. We chose the path along its right bank, where there is also an observatory of birds that have recognized this water wealth as their friendly home and are innumerable there in all seasons. Lake Ptuj is, of course, not natural, but an accumulation lake, so we come across a dam at its southern end. The Formin power plant itself, which uses the energy of this water resource and for which the lake was created, is located along the water channel in the direction of Ormož. Just before we returned to the left bank of the river Drava across the road on the dam, we passed by an interesting nature reserve Šturmovci, which stretches from the lake to the southwest inland. We had to save its sightseeing for future visits to the Drava cycling route,, since we were hurrying to the next destination – Borl Castle, which rises above the Drava River about ten kilometers further.

Borl Castle has a rich history, which in some legends is even related to the knight Parzival and the seekers of one of the most mysterious relics of Christianity – the Holy Grail. That is why the famous Slovenian violinist, inspirational speaker and cultural ambassador of Slovenia, Miha Pogačnik, chose him as his “refuge”, where he performed many impressive events. Due to this historical uniqueness, Borl Castle has been working for many years to become a center for the development of European identity, new knowledge and an inspiring center for the development of human society. Unfortunately, the current owner of this castle from the 12th century – the Ministry of Culture, is not ready to let go of this historical pearl and, despite its inability to carry out the renovation, found the right solution only by installing a thick lock and a ban on the castle gates. any activities inside it.

Of course, Miha Pogačnik is not alone in his efforts. In the municipality of Cirkulane, there is a very active Association for the Revival of Borl Castle, whose president Sonja Golc received us on the meadow at the entrance to the castle and presented their work. Associated with Miho Pogačnik, they have been desperately fighting bureaucratic mills for many years, banning them from activities at the castle, which was even financially independent before closing and a cultural center of life for the local and wider population.

Borl Castle is also connected with the creation of our Koloart cycling club: under the baton of Miha Pogačnik, it was one of the important venues of the Idriart Festival and since 1995 even its domicile. In 1993, in this context an initiative was launched to carry out bicycle trips, accompanied by learning about culture, art, tradition, music, etc .. The task was taken over by the current president and later one of the co-founders of the club Borut Zagorc changed its name from “idri” to “Kolo” and Koloart was formed. A year later, a group of more than 60 cyclists in Prekmurje cycled in his organization.

Since then, this wonderful gathering of ours is repeated every year with one five-day cycling and at least two, three shorter ones, one to three days long. And it rarely happens that less than 40 people take part in the trip. During the long years of socializing, we have become a big family, united by common interests – cycling, art, history, tradition… And 25 years “later” is certainly the right time not to miss the opportunity to return to Borl. The conversation with the representatives of the Borl Castle Revival Society ended with a remembrance of our roots.

Slovenian Tuscany

The last evening of our five-day cycling gathering traditionally ends with an event followed by a cultural program and ended with a dance. Unfortunately, Ormož as a city on the path of DravaBike, does not offer the possibility of installing such a large group under a common roof, so we had to look elsewhere. we have found it not far from Ormož in the picturesque center of Slovenske gorice Jerusalem. The Brenholc guesthouse had enough accommodation as well as large enough hall for all other activities. The path to it climbs a bit, but for the effort of ascent we were greatly rewarded with an exceptional view, which from this inn opens to all four sides of the sky – and all open views of the vast expanses of hills with vineyards. Truly magnificent! The last evening together was, according to tradition, happy and playful.

To the Ormož lagoons and home

For the last day we went to visit the Ormož lagoons – a nature reserve, where thousands of birds find their refuge. It is managed by members of the Society for the Observation and Study of Birds of Slovenia. We were received by their member Dominik Bombek, who presented us an interesting story of coexistence between industry and conservationists, the fruit of which was a life that flourished in the area where the former Ormož sugar factory deposited its wastewater. It was so full of nutrients, that the area became a popular refuge for permanently inhabited and migrant birds. With the closure of the factory, DOPPS succeeded in transferring the Ormož lagoons to their ownership and management. Today, they also include a herd of water buffalo, and the members of the society take care of the balance and, above all, maintaining a sufficient amount of water in the area.

The information point also offered us a place where, before leaving for our homes, we ate delicious bograč with even better buckwheat cake, which was brought to the field from the inn Črni ribič from nearby Frankovci. From the lagoons to the Ormož railway station is only a short stretch of road. Slovenian Railways kept its promises and a place on the train found all 25 of our bikes and of course over 40 passengers. A few bicycles took up space for passengers in their cabins, but no one threw us off the train (which we are used to from many previous experiences). The conductor frightened us a little (according to our feelings), but he bravely fulfilled his task. We arrived in Ljubljana with quite a bit of delay, but with very positive feelings and, above all, full of unforgettable impressions from the trip.

In the end, we were a little sad just because we could not respond to the invitation of a friendly local guy Samo from Središče ob Dravi, who found information about our trip on Facebook and kindly invited us to bathe in Središče by Drava, which is now suitable for swimming and what the locals also diligently use. So this also remained open on the wish list for future visits to the Drava cycling route. Five days is just not enough time for everything it offers!