Sunday, June 1, 2014

From Postojna to Kodreti

May 30th - The first order of the day was a visit to Predjama Castle. This amazing castle, perched in a cavern above a stream and with an extensive (13 km known) cave system below it, is only 9 km from Postojna Cave. We arrived early enough to have the castle mostly to ourselves.

The first castle was probably built in the 12th century, but the most famous inhabitant was Erazem in the 15th century. Erazem was pursued and his castle under siege for over a year because he didn’t support the Emperor Frederick the III of Austria, and because he robbed merchant caravans. Because of the cave system, he was able to keep the castle supplied in food, and even had roast bullock and freshly-picked cherries delivered to his would be invaders.

Predjama Castle
This karst region was one of the earliest known prehistoric settlements in southern Europe with archaeologic finds from 150,000 years ago. And much more recently, was part of the Roman defensive chain known as Claustra Alpium Iularium. Ho hum, human history…

A cave part of Predjama Castle
From the castle we began a long downhill through a steep valley. This valley has fierce winds in the winter, and all the tile roofs had stones on top to help weigh the tiles down!

Stones weigh down the roof tiles
As the valley became more gradual, vineyards began dominating the landscape. We continued mostly downhill and finally ended our 8 km coast with a rise up towards our final destination for the day. Another downhill into a valley with more vineyards and we arrived at Hiša posebne sorte – Special House of Sorte, where we spent the night.

A husband and wife team, the Sortes, built this beautiful home, four extra rooms, and a restaurant beginning in 1990. They worked on it slowly and it was completed in 2007. First they built a local stone restaurant area with a curved stone ceiling. The craftsmen built the new building to have the look of the old stone buildings in the area. Each of the rooms has an open arch in front of it so you can see across the covered walkway to the forest beyond.

View from the front
One of the most enjoyable aspects of traveling in Europe is seeing buildings that have survived for centuries; built with solid materials and skilled construction. To see that quality continued today is remarkable. And at Hiša posebne sorte the quality extends to the wood furniture in each room and to the quality of the food and wind served.

View from the back
Foody Alert! Incredible dinner and special wines described below:
We were the only two people in the restaurant and we were still served an amazing meal. We began with a salad topped with warm shaved turkey and berry “dots” around the rim of the plate for extra flavor. Followed by fresh asparagus soup. The main course was a bed of mashed potatoes and a slice of celery root, topped with four layers of fried trout fillet with a cherry sauce. It all just melted in my mouth. Dessert was a plate of three tastings, a chocolate-orange cake slice, a bite of strudel, and an ice cream-like dessert that was more icy than creamy. All delicious. Dinner was served with the very local Rebula wine from the husband’s brothers vineyard.

Melt in your mouth trout
After dinner we had three other varieties of wine in a tasting room, and these were now from the woman’s brother’s vineyard. We first tried a very special wine, Zelèn, made from a unique variety of grape. This wine is only produced in this valley and it has to meet certain standards to get a special bottle. We would have loved to buy a bottle to bring home and share, but we will be carrying backpacks after the bike trip ends…

What a wonderful evening!

From Vhrnika to Postojna

May 29th – Today was mostly riding up and down rolling hills in this karst landscape full of forested sinkholes. Amazingly, there were people trying to log in this area. The topographic map looked like it had zits for all the circles on it denoting the sinkholes.

As we bike along, there are a few common things that we see. Trailers of colorful beehives are often found in open meadows. Most just have the colored boxes, but this one had some nice painted covers on them.

Beehive Trailer

Close up of painted beehive front
We have also seen houses with spider sculptures on the outside wall. We haven’t learned if there is any significance to this, so please leave a comment if you know about this!

Decoration or Secret Message?
We arrived at the Hotel Kras in Postjona and we were welcomed into a very nice room with large windows overlooking the main square. Kras is the Slovenian word for karst – from the Latin “carsus” for limestone. After settling in and changing clothes for going into the cave, we walked the 15 minutes to Postojna Cave, the mother of all Slovenian caves.

This is the longest known cave (of over 11,000 caves known) in Slovenia, at nearly 21 km long. It was discovered in 1818 (after being used by early man previously) and soon developed into a tourist cave. There are tourist trains that take visitors several kilometers into the cave and then a guide meets you at a sign posted with your language choice (Slovenian, English, German, Italian, or French) and you get a one-hour walking tour. While it had a bit of the feel of a carnival ride when you are on the train ducking your head and rocketing along cave formations, it is also pretty darn impressive. It felt like a secret passage into Hogwarts.

The signature stalagmites of Postojna Cave (DK photo)
Our guide was excellent, and clearly passionate about caves. He was on the Planet Earth episode on caves in the giant cave in Mexico.

Dripping water slowly forming a stalagmite (DK photo)
Another special feature of the caves in this area is the rich biodiversity they support. Some of the caves have gained UNESCO World Heritage site status because of the archaeological finds, unique culture, and high biodiversity. A signature species is Proteus anguinas, a tiny cave dwelling salamander endemic to this karst region.

That evening, we got a concert from school children in the main square of Postojna. This is the view from our lovely window!

School children give us a concert