Written by Anja Pugelj.
The Reka river, one of the largest Slovenian rivers, is best known for shaping the Škocjan caves in the Karst. What many do not know, however, is that the valley through which it flows before reaching Škocjan has an abundance of sights. Reka’s source is located in a valley in south-west Slovenia which was named after the town of Ilirska Bistrica. It is a town about an hour’s drive away from the capital, Ljubljana, and it harbors plenty of natural and cultural sights. This valley is undoubtedly a part of Slovenia, still undiscovered by tourists, but I can say for certain that it is full of treasures and worth a visit.
Located only a few minutes away from Ilirska Bistrica is a village on a hill called Prem, the center of which is a medieval castle first mentioned in 1213. Prem castle was passed down in history through different families, becoming a home to feudal lords from Devin, Walsee, and even the Habsburgs. In the first half of the 16th century, during the Turkish attacks, the castle was remodelled into a defensive structure, a shelter for the surrounding population. The castle as it is today was designed before WWII and has been greatly renovated in the last few decades. Walking into the castle is akin to stepping into a medieval fairytale. The castle’s museum collection is a miscellany of castles, mansions, and forts in this area and the best part of the visit is definitely the magnificent wedding hall.
Ilirska Bistrica is located 10 kilometres away. The first sighting in the town are two prominent buildings. The first, the Villa of the duke of Schöburg-Waldenburg, was built in intertwining romantic-classicism styles, and it seems as if it were a little mansion in the midst of an urban town, and the second, the Town palace, was built in a neo-venetian style with an arcade front.
Located behind both these buildings are the botanical gardens, or Kindler’s park, where 110 different plant species can be found spread over 4 hectares of land. The most beautiful part of the park is an artificial lake with small bridges and a rock garden. In the summertime the lake is abundant with colourful water lilies, while it becomes frozen in the winter. The ice can be “tried out,” as ice skating is a must do for both locals and visitors, while swimming in the summer is not advised.
The oldest part of Ilirska Bistrica begins on Bistrica square. This is the point to which all the main streets used to lead and it was surrounded by buildings belonging to the wealthier bourgeoisie. The most interesting part of the old town is surely the so-called Gornji kraj (Upper place), which lies by the Bistrica stream, and where the houses were built right on the water. These houses were part homes, while the ground level, facing the stream, used to house mills. The most well-known mill is at Hodnik homestead, which holds a museum collection today, displaying the authentic interior of a mill. In the Upper place there is a nice example of a bourgeois villa, Ferlug’s house, which I find to be absolutely enchanting in its uniqueness.
Beyond the entire old part of town, lies a forest where the view opens up towards a beautiful waterfall. This is the source of the Sušec stream. This is an extremely small stream that forms this waterfall only a few times a year, hence the name Sušec (from the Slovene word dry). The locals claim that this waterfall has healing powers, driving away worries and bad energy. It is best to sit down on one of the benches close by and confide in it. The worries quickly disappear. Well, I’ve tried it and it works!
In the middle of the town there is a hill called The Hill of Freedom (Hrib svobode). On top there is a memorial dedicated to the WWII fighters who were mobilized (mainly) into the Italian army and formed brigades with the help of the allies, and a newer monument to the TIGR anti-fascist organization. There are some walking trails with beautiful views of the town.
The view from Hrib svobode stretches all the way to the 17th century parish church of Saint Peter. Its interior was painted by a renowned Slovenian painter, Tone Kralj. In the cemetery by the church rests a tombstone of well known beekeeper Anton Žnideršič. The tombstone was designed by the architect Jože Plečnik.
Alongside all this, the town offers a great variety of culinary delights - from a typical dish called jota to the essential drink of homemade plum spirit. The best way to have both is in the center of the town where we can recap all the beauties that Ilirska Bistrica has to offer. This wonderful town has me enthralled, and what about you?