Written by Sandra Jurišić.
It was early June 2014 when my friend and Slovenia Explorer’s tour guide Ivana woke me up at an ungodly hour to go travelling through the eastern-ish part of Slovenia with her. I was probably too weak from lack of sleep to protest, so I sat in the passenger seat of the sticker-covered and not at all suspicious Slovenia Explorer van and let her drive me to places unknown.
Well, not that unknown. Due to the aforementioned sleep deprivation, I spent the early parts of our ride in a bit of a daze, not failing to notice, however, that this particular part of Slovenia, the Dolenjska region, was familiar to me. I'd made some of my favourite childhood memories thereabouts.
Now, highways are not something you’d consider beautiful. This is why the drive through this particular highway, the Dolenjka, as the natives call it, might be something of a surprise to the unsuspecting tourist. The Dolenjka is gorgeous, and it’s all thanks to the oft-lauded nature in Slovenia. Even in the middle of this staple of modern civilization, Slovenia’s nature appears untarnished, unblemished, unconcerned with the traffic happening around it.
Ivana and I made our first stop in Posavje in the small town of Brežice, nearly deserted on a Sunday morning in early summer. Coffee was our first order of business, and there is probably no café more remarkable in Brežice than the one located in the pink water tower, one of the more noticeable buildings in town. The structure looks like something whisked right out of a fairytale; it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rapunzel letting down her hair from one of the windows. The water tower still serves its original purpose, as well as houses the quaint little café where I finally got my coffee.
Coffee drunk and my morning stupor gone, we were off to the Brežice Castle, a five centuries old edifice, now home to the Lower Sava Valley Museum. The museum was something of a revelation, with each room communicating centuries of the region’s rich history, but what really sold it (besides the insanely low entry fee) was the castle’s great hall, the so-called ‘knightly’ hall. Most tourists are used to just catching a glimpse of some famous historical something or other through the throng of other tourists attempting to do the same. Ivana and I were almost alone during our visit to the museum, and while checking out the various historical and ethnological thingamajigs on display up close and personal was fun enough, nothing could compare to the solemnity of experiencing the Brežice Castle great hall with no one else there. It felt like the hall belonged to us in that moment. Its imposing twin staircases, its incredible frescoed walls and ceilings telling stories from history and mythology, and the echo no other voices but our own, all of it ours in that tiny moment in time. It is no wonder that this ‘knightly’ hall is chosen by many as their wedding site or that concerts are often held there, as it is truly majestic.
We left the chilly castle for the warmer sun, and left Brežice to travel to Bizeljsko, famous for being the location of the Istenič winery. There is something indescribable and impossible to capture in the way the undulating hills and the neat vineyards stretch before you as you drive through Slovenia’s East, and I am not about to attempt describing it. Think the Shire with fewer hobbits but more vineyards. Suffice it to say that the drive through alone is worth the trip.
Continued in Eastern Slovenia - PART 2.