Koroška is the smallest region in Slovenia, along the northern border with Austria and just east of the Karavanke Mountains. It is a forested region with 3 river valleys and the Pohorje Mountains. The incredible team at Discover Koroška planned a perfect day trip for me to explore the region for the first time. They were very generous and I would love to return the favor so if you would like to see more collaborations go head over to their Instagram and show them some love!
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I put the Tourist Information Center in Slovenj Gradec in Google Maps, popped in my current favorite playlist No Bummer Summer, and I was off! As I began my drive it was still early in the morning so there were layers of fog weaving in and out of the trees along the highway. It was mesmerizing and I wanted to take pictures so badly but you know, driving.
After an hour the sky opened up and the sun began to shine. The route shifted from the highway to small towns sprinkled with orange-roofed houses, farmlands, forests, and a road that I swear will never fit two cars but the signs say it is meant for two cars. After an hour and a half, I arrived in Slovenj Gradec.
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What to do in Slovenj Gradec
I arrived in Slovenj Gradec and was immediately impressed with the beautiful buildings, clean streets, and calmness. Living in Ljubljana, while great, can feel a bit chaotic in the summer with hoards of tourists flooding the streets. Here in Slovenj Gradec was a respite from the rest of the world. I met with Marija Lah, from Spotur, who would be giving me a tour of Slovenj Gradec and answering all of my Koroška questions.
Slovenj Gradec is the largest settlement of Koroška, but that isn’t saying much as the population is only around 7,000 compared to Koroška’s 70,000. It was given town rights in 1267 but was first mentioned in a 1091 deed. One of the first things you will notice when wandering down Glavni trg might be the medieval layout of the town that is still preserved and a large statue of a horse in the middle.
This horse was designed by famous Slovene designer Oskar Kogoj. This particular piece is a called the Venetian Horse and there are 5 of these in existence. In Slovenj Gradec, in the World Trade Center in Ljubljana, in front of the Palace of Nations in Geneva, the former parliament building in Jerusalem, and in Sochi in Russia.
Slovenj Gradec is designated as a Peace Messenger City and participates in regular meetings to promote peace and understanding between participating nations. Slovenj Gradec has been a member since 1989 and served on the executive board since 1997. Because of their involvement in this initiative, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations gifted the town a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
Rotenturn Manor is just behind Glavni trg and is currently used for the municipality and mayor but also for events and weddings.
Towards the end of the tour, Marija told me she would take me to the farmer’s market but warned me that it isn’t like many. We arrived at just two small stands selling their foods and then several covered huts with vending machines inside. One had milk, another yogurt, and another had eggs all brought from the same farm. She explained that most people keep gardens in the area so a farmer’s market is a bit useless but the vending machines are very popular with the locals to get fresh dairy products.
Hugo Wolf was a famous composer who was born in Slovenj Gradec. At that time it was part of the Austrian Empire. He was a child prodigy, playing piano and violin at a very young age and studied briefly at the Vienna Conservatory. He is buried at the Vienna Central Cemetery with other greats like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert!
In Slovenj Gradec, you can visit his birthplace. The building now houses a memorial museum to Hugo Wolf, archives, and is a place for international meetings, conferences, and events dedicated to him.
Hours: 10:00 – 16:00 Tuesday – Saturday
Adults: 2.50 € / Children: 1.70 €
Museums in Slovenj Gradec
Carinthian Regional Museum of Slovenj Gradec
At the regional museum, you can see permanent and temporary exhibits around history and culture in Koroška and Slovenj Gradec. Some rooms of the museum are memorials to various significant people from Slovenj Gradec.
Hours: 9:00-18:00 Tuesday – Friday / 10:00-13:00 + 14:00-17:00 Saturday and Sunday
Adults: 4.00 € / Children 1.70 €
Carinthian Gallery of Fine Arts
The Carinthian Gallery of Fine Arts has been in existence since 1957! It boasts about 2,000 works from Slovenian and International artists.
Hours: 9:00-18:00 Tuesday-Friday / 10:00-13:00 + 14:00-17:00 Saturday and Sundays.
Adults: 4 € / Children: 1.50 €
Festival in Slovenj Gradec and Koroška
There are many festivals throughout the year in Koroška and they are the perfect way to experience local traditions and learn about the culture and history. If you travel to Slovenj Gradec in June you can attend the Medieval Day with people dressed in costumes, knights, and competitions. Or if you travel in September you can experience Dwarf Land an annual event where people dress as with gnome hats and do various activities in the forest. They even use their own special money for trading.
Churches of Slovenj Gradec
I have seen probably over 100 churches since living in Europe and it is at the point that I usually just skip them as it can be repetitive, but I am personally advising that you visit all three of these churches. Each visit is very easy and quick but each one has something very special.
Church of St. Elizabeth | Cerkev svete Elizabete
The Church of St. Elizabeth is from 1251. You can see the original facade on the front of the church and that it was much shorter. The structure itself is Romanesque but the highlight is the Baroque gold alter inside the church. It is really impressive to witness.
I was very interested in this church because it is dedicated to a woman. I asked Marija about her story and she shared with me that this was Saint Elizabeth from Hungary. After her husband died she began building hospitals. She died at 24 and was made a saint just five years later.
Church of the Holy Spirit | Cerkev Sv Duh
Next to the Church of St. Elizabeth, the Church of the Holy Spirit was built as a hospital chapel and place for the homeless to stay. While the inside of the church is a bit gutted the highlight is the large fresco depicted the Passion of the Christ, with additional panels. Painted by Bavarian Andreas of Otting in the middle of the 15th century.
This church is often locked but stop by the tourism center nearby to ask about taking a look inside!
Church of St. George | Cerkev sv. Jurija
After we toured around Slovenj Gradec we headed out of town to the Church of St. George. From the outside, the church is very unsuspecting and appears quite old. You enter the church from a side door where you are given oversized slippers to place over your shoes. Once you enter the church you see the floor is see-through and beneath you are graves, some of them from the 9th century!
The tour here is interesting because you learn all about the various versions of the church, a castle that used to be close by, and about the different graves below. These graves are significant because some of them included jewelry which is a typical Pagan burial feature. Of specific interest was jewelry with a peacock depicted on it. This is another feature of significance because this iconography can only be found in Slavic graves. Because of this the church is now a cultural monument of the highest-ranking and considered very important to the history of the Slavic people.
How to arrange a visit: Church of St. George is open Friday afternoons as well as Saturday and Sundays. Otherwise, you can schedule a visit by using the contact info here. Leave yourself about 1 hour for the tour.
Rotovnik-Plesnik Tourism Farm
Next on our list was visiting the Rotovnik-Plesnik Tourist Farm in Legen just 4 km from Slovenj Gradec. This farm has been running since 1858 and is now run by Helena Rotovnik making her the sixth-generation to manage the family business.
Helena and her family have something incredibly special at the farm and I immediately felt welcomed and honestly didn’t want to leave. I was given a tour of the accommodations. The Rotovnik-Plesnik farm has 15 beds available and each room uses a different local wood for the furniture. Outside in the garden, they have beautiful flowers and herbs growing, fuzzy rabbits, turtles, and chickens for children to see, and a massive beautiful picnic table that feels like it can fit an entire extended family around.
We were served a three-course meal starting with a pumpkin soup that changed my mind about summer soups. The pumpkin was subtle but offered texture to what was surprisingly a very light soup. Next up, Helena presented us with a bean goulash that I am sure everyone is sick and tired of hearing me rave about. We finished up with a blueberry and cheese strudel which was absolute perfection.
All of the food served is seasonal, comes from their organic farm, or purchased from nearby organic farms. They also make their own liqueurs and juices. I tried their apple juice and loved it! I’m a big fan of natural apple juice that leans towards (American) apple cider.
Over the meal, Marija and I chatted a lot about the way of life in Koroška and I asked her and Helena to share some of their favorite local dishes with me. They told me about a dish called mežerli that is made usually in the fall time just after the annual animal slaughter. This dish is made of the lungs, heart, and other organs with lots of spices. It reminded me of haggis from the description and pictures. They shared with me that they serve it with cold potatoes and onion! Would you try it?
Marija also explained to me that everyone loves pumpkin seed oil and no salad is complete without it even though they do not produce it locally. I definitely recommend trying some if you ever visit Slovenia as it is really unique but equally as delicious. Another item that stood out as unique, was their love for rye bread, ajdovi žganci, smoked meats, and štrudel.
Read | An Introduction to Slovenian Food (includes a free restaurant decoder!)
After we finished our coffees we parted ways. Marija had one more activity planned for me, but I would be going alone. She put an address in my Google Maps and sent me off. I began driving and slowly I found myself weaving around a thick forest going higher and higher in elevation. Typical Slovenian mountain road.
Suddenly. there is a break in the trees and I was greeted with a huge resort that appears to be perched on the side of the mountain. Continuing past this resort there is a tourist information type center with a bar, restaurant, rentals, restrooms, outside activities, and more. I met with a worker who showed me a path to take and two points of interest.
With a food coma still intact it was time to sweat it out! I walked up the steep hill hoping that I would survive with my half-full water bottle. After about 10 minutes I encounter Rooster’s Lake (Petelinje jezero) that came highly recommended. It is named this way because of feral roosters that would use it for nesting.
It was a very beautiful lake. At first glance, it looks like it sits on top of the world because of the drop of the valley behind it. There are beautiful colorful wildflowers and conifer bushes growing around the lake with a few wooden loungers that you can use.
I continued up the mountain, secretly hoping that I was going the right way because I didn’t see anyone else around. Once I made it to the top, which was about 10-15 minutes after the lake, I realized quickly I was right where I was meant to be. My eyes began to water as I looked all around me to incredible views. I couldn’t believe something so beautiful felt so private and hidden and special. In a fast-paced world with mass tourism on the rise, this moment felt right.
I walked a bit further and was greeted by a sign explaining the energy points (energetske točke). There are 13 energy points located at the top to be used for relaxation, healing, and cleansing of the chakras. Each point lists ailments and organs that it addresses. It is recommended staying on each point for 25 minutes.
What to do at Kope
In the summer, there are hiking paths, a bike bar, and disc golf available along with family activities such a petting zoo.
In the winter, they have skiing conditions guaranteed for 100 days each season (Dec-March) because of their artificial snow. Trails vary from beginner to advanced.
How to get to Koroška
The best way to see most of Slovenia as well as visiting Koroška is by car, but that is not always possible for travelers.
Prevoz has carpool rides available from 4-6€ every day from Ljubljana.
According to Rome2Rio and Google Maps, there is a bus route from Ljubljana to Slovenj Gradec that takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes. I could not find these tickets on their site so I have contacted them and waiting for confirmation.
Other things to do in Koroška
Mežica Mine -Visiting the Mežica Mine is next on my list for Koroška. Here you can ride mountain bikes or kayaks through the mines!
Cycling and Hiking – There are so many routes throughout the Koroška region, but as I am new to the area I cannot personally recommend any.
Timber-Rafting on the Drava River – Here you can book a session on a traditionally made timber raft! There are guides that provide entertainment and food while you float down the river.
Unlock Slovenj Gradec – If you are a fan of escape room-style games, Slovenj Gradec has one that also works as a tour through the town. The game is meant for 2-5 players and completed in an hour. It is available in English.
St. Uršula – This church stands on top of Uršlja Mountain making it the highest church in Koroška at 1696 meters. You can catch a glimpse of it from Slovenj Gradec.
King Matjaž Snow Castles – a snow castle building competition in Črna na Koroškem held every January.
If you are driving to Koroška from Ljubljana I also suggest visiting Celje or Velenje, especially castle lovers!
Finals thoughts on Koroška
I absolutely loved my time in Koroška. Everything felt so special and sincere. The people were so generous and kind, random people on the street said hello as I passed by. This would never happen in Ljubljana. There was also a sense of pride and enthusiasm for this tiny region which made me want to shout even louder “Go visit Koroška!!”.
If you are planning a visit feel free to ask me questions about the activities that I did or contact the tourism board as they are very helpful. I want to thank them once more for showing me around the region and giving me a taste of Koroška.
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