This itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. The daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules etc. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches and dinners indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Ljubljana - 4 nights
Day 1: Thursday 1 September, Arrive Ljubljana
- Airport transfer for participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
- Welcome Meeting and Orientation Walk
- Welcome Dinner, Hiša Kulinarike-Manna
Our tour commences in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. Participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight into Ljubljana will transfer by private coach to the uHotel in the heart of this beautiful small city. If you are not taking this ‘designated’ flight, please find your own way to our hotel; ASA can assist you with transfers. After checking into our hotel, time at leisure will be followed by a Welcome Meeting. We shall take an orientation stroll through the city, along the Ljubljanica river, passing the triple bridge. Over the next four days, we return to other places in and around these districts, some introducing us to two millennia of art and history in this charming city, and others to the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) world of Joze Plecnik, Ljubljana’s famous architect, who lived near our hotel. We will head to Hiša Kulinarike-Manna restaurant in an elegant suburb, Krakovo, for a Welcome Dinner. (Overnight Ljubljana) D
Day 2: Friday 2 September, Ljubljana
- Ljubljana Castle
- Museum of Modern Art (Moderna galerija) (Optional visit) or Afternoon at leisure
- Dinner at Monstera Bistro
We shall explore the history and culture, old and new, of this beautiful, lively small city district by district. We begin today with an exploration of the Central Market in Vodnik Square, adjacent to the Dragon bridge. We then take the cable car up to Ljubljana Castle, the heart of historic Slovenia. The castle was beloved by the 17th-century Johann Weickhard von Valvasor, a Habsburg Baron (Freiherr) and Enlightenment-era intellectual, whose interests and imagination we encounter in many sites in Slovenia. Using an audio guide, you can explore the museums in this castle at your own pace. The panoramic views of the city also introduce us to the distinct culture of Valvasor’s cherished Slovene borderland where ancient Roman, and old and current Slav, Italian (Veneto) and German (Habsburg) cultures blend. You will have lunchtime at leisure when you may wish to visit the market square below, or the castle courtyard above.
This afternoon is at leisure. You may decide to visit the Museum of Modern Art (Moderna Galerija), explore Ljubljana by yourself, or perhaps relax in our hotel. The Modern Art museum charts the growing interaction of Western and Slovene art in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the unfurling and unravelling of artistic expression under Communism. We reconvene tonight for a degustation meal at Monstera Bistro, one of the best restaurants in Slovenia. (Overnight Ljubljana) BD
Day 3: Saturday 3 September, Ljubljana
- Prehistoric and Roman Ljubljana: guided tour of the City Museum (Mestni Muzej) with a Curator
- Walking tour of Roman sites in the city centre, with an expert guide from the Museum
- Lunch in the Balkan café courtyard in the Križanke neighbourhood: Gostilna Plecnikov Hram na Krizanke
- Joze Plecnik’s Ljubljana: Architectural tour of the city centre, including a visit to Plecnik’s house
- National and University Library, designed by Joze Plecnik, including the renowned Reading Room
- Evening performance (subject to performance schedule in 2021)
Today we remain close to our base, but journey back in time. With the older Aquileian castle looming high above, our tour centres around the lower river flat Ljubljana neighbourhood of the Križanke, an ancient church (1268) and hall (1228) complex once associated with German-speaking Spanheim-family Dukes of Carinthia (1144-1269). The last Duke, Ulrich III (c. 1220-1269), tried to deter the Romance-speaking elected clerical Lords of Aquileia (Venezia-Giulia), by summoning the Order of Teutonic Knights to help him rule this Slav-speaking region (“the Windic march”). As in Transylvania, these footloose knights over-stayed their welcome, heading to the east Baltic. The Habsburgs eventually took over Ljubljana in 1335. Each section of the Križanke we see today, was later rebuilt, however, either in 1561 or 1715. Modified by the great Jozef Plecnik, the Križanke now acts as an Arts and Museums hub, and as a key summer venue of the Ljubljana Festival.
At the City Museum of Ljubljana (Mestni Muzej), we explore Slovenia’s prehistory. One of its most fascinating exhibits is a decorated wooden wheel which is about 5200 years old; it is thought to be the oldest wooden wheel ever found. It dates to the pile-dwelling period, when people dwelt in villages of stilt-houses (Ljubljansko Barje, 3000-1000 BC). We also discover Ljubljana’s Roman past: the town of Emona (Colonia Iulia Emona) was built on the site of the prehistoric settlement in the early 1st century AD, by Augustus’ troops. The location of the city was of strategic importance, being at a crossroads of important trade routes; at the time the Romans were conquering new lands in the Balkan south and the Pannonian east.
We lunch nearby, in simple Balkan style, in the Križanke courtyard.
This afternoon we turn our focus to the extraordinary architectural heritage of the 20th-century Art Nouveau architect Joze Plecnik (1872-1957). Plecnik’s influence on the architectural landscape of Ljubljana has been compared to that of Gaudí upon Barcelona. With a local expert, we tour his key city buildings and visit his charming house, which has been preserved as it was in his lifetime. It holds sketches, plans, models, and photographs relating to Plecnik’s famous creations such as the National and University Library, the Ljubljana Central Market and the Church of St Michael in the Marshes.
We finish the afternoon with a visit to the National and University Library, including Plecnik’s grand Reading Room. Subject to schedules in 2021, we expect to finish our day’s program mid-to-late afternoon, in order to rest and ready ourselves for an evening performance of music, dance or theatre. (Overnight Ljubljana) BL
Day 4: Sunday 4 September, Ljubljana
- National Museum of Slovenia
- National Gallery of Slovenia
Today we explore the fascinating prehistory, migration history and flora and fauna of this beautiful, varied and fertile country at the National Museum of Slovenia (Narodni Muzej Slovenij). A curator of Archaeology will discuss its highlights. These include a 1995 find in the submerged Divje Babe cave near Cerkno. We also encounter a Neanderthal bone flute (60,000 to 50,000 BC) fashioned from the femur of a cave bear, an oak dug-out canoe (9th century BC) discovered in 1927, and Iron Age armour from Slovene sites at Sticna, Vir and Gradisce. We glimpse Slovenia’s migration history in displays of sites resembling King Arthur’s Tintagel at Ajdovski Gradec (5th to 6th century AD) and in displays revealing the Slav migrations.
A light lunch follows, at Gostilna Sestica, a classic Slovene restaurant serving traditional dishes.
In the afternoon, we visit the National Gallery of Slovenia, to contrast the liveliness of the master painters and wood carvers active in 15th-century Slovenia with the Byzantine-like austere piety of their medieval predecessors. In other halls, traversing the 16th and 17th centuries, the Habsburg Baroque emerges with all its emotion and exuberance. We also encounter the influence of Habsburg Flemish genre painting, for example, in the work of the Dutch artist Almanach, who worked in Slovenia in the 17th century. Other halls explore bourgeois life in prosperous 19th century Slovenia, culminating in a delightful series of works by local impressionists. We encounter the work of artists such as realist Ivana Kobilca, the most prominent Slovenian painter and a key figure in Slovenian cultural identity. Allow her Kofetarica (Coffee Drinker) of 1888 to prompt you to repose in the gallery café! (Overnight Ljubljana) BL
Bled - 3 nights
Day 5: Monday 5 September, Ljubljana – Pustal – Skofja Loka – Crngrob – Bled
- Devil’s Bridge, Pustal
- Skofja Loka Castle & Museum
- Church of Annunciation, Crngrob
- Fijaker (horse drawn carriage) around Lake Bled
- Dinner at Julijana Restaurant on Lake Bled
We begin our journey through what is arguably Eastern Europe’s loveliest country. Leaving Ljubljana, we drive northwest by private coach towards the grand Julian Alps, meandering along the basin of the River Sava. We’ll meet the Sava again at our tour’s end in Zagreb in Croatia; it continues to join the Danube at Belgrade.
Today, we stop in the picturesque little village of Puštal, on the Sora River, a tributary of the Sava. Our local guide will meet the coach and take us across the famed ‘Devil’s Bridge’, which spans the river. This wooden footbridge is named after supposed ancient appearances of the devil. Across the river is the enchanting medieval town of Skofja Loka. The town’s first written records date to 1248. In the 13th century it was a bustling market town of craftspeople and traders, who were organised into various guilds. Skofja Loka and the surrounding estates were an Imperial fief known as ‘the Bishop of Freising’s Meadow’. From 973, they remained in the possession of the Bavarian Bishops of Freising for more than 900 years. The original city plan survives: an upper square, the Plac, is separated from a lower square, the Lontrg; narrow streets cross the town centre, and a bold castle (rebuilt in the 16th century) stands atop a nearby hill. With our guide, we walk through the town up to the Loski Musej (Loski Museum), housed in the castle. One of the best-arranged museums in Slovenia, it houses archeological, historical, cultural, artistic, natural science and ethnological collections. We also have the opportunity to view a very well-preserved 16th century farmhouse, Škopar’s House (Škoparjeva hiša), in the castle garden.
After a simple lunch in the town centre, we shall take a short walk to Skofja Loka’s Capuchin Bridge (Stone Bridge). Built in the mid-14th century from carved stone in a semi-circular shape, it is the only one of its kind in central Europe. At its centre is a statue of the Bohemian saint, St. John of Nepomuk (1345-1393), with the Škofja Loka coat-of-arms on its plinth; in its medieval days the Selca Gate, with a guard tower, stood beside it. It was renovated and equipped with railings in the late 19th century. From here, our guide accompanies us on our coach to the Church of the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin (Marijino Oznanenje) at Crngrob. Founded in the 13th century, this lovely church holds some of the finest frescoes in Slovenia. These detail the Life of the Virgin (late-13th to early-14th centuries) whilst Giotto-like (Slovene Goriška style) paintings portray the Passion of Christ (late 14th to mid-15th centuries).
We continue by coach to Bled, and check into the Rikli Balance Hotel. Bled is a splendid resort town on a stunningly picturesque lake. Lake Bled comes complete with a medieval church on an island, overlooked by a medieval castle high on an outcrop . While Bled Castle was an 11th-century fief of the Bishops of Blixen, the town of Bled only came into its own in the 19th-century as a bourgeois retreat. Naturopaths, like Dr Arnold Rikli (1823-1906), encouraged genteel promenading or venturesome hiking and climbing in fresh-air alpine destinations. Bled was also a favourite destination for Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980), the Croatian leader of Communist Yugoslavia (1944-80). We opt to succumb at day’s end to gentility, not agility: a half-hour carriage ride (fijaker) takes us around the lake in time for sunset. The carriages leave us at our dinner venue, the elegant Julijana restaurant. After dinner, we walk the short distance back to our hotel. (Overnight Bled) BLD
Day 6: Tuesday 6 September, Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled
- Pletna cruise to Blejski Otok island and visit to the Church of the Mother of God on the Lake, Lake Bled
- Cable Car to Mount Vogel, Lake Bohinj
- Panoramic Boat along Lake Bohinj from Ukanc to Ribcev Laz, Lake Bohinj
- Bled Castle
Today we immerse ourselves in some of Slovenia’s most breathtaking landscapes. What could be better than to be rowed in a covered pletna boat to the island (Blejski Otok) in the middle of Lake Bled? Once a pagan site, it was re-invented in a national epic poem about the ancient loss of Slovene independence (Krst pri Savici or Baptism on the Savica, 1836) written by Slovenia’s first national poet, France Prešeren (1800–49). In the Middle Ages Blejski Otok attracted Christian pilgrims to its little Assumption Church. This is a favoured place in Slovenia to wed, provided you carry your betrothed up each and every one of its 99 steps!
After returning to shore we drive further into the sublime limestone range of the Julian Alps (Julijske Alpe; Prialpe Giuli), moving somewhat closer to Friulian Udine in Italy than to Kärnten (Carinthia Province) in Austria. We take a cable car from Lake Bohinj to high Mt Vogel (1846m), where a breathtaking panoramic vista of the entire Triglav National Park beckons, capped by Mt Triglav (2864m) across the lake and to the north. After free time for lunch in a panorama restaurant, we descend by cable car and cruise along Lake Bohinj from Ukanc to Ribcev Laz. Here, we cross a bridge to visit the Romanesque/Gothic Church of St John the Baptist (Cerkev sv. Janeza Krstnika). Returning by coach to Lake Bled, you can visit Bled castle at (Blejski Grad), and thence opt to walk or to bus downhill to our hotel. (Overnight Bled) B
Day 7: Wednesday 7 September, Bled – Trzic – Kropa – Radovljica – Bled
- Trzic Museum: Cobblery exhibition in the former dye house and tannery
- Iron Forging Museum in Kropa
- Light lunch at Gostilna pr’Kovac, Kropa
- Medieval town of Radovljica
- Dinner at Vila Podvin
Today we have a unique opportunity to explore the hardy, thrifty life of small Slovenian communities. The villages in the foothills of mountains and in the knots of their valleys in Upper Carniola (Gorenjska) near the border with Austria offer rare chances to savour the small places so often overlooked in tours that just go from capital to capital and tourist site to tourist site. We’ll venture by coach into different valleys, each with its raging river, visiting Trzic to consider shoemaking and leatherwork, and Kropa to encounter iron forging. We shall lunch in a small local inn. We then drive to Radovlijca to look at the art of beekeeping and to explore the little market town. In the evening, we dine well in another country restaurant: chef Uroš Štefelin’s Vila Podvin, then return to Bled. (Overnight Bled) BLD
Kobarid - 1 night
Day 8: Thursday 8 September, Bled – Vrsic Pass – Kobarid
- Scenic journey across the Julian Alps through Triglav National Park via the Vrsic Pass (1611m)
- Kozjak Waterfall
- Dinner at Restaurant Hiša Franko
Departing Bled, we drive 4 hours on a mountain journey, regularly getting on and off the bus, exploring northwest Slovenia’s Triglav National Park. We are now in the part of Slovenia closer to Italy, heading for Kobarid (Caporetto in Italian), once a battle front of the First World War, now a charming Slovene town with an Italian ‘feel’ where will dine in style and stay one night.
When Italy entered the war belatedly on the side of Britain and France in May 1915, the Italians found the going surprisingly tough attacking the Habsburg Empire all along the Isonzo River (Soca in Slovene; Sortig in German, Aesontius In Latin) from its Adriatic estuary to the tips of the Julian Alps. The Vrsic Pass (1611m) and the Trenta Valley offer the most superlative views of the tour. We will walk to the waterfall at Kozjak and traverse some WWI trenches and mini forts. Our route on and over the Vrsic Pass was a Habsburg military re-supply route, built in part by Russian prisoners captured in Ukraine and Ruthenia. 300,000 soldiers perished here in 12 different battles, starting in June 1915, and ending in November 1917, when Habsburg forces finally broke through, and when the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. After some time to freshen up at our hotel, we enjoy degustation at one of the world’s top restaurants: Hisa Franko at Kobarid.
Note: no porterage is available at the Hotel Hvala in Kobarid. The hotel has a lift.
Please note that while restaurant Hiša Franko will endeavour to cater for special dietary requests, this may not be possible in all cases. If this may be an issue for you, please speak with your ASA Travel Consultant. (Overnight Kobarid) BLD
Piran - 2 nights
Day 9: Friday 9 September, Kobarid – Tolmin Gorges – Sempas – Skocjan – Piran
- Guided walking tour of the Tolmin Gorge (1.5-2hrs, gravel trail and boardwalk)
- Lunch at Milan Garbari’s farm, Malovscevo
- UNESCO World Heritage-Listed Skocjan Caves
We now head away from Kobarid and from the mountains down through the Tolmin Gorge. Also called Tolminska Korita, this is one of Slovenia’s most magnificent natural attractions. Our local guide will take us along the 1-kilometre-long moss-covered gorge, which has been carved out by the crystal-clear Tolminka and Zadlascica Rivers.
Back on the coach, the mountains will eventually give way to rich agricultural land, where we will have a simple lunch on Milan Garbari’s farm, Malovscevo. Then the same mountains will also cleave into limestone caves, where we will explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Skocjan Cave. We then turn west over other cave (karst) landscapes towards the sea.
This evening we reach the delightful Adriatic port town of Piran, the birthplace of the Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770). You will enjoy the sea air here for two nights. Lovely little Piran dominates Slovenia’s tiny 20-kilometre stretch of Adriatic coast; it is just 60 kilometres south of the Italian city of Trieste. Piran, sitting at the tip of a narrow peninsula, is one of the best-preserved historical towns anywhere in the Mediterranean. With an abundance of Venetian Gothic architecture, atmospheric winding alleyways, a bustling main square and harbour and plenty of seafood restaurants, Piran is a unique stop on this tour of mostly-landlocked Slovenia. Here is your chance to watch the sun set over the Adriatic! (Overnight Piran) BL
Day 10: Saturday 10 September, Piran – Lipica – Piran
- Lipica Stud Farm: View the training of Lipizzan Horses & tour the stud farm
- Afternoon at leisure in Piran
- Tartini Festival: Evening performance (subject to performance schedule in 2022)
We shall have ample time to relax in this beautiful coastal town with only one firm engagement today. In the morning we shall view the training of famous Lipizzaner Horses on a stud farm about an hour northwest of Piran. Lunchtime and the afternoon will be at leisure. In the evening we hope to be able to attend an evening performance at the international Tartini Festival (subject to 2022 performance schedule). (Overnight Piran) B
Postojna - 1 night
Day 11: Sunday 11 September, Piran – Hrastovlje – Goce – Postojna – Predjama – Postojna
- Church of the Holy Trinity with the famous Dance Macabre fresco, Hrastovlje
- Lunch in the stone village of Goce
- Postojna Cave
- Castle of Predjama
We depart Piran, and meander back towards the ‘real’ Slovenia of stones and castles, inland foothills with fertile farms, vineyards and caves with amazing stalactites. We first drive 40 kilometres to the tiny fortified Church of the Holy Trinity (cerkev sv. Trojice) in Hrastovlje, a village not far from the border with Rijeka province in north-west Croatia. The church’s fortified character reflects the depth of fear of Ottoman invasion in the 15th and 16th centuries. Within is a rare version of a subversive religious fresco known as The Dance of Death (La danse macabre in French, Mrtvaški ples in Slovene).
We then lunch and tipple in the stone village of Goce, in the heart of the Vipava wine country, lands dear to Slovenia’s greatest Habsburg diplomat, Freiherr Sigismund von Herbestein (1486-1566); he was one of the few diplomats to meet both an Ottoman Sultan and a Russian Grand Prince.
After lunch we take the cave train at Postojna, then walk through mighty caverns; they have some of the grandest stalagmites and stalactites in Europe. We then visit the impregnable castle at Predjama (Predjamski Grad). Predjama nestles inside a cliff. The castle only ever succumbed to one siege, in 1484. The story goes that a rebel Imperial Burgrave (Castellan), Erasmus von Lüg, was betrayed and killed when, according to local lore, Habsburg siege cannon were invited from within to be directed at the castle privy when Erasmus heeded the call of nature. Once a frontier between Aquileian (Alto Veneto) clerical-feudal and Habsburg spheres, Predjama was constructed in the 13th century, but what you see now dates from 16th century. If you thought your house renovations were complex, think again! We shall visit both the castle and the cave beneath. (Overnight Postojna) BLD
Celje - 3 nights
Day 12: Monday 12 September, Postojna – Logar Valley – Celje
- Guided walking tour of Logar Valley (Logarska dolina), one of the most beautiful alpine glacial valleys in Europe
From Postojna, we’ll skirt west of Ljubljana and cross our old path to Škofja Loka to journey north this time to the glacial (“U”-shaped) valley (Logarska dolina) just west of Solcava. Here we are within a yodel of the Austrian border. We are now in the Kamniško-Savinjske Alps, whose Savinj River (Saann in German) flows down from this glacial valley past Celje and Laško to the Sava River at Zidani Most. Guided by a local expert, we shall spend around 3.5-4 hours in the valley, walking through the beautiful natural landscape, learning about its abundant flora and fauna, feeding on a hearty lunch, and viewing the stunning 90-metre Rinka Falls. The walk is generally an easy one; to the Rinka Falls there is a moderately steep gravel path.
We continue east to Celje for a three-night stay in Hotel Evropa. Celje is a beautiful Renaissance town in the Savinja (east-central Slovenia). This afternoon’s drive takes us from the alpine sublime to Celje’s fertile Balkan borderlands of pigs and grain, hops and grapes, beer and wine. Try the local brew: the Laško or the Simon Kukec. And why not karaoke in Slovene with the lyric about a Slovenian River (Reka) with the smooth Slovene modern-male equivalents of Almanach’s Card Sharps (Kvatropirci) whom we met in the National Gallery of Slovenia in Ljubljana? (Slovene karaoke strictly optional and subject to opening hours on the night!) (Overnight Celje) BL
Day 13: Tuesday 13 September, Celje
- Regional Museum of Celje: ‘Princely Palace’. Guided tour with Curator, Dr Jure Krajsek: in situ remains of antique Celeia; Guided tour with Curator, Mr Damir Zeric: Counts of Celje exhibition
- Celje Castle & Old Town: Guided tour with Mr Damir Zeric
- Lunch at a local restaurant, Gostilna Francl
- Regional Museum of Celje: ‘Old Counts’ Mansion’. Guided tour with Curator, Dr Jure Krajsek: in situ remains of antique Celeia; Guided tour with Curator, Ms Gabrijela Kovacic: Cultural History Collection and the Celje Ceiling
We spend all day in this charming town, the third largest in Slovenia, still with only 40,000 people. After the long era of barbarian migrations and invasions, the old Roman colonia of Celeia, in Noricum province, with its fertile hinterland, became medieval Celje guarded now by the incomparable castle (Stari Grad, late 14th century) of Counts of Žovnek-Celje (12th-15th centuries). This castle, across the Savinj River from the town, enabled Counts of Celje to stem Habsburg ambitions until 1456, projecting their power over Croatia and making a major contribution to the failed Crusade at Nikopolis against the Ottomans (1396). Noble ladies of Celje, like the beautiful Barbara of Celje (1392-1451), regent of Hungary and wife of a Holy Roman Emperor (1433-37), Sigismund of Luxembourg, often figured in dynastic marriages in adjacent Hungary and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, countering Habsburg claimants. Highlights of the city include visits, led by local museum experts, to the two parts of the regional museum (Pokrajinski Muzei), one being the Townhouse of the later Princes (Knežji Dvorec) with the rare survival of a Renaissance trompe d’oeil ceiling (Celjski Strop, 1600), and the other being the earlier 15th-century porticoed barracks and townhouse of the Counts (Stara Grofija) housing the archaeological and medieval-historical museum. We will first visit the Princes’ Townhouse, then drive to the Castle. We lunch in a restaurant in the hills, dating from 1895: Peter Zaveršek’s Gostilna Francl. In the afternoon we visit the Old Counts’ Townhouse, which also hosted war crimes trials in July 1945, as well as the town centre. We pass the old prison, Stari Pisker; hundreds of hostages were shot here in 1942 in retaliation for Partisan resistance to the Wehrmacht’s rule over the country and this city from 11 April 1941 to 13 May 1945. (Overnight Celje) BL
Day 14: Wednesday 14 September, Celje – Ptuj – Maribor – Celje
- Ptuj Castle & Old Town
- Walking tour of Maribor including wine-tasting and visit to the oldest vine house
We venture today by coach through the Štajerska wine region for one hour from our base at Celje to the beautiful medieval city of Ptuj (Roman Poetovio), touring its castle, then lingering over a coffee and wandering the old town. Then we venture a half-hour further to Maribor (pop. 100,000), the second largest city in Slovenia. We encounter a vine in Maribor city itself reputed, on good visual evidence, to be oldest living vine in Europe: at least 450 years old! This is the vine outside ‘The Old Vine House’, where we quaff, lunch and learn heaps more about local wines. In this Štajerska wine region, we have entered a contested Magyar (Hungarian)-German-Slav sphere at the western-most end of the Eurasian plain. This Podravska province of Slovenia follows the Drava River (Drau in German). Maribor is also important because it is a minor place in the history of the Second World War that nonetheless can tell us a great deal about the nature of that war. Hitler attempted to ‘Germanise’ the local Slovenes as well as moving German settlers into the region which, he believed, could then become part of the German homeland. Hitler backed these follies by enabling the murder, deportation and forced labour of Slovenes, even separating children from suspect families in November 1942. As we enjoy the wine and the mix of cultures in this wonderful heritage region, we can still contemplate barbarous follies it had to endure, and indeed overcome, to achieve this convivial hospitality. (Overnight Celje) BL
Zagreb - 3 nights
Day 15: Thursday 15 September, Celje – Kostanjevica na Krki – Otocec – Zagreb
- Kostanjevica na Krki, a small settlement on an island in the Krka river
- Bozidar Jakac Art Museum, Cistercian Monastery Samostan Kostanjevica na Krki
- Lunch at the 16th-century castle of Otocec
We depart Celje today by coach for our final destination, Zagreb, capital of Croatia. We travel via southern Slovenia (lower Carniola; Dolenj). On the way, we explore a little heritage town on an island in the Krka River: Kostanjevica na Krki, dating from the mid-13th century. On arrival in Kostanjevica na Krki we take a morning coffee break, then encounter a Cistercian monastery (Samostan), dating from the early 13th century, which encouraged the growth of the adjacent market town. Cistercians were a reformed Benedictine Order of muscular monks and colonisers who valued agricultural labour, and fine, spare architecture. As in Transylvania, further east, they were invited here by Kings of Hungary to stabilise and colonise a wild region. Their extensive monastery complex was abandoned in 1785 at the order of the Habsburg Emperor, Joseph II, who began to dissolve the great monastic estates (der Klostersturm) in 1782, seizing their revenues. The charming shell of the church and the imposing monastery complex now houses one of the best art collections in Slovenia: the Božidar Jakac Art Museum, which we shall tour. Highlights include the work of Anton (Tone) Kralj (1900-75).
Next we stop for lunch at the beautiful 16th-century castle of Otocec, the retirement home of one the great leaders of the Habsburg resistance against Ottoman incursion: Ivan Lenkovic. He was the leader of a Cossack-like corps of raiders, wild free-booters who were known as the Uskoks of Senj. Otocec Castle and its elegant restaurant sit in a lovely forest surrounding another island in the Krka River.
After lunch we head to Zagreb, 50 kilometres east of the border with Slovenia. Although Slovenia (1996) and Croatia (2003) are now EU member states, there are border checks leaving Slovenia and entering Croatia. We have to present passports; while Slovenia has been in Schengen since 2003, Croatia is still a suitor. We pass two mid-12th-century castles as we follow the mighty Sava River: Brestanica (Rajhenburg), and Brežice (Rann), sites where Nazi occupiers deported Slovenes in 1942-44. This evening is at leisure at our hotel in the heart of Zagreb, the Palace Hotel. (Overnight Zagreb) BL
Day 16: Friday 16 September, Zagreb
- Introductory walking tour of Zagreb
- Croatian Museum of Naïve Art: Guided visit with Curator
- Guided Tour of sculptor Ivan Mestrovic’s atelier
- Archaeological Museum
- Evening performance (subject to performance schedule in 2022)
We walk the streets of Zagreb, a confident and relatively new Slavonic inland capital city of 800,000 people. Most people who think they ‘know’ Croatia really only know the coasts of Dalmatia, with their Venetian and classical Greco-Roman heritages. On this Adriatic coast, the Balkans sometimes seem an afterthought, even though they were key to the prosperity of Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Zagreb is like the Melbourne of Alfred Deakin: a Victorian-age city, commercial from the outset, national by conviction. Once two minor medieval towns, one upper, the other lower, each loathing the other, Zagreb thrived only when it became the key gubernatorial post (Ban) in the western Balkan parts of the Habsburg Empire. Ljubljana thrived likewise, but earlier at first, and then later (in Plecnik’s Art Nouveau times). Led first by its Bans, later despite them, Zagreb became – in 1848-49, in 1918-19, in 1928-45, and in 1990-95 – a centre shaping national “Illyrian” feeling of resistance against imperial domination by Magyars, Habsburgs, Serbs and Serb-Yugoslavs. While the affinities of their South Slav native languages united Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the anchors of national feeling and of resistance to empire for educated Serbs were Orthodox, Cyrillic and Byzantine, not Roman Catholic and Latin, as in Croatia. And the capitals of the oppressors they came to loathe also differed in the imaginations of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The Serbs’ oppressors seemed based in Constantinople, and perhaps in Albania, Bulgaria and Bosnia; the Croats and Slovenes instead regarded Vienna equivocally, scarcely regarding Moscow or Constantinople (Istanbul) as a danger.
We spend most of our day today in the Upper Town (Gornji Grad). Here we take a curator-led tour of the unique Croatian Museum of Naïve Art (Hrvatski Muzej Naivne Umetnosti). A highlight here is the rural national imagery of Ivan Generalic (1914-92). We then lunch in an incomparable Croatian village cuisine restaurant: Konoba Didov San. Nearby, we tour the atelier of the Europhile sculptor Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962), an exile from Croatia in 1942, and from Yugoslavia from 1947. We then return to the lower town, taking the steps or the funicular, we explore the Archaeological Museum, and its garden café, close to our hotel. Our day concludes with an evening performance of music, dance or theatre (subject to schedules in 2021). (Overnight Zagreb) BL
Day 17: Saturday 17 September, Zagreb
- Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters, Croatian Academy of Arts & Sciences
- Gallery of Modern Art
- Afternoon at leisure
- Farewell Dinner at Dubravkin Put restaurant
We do not have to venture far from our hotel today. One block one way is the Croatian Academy’s Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters (1880), which holds a collection of European paintings from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. In the courtyard, we view the eleventh-century Slavonic glagolithic ‘Rosetta Stone’ of Croatia. One block another way, in the heart of ‘cafe town’, is the Gallery of Modern Art (Moderna Galerija, 1883), home to the national collection of 19th- and 20th-century art. We shall tour both galleries. There’s time at leisure to have lunch and explore Zagreb further, at your leisure. Before dinner, you may wish to try a plum brandy (šljivovica in Croatian; slivovo žganje in Slovene) or a walnut brandy (orahovac; orehovo žganje). Our Farewell Dinner this evening is held at chef Priska Thuring’s stylish Dubravkin Put restaurant on the edge of the Upper Town (Gornji Grad). (Overnight Zagreb) BD
Day 18: Sunday 18 September, Depart Zagreb
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends in Zagreb. If you are travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight you will be transferred to the airport. If not, you may take a taxi or arrange a transfer with ASA, or stay on to see more of this fascinating country. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B