Project Description

Right in the heart of Europe, Slovenia has retained traces of its glorious passing neighbors. Covered by thick forests, this land offers landscapes of unparalleled diversity: from alpine peaks to lakes and glacial valleys, from its bucolic countryside to the thousands of caves and underground rivers, not to mention the multitude of medieval cities with an undeniable Slavic charm.

Today I leave Ljubljana for a half day tour in the Slovenian countryside and it is not less than two unique historical and cultural sites of the country that I am about to visit . We start with the visit of Predjama Castle, perched high in a cliff, and conclude with a tour of the famous Postojna Cave, one of the greatest karst monuments in the world. For these visits, I am using the services of Roundabout, specialized in tours and excursions in Slovenia and currently #1 on TripAdvisor. Let’s hit the road!

Predjama Castle

Just after having joined the three couples already seated in the mini bus which picked me up, we take the southwestern route towards the idyllic village of Predjama, above which is located the eponymous castle. This exceptional building can be visited throughout the year and its environment changes over the seasons: first in the spring and summer when the surrounding plains are covered with flowers, then in autumn, when its green forests parent bright colors. Finally, the last change occurs when winter comes and the snow covers the region.

We arrive in a small car park a few hundred meters from the castle and can already see it from afar. Picturesque, imposing, mysterious and partly troglodyte, it is built into a sheer cliff of 123 meters high, from where he has reigned over his fiefdom for over 700 years. Over time and eras, it was continually enlarged and embellished to form a beautiful whole in perfect harmony with the natural environment that surrounds it. We climb slowly but surely the only path leading us to the foot of the building and enter it, preceded by our guide. So begins a visit of about an hour, with some explanations and stories related to this place.

History

The castle is mentioned for the first time in 1274. Built by the patriarchs of Aquileia in a Gothic style, it will then be acquired by the Knights of Adelsberg who will transform the castle over the years. Its present appearance is mainly due to renovation work carried out by Gallemberg Kobenzl, the owner of the castle during the 16th century. The different parts of the building are a true blend of style and period of time (Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic) that gives the place a simply remarkable aspect: a beautiful jewel in a pure green setting. Progressive renovations suffered by the castle are very discreet and were carried out in compliance with the historical materials and medieval techniques, may it be for carpentry or woodwork as ceilings, doors and gateways.

The Legend of Erasmus

One of the most famous occupant was without a doubt Erazem Predjamski. This knight who lived in the 15th century was the most picturesque owner of the castle. This stubborn and rebellious man stood up against one of the most powerful Lord at that time, putting to the test the defensive nature of Predjama castle.

When the Emperor Frederick III of Austria was fighting against the Hungarian King Matthias Korvin, Erasmus fought alongside the latter. Defeated, the Hungarian king was beheaded and Erasmus retaliated by killing a relative of the Emperor of Austria. Chased, he then took refuge in his “eagle’s nest”, Predjama. From his castle, he defied the emperor. Therefore renegade, he also became a robber attacking merchant caravans.

Tired of his antics, the Emperor of Austria was besieging the castle by the garrison commander of Trieste. The siege lasted a whole year. The secret of this amazing duration is the network of tunnels and caves that speard within the mountain and Erasmus had therefore many “outputs doors” to the outside. No one was aware, except occupants of the castle. The besiegers catapulted projectiles for a year without success and the entrance to the dungeon being limited to a single door, it was impossible to dislodge the wily trickster. The latter didn’t hesitate to also provoke the hungry attackers by throwing all kinds of victuals and fresh seasonal fruit. Such a story could only end with an act of treason and this is what happened during a night of 1484.

Erasmus had gone to the toilet, built outside the walls, to satisfy a natural need. That’s when a corrupt servant told the besiegers the presence of his master by lighting a candle placed on the edge of a window. A deluge of stone then struck the wall and buried Erasmus.

The legend says that he lies under the place Predjama within sight of his castle, more precisely under a huge lime tree planted by her fiancé and still visible today.

Visit of the castle

Our tour takes us through different rooms where we discover the castle’s history and its former owners. There are 38 rooms spread over 6 floors in three major parts: a central part and two wings. The extremely effective defensive system of the castle and its position allowed to see visitors arrive from afar and thus provided an opportunity for residents to prepare a strong defense in the event that visitors were attackers. On one of the outdoor terraces, we enjoy a breathtaking view of the valley and the nearby river.

On the fourth floor, an interior drawbridge gives access to a cave that served as a refuge, observation post and pantry. Among rooms and interesting parts of the castle, there are in particular the knights hall, certainly the room that houses the richest furniture, and the dining room that offers a glimpse of life at the castle at the end of the Gothic period. A chapel, the Hall of Justice, a torture room and of course dungeons are also part of the rooms that you can visit. We should also mention some exhibitions of original objects, models, weapons, oil paintings and numerous hunting trophies of the last owner of the castle, Prince Windischgrätz.

Finally, we get out the castle after a good hour of sightseeing. So I can tell now that Predjama Castle is now one of my best experiences in Slovenia. Its perfect blend of architecture is remarkably integrated in a fabulous natural environment and the unique atmosphere that emerges allows the visitors to project a few centuries back in time.

Postojna Cave

Back on the road for just under 10 km to Postojna cave. It is a karst system near the eponymous town and whose size, accessibility and richness have made it the biggest tourist attraction of the country. We arrive in the adjacent carpark and walk about 300 meters to reach the entrance of the cave.

From May to October, visits take place every hour and three to four times a day off-season. The visit lasts about an hour and a half, part of it on a small electric train and the other part on foot, and all are accompanied by guides who detail all the beauties of the underworld in different languages.

The temperature inside the cave is constant. Whatever the season, there is still about 10°C down there. Therefore, it is recommended to dress accordingly, and taking with you a suitable pair of shoes. You can rent warm clothing just before the entrance of the cave and for your information, you will not need any helmet for this visit!

About the visit

Until 1818, visitors were able to see only 300 meters from the cave network. Today it is more than 5 kilometers of tunnels, passageways and spectacular rooms that can be visited and admired by tourists.

The mains entrance is constituted by an artificially widened portion and others still in their natural state. The “Old signatures Gallery”, in which one can find traces left by visitors from the 13th century, is also located in the entrance. Our visit then starts on the platform of the railway of the cave, animated by a cheerfull crowd delighted to find here a little freshness, as the outdoor thermometer is currently showing 35°C!

The train of the cave takes us first through an artificial tunnel, then in a natural gallery whose blackened walls bear witness of the destruction of a fuel depot during World War II. Then we pass through two linked rooms, as the temperature drops rapidly. The first is studded with wonderful calcite concretions. The Gothic Room and the Hall of Congress (formerly known as the Dancing Hall) have formed for almost two centuries an exceptional setting for concerts and other events. The journey continues now in the midst of natural sculptures and transport us 2km further towards the Great Mountain, where we get off the train and reach our English-speaking guide.

The Great mountain (“Calvary”) is an underground room that was formed by the collapse of the ceiling, as evidenced by piles of stones and rocks all around us. In the ceiling, it is possible to observe the spot where the different layers of limestone collapsed. Water seeps through cracks and deposits in the form of calcite concretions on the ceiling. These are mostly small and young as they are crumbling, while the old colossal stalagmites of more than a million years old dot the ground. We climb to the top via a dimly lit road, and admire a particularly beautiful view, especially on the Russian Bridge where we will go.

After crossing it, we enter the Beautiful caves and the Russian gallery leading to the North and the point where the natural part of the Postojna cave ends. The end of the Beautiful caves is indeed connected to the Russian gallery with an artificial tunnel, which allows visitors to make a loop and pass under the Russian Bridge on the way back. The Beautiful caves are the most beautiful and richest of Postojna Cave and certainly the part that I like the most. In many places, they widen to form rooms whose names evoke the characteristics of the concretions they shelter.

One is the Room of Fistulas in which thin calcite tubes, white and transparent, are hanging from the ceiling next to each other. The ceiling of this room may look like a stone rain, and some guides even have nicknamed it the “Spaghetti Room”.

The White Room is named after the extremely white and pure calcite concretions, which contains only very few other mixed elements. This room also contains very characteristical volcanic lakes. Some of them reach an exceptional size and form pools that hold thousands of liters of water.

With slightly less calcite than the previous two cavities, the Red Room (no reference to Shining!) is dominated by a red calcite. The color of the calcite depends of the elements carried by the water from the surface or through the rock above the cave, which are precipitated together with the calcite. The red color is due to the iron or clay particles, while black color is from manganese, carbon or dark colored substances in the ground.

We then pass under the Russian Bridge and continue our way to the Concert Hall. In an expansion of the gallery, we admire the symbol of Postojna Cave, a beautifully column fluted with calcite at his side and a white shimmering concretion of about 5 meters high rightly called “the Brilliant”. It sits in a place where water flows more strongly and uniformly through the ceiling on the rounded top of the concretion and regularly and continuously deposits a thin layer of pure calcite. That’s why the concretion present an appearance so white and bright. In this room, we can admire on the back walls some calcite draperies and a cascade of calcite called “the Organ”, while the ceiling is dotted with fine stalactites. This scene is one of the most beautiful in this part of Postojna Cave, simply breathtaking!

We are approaching the end of the tour and arrive at the foot of a large aquarium where the Proteus anguillard lives, also called “Cave salamander”. This animal is a “néotène” (haven’t found the English translation). In other words, this means that adult specimens retain most of the characteristics of young specimens. Just imagine: people formerly said that this same human fish has decided to grow… Would it not then become a dragon? In the cave, the Proteus anguillard is living along with 100 other species, even sometimes up to 150 species. These are mainly small spiders, the remarkable Leptodirus hochenwartii beetle, the asellus aquaticus, grasshoppers, butterflies, snails, bats… With the early discoveries that were made there, Postojna is considered as the Scientific biospeleology cradle, which makes it the undisputed global center for the discipline.

Finally, we reach the Concert Hall, one of the largest halls of Postojna cave and a place that can accommodate thousands of visitors simultaneously. Organization of concerts here is a secular tradition whose popularity is undeniable, as this exceptional setting still creates an atmosphere like no other. Visitors have the opportunity to buy some souvenirs before heading to the train station in the room and take the way out aboard the little train of the cave. Restrooms and toilets are also available here. The visit end with our return to the surface. The stifling heat then reappeared as I had almost forgotten it! It is truly hot outside and I would’nt mind staying a bit longer inside the cave. After this second visit of the day, we get slowly back to the capital city with new and beautiful pictures and memories in mind. And yet, although Postojna Cave is truly exceptional, I haven’t seen yet which is to me the masterpiece of Slovenian caves!