In Australia it takes 41 hours to drive from one side of the country to the other. So it was a strange novelty for us to be able to pop into Slovenia on our drive from Italy to Croatia. Once again, Slovenia didn’t fail to impress. This country just nails it every time.
Predjama Castle in Slovenia’s southwest is beyond impressive. Not for its wealth, opulence or size, but for the way it is built into the mouth of a gaping cave, dramatically erupting out of the side of a cliff. The castle was built for safety, not comfort, and was impregnable to the many foes that tried to enter. The tour inside told the fascinating tale of the damp, dark life inside the castle and of its most famous resident Erazem Lueger, a wiley Robin Hood style knight from the 15th century.
Erazem became the owner of the castle in 1478, and used it as his home base from which he’d mount raids against Austria in support of Hungary. Unfortunately he killed one of the Habsburg military nobles along the way, and in 1484 the Governor of Trieste, under Habsburg rule, was sent to collect Erazem to be punished. This is where he showed us all what a sassy fox he was.
The Austrians tried to poison his drinking water, so old mate hooked up a complex drainage system to collect rainwater from the cave’s interior. They thought they’d just pop in across timber drawbridges, but they could be pulled down at a moment’s notice. The opposition tried to starve him out of the castle, so he used secret passages in the cave to sneak in food, and showered fresh cherries over them from the castle walls. What a mad lad.
Audio guides for attractions like this are usually painful, and we often opt for guiding ourselves through with a travel book. The audioguide here however featured a great story teller who explained the purpose of each room and offered insights to life in the castle/cave complex. Life definitely was not glamorous. It was wet and dark year round, and when the castle family and staff weren’t listening to prisoners being tortured in the dungeons below or water drops echoing through their home, they were likely to be flinging boulders or pouring hot oil onto attackers from “murder holes” in the castle’s tower.
The blending of the cave and castle was truly remarkable. There were only 2 other couples in the castle the same time as us, so we had free rein to wander around and spend as much time in each room as we wanted. The girls rang the bell to make a wish (clearly didn’t work…we still haven’t seen snow), and we admired the stunning views of the Slovenian countryside below. There is also a full cave complex beneath the castle that can be toured in the warmer months, but over winter local bat populations hibernate there so they’re not to be disturbed.
Overall castle rating? 9/10. I would have loved to buy some souvenirs from the gift shop, but it was closed for the winter too. Loved the tales of Erazem and the ingenious/hideous ways people from the middle ages used nature to help protect themselves.
We took a detour on our way down to Istria to a tiny village in the hilly Karst countryside to take a look at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Hrastovlje, a dot of a town with an unassuming high-walled stone church perched on a grassy hill. On the walk up the dusty path, olive groves on either side, the countryside was silent, apart from cooing pigeons fluttering from wall to wall. There was a little sign letting us know we had to call to get the church unlocked.
A girl working in the town Inn called through for us, and the caretaker unlocked the church, put on an English recording, and with a long stick in hand pointed out the stunning frescoes covering the interior walls. Just for us. They were bright and clear painted in 1490 by local artist John of Kastav. The fresoes had been covered up with white paint by some moron who clearly watched too many eps of “The Block: Medievel Churches” and were only uncovered in 1949 when a local artist started poking around inside. It took ten years to get rid of the layers of white muck and reveal the gem beneath.
The highlight of the church is the panel on the Danse Macabre, skeletons guiding a range of townsfolk from beggars to doctors to queens to the grave. No matter your status, occupation or wealth, death is inevitable. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but take a look at the video and photo taken from https://www.istria-culture.com/en/the-holy-trinity-church-in-hrastovlje-i13 below. This was a special, beautiful experience.
Late lunch meant heading back to the Inn to grab some hearty Slovenian fare by a huge open fire. Time to head to our next destination, Croatia.