Schladming – Where?

Schladming is a small ski/mountain biking town in Austria.  It was the perfect spot for us to stop for 3 nights on our way back to Frankfurt.  The whole area is very picturesque with lots of hiking and outdoorsy things to do.  As we had both come down with pretty heavy head colds, it was great to check into our Air BnB apartment and regroup.  We stayed in the small (er ) town of Oblarn and used it as a base to travel around.

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While I am not a mountain biker, at this time of the year the chairlifts are opened up for mountain bikers.  Surprisingly, there had been a decent snow dump when we arrived so apart from being pretty cold (out came the ski jacket!) the bike runs were only open from mid-station.  I have it on good authority that natural runs are really “natural” with loads of tree roots and the advanced runs are much steeper than elsewhere!

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The town of Schladming is worth a quick look around.  When we were there, a small farmers market was in action and there were other interesting things to look at. I found a couple of interesting jewellery shops.  (I can shop anywhere!)

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We also drove up to the Dachstein glacier which is well worth the trip.  The road up is steepish (nothing compared to Montenegro) and there is a 14 Euro toll to get on to it.  This is refunded if you go up the mountain and validate your ticket.  Once at the carpark, you get a ticket for the cable car up and can also get tickets for the ice palace and sky walk.  We got all three and were very glad that we did.  The cable car ride is breathtaking and on the way back, if you get in first, you can ride on the top of it!  Now that is a once in a lifetime experience!

Once at the top there are a couple of viewing platforms, a suspension bridge (not for the nervous) and some really cool ice caves with sculptures in them.  Be aware it is incredibly slippery so wear decent shoes.  I used my walking poles and still struggled!  There are cafe’s/restaurants to grab a hot drink while you are there.  This is one of the best views you might get in the area so don’t miss it.

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Also check out local events.  While we were in the area, we discovered a local cheese festival (Kase fest) and followed the signs to a rural area where others seemed to be parking.  From the precarious parking spots, we hiked up a hill to the top where there was a church with rock boundaries. Inside was a celebration of Austrian life.  Many of the people were in traditional dress, there were accordion players giving it heaps and a number of cheese stalls ( and a few others).  We didn’t stay that long but it was a really interesting insight into the local community.  We were the only English speakers there!

This whole area of Styria, Austria is a lovely place for a break.  I could have stayed longer and done some more walks.

Triglav National Park and the Soca River

From Lake Bled, we decided to explore the other side of Triglav National Park to do some walking.  Unfortunately the weather let us down again but we had some fun exploring!

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To get to our key walking spots and our accommodation, we had to drive over the Vrsic Pass which has 25 switchbacks up to the top and 25 more down the other side.  On the way up, the corners of the road are cobbled apparently to add grip (although the other side doesn’t have it).  The road is quite narrow but there are regular spots that you can pull over to look at some of the sights or let people pass.

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We used a really good guide book that we bought online (Google Play Store) by Rick Steeves which pointed out in great detail all the sites worthy of stopping for.  They included great look out spots, historical war sites, churches and other points of interest.  It is both a stunning and interesting drive.  The view from the top on a clear  day would be breathtaking.  We got a quick glimpse!

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We checked in to our next tourist farm  (Tourist Farm Jelincic) where we had booked half board (breakfast, dinner and accommodation) for 35 Euros per night.  Again it was alpine style accommodation (room with ensuite and balcony) and was good value.  Dinner was at least 2 courses and one night it was 3!  Very good value for money.

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One of the main things we wanted to do was do some walks around the Soca River.  We had allowed 2 days to do this, unfortunately it continued to pour with rain for the majority of the time that we were there.  Instead of walking, we decided to do a driving tour, which was not as good by any means but allowed us to look at the sights.  The river is stunning.  Even in its flooded state, it was a beautiful blue, green colour so I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be in sunlight.  There are loads of wire suspension bridges crossing the river so that you can get a great view and some great pictures.

 

There are also little towns scattered throughout, with museums and other points of interest.  You can even get cheese from a vending machine!  While travelling through this area It is not ideal in bad weather there is plenty to see for a couple of days.

Maribor in 48 hours

Maribor is the second largest Slovenian city.  It has a population of about 100,000 so is still a small city.  It has an interesting old town and a great surrounding region to explore.  We spent 3 nights here, which meant that we had two full days to explore.  You could definitely do it in less, depending on what you are interested in but you could also spend more time  here.  So what did we do…

Old town

The old town is good for a look around.  Be aware it is almost empty during the day.  It is busiest early in the morning and the bars and cafes come alive at night.  A little tourist train leaves from the tourist centre and drives around the main sites if you can’t be bothered walking.  It is about 3 Euros.  Unfotunately there is no commentary so you are guessing a bit at what you are seeing.

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Hiking

You can drive to Pohorje, where you can go up on the cable car to the top, hike around a bit and have lunch at the hotel and come down the cable car again. You could hike down… it was a heat wave – we didn’t!  There is also a thermal swimming pool at the top which would be great in the winter.  It is 10 Euro’s entry.  At the bottom of the cable car there is another hotel which has a day pass for swimming.  It is 18 Euros for the day (no half day passes).  As it is outdoors it is probably a better option for the summer.

Wine

Maribor and the surrounding areas are wine country.  You can visit the oldest vine in the world (450 years old) and there is an interesting museum located at the site.

We had planned to do a winery tour.  If this is something that is of interest to you, you really do need a car and some guidance from the Wine Museum who will help you plot out the visit.  They helped us choose 4 wineries to visit and called ahead to make appointments for us.  In New Zealand this would be something that is likely to be hosted by an employee and you would taste a set flight, it would be all over in half an hour and you would move on to the next winery. Not so in Slovenia!  We only got to two of the four wineries as a wine tasting in Slovenia is a very personal experience.   We visited Kuster and Doppler and this took us all day!

First up, we went to Doppler which is a very contemporary winery.  We met the winemaker and she was fantastic at explaining the 10 ( yes 10!!!) wines she wanted us to try.  The servings are huge and there wasn’t anywhere to spit or tip so it all had to be enjoyed! She also showed us around the processing area and explained how her wine was made.  She is a third generation winemaker and the land and vines were set up by her grandfather.  Physically,  this is a particularly interesting winery because it is very contemporary in design.  This is evidenced by everything from the marketing to the buildings.  I found the marketing and artistic aspects very clever and inspired.

After Doppler, we drove down the road to Kuster.  This winemaker is a 5th generation winemaker.   As soon as we arrived, he invited us into his car and drove us around his “farm” showing us the different grapes and vines.  He drove us through to Austria (his winery is close to the border) to the “heart of winemaking” which is a heart shaped road and a very beautiful area.  We enjoyed a glass of wine at the top of this ridge and then he took us back to his house for tastings and a beautiful meat and cheese platter.  The whole experience took about 5 hours!  The family was very keen to share their wines with us and despite feeling like we were holding them up for the day they weren’t keen for us to leave until we had tried all the wines ( we suggested 5, he had 8 or 10 on his list). Apparently they had taken the day off to host us!  The wines were lovely and it was a truly memorable experience.  If you are a wine buff, I highly recommend this experience but take a sober driver; there are lots of wines and the servings are huge!

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Climbing in the Dolomites

After leaving Salzburg and spending time in the Austrian Alps hiking and mountain biking, we headed to the Dolomites to do some Via Ferrata climbing.  The Dolomites (or Dolomiti to the locals) are a mountain range in northeastern Italy.  They are a truly spectacular group of mountains.

We were last in the Dolomites 14 years ago and both loved climbing the Via Ferrata’s so were pretty keen to return.  A via Ferrata is a steel cable which runs along a climbing route and is periodically fixed to the rock. Using via ferrata gear ( harness, helmet, lanyard with carabiners and gloves,  climbers can secure themselves to the cable, limiting any fall. The cable can also be used as an aid to climbing, and sometimes there are also iron ladders, pegs, carved steps and even bridges.

There are opportunities to hire guides, hike/climb with small group tours or plan out your own routes using information from the Tourist Centre or books.  As we had a guide last time, we felt fairly confident in having a go ourselves.  It was as spectacular as I remember and we had a great time.

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For anyone interested in mountain biking in the summer, there are also numerous trails to enjoy which can be accessed via the gondolas and chairlifts which take you wherever you would like to start!

If you are unlucky to get bad weather, there is plenty of delicious food to be tried ( strudel is always good) and they have also set up really interesting museums around the area which explain the significance this area had in World War 1.

There are lots of places to stay in the Dolomites area.  We stayed in Arabba, but Corvara and Cortina also have restaurants, outdoor gear shops and small minimarts for anything you might need.

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