Why Bela krajina is the hidden gem of Slovenia

Why Bela krajina is the hidden gem of Slovenia

I had never even heard about Bela krajina, let alone planned to go there, until I eventually went, because why not? Of all the beautiful places to explore in Slovenia, Bela krajina isn’t exactly the most famous. Ask anybody about Ljubljana and the usual answer is that it is gorgeous. Everybody knows about Lake Bled. And even Lake Bohinj is becoming more and more famous among travelers.

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Everybody knows about Lake Bled

However, ask people about Bela krajina and a blank stare will be the most typical answer. In fact, it makes a good off the beaten path destination. The thing is, I hardly ever try to go off the beaten path. After all, as a proper unsuccessful backpacker, I like exploring all the most touristy places and taking all the most iconic photos. I never really make an effort to go off the beaten path. I just happen there.

Find out why I think I am an unsuccessful backpacker on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”

I ended up in Marcahuasi, Peru (and was forced to stay there longer than expected) after following a local tip. I got sick of the buzz of Bocas del Toro, in Panama, and got a good dose of peace and quiet in Playa Las Lajas. And in Costa Rica I found myself as the only foreigner in Sarchi, in the highlands, and enjoyed my time with the locals.

Read more about my adventures in Marchahuasi on my post “Off the beaten path Peru: Marcahuasi.”

Slovenia

I was bound to fall in love with Bela krajina

But what usually happens when I end up somewhere random is that I fall in love with a place. And sure enough, this is what happened in Bela Krajina. Here, life goes by at a slow pace. In a world where everything is fast and frenetic, it is refreshing to see that in Bela krajina people still value the time they can dedicate to family, friends and to just enjoy life. Who knew that such a place existed in the heart of Europe?

A small region with an interesting history and culture

Bela krajina – it took me a while to memorize this name, that doesn’t sound sweet to my Italian ears, but definitely looks soothing to my eyes. Located at 90 km south-east of Slovenia capital Ljubljana, Bela krajina is the most rural and underdeveloped region of Slovenia. The main cities (if really one wants to call them cities) are Črnomelj, that has around 14000 inhabitants, Metlika, whose population is of about 8000 people, and Semič, where around 4.000 people live.

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The traditional weaving of Bela krajina

Other than these 3 cities, there’s a myriad of small, picturesque villages that give a sense of peace and tranquility, such as Primostek, where Big Berry, the Luxury Landscape Resort where I stayed, is located.

Check out why I think Big Berry is the ultimate place to stay in Slovenia. 

Metlika, the most important city in the region, was already inhabited in pre-historic times and had an important role in the defense of the region against the Turkish invasions of the 15th and 16th centuries. Testimony of that is the castle that nowadays is the venue of the Bela Krajina museum, which has a permanent exhibit of artifacts of the region up until the 20th century.

Not far from Metlika, in a village called Rosalnice, there’s a complex known as Tri Fare, which for 7 centuries was the object of pilgrimage. Surrounded by a wall, there is a cemetery and three gothic churches built one next to the other. The reason for building 3 different churches in such a small place are still unknown. What I know for sure is that this place has a special aura.

Bela krajina

Good grapes make good wine

Part of the history and culture of Bela krajina has to do with wine. I actually knew that Slovenia has a very strong wine tradition, but I got a full grip on how much wine is important in Slovenia as I drove along vineyard after vineyard, along the hills that surround Metlika and Semič. I stopped to take pictures, and I tried the grapes which I found incredibly sweet.

I happened to visit the region right during harvest time, and one too many a celebration for the good harvest meant that the owners of the vineyards were happily drunk and even more welcoming than usual, and offered me a lot of wine (which I never refused, just in case that would be considered rude, I promise).

Among the things I didn’t know, is that Bela Krajina is also quickly developing its own tradition in beer crafting. Vizir craft beers are quickly overtaking the market as a good alternative to Lasko, the most common beer in Slovenia. In keeping with my tradition of trying local beers, I didn’t refuse a tour in the brewery and got (again) happily tipsy.

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Pogaca – the traditional bread of Bela Krajina. I baked this all by myself and it was delicious!

The cultural traditions of Bela krajina are also reflected in the traditional bread, the Belokranjska Pogača, a focaccia kind of bread that is prepared with cumin seeds and which is present at pretty much every meal – even at breakfast. I love bread, and I got stuffed on Pogača pretty much every day.

Nature at its best

If I were asked to define Bela krajina with a color, it would definitely be green, the color of nature, which here is pristine. Even the Kolpa river, which marks the border with Croatia for 113 km and contributes to making Bela krajina so lush, is green. Its clean waters are among the warmest of Slovenia, and can get up to 30 degrees in the summer – not bad at all for a river. And canoeing along the river is a pleasant (if only a bit hard, if you are as lousy as I am) experience, as well as kayaking and rafting.

The Kolpa river also names the Kolpa Natural Park, a beautiful park where it is possible to spot various species of birds, turtles and otter. Dears and foxes roam free in the region – and actually pop out from nowhere in the middle of the night. In fact, I strongly advise to drive really slowly at night, or else there’s the chance of hitting a dear. Thankfully I was fully aware and responsive when one crossed the street in front of me!

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One of the gorgeous places I came across while hiking around in Bela krajina

Any nature lover is bound to have a great time in Bela krajina. Here there are plenty of hiking and biking trails, for all levels of difficulty and of various duration. Due to the limited time I had available, I opted for an easy one, following the route of Divji Potok and ended up at some beautiful waterfalls. It was completely quiet – another reminder that this is the least explored region of Slovenia.

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A water mill gives the Krupa River an even more intriguing atmosphere

The hidden gems of Slovenia

Bela krajina is packed with hidden gems. One of them is the Krupa River, a beautiful source of water that actually looks like the set of a fantasy novel. It’s the kind of place where one can go meditate, for the only sound to be heard is that of the leaves softly swept by the wind. A water mill at the back gives the place an even more intriguing aura.

Big Berry

One of the many gorgeous spots in Bela Krajina that I have visited during my stay at Big Berry

Another hidden gem in Bela krajina is the Mithraeum of Rozanec, near Črnomelj, one of the most interesting archeological sites in Slovenia (and shockingly free to access – this gives a full idea of how off the beaten path Bela krajina is). The Mithraic religion was based on the cyclical alternation of life and death, and on the conflict between good and evil and the power of redemptive sacrifice. Its origins were found in Persia, from where it spread to the Roman empire adopting elements from other religions. The beautiful Mithraeum of Rozanec can be accessed via a lovely path through a chestnut forest and a narrow path between large rocks.

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The Mithraeum of Rozanec is one of the most beautiful archeological sites in Slovenia

Not far from the Krupa River, the road follows along the countryside. Turn after turn, Bela krajina proved to be one of the most photogenic places I have ever seen. I stopped in the middle of nowhere to jump in a field, in complete disbelief that places like this still exist in Europe.

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The gorgeous countryside of Bela krajina

On the other side of the road, the remains of the Krupa castle, in Stranska vas, reminded me once again that this region has an interesting history and culture too.

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The remains of the Krupa castle, in Stranska vas, are another reminder of Bela krajina rich cultural heritage

As I left Bela krajina to go back home, I finally understood why people have been raving about Slovenia. It feels like a chest full of treasures that have been hidden for too long, a perfect combination of welcoming, smiling people, beautiful nature and intriguing history. After only one week in Bela krajina, I realized I would love to have more time to explore more of it.

I suppose it is easy to see why I fell in love with Bela krajina. All I can say is that I will go again, and next time I will stay longer.

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Big Berry during my stay in Bela krajina. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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Why Big Berry is the ultimate place to stay in Slovenia

Why Big Berry is the ultimate place to stay in Slovenia

I arrived in Primostek, in the Bela krajina region of Slovenia, right before sunset. I was traveling with my sister, we were tired and hungry after a long day of travel and all we wanted was a hot shower to wash the day away, a comforting meal and a nice bed to rest. We’d be “glamping” at Big Berry, although I must admit that we didn’t really know what “glamping” means (I had read that it would be something like “glamorous camping”). As soon as we walked into bungalow 2 at Big Berry Luxury Landscape Resort, we knew we were in for a treat and that ahead of us laid one of the most relaxing and fun weeks we could remember. We’d be glamping, and we’d be doing that in style!

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Is this really all ours? My sister and I loved our bungalow at Big Berry

Luxury with a friendly touch

I thought I’d never really cared about luxury (can’t quite say the same for my sister!). After all, I am the girl that wild camped on an island in San Blas, Panama, after a failed attempt at sailing to Colombia. I am the girl that hiked the Inca Trail, where there are practically zero comforts. But to be completely honest, I don’t see how my backpacker’s background should be an impediment to the full enjoyment of some comforts such as those offered at Big Berry.

Find out more about my wild camping experience in Panama on my post “San Blas Sailing” and read more about my Inca Trail on my post “Inca Trail Dos and Donts”.

And comforts I got: I walked in to find a spotless and fully equipped kitchen with a couch where I could get cozy. A basket full of local goodies was waiting for me: a craft beer from the local brewery Vizir; a delicious jar of local honey; a freshly pressed apple juice; a piece of fresh pogaca, the local bread; and the Big Berry shower gel. As I bit into the fragrant pogaca, I explored the bungalow and the camp.

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Stressing out in the jacuzzi… NOT!

Incredibly well organized, the bungalow where I stayed has a bedroom with a double bed, and another one with two bunk beds and plenty of closets – it can comfortably sleep up to 6 persons. The bathroom has a huge shower, and the kitchen/living room a big fridge, a large (and nicely hidden) flat screen tv with cable tv (and Netflix: this is where I got addicted to the TV series Narcos, thank you very much!).

Yet, the cherry on the cake is the most wonderful jacuzzi located on the porch, where we enjoyed some extra relaxing time. As if we could ever stress in such an amazing place.

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Glamorous yet cozy

To complete an already perfect scenario, not far from the bungalows there are some beautiful sun beds and swings under some trees, and a fantastic barbecue that guests can use during the summer and which apparently has been the scene of many parties organized by the wonderful stuff.

The personal touch

Luxury hotels and resorts have hardly been my thing because I have always found them a bit pretentious. This was never the case at Big Berry. The staff was always incredibly nice, friendly and helpful but never in an intrusive way. They helped us organize activities, they gave plenty of advice, they were easy going, and the gave Big Berry that special, cozy atmosphere that made me enjoy the place even more.

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Breakfast at Big Berry – photo courtesy of Lily France

The glorious breakfast

All bungalows at Big Barry face the river, on the other side of which lays Croatia. On the porch there’s a large table perfect for having breakfast while enjoying some fresh morning air. I actually also ate dinner there with my friends. Sure enough, at Big Berry breakfast is a serious business: every morning, someone from the staff delivered us a basket full of goodies, which was enough to feed a family of 4. Fresh fruits, fresh milk from local producers, top quality locally sourced yogurt, cheese, fragrant pastries, freshly baked pogaca, juice, muesli, coffee and what not for a breakfast in style.

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Our neighbors at Big Berry

Enjoying some quiet time… and the gorgeous surroundings.

Set in the most tranquil countryside, the only sound we could hear at Big Berry was that of the light breeze sweeping the leaves; of the occasional cow mooing; and of the strong rain that poured during our first night there. It was bliss to someone as exhausted as I was.

You see, growing up I thought I needed to be in a buzzing city to feel alive and find entertainment. But after having spent years between New York, Denver, London and Rome where I could only hope to get some decent rest if I wore ear plugs, I realized that I am actually much happier living in a smaller place, where silence and peace are highly valued, where people are kind to each other, and where the air is clean.

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Bela Krajina has to be one of the prettiest places I have ever visited

Besides, my interests have changed: I can no longer survive on just 3 hours sleep after a night partying with friends, and I’d much rather have a walk to enjoy nature, a nice dinner with my friends, or a quiet evening watching my favorite series on tv or reading a book and sipping a glass of red wine.

Which is pretty much what I did. During my days at Big Berry, I explored the beautiful surroundings and went further to visit other places in Slovenia (I will talk more about the gorgeous Bela krajina, Ljubljana and Lake Bled in another post). Bikes are available for guests, and even a couple of canoes to paddle up the river and reach a water mill.

To read more about Bela krajina, check my post “Why Bela krajina is the hidden gem of Slovenia.”

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Pogaca – the traditional bread of Bela Krajina. I baked this all by myself and it was delicious!

Partnering with local businesses

One of the things I like the most about Big Berry Luxury Landscape Resort is that it has partnered with a number of small local businesses. From oil to dairy and honey producers, to local bakeries, vineyards and beer crafters, and even a local gym where guests attend fitness classes, Big Berry has implemented a system that not only provides the camp with local products, but supports the local economy allowing it to grow and thrive and at the same time facilitating the creation of a better infrastructure to accommodate the growing tourism (although part of me still hopes that Bela krajina remains a bit undiscovered, as it is too gorgeous the way it is).

We were curious to learn more about these businesses, so we went to a vineyard in Semic, where the owner Samoel Malnaric talked about the history of the local wines, about their production and the overall wine culture of Slovenia. It was an interesting experience, not only because of the lovely wines, but because Samoel welcomed us in his small vineyard and shared a bit of his life with me.

Similarly, we went to a local brewery, Vizir, and tried all the best local beers (and yes, I got tipsy and giggly, but that is ok, right?). We tasted the sweetest honey as well as the honey liquor in Metlika (and no, I didn’t get drunk that time). I smothered my skin with the fabulous oils produced by Oljarna Pecaric. And I even baked my own pogaca during a workshop, and despite all my fears, I did an excellent job and it was really delicious.

Big Berry

One of the many gorgeous spots in Bela Krajina that I have visited during my stay at Big Berry

Looking forward to visit again

Big Berry is opening to customers in 2017, and I highly advice anybody who loves nature, peace and quiet to visit. I am already planning to go again, and I have spoken about it enthusiastically with my family and friends. There is no doubt that this is the ultimate place to stay in Slovenia.

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Big Berry during my stay in Primostek. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.