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Škofja Loka-Slovenia | Hidden Medieval Gem of Upper Carniola.


Škofja Loka is a very captivating town of Slovenia, a hidden Medieval gem and one of the most charming centres best preserved of a land known as Upper Carniola, a Northwestern territory of that country in the heart of Europe situated at approximately 25, 0 kilometres from the charming capital Ljubljana on the road leading to Kranj, the major centre of the region and located at 68, 0 kilometres south of the beautiful Austrian centre of Klagenfurt in the stunning state of Carinthia.

With its approximately 23,000 inhabitants, the splendid former Bischofslack as it was called in German language during the times in which it was linked to the Bavarian Bishopric is situated in a verdant scenic valley crossed by three rivers such as the Selska Sora, the Poljane Sora which together form the river Sora, three waterways which always played an important role since the Middle Ages when the former village started to have a very flourishing agricultural activity just south of a beautiful green plain Virško Polje, a denomination deriving from millet grown in that land in the past.

The local natural environment is simply beautiful with that enchanting Slovenian municipality  dominated by the Škofja Loka Hribi and the Polhov Gradec Hribi, two groups of picturesque hills which together form a stupendous appealing natural frame around that centre which shows with all its charm a very captivating image.


The town is in addition situated at just 30, 0 kilometres from the stunning Triglav, the highest mountain of the Nation with its 2864,0 metres of altitude and the highest peak of the Julian Alps overlooking a marvellous large territory consisting in a gorgeous Alpine Park with its boundaries starting immediately after the picturesque centre of Bled situated on the shore of a marvellous lake, one of the landmarks of Slovenia.

From there driving by the beautiful panoramic A2 motorway via Jesenice you can reach the famous and prestigious winter sports resort of Kranjska Gora well known to be an iconic stage since a long time ago of the Alpine Ski World Cup another place very suggested to visit for its beautiful scenery and small villages as Podkoren, Mojstrana and Rateče of immense fascination.(I wrote a post about that notorious Ski resort in the case you are interested)

 All those places are more than recommended to visit returning home with fantastic memories and from there you can also organise during your stay great extensions with several excursions to the nearest Austrian Carinthia along a magnificent road leading to the border of that other fantastic land reaching in a very short time Sankt Jacob im Rosental, a centre immediately located on the other side of the frontier.

Fom there you can continue towards Villach, a splendid city with a rich historic and cultural patrimony at the foot of the scenic Gailtal Alps and crossed by the picturesque course Drau River. In addition you are very close to the Karavanke, that range of Alpine peaks highlighted by their steep glaciers, a further attraction simply fabulous for the image those heights offer for their special formation.

That corner of the Slovenian Republic is packed enchanting towns and hamlets perched on the top of fairytale high plateaus at the foot of towering mountains, beautiful lakes, wild rivers, a little Eden where fine art and an outstanding nature are melted in a complete and total harmony offering the visitor unforgettable views.

That specific geographic area of Central Europe born to enchant every visitor in a while is a sort of magic box with several pleasant surprises and what is really impressive is that in a space of a few kilometres you can plan fill your days with different kinds of activities and a varied tourism, an aspect which is certainly more than captivating skiing in the Alps but also practising trekking, cycling on road, mountain bike while fishing and rowing on the local waterways are other great incentives.

In the boundaries of that town you can find very comfortable accommodations with Hotels ready to welcome you delighting your pleasant stay and an excellent local gastronomy is another highlight because you are in a land which boasts several sublime products and it is enough to mention a wide range of fine wines and a famous delectable Prsut, the Carniola ham and linked to them there are very interesting gastronomic and wine tasting routes if you are interested all around the region.

Škofja Loka is highlighted by one of its most representative landmarks, the majestic Loskj Grad, the fortress on Krancelj Hrib, a scenic hilly plateau hill from which that local iconic landmark dominates that charming town well known all around the country because in 1987 it  was declared Kulturna Dediscina Slovenije, which means Cultural Heritage Patrimony site of Slovenia, a title which increased its popularity and prestige as a great tourist destination surprising many visitors at first sight.

Thanks to a perfect preservation and conservation of its core with a notable historic patrimony characterised by a stylish architecture with several Religious and civil constructions elevated in the Middle Ages absolutely outstanding, Škofja Loka is one of those hidden and sometimes underrated medieval gems which deserves a visit surprising all people for its immense beauty if you are planning to visit the Upper Carniola, a territory offering an endless list of stunning attractions.

Historically before the Roman colonisation, the local land was a former Illyrian settlement with tribes of that ancient population coming from the Balkans occupying a vast area south of the Danube valley and that presence was confirmed according to archaeological excavations with the discovery of artifacts and objects closely related to that civilisation.

Under the influence of the Imperial Rome the current region was incorporated in a huge territorial domain called Noricum which corresponded to that well known part of Europe which centuries later was denominated Mitteleuropa,a large geographic territory considered the heart of the European continent which included lands occupied by the current German State of Bavaria, Austria, the Northeaster Italy ,Croatia, Hungary and including Slovenia.

After the fall of the Roman Empire those lands were invaded by the Ostrogoths and later settled by the first Slavic populations coming from east who started to develop their small centres scattered all around the entire region and mainly devoted to farms and agriculture.

After a period under the powerful Frankish Reign who incorporated those domains in their Empire, the current area lived other years of its history governed by different rulers such as Austrian and Bavarians in the Medieval era with the first occupiers during the times of the Duchy of Carinthia while the second established their influence when Škofja Loka become a stronghold of the Ottonian Dynasty. 

 Otto, that most famed figure of such notorious noble House became the Holy Roman Emperor and to keep good relationships with the Papal State donated the Vatican in the 10th century that land which included the current municipality.

Those times correspond to the influence of the Bishop Abraham from Freising a town on the shore of the Isar river north of Munich. It was since then that Škofja Loka started to appear officially on the maps exactly in 973 with the name Bischofslack which translated from German language means meadow of the Bishop and all that is  linked to that charismatic Bavarian Religious figure who played an important historic role giving fame and prestige to that centre.

Under that influential Bishopric the former small village started to have a notable development becoming a very active centre and it was awarded in a very short time with the title of town thank also to the establishment of a very important market place which became an important cross point of trade on the road between Central Europe and the Balkans.

That site was well known in the Austrian areas of Klagenfurt with merchants who crossed the Alps and via Trzic reached that centre often frequented in the meantime by other traders coming from the capital Ljubljana and all those commercial meetings increased the local economy generating a pretty wealthy life.

The former town developed in that period was almost all what you can admire nowadays with its fabulous magnificent image and also for that due to a stunning conservation it is considered as one of best conserved centres in the entire Slovenia, established in the Middle Ages a true shining jewel of Upper Carniola in which the time seems to stand still.

During the 14th century as in other areas of Europe living periods closely related to the establishment of a traditional feudalistic regime with landlords ruling different lands there was as usual an intense rivalry between families of nobles with local powerful Counts and Dukes trying to get under their influences many territories to gain fame increasing the name of their respective aristocratic Houses.

The town since that time had fortified walls erected when the market was established but despite that organised defencive network Škofja Loka was conquered and fired by Jan Vitovec the Count of Celje.

Since then started a tumultuous period characterised by several events related to a politic instability due to several disputes of those Slavic rulers against other nobles contenders as the Bavarians who wanted to retake those lands and the Austrian who were highly interested to expand their domains all around the Carinthia trying to unify a pretty vast territory once united but separated after wars and territorial subdivisions in the course of its history.

That very tense atmosphere generated many episodes including highlighted by riots and rebellions of the locals facing a situation of continuous political changes and clashes. 

In the 16th century a terrible earthquake and the invasion by the Ottoman Empire devastated the town which suffered a sad decline and that famous market place which was the main economical resource and one of the most important in the region fell in decay and replaced in terms of relevance by others which took the local trade monopoly and in that specific geographic point the current town of Kranj became the most influential.

In the following century Škofja Loka also suffered two fires which severely damaged many buildings and due to the consequences of those sad events the defencive walls and gates were demolished in 1789.The end of 18th century after those episodes was a pretty peaceful period with activities mainly concentrated in farmers and small local trades until the incorporation in the the 19th century in the Austrian Duchy of Carniola and automatically in the sphere of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

That historic stage was pretty positive apart a earthquake dated 1895 and that Slovenian site was the first centre of the region to receive electric lights next to an advanced reform of the main activities linked to commerce and productive processes mainly related to agriculture and the establishment of mills developed on the local rivers operations which gave that place a pretty remarkable prosperity.

All the that continued until the end of 1st War when after the fall of the Hapsburg House the town joined the new Kingdom of the Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian replacing the Austrian Empire which ceased to exist. That period corresponds to the change of the name that from Bischofslack was denominated Škofja Loka that for the rulers was more appropriate marking a Slavic identity in that land.

The times related to the 2nd World War were also very tumultuous when that Slovenian centre was occupied by a military Italian division in 1941 and in the hands of the Wermacht German troops just a few days later.

 Closely related to that  Škofja Loka was also notorious because in that period because was established a headquarter in the municipality of the feared Gestapo, the Secret Police of the Nazi Germany and the community lived times of terror with deportations and executions.

Due to that some locals highlighted a strong resistance to face those occupiers and there were local charismatic local figures who started to be pretty hostile towards the new rulers organising guerrilla operations all around the municipal boundaries.

Also the Yugoslav Partizani led by the Marshal Tito fought in that area and the partisans under the leadership of that man who became later the iconic figure of the former state corresponding to the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia released Škofja Loka on 9th May 1945 after long battles house by house.

For a period in the post war the town was well known to be an imprisonment headquarter using the rooms of the iconic castle as jail hosting war prisoners and enemies of the new regime.

It was also the time in which the entire Slovenia joined for many years in a Nation with many different realities as a central government in Belgrade, capital of Serbia which despite did not sign the Pact of Warsaw in 1955 keeping the country in a sort of limb between two European blocks with good relationships with some western countries was for the locals something of forced and for someone including a fictitious creation which could not solve old frictions or delete many disputes among different and varied communities who lived a tumultuous past.

In 1991 that former Yugoslav land with Škofja Loka declared its independence changing its name and becoming Republika Slovenija, the Slovenian Republic entering on 1st May 2004 in the European community.

The historic centre is mainly arranged around Mestni Trg which translated means old square, the core of the former historic medieval environment corresponding to the space occupied in the Middle Ages by the emblematic market. Spodnij Trg is another relevant square located in an the area which in the past was mainly populated by the most humble people and between those two urban sections south of the river Selska Sora is developed the beating heart of Škofja Loka.

Two long streets such as Studenec at east and Grajska Pot at west form a kind of belt around the municipal nucleus while Kapucinski Trg and Kidriceva Cesta are a further square and a main artery north on the other side of the river permitting an easy access to the municipal boundaries from that cardinal point.

Other relevant axes are Fuzinska Ulica situated at south crossing the Poljane Sora river and leading to the local extra radius and  Poljanska Cesta not far from the square Mestni Trg, both are two long avenues practically corresponding to the entrances or exits in the southern side of the municipality.

What is great once you start to visit is that the town immediately shows in all its charm its rich historic patrimony, extremely well conserved and that hidden medieval gem at first sight is more than captivating.Thanks to that magic image discovering its patrimony is a very pleasant incentive for a visitor generating an immediate sensation to know more and more with a continuous and intense enjoyable curiosity to explore every metre of its boundaries.

A great start point is from Mestni Trg, that distinctive square which was the trade hub in the Middle Ages and in which you can see Mestna Hisa, the old former Town Hall, a building erected on an irregular rectangular plan arranged on three stories completed by curved doors and also called by locals Rotovz. After some restorations it has kept some old frescoes painted on its facade and it is one of the constructions which are part of the protected historic heritage of Škofja Loka.

In the square you can also see the Plague Pillar, a column placed in occasion of a sad event the town suffered in the 15th century decimating the population. In that monument the Virgin Mary is placed on a column with Jesus Child and flanked on a pedestal by two statues of Saints.It was erected there as cultural tradition in the Central European countries usually sensitive to place those kinds of memorials and monuments all around their territories to pay homage to the victims.

The current Town Hall is hosted in a charming building erected in 1572 and called Zigonova Hisa. It is an attractive Renaissance building established on a wide rectangular plan and arranged on three floors.The facade is composed by a central architectural protruding element which despite its peculiar presence fits perfectly on both sides and the layout is completed by framed rectangular windows bordered by vertical and horizontal gray bands. 

Very charming is the composition of the front side for the symmetry of all the elements, including the scenic brick sloping roof on which were placed two other windows inserted in blocks beneath a small gable roof, very defined are also the outlines of the structure, one of the constructions most photographed in the historic centre.

The waters of the three rivers flowing in the boundaries of Skofja Loka have always represented a vital resource in the economic local life and along the shores of them where established a series of mills which were for a long time the most relevant productive activities and on those waterways were established a good number of bridges still visible nowadays.

One of the most emblematic is situated on the river Selska Loka and its name is Kapucinski Most, the bridge of the Capuchin friars, a work which was commissioned by the Bishop Leopold to connect the local Capuchin Convent to the town.

There is a story or legend linked to that structure narrating that the Bishop was riding his horse and when he was reaching that Ecclesiastic site he fell and died drowned in the river.

In the late 19th century exactly in 1888 Kapucinski Most was closed for safety reasons and in that place was erected a  statue in honour of  St. Nepomuk, the Patron saint of all the bridges and well known to be also the protector of the floods and drowning.

The religious orders, Bishops, Capuchins and Nuns have always been a very representative and influential presence in Skofja Loka playing an important role and not only under the Religious aspect but also in terms of government as in the case of the Bishops since the origin of the town but also linked to cultural movements.

A friar of the convent named Father Romuald Marusic wrote in 1721 a work which is part of the local history of the town and Slovenia: The Passion of Škofja Loka.That literary masterpiece made history in all the country because it has been subject of several theatre performances and it is considered one of the oldest religious works written in Slovenian language in a period in which in that land the German was the predominant in the most important issues.

Furthermore it was also used for the first time during a procession at Easter time in the town the same year in which was written representing in its kind a secular historic patrimony linked to the most important Religious traditions of the Catholic community.

You can continue the visit admiring   Cerkev Sv. Jakoba, a Church dedicated to St. James erected in the 13th century and it is one of the medieval treasures of the municipality which was largely devastated by the earthquake of the 16th century but restored with excellent results showing today a very well preserved aspect.

Developed on a rectangular base with a gable roof and a high front side, very refined are the outlines and the decorations of the main facade and another attraction is a beautiful portico formed by four stylish columns and beneath it a splendid arched wooden portal surmounted by a pointed arch.

On the left side behind the main body of the construction is situated the high bell tower elevated on a square plan showing scenic slots and a curved window. On its upper section was placed a polygonal small turret with inserted a clock and the roof is covered by an onion dome of vague Byzantine inspiration.

Another Church of particular interest is Cerkev Marijnega, another of the notable sacred buildings established in the Middle Ages and dedicated to the Virgin Mary Immaculate.

That splendid work was ended in the mid 14th century and hosted a former Convent of nuns .It was totally restored in the 17th century transformed in a in Baroque Religious temple, that style since then mutated  its former medieval image due to a predominant artistic movement in Central Europe in that time and it was occupied later in the 18th century by another order of nuns, the Ursuline and for that reason is also known as Nunska Cerkev, the Church of the Nuns.

The high front side is pretty sober but it depicts a well balanced layout without peculiar decorations with an oculus placed on the highest part of the gable facade forming a sort of large vague pediment and characterised by the presence of rectangular windows established on three stories with an ample portal covered by a small canopy.

Homanova Hisa is another relevant historic and architectural highlight consisting in a construction established in 1529. It is a splendid example in which you can admire how it is possible to combine perfectly Gothic and Renaissance decorative elements in a building and for that it is in its kind a true masterpiece.

That house was arranged on three stories with an arched door used as main entrance and on the third floor in the centre of the facade was inserted a balcony. At the base structure you can see a decorative horizontal band continuing along the facade and including ending on one side of the building. On the right side of the construction almost at the corner of the adjacent street you can admire two frescoes placed in rectangular frames and it is considered for that mix of styles and decorations one of the most attractive artistic works of  Škofja Loka.

Another distinctive building boasting a considerable historic relevance is Nunska Kaska an attractive building erected in the 16th century. That construction is considered a symbol of the local rural, cultural history also because it was built in an important period after that terrible earthquake serving the entire community in times in which after that natural disaster the recovery was very slow and laborious with a lack of food and productive activities  pdue to that tragic events were protagonists and that structure represented as a sort of lifeline.

That kind of icon was originally erected as granary of the town, a huge deposit in which grain, maize, cereals and every kind related to agricultural activities and collected products were stored after the harvests.

For many centuries Nunska Kaska has represented more than a vital symbol and it is a notable imposing stoned building developed on an ample rectangular plan with main highlights the symmetry of several small beautiful arched windows placed on the main facade and on the sides covered by a long red sloping roofs.

Loskj Grad is undoubtedly the emblematic and distinctive image and imposing landmark of Škofja Loka. Simply the position of that scenic Renaissance castle overlooking the entire town with its shaped appealing silhouette is immediately evident it represented the symbol of power in that centre.

Erected in the 11th century and largely damaged by the earthquake in 16th century it was almost entirely restored by the Bishop Filip. That manor is an impressive structure consisting in a large construction flanked by polygonal towers each surmounted by small domes dominated by iron pinnacles.

The entire facade had some operations of refurbishment in the following centuries after that natural disaster and also for a period of deterioration, it has series of rectangular windows lines horizontally arranged on various level. That big construction is surrounded by a stoned wall totally surrounded by a rich vegetation adding it a further scenic appeal.

The interior is developed on a large square and it consists in a three story building with six arched doors on the ground floor. The Castle since 1959 hosts a Museum displaying a collection of archaeological artifacts, an exhibition of art and a space devoted to the History of Telecommunication in Slovenia, ideal site to discover and learn more all about the local history and certainly it worth a visit.

Loski Grad also has a Chapel with main highlights three altarpieces developed in Renaissance style moved to the current town from Cerkev Drazgose, a Church situated in Zelezniki, a small town of the region situated approximately 15, 0 kilometres away.

The building in the late 19th century exactly in 1890 was donated to the Order of the Ursuline Nuns who had their previous residence under the hill in Nunski Samostan, the Nuns Convent and also that site had a notable of relevance linked to the Monastic life with a further Ecclesiastic Institution established in the local community.

A curiosity about the town is certainly the Coat of Arms of the municipality depicting the face of a Moor and according to a legend that peculiar representation is linked to the iconic Bishop Abraham.

The story tells that eminent Religious figure one day was walking in the nearest forests and he was attacked by a big bear. His servant, a dark Moorish man saved him from the attack of that animal and it said that his face appearing in the current coat of arms was recorded as a sort of hero who saved the most important and representative character of the town in that time.

Approximately 1, 5 kilometres from the centre, crossing a bridge on the river Sora immediately after Fuzinska Ulica you can reach a small hamlet called Puštal. Once there you can visit a typical Slovenian house called Nace Hisa declared World Heritage Culture Patrimony of Slovenia since 1958.

I suggest you that visit because that building represents a classical and traditional example in all its spirit and essence a typical rural Slovenian house with spaces devoted to the preparation of foods such as hams and sausages and other homemade recipes.

Other rooms are mainly devoted to introduce to the domestic daily life, you will see a stove made by ceramic material very resistant to high temperatures which was used for various activities and that visit is really very interesting to discover how of the local population lived since the 18th century until today.

From Škofja Loka you can organise during your stay a multitude of great excursions to magnificent places such as Bled, Jesenice ,including the capital of the country Ljubljana is pretty close and I suggest you a place very charming called Preddvor. (In the case you are interested I wrote a post about that place)

In the case you love cycling and you are a mountain biker enjoying a magnificent verdant hilly countryside I recommend you the area around Gorenja Vas-Poljane, very appropriate also for cycle tourism cycling along roads flanking huge green meadows in a very relaxing atmosphere highlighted by a picturesque green environment at the foot of the Julian Alps.

 In that small centre you can see beautiful Baroque Church called Cerkev Sveti Jovan dedicated to St. John Baptist. In its interior some of them main highlights are a splendid nave and chapels, a beautiful Baroque altar richly decorated and paintings by Janez Wolf, one of the most talented painters of the 19th century in Slovenia.  

After that visit in that area you can continue to admire the course of one of the three rivers flowing in Škofja Loka the Poljane Sora which has some very pleasant corners with scenic bends and lining intact forests.
 
All the immediate surroundings are beautiful and attractive, offering several opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, such as hiking, trekking rowing and kayak and the proximity of an iconic resort as Kranjska Gora with all its neighbourhoods and the Oriental Alps are another incentive if you love skiing and enjoying winter sports with hundreds of kilometres of spectacular ski slopes.

Another aspect to take in high consideration is the local gastronomy offering a delicious homemade cuisine in a region in which to eat well is part of a sort of sacred code.

You can taste in that land excellent local products of superb quality as the typical sausage Kranjska Klobasa and the delicious Kraski Prsut a local ham simply great as appetiser or starter or in a simple snack witha toasted slice of bread with olive oil and salt. Perfect  accompanied by a glass of selected fine wine and another product very popular and appreciated is the Krvavice, a notorious Black pudding. 

Regarding those delights there are Educational itineraries across a large part of the Upper Carniola ideal to know and learn more about them including tasting visiting producers, farms and it is highly interesting because you can discover different kinds of quality of that delectable ham which also has a sort of classification and ranking, the methods and processes of production and having a chat with very expert people.

You can try another speciality very famed called Zganci similar to a kind of Italian Polenta,  it generally accompanies many kinds of soups, casseroles and also served with sauerkraut and do not miss the Ajdovi Krapi another delight consisting in local delicious ravioli. 

The Obara is a delicious meat stew, a plate with a long tradition containing potatoes, tomatoes, beans, garlic, carrots, parsley using as main ingredient cured pork meat. if you love lamb you have to taste the Brzola, a delectable casserole prepared with that kind of meat and vegetables and a further one is the renowned Mazeljne, baked pig meatballs.

Relevant is also the production of a big variety of cakes and pastry and bakery products such as the famed Potica, a nut roll made with nuts, honey,  the iconic Struklji, a kind of dough which can be filled with cottage cheese, apple, walnut and poppy seed. A further one is the famous Gibanica a pastry speciality made with cheese and eggs pretty popular in other Slavic countries as Serbia and Croatia.The Upper Carniola is a great producer of honey used in many bakery products.

The fine wines you can find in that corner of Slovenia are really excellent such as local Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot, Sauvignon, all them boasting a magnificent pure colour, they are highlighted by a great texture and body, a superb taste they are very palatable at the first sip and another great feature is certainly their versatility, they can accompany different kinds of meals, others very recommended are the supreme Rebula and Refosk and Sifon.

The result of those divine wines is due to a mild and ideal climate with an attentive cultivation of vineyards at an ideal altitude, the breezes of the Adriatic sea are also another advantage combined with the winds of the Alps mitigated by the local mountains working as natural barriers all excellent climatic features which next to a subsoil having the right properties create grapes of high quality producing those very appreciated wines. (If you want to know more I wrote a post regarding a special place called Branik in the case you are interested)

Ljubljana Joze Pucnik International Airport is situated at just 18, 0 kilometres from Škofja Loka and in less than 30 minutes driving via Kranj you can reach that town, a great option to have a comfortable journey with a Fly & Drive also in the case of a late arrival.

A second option could be landing to the Internationaler Alpe Adria Klagenfurt Flughafen situated at approximately 76, 0 kilometres of distance and in approximately one hour and twenty minutes driving by E652 and crossing the Austrian-Slovenian border you will be at destination.

Škofja Loka is a more than interesting destination in Slovenia, an outstanding hidden medieval gem of Upper Carniola and if you are planning to visit that country, that town is something will delight you, in its kind a must and highly suggested to spend a stay in a place extremely charming surrounded by many other attractions and certainly you will remember that site for long time with immense pleasure. 

Francesco Mari

Recommended Accommodations in Škofja Loka

Hotel Garni Paleta
Hotel Pri Lenart
Hotel Turizem Loka

Recommended Restaurants in Škofja Loka

Restaurant Gostisce Premetovc
Restaurant Gostilina Pri Danilu
Restaurant Gostilina Pri Gostjanu 

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