A Truly Religious Experience
A day cycling or driving from Šmarje pri Jelšah to Podčetrtek, through the proliferation of churches, vineyards and gentle rolling slopes will not only leave you breathless, but wanting more.
In Eastern Slovenia, just a little bit east of the town of Celje, is the small town and municipality of Šmarje pri Jelšah. From here there is a very interesting cycling route or driving route to Podčetrtek.
The best place to start is to the south of town in Predenca. Perched high up on a hill is the magnificent church of St. Rok. The pilgrimage path zigzagging down into the valley below takes you through the even more stunning, Way of the Cross. You could be forgiven for driving through Šmarje pri Jelšah and not noticing it. But once you do, your mouth will fall open in speechless awe.
Fourteen baroque chapels line the hill starting from the large chapel at the bottom and ending at the church. The pilgrim is led between each chapel in such a way that only the next destination is visible. By the time you’ve puffed your way to the top, you will be truly enlightened, if not very out of breath.
Emperor Franz Jozef was travelling around his kingdom and stopped here on this hill, proclaiming it a heavenly beauty and boasting that no other place under his rule was quite like it. As you walk downwards along the path, gazing into the lush, green valley dotted with the spires of many other churches, you can’t help but wonder if he was right.
The Illyrians were the first to settle here, closely followed by the Romans and the Celts. The town’s first recorded name was Sancta Maria, but later a mansion was built and named after the petrified alder trees that grow here. And the name was changed to Šmarje pri Jelšah.
Onwards towards Podčetrtek
The villages here are so small that most of them are not signed, so you might have to guess as to which one you are passing through. At Brezje pri Lekmarju the route joins the wine road.
A fabulous twin church
You’ll have to be careful from here not to miss the signpost for Orehovec. From here the road is narrow and twists through an undulating landscape of rolling green hills are far as the eye can see. In the far distance your eyes will be drawn to the commanding sight of twin churches perched high upon Tinska Gora.
The mountain’s surrounding hillsides contain some of the region’s best land for wine production, as is illustrated by the abundance of vineyards that are fighting among each other for space. The only problem will be choosing which one to visit.
The more dominant of the two church spires is actually the one that was built last. According to legend, there was once only the Church of St. Anne here. But during the days when the Counts of Celje ruled the land, one of their fair maidens went missing. The counts made a vow to build a church wherever she was found, and thus she was found here next to the church of St. Anne. The Church of the Mother of God was built and its gothic spire rose high above the other.
Located near to the two churches is Peterlin’s Beech Tree, a natural monument believed to be 400 years old. Local legend says that the tree emits a powerful positive energy, and that travellers over the centuries have often stopped and held the tree to absorb some of its positive vibes. You might want to stop here along the way and partake in this ritual, as you will still have a very long way to go before reaching Podčetrtek, and may well be in need of some positivity.
If you would like to hike or cycle this region and many more great locations across Slovenia, then check out Helia Tourist Agency, who offer a great range of guided and self guided hiking and cycling tours. More info here: