Janče, The Garden of East Ljubljana
Janče is known locally as the Triglav of the Ljubljana area. Although it may pale in comparison to the mighty mountain, at 792 metres high this small hilltop village is the highest point in the Zasavsko Hribovje mountain range that dominates the eastern horizon of Ljubljana, and offers unrivalled panoramic views into the Besnica valley and across the capital, as well as being the hub for two of the area’s great walking trails.
The wonderfully fresh air breathes life back into your tired lungs. The only sound to be heard is that of the wind gently rustling the leaves on the trees. A farmer loads his trailer full of fruit as his faithful dog sits panting under the shade of an apple tree. The noon bells toll in the nearby church of Saint Nicholas. And the view across the valley is one of rich colours interspersed with small villages where church spires stand proud above the farmhouses. And to think it’s just 25kms from the city centre.
The Blueberry Trail
The quickest way is out through the suburbs of Polje and Zalog, then on to Podgrad. The village of Podgrad is the starting point for one of the region’s three popular tourist trails: the Blueberry Trail (Borovniceva Pohodna Pot). Podgrad means “under the castle” and this relates to the two medieval castles that once sat on the hills above the town. Small remains of the Stari Grad (old castle), on the Kašelj hill, are all that are left. These trails were designed by the Besnica-Jance tourist organisation, whose aim is to preserve the fragile farming community in the area. With the increasing difficulties faced by everyone these days, landowners are looking for other ways to maintain their farms and livelihoods. Like many people in remote areas, they are turning to tourism in order to do this, and with great success. The many farms dotted along the trails offer traditional Slovenian produce such as strawberries, cherries, peaches, plums, apples, potatoes and sweet chestnuts, and homemade pastries, schnapps, fruit juices, salami and sausages.
The Blueberry trail is primarily a hiking track that winds through the beautiful Besnica Valley. The start of the trail is just a few kilometres from the city centre, and makes an ideal afternoon or full day out not only for small groups or individuals, but for the entire family. The hike is not very demanding, so will make an easy day out for the children who can get to experience the wonders of nature while embarking on an adventure through the fairy tale beauty of these forests.
The trail is well maintained and also signposted. To hike the entire length on foot will take around 4 hours one way. You will either have to walk back, or arrange transport from Janče.
As you leave Podgrad the sign directs you up into the hills past one of the many tourist farms in the area. The trail runs along a forest track that leads into the hills past the village of Tomaž and on to Vnajnarje, where it branches off left and partly follows the country road to Janče.
As the name suggests, in season you can pick the blueberry fruit along the way. You can also visit the many tourist farms and purchase homemade food, drink and condiments. For something different, stop in Gabrje where there is a herbalist farm specialising in herbal remedies.
Strawberries and a fat dragon
If you are hiking with children, make it more exciting by taking them on the local dragon hunt. The area around Janče was once known as the land of the strawberries. Local legend tells of a man who brought back seeds from his travels around the world and left them to his daughter when he died (I could think of better inheritances).
The seeds were planted and for a time the region enjoyed the fruits of this inheritance. That is until one day a local farmer became consumed with jealousy and put a spell on an egg, which ultimately hatched into a dragon that proceeded to roam the land eating all the strawberries. When he ate the last strawberry he was so heavy that he sank into the ground near a waterfall, never to be seen again.
The children’s playground outside the tourist farm in Janče has been designed to resemble a dragon to commemorate this story and is where your child will find its dragon.
As the highest point, Janče offers outstanding views across the Besnica Valley. Sit for a while and enjoy the tranquillity of this peaceful village, visit the lovely baroque church or enjoy traditional homemade dished in the Alpine Hut.
The Fruit Road
Autumn is a great time to visit, and the countryside is resplendent with autumn colours splattered across the landscape like an artist’s pallet. Many of the trees bear the ripened fruits that you can purchase from the nearby tourist farms. Try the delicious homemade apple cider.
The area between Janče and Javor is known as the Fruit Road (Sadna Cesta). The best way is to cycle or drive. Head through Janče and follow the road towards Volavje. The view from the village is dominated by the Church of Marjeta (Sv. Marjeta), which sits on the hilltop of Prežganje.
This beautiful church is partially obscured by a huge horse chestnut tree, one of many mighty old trees in the Besnica Valley. On a clear day you can get a perfect view of both the Julian Alps and Kamnik Alps in the north of Slovenia from this church Back down on the road a signed trail leads down to the Pecovje Tufa waterfall, which is where the dragon now lies underground.
The Chestnut Trail
The small village of Sadinja Vas is the starting point for the Chestnut Trail (Kostanjeva Pohodna Pot). Walking the trail will take four hours and cycling 1½. A good level of fitness is needed for both. From here the trail heads up into the hills towards Cešnjica and Zagradišce, up over Babna Gora and on to Javor by country road framed on either side by trees. Join the locals as they collect the fallen chestnuts that dot the roadside.
From St. Anna’s Church in Javor you can marvel at the gorgeous views of Ljubljana before continuing on along a ridge to the small hilltop village of Mali Vrh. Here you will join the Forest Nature Science Path (Gozdna Naravoslovna Ucna Pot), where regular signs represent pages of a book that is designed to teach you all about nature and the forest, of which over two thirds cover these hills.
A great time to visit Janče is during the annual Strawberry Sunday and Chestnut Sunday. They take place around June and October. For exact dates check with the tourist office in Ljubljana. Or visit the Fruit Trail website for dates, unfortunately only in Slovene: http://sadnacesta.si/
Events page here: http://sadnacesta.si/category/sadna-cesta/tradicionalne-prireditve/