Castle museum with African Pigmy masks!
Unless you are a Pippi Longstocking fan then you will probably never have heard of Velenje, the site each year of the largest Pippi festival outside Sweden!
But there are more reasons to know and go to Velenje. For Lodge guests its on the way to the East of Slovenia, say as a stop off to Jerusalem, Ptuj or maybe if you are going to hike on Velika Planina, (Big Mountain Meadow), venture further into the stunning Logar valley or perhaps go kayaking or biking in the massive Mexico (Mezica) mine.
But unless you read the title of this article you would never guess what else you can find here, would you believe it, the beautiful Velenje castle is home to a huge collection of African pygmy masks!!
You trundle around this most interesting castle with a fab preserved shop and pub from pre socialist times, arty stuff, a lovely courtyard, an historic mapping of how all the castles in this region fitted together and a fine exhibition showing how the new socialist town was built pretty much from scratch with all the black & white photos & city plans.. but you get absolutely no clue as to what is in the basement!
Go down some dungeon like stairs where the wonky stone has worn away over the ages and you will enter an African world with quaint painted mask after mask! The poor chap who donated this huge collection was an avid explorer of Africa, but wanted to settle in Slovenia and was given a flat by the town authorities. Sadly only a short time later he met his end in a traffic accident, but his collection remains to surprise you!
Velenje castle is a super example of the numerous little fairytale castles that are just waiting for you to find, explore and entertain you for an hour or two in Green Slovenia. The only downside here is that not enough has been translated into English yet, so either you leave a lot to the imagination or you arrange for the museum guide to come around with you. (This will necessitate a phone in advance call for sure).
The castle vista is stunning from on top of a hill, sadly mainly overlooking the new Velenje, which is a shame as it ain't that pretty, but with the help of the displays in the castle it is easy to imagine how beautiful things were here around, until the coalmine needed lots of people to live in high rise apartments to extract the black gold.
But if you didn't grow up in a socialist state, then a stop off to Velenje, a tour of the castle's "city planning" exhibition and then the view from the battlements can give you an excellent glimpse of what it was like in them days.
We absolutely love Velenje castle and recommend you don't miss it as a short stopover if you are passing through or past. There is also a small exhibiton about mastadons found in the area, which pre date mammoths, but our favourite bit is the very cool front gate..
As you feel ever so slightly out of breath walking up to the castle gate, imagine you were trying to attack it and had made it this far to the thick metal door, (above left).. Well just imagine if you and your buddies made it through this door into the castle, then the last thing you would see would be the large "stabbing holes" on either side of the door inside (above right), which were the very last line of defence! You don't get these special details made out of plastic in Disney, this is real history and if you look in Slovenia you will find it everywhere!
But there is more to Velenje than immediately catches the eye.. still on our list to visit is the amazing coal mine, which we have received great reports about. There is also a huge lake here which is man made and kinda happened by accident when they were digging for the mine and the water flooded out an entire village! Anyway, the lake is a water sports centre now, so also something to consider for a paddle or dip, compared to the busier places you already know about.
And finally, the rolling hills around Velenje are unspoilt and conceal pretty churches, towers and castles. Velenje castle is the centrepiece of this mini region and you will not be disappointed if you pop in for a visit.