Bishops Meadow.. Skofja Loka
Skofja Loka means "Bishop's meadow" and this gives a bit of a clue to what you might see here in this lovely old town surrounded by Green with a delightful old high street full of quaint little shops, two beautiful bridges over the river and a huge castle overlooking it all..
There is a relaxed, unique ambience about this little town, easily found on a map to the left of Ljubljana. It is Slovenia's second oldest town, but there are some even more impressive features that you might like to know a little bit more about..
So why should I visit Skofja Loka?
A very pretty Altstadt with fab little independant shops..
If you need to get your Auntie Molly a pressie to bring back from Slovenia, then Skoja Loka high street is one of the few regional towns in Slovenia where you have a really good chance to find little nik naks or high quality local souvenirs!
The antique high street is wide, cobbled, spacious and relatively pedestrianised. It is lined with big old trees and grand, medieval wonky old buildings. It is a great place just to have a stroll and look around, probably stop for a coffee. But there is an extra treat in store for you here with some really nice local independant shops selling chic clothes, locally made stuff and great gift options!
So just wander around, go through archways, explore around crooked corners and find the nooks and crannies in this place! There is a kind of relaxed churchy feeling about Skofja Loka, which befits the name of "Bishop's meadow".. we don't think there is a Uni here.. the town is too small, but it also has that feeling of a university town.
There are 2 nifty restaurants at either end of the high street too.. at the river end there is a restaurant in the basement of a tower like building with massive thick rock walls, which we know to recommend, but our fave is at the castle end and has a street kitchen trendy feel about it.. Pr' Pepet.. (we call it "purr Poppet" after one of our very cute siamese cats and if you know Poppet, you also know that she purrs a lot)!
Anyways, Purr Poppet has a little wooden terrace looking out and up to the castle and a big wooden serving hatch, behind which all the cooking goes on.. we love it and the dishes are always for the day and local. If you are lucky they will be doing their special choccy marshmallow desserts!
A really great Castle..
This big castle doesn't look like any other Slovenian fortress, more like the grand residence fit for the Bishop who started restoring it in the 1500's.. it sits proudly above the town with ill fitting towers, but it all kinda goes together to look rather splendid in the end!
And if you have the huff and the puff to walk up here, then you will be rewarded with a really great all round castle show and some answers to a couple of Skofja Loka legends!
There is a path that goes alongside the castle walls up from the centre of the high street under an archway.. otherwise just wait till you get to the end of the high street (other end of street from river) and walk up the other hill path to the castle entrance and big courtyard.
Like many of Slovenia's fantastic castles it houses a regional museum with lots and lots of local historic exhibits on the 3 unusually long floors. The chapel is beautifully decorated with angels on the ceiling, contempary art pieces lining a long corridor and other rooms full of local farming equipment, porcelain fireplaces and tributes to Slovenian sporting stars, (so lots of skis hanging up)...it's interesting.
The gardens at the back of the castle are also pretty big and if you have enough puff left, then go for a walk around here also, with great little garden structures and of course.. the best view in town of the town and Green hills.
But there are TWO standout reasons to come to this particular castle that you ain't gonna find in any other Slovenian castle..
The Mysterious "Black Prince"..
Legend or truth.. many years ago it is said that a brave servant saved the life of his master while in the forests around here by killing a bear and making the master eternally grateful.. (the bear probably wasn't too happy about it though and we should stress that bear watching is another amazing activity available to you in Green Slovenia and a great way to preserve and care for bears).
This servant happened to be black and the lord wanted future generations to always remember his bravery and so he was included on the town's coat of arms and has been there ever since! And you can find several references to him here at the castle with his image on some lovely art pieces and stonework, so we are thinking this is a true story..what do you think?
We really wish there was more evidence here to explore.. maybe there is.. We call this character from history the "Black Prince", cos he is wearing a crown.. now why would a slave wear a crown? So there is more mystery here and we would love to know more about his life..
Our feeling is he was maybe a visiting prince touring with the lord.. and this lord was typical of many Slovenian land owning bigwigs, having more houses and castles than you could get on a medieval monopoly board.. so maybe there is some more info about the Black Prince in Bavaria or Austria or somewhere like that?? Aren't mysteries great!!
Coming from a little island floating off the edge of Europe where we have a lot of coats of arms with lions, unicorns and shields and stuff like that on them that don't necessarily mean much.. you should know that every mini region in Slovenia has it's own coat of arms or badge and quite frankly these Slovenian ones are much more fascinating and have a lot more meaning to them..
Often, like the Black Prince of Skofja Loka, there is an historical legend or local story to learn about.. and there are so many mini regions in Slovenia that during your adventures driving around, you are sure to see lots of these on town signs or flags.. so why not ask a local person here why a big Fish, a guy who looks a bit like Robin Hood, an Eagle or a Black Prince are on the local flag?..
The Uberamazing Passion Play..
Now this is impressively old! Check this out.. every 6 years the ENTIRE TOWN work together to prepare and perform the 20 different scenes of one of the oldest running plays in Europe ON THE STREETS OF SKOFJA LOKA! The Passion Play was written by a monk in Slovenian at the start of the 1700's and is another source of pride for a small nation with a very tricky language!
So let's get this crystal clear.. Skofja Loka. aka. Bishop's Meadow.. the whole town.. becomes the backdrop of a massive play performed by all the townspeople!! This is a medieval melting pot the Simpsons could only dream about!
Over 1,000 actors and helpers are involved and it is just as colourful and significant to the world as Rio carnival! The Passion play is based upon the Bible, especially Easter and each stage or act is performed at different locations around the old town.. and get this.. the specific knowledge and secrets of the play are passed down the generations and even taught at school here.
This passion play is so special it is even Unesco listed. And you can also find all about it in the large castle basement where bits of the ancient foundations are protected under glass. There are also videos and photos of past plays. If you really want to get to know the town, then you can take a map or Ap from the castle and go find all these locations and see for yourself what is performed and where!
Just think.. you might buy a ticket or a coffee or a souvenir from someone who performs in the play.. and the next play is scheduled for Easter 2021.
Parking in Bishop's Meadow..
It is a lovely one hour country drive from the Lodge to Skofja Loka.. You can't park in the high street, which is a good thing, so we recommend you drive into the town on the main road and when you see the bus station turn right into a big sprawling car park.. it is a bit confusing as the parking spaces go on and on, but you only need one, so once parked up just cross the road, go over the stunning bridge with the Bishop (we presume) statue on and then you are in the old town!
There is another street on the other side of main street with parking all the way up.. but of course the locals know this trick, so it is often full, but you could give it a go, especially if you are gonna eat at Pr' Pepet as the restaurant is at the top of the road.. so just google the restaurant to find this street!
Tavcar Manor house & Cafe..
We love stopping off here on the way home from Skofja Loka at the old manor house owned by yet another Slovenian writer.. (all these writers and poets and only 2 million people have any idea what they were writing about)!!
The road out of Skofja Loka follows the river and after just 10 mins at Na Logu be ready to turn sharp left over a bridge and be transported into real rolling Slovenian meadow land. There is a stone track past a big wooden stucture called a Toplar, that was used to dry hay and keep crops dry and then you get to the grand old house and a chunky stone statue of the great man Ivan Tavcar.
The cafe is wonderful, you can get home made cakes and lemonade and maybe go and have a look inside the house.. less so to see the exhibits as they are just in Slovene, but the decor and woodwork inside is really worth seeing.
There are walks and tracks everywhere around here on this side of the river if you have time to go explore and we got excited to be told there was a grass tennis court a little up the path.. only to find a perfectly mown grass rectangle with no net or lines.. but you could see it was a tennis court, so it counts and it also gives an impression as to how posh the Manor occupant's family were to have one.
the nearby Poljane Valley..
On the opposite side of the river here, the hills rise steeply into the mountains of Poljanska Dolina, or the Poljane valley as we will call it. A lot of the amazing green views you can see from Skofja Loka are the stunning hills of the Poljane valley.. There is at least a half day or full day adventure to be had up in those mountains, particularly E biking up mt Blegos (1,562m) and if you like you can read more about it in another Secret Places article called "See all 4 Alps from Mt Blegos".
It would certainly be possible to mix a day out up the Poljane valley with the delights of Skofja Loka and we know this cos we have done it and our guests have done it and loved it, so we certainly hope that after reading this article, you do too! What a day!