sunset at Celje castle + the old town
It would be a reasonable bet when visiting a new country to check out a map and travel around via the largest dots, but this is absolutely the LAST thing you should do in Green Slovenia as you will totally miss all the amazing waterfalls, caves, vineyards and mountains! However one of those Slovenian dots you might want to think about, particularly for a bit of culture and a great castle sunset would be Celje.
We would tip arriving in Celje old town for an early afternoon, it is quite a small area with wide walkways and is very pleasant for a wander around. Then maybe visit a couple of the museums here and zoom up later to visit the castle and make sure you see the sunset.. so your exact schedule depends on the time of year.
You can easily pick out Celje's dot on a map, it is to the east of Ljubljana and is at the centre of Slovenia's beer making region with fields and fields full of hops to admire.
On this particular daytrip adventure, our morning was spent in Horseville, (Slovenska Konice) to see the uberamazing Zice monastery and we followed that medieval masterpiece with the short hop (hope you like the pun) back to Celje and a stroll with a spot of lunch in the old town.. then we hit two of the museums. After the castle you have a straight motorway drive 90 mins back to the Lodge. Simples, what a day!
The Museum of "Recent History" is in the old town with juke boxes and pop music history downstairs. But we particularly loved the exhibits upstairs with a replicant oldly worldy Celje shopping street containing all the historic trades and fashions. There is also a groovy display up here featuring several diary entries from different years by a young local boy growing up in old Yugoslavia and his views on the eventual transition to the Republic of Slovenia. Next to each diary entry you can see retro Yugo stuff from each era.
But it was the much larger "Regional Museum" around the corner that really took our fancy. It is built on top of a huge Roman dig site with lots of archeaological features left by the previous residents. The sunken Roman main road was our favourite and just to think that soldiers and carts were using this road a few thousands years ago and now to see how much lower it is compared to the newer river settlements of central Celje.
One thing we already knew about Celje is that the last "kings and Queens" of Slovenia were the counts of Celje putting together a massive medieval monopoly board full of 125 castles and 40 toll gates! They ran out of heirs back in the 1400's and so this central Slovenian powerhouse was gobbled up by the Hapsburgs, but it is kinda intriguing with all the change that has happened to little old Slovenia over time to learn about a chunk of it with a semi royal family.
The story of the counts of Celje can be found on the upper floor of this Regional museum if you want to wise up on them before you go to the castle.
After the culture of the museums you need to jump into your electric car and drive as if you are going out of the town to cross the river and then go up the curvy hill to the castle car park. If you remember that the word for castle is "Grad" on the signs and that is it on the other side of the river, then you can't go wrong.
And a little word about this impressive river.. the Savinja.. if you have been or will be lucky enough to visit one of Slovenia's most hidden and beautiful places.. the Logar Valley, (Logarska Dolina), then that fab waterfall, the Rinka, which is the centrepiece of any hike there.. is where this Savinja river starts it's journey!! Wowsers!
The castle will literally be the highlight of your day.. it's a big one, so give yourself time to explore! As we now know, it was home to the counts of Celje and has recently been restored, including a fantastic cafe that merges modern thick glass with the old castle walls and a view out to the hills at the back of the castle.. very good!
Possibly due to the grandeur, size and significance of this place it has a different functional feel to other more defensive castles in Slovenia.. there are wide open spaces and you can imagine lots of people living here inside the thick walls which loom imperiously above the town & river far below.
This castle has a strong connection with the local community and you can see these inside areas are used for shows, kids summer activities and other outdoor stuff. Indeed, if you are here when there is some kinda local show, sometimes even a knights festival.. then lucky you, throw your other plans out of the nearest arrow slit, stay and enjoy!
So this castle is great to walk or run around and explore.. the exhibits are a little sparse, a few suits of armour here and there, but it is all about the castle framework, the various towers, gangways, turrets and secluded garden spaces to wander around, climb on and explore, but it is the huge main tower that is most impressive.
The best castle exhibit on show here is a gruesome torture section in the basement of the main tower. Lit in red light, with various terrifying medieval modes of extracting information and potentially other quite painful things from prisoners and this will delight and scare the little ones.
Go up the endless steps to the top of this tower and pop out onto the large battlements for 360 degrees of the best views in town and of the town! You can see for miles and km. You can see the red roofs of the old town nestled next to the river and the sprawl of the more modern and less beautiful town around this.
So please be up here for when the sun pops down behind the higgledy piggledy hills in the distance and is silhouetted against the thick castle parapets. On a sunny day it will give you a sunset to remember.
And that cafe.. we love it, with the huge glass window to gaze out of while you are sipping a cappucino or maybe trying a beer made with Celje hops.. enjoy your day out in Celje!