It is so easy when visiting a new country to plan your exploring by looking at the map and sticking to the bigger cities, but of course in Green Slovenia that is absolutely the last thing you should do, cos you would miss all the best bits here which are NOT in the towns!
A lot of these "best bits" are in the West and South West of this little country, close to Lipizzaner Lodge, but we sometimes get asked the question "is there anything in the East of Slovenia to see?.. our answer is Yesadoodledo! Velenje is one of those dots on the map to go visit!
And this is the thing.. cos Green Slovenia is so diddly tiddly small, even the East of the country is perfectly accessible for a daytrip from the Lodge.. the trickiest thing for visitors to Slovenia is to know where to go and what to do!
Velenje is not just one of the few Slovenians towns you can actually say properly AND see on a map.. it also has more things to do here that you might not have thought about doing, so you may face some tough time choices..
So What is there to do in Velenje and Why didn't I know about it?
We already cover the fantastic Velenje Castle perched on top of a hill overlooking the new town of Velenje in another Secret Place article and we totally recommend you visit the castle as part of your day.
So here below, we will tell you all about the other things you could do in Velenje.. our fantastic trip to the Velenje coal pit museum, the watersports lake, the town centre, the Leather museum in neighbouring Sostanj and last, but not least the CHOCOLATE factory Cafe!!
Velenje Town Centre
It is important to know a little background to understand why and what may be of interest to you here in Velenje. After WW2 the Kingdom of Yugoslavia became a socialist republic and Slovenia was an important industrial cog amongst the member states.
Velenje had loads of coal under the ground and this was so important to power the socialist machine that a new town sprung up in Velenje underneath the castle and next to the massive mine.
So this new town was built by the workers and those of us who did not grow up in a socialist republic, may very much enjoy strolling around the centre here to admire the grand concrete blocks and structures and maybe take a few foot steps into the past. You get little snippets of this with the grey apartment blocks on the edge of Ljubljana, but here in Velenje the whole centre has this socialist character and feeling about it that might be fun to see.
Lucifer Chocolate Factory
And there is another very good reason to hit the centre de la ville.. chocolate hunting! Oh yes, this can be a major motivation to explore.. After a bit of research we learned that the famous Lucifer choccy that you can buy all around Slovenia is made here in Velenje and there is a central Lucifer cafe HQ! (Do not look for a factory building like we did in vain as there isn't one, factory is more a turn of phrase).
We got lost in the grid like concrete boulevards and had to ask a few lovely local people, but finally found the cafe in the middle of a shopping centre. We already knew how good the Lucifer chocolate honey balls were, but here you can buy the whole range.. So we did! All the lines are on sale in the little shop inside the cafe and a massive bonus for us was to sit down and have an amazing cake at the cafe before our main event of the day, coming up next..
Velenje national Coal Mine Museum
It is best to give the lovely staff here a ring before to book your tour (00386 317 524 18). Also maybe give yourself a little extra time to find the museum. Foolishly, we thought we could find it just following the road signs and of course got horribly lost.. unfortunately the sign in Slovenian for "Velenje Coal Museum" has almost as many letters as the entire alphabet, but is not in English, so please check the museum address and use navigation!
The mine is actually very close to the town centre and next to the big lake for a simple reason that we will tell you about soon..
Now Slovenia has three really fab interactive mine museums to visit and they are all completely different and amazing experiences.. Mercury in Idrija and Lead & Zinc in Mexico (Mezica) and coal here in Velenje! We had seen the first two working mining museums and were very excited to complete the trio!
You are probabubbly thinking, "Why on earth would I visit a mine in Slovenia on holiday"? and this is a great question! Of course, if you have only given yourself 2 days to "do" Slovenia you will have no chance to see any of the really secret places, including this one!
But maybe you have mining in your family blood like this Welsh man, maybe you don't have mines in your home country and want to see what one is like, maybe rain is forecast tomorrow and you want to have a dry activity, or maybe you will read this whole article and be convinced how absolutely fantastic the Velenje Mine tour is and incorporate it into your day's adventure in this mini region.. We do hope so!
There are lots and lots of fantastic micro museums all over Slovenia.. They are almost always a little different to what you might have expected, are fun, don't take ages to explore and you will almost certainly leave with happy memories and a little bit more inside your brain than before you came! There is usually some kind of fun interaction, often with nature and you also will get to meet a local person, which is always a good thing here.. Velenje ticks all of these boxes.
And when you visit a mine in Slovenia you are not just visiting a HOLE in the ground, you are dropping in on the WHOLE community and understanding the raison d'etre for the folk to live and work here.. their humour, their passion and above all, their hard work and sacrifice.
The Velenje mine still operates and is one of the most modern and safest coal mines in the world, producing 4 million tonnes of coal a year for the massive Velenje thermal power plant that in turn provides ONE THIRD of Slovenia's electricity! Cowabunga!
The mine has over 50km of tunnels and the tour takes place in the older, closed bit, with plenty of shafts stuffed with mining exhibits to explore.. You get to choose your miner's helmet & jacket and rather excellently go down the same clunky metallic lift the miner's used.. to drop 160 metres below ground!
Our local guide explained all about the history of the mine and we stopped off at each model exhibit to hear recordings all about the people, machinery and development of the mine. It was fascinating to realise that the mine was so vast that it had created the 3 huge lakes on the edge of Velenje when the huge network of shafts collapsed and filled with water!
This had been managed safely, of course, but in one, an entire village had been sacrificed to the lake and lay hidden under the water.
We learned how children also worked in the mine and how the poor pit ponies only ever saw the underground, but there were also light hearted stories to be told and you get a great overall picture of the mine's story.
We absolutely loved having a ride in the miners train, it was rough and bumpy and better than any rollercoaster, cos this was a real train ride.. and guess what, the same miner who gets to work the massive lift and ring the bells ALSO gets to drive this train.. how cool is that!
Our favourite bit of the tour was such a natural touch.. after we had arrived back on terra firma, left the lift and were looking through the souvenirs we were given a "miner's packed lunch", which was a sausage in the sandwich and a drink, to replicate what the miners took with them down the mine.
Normally you would be given this lunch when the tour arrives at the canteen shaft in the mine, 160 metres underground and Slovenia's lowest restaurant, by the way! And you would get to eat your snack down there like a real miner.
We visited during the pandemic, so this is why they gave us our snack after the tour, but it was such a nice surprise to get our Velenje miners hotdog in the paper lunch bag.. the whole 90 minute adventure made us feel a little bit like miners for the day!
So we needed somewhere to eat our lunch and we headed less than a km down the road to the largest recreational lake (created by the mine) and sat down to admire the view.
The locals here are very lucky to have this lake facility and you too could enjoy the swimming, watersports, bars and restaurants here in relative peace and quiet. Velenje lake will certainly be one you have not heard about, but if you are checking out the castle or the mine or buying Lucifer chocolate, then this lakeside could be a nice extra option for a few hours in the sun and a splash in the water!
The main lake has polar views each side with stunning green mountains in the background and then the huge thermal power plant on the other side of the lake! This is Velenje typified.. a town of two sides, industry and green Slovenia.. Coal mine and lake.. Castle and mountains.
We just had time to pop to the end of the third lake to the neighbouring borough of Sostanj where there is a Leather museum. A restored warehouse telling the story of the really huge leather factory that used to be on this site. These more local museums are always worth a visit as they often tell the stroy of the town and locality and this museum also does that.
There is a mock up of the old town high street upstairs with the ye olde shoppes and you can get to know the entire history of the leather industry from start to finish.. it is actually a little sad to know this and see evidence of what was once here.
You can zip from the Lodge to Velenje in just 90 minutes and it is very handily placed just off the motorway to the East of Ljubljana on the way to one of Slovenia's most beautiful secret valleys, the Logar Valley, if you head up past those green mountains. Or you could easily pop to see the Pekel Hell Cave or the beer fountain on the way to Velenje (maybe better for the way home for the beer fountain)! and Celje is not so far..
There really are no end of options you could mix into a trip to Velenje depending on what you wanted to do and see.. on our day's adventure to the Velenje coal mine, we had a few hours on the way home to drive the 20 mins down the road to visit a fantastic secret park constructed on an island in the river with a multitude of different gardens to stroll around and a lovely restaurant.. the park is quite scarily named, Mozirski Gaj Gardens. What a day!