The best way to navigate your way around Green Slovenia is by church! Every village has at least one and considering the religion here is pretty much the same, the surprising varied design and different types & ages of these distinctive buildings are a real feature of the countryside.
Everywhere you go, just look up and you will see a little church on top of a hill or a steeple peeping out from the trees on the side of a mountain, usually overlooking the village it serves.
In the middle ages, churches also performed amother role due to their high up positions.. this was a dangerous time to live in central Europe as Slovenia was the front line for raids from the Ottoman empire. The Turkish troops attacked very quickly with no warning and killed everyone or burnt eveything that got in their way.
Churches became places to hide and shelter from these attacks, some even had castles built around them.. others had high church bell towers for early warning and solitude.. once inside the defensive walls, the villagers would usually be safe.
Hrastovlje Church.. (Oak tree village).. (35 mins)..
Perhaps the best example of a "defended" church is at Hrastovlje, where the church is encircled by a well preserved defensive fortress wall and looks more like a castle than a religious building.
There is a big extra bonus to visiting this church.. the 500 year old fresco of "the Dance of Death", a "must see" part of your holiday in Green Slovenia. The other 3 internal walls are painted with medieval versions of the old and new Testaments and are also really worth seeing.
But would we still be able to see this treasure if the church had not been protected by the big walls and towers around it?
We noticed there are actually several churches with castles built around them still standing here in Green Slovenia, so we did a whole mini section for them, called Fortress Churches..
A fantastic by product of hiking up a hill or mountain to go see a church is the excellent vista!
Javorca Church.. (Little Maple).. (75 mins)..
For a very special Alpine vista, take the adventurous road and path to a church perched off the side of a mountain.. the amazing Javorca church, You really have to see this place with your own eyes and get here with your own sweat to appreciate the stunning location.. no photo can really do it justice.
The church was built by Austro-Hungarian troops following the terrible battles of WW1 in this Soca region to commemorate their fallen comrades and inside there are numerous names carved into the wood. The interior of the church is beautiful and there are stained glass windows. The soldiers also painted the coats of arms, (badges) for all the Austro-Hungarian provinces onto the exterior of the church.
The church is really something to see and combine this with the location high above Tolmin Gorge and you have a truly special secret place to visit!
To get here from Tolmin turn left at the sign for Javorca in the little village of Zatolmin onto the start of the forest road and then follow a snaking one lane stone road, high up over the river and scratched into the side of the mountain for about 7kms.. rest assured, it feels much longer!
Alternatively you could hike this 7km forest road or cycle it, but whichever way you get here, just get here and from the natural car park it is a 20 min hike up a steep tarmac track to the church in surely one of the best locations for a church in Europe.
the three Churches.. Metlika.. (100mins)..
Just outside the pretty town of Metlika in the south east of Slovenia there is the very rare site of the mysterious "Three Churches", where 3 separate churches are located inside the same walled compound.. right next to each other and completely different!.. maybe this was for defence, but maybe not, when you see the current height of the wall?!
Ring the church bell at Lake Bled and you can make a wish.. it might well be for an escalator as you will have just trudged up 99 steps to get there!
the 3 Brothers' Churches of Nanos..
The mountain behind Lipizzaner Lodge is Nanos, (1,313m) and there are 3 seperate Brother's Churches on this huge rock plateau, but you cannot see either one from the others!
Legend has it that there were 3 sons who were always arguing and so their dad ordered them to build these churches and sit outside them so they didn't have to look at each other any more!
You might not believe the legend, but you can still hike to each of the three churches over a couple of days!
Look out for these other Pretty Churches on you travels..
When you visit Ljubljana (30 mins) then don't forget to poke your nose inside the big pink church building in the centre by the three bridges.. it is very beautiful inside indeed..
One of our favourite looking churches in Slovenia is the "Norwegian-like" wooden church, perched up on top of the 1,666m Velika Planina (Big Meadow Mountain) (70 mins to cable car).. the church matches the rest of the little village made of wooden little hobbit huts up here and it all looks just idyllic when a cloud floats by on a blue sky! We call this flat mountain top "Heaven on Earth".
In Smarje (St Mary's) Church, just outside Grosuplje, you can learn all about the miracle and then go visit the big castle tower opposite where there is the most fantastic collection of religious memorabilia and paintings on floor after floor.
If you go on an epic 60km E Bike ride from Lipizzaner Lodge over Nanos mountain to the Vipava Valley on the other side, there is a secret little track to bike down and half way down there is this Spaghetti western looking church below!
We have no idea how the parishioners manage to hike up here for a Sunday service, but we were very happy to stop off for a moment and enjoy the magnificent view!
There is a strange looking or beautiful church steeple, depending on your opinion, towering above the pretty hill top village of Stanjel..probably the best description of the spire would be a large lemon!
They didn't forget to add a pretty little church to the exhibits on a river island garden park called Mozirski Gaj.. There is a working water wheel, a huge viewing tower, a great restaurant and lots of different examples of Slovenian style gardens here in a place we describe as Slovenia's Chelsea Flower Show!
There is a little church in a little village close to Devil's Barbeque cave, (Dimnice) where you need to look very carefully at the magnificent frescos painted on the ceilings during WW2.. they are beautiful..
But look closer and you will see some incredible symbolism and defiance in the colours used, with the Italian fascist colours being depicted as evil against good..
Look even closer and you will clearly see the faces of Mussolini and Hitler hidden in the artwork.. an act that would have got the painter executed by the occupying forces, but instead was rewarded by payment of a cow, (a top of the range BMW in today's terms), by the equally brave and defiant villagers!
So you see, you never know what to expect when you go inside a church in Slovenia, so we recommned you do! Sometimes you will need to knock on a few doors to find out which villager has the key, but there have been few churches we went inside here that didn't have some sort of surprising or impressive feature!
Different styles of Churches in different regions..
Slovenia is made up of so many different geographic and climatic regions and we noticed that even though the churches have so many different looks here, they do tend to have a similar style within the same mini region..
So for example, if you go to the Slovenian coast, expect to see lots of different Venetian style church towers.. if you go to the Kras Teran wine region, bordering Italy, we noticed all the churches are built with grand white stone and high towers too.. When you are in the lakes the churches have an Austrian Alpine look!
There are at least a dozen completely different churches you could see on a loop hike from the Lodge and Fara church with it's wiggly red steeple sits in the middle on top of a hill, so is absolutely perfect for navigation!
And finally we will let you into a little secret.. our favourite church is the one you can see from the Lodge garden nestled under mt Nanos as pretty as a picture.. St Georges was actually built as a second church for neighbouring St Michael village to bury the dead from a cholera epidemic!
We have deliberatley kept the line all the way down our courtyard, garden path and fields clear.. we planted all our trees away from this line too, so there is a perfect geometric sight line straight to this beautiful church!
There are so many beautiful churches in Slovenia, that we could not mention them all and we have not seen them all either, of course! But we hope this little section will help highlight the variety, function and beauty of the churches here!