Ribnica & tower of torture
You can really have a swinging afternoon in Ribnica, but it feels as if the locals don't actually realise you might like to discover the secrets hidden away here in a medieval town in the middle of green nature that couldn't be a more different Slovenian experience to marching around Bled or Piran.. but it's your choice..
You could easily drive past Ribnica on the by pass and completely miss the best bits that are hidden off a curve on the main high street.. the river, a castle with a tower of torture, a handicraft centre and best of all.. a few km up that hidden road, the aqua coloured spring of the same river that flows under the Napoleon bridge in the centre bursts into life..
Ribnica was the centre of a busy pre industrial woodwork industry. This mini region was absolutely packed with skilled artisans and wood workshops making all things wooden for the house and home. The salesmen then trudged all over Europe with their extensive range of wooden wares carried on their backs. You do get a clue about this at each entrance to the town where there are giant wooden signs with wooden knives, forks and other utensils essential to the wooden heritage of this place.
This town is just an hour from Lipizzaner Lodge along beautiful countryside roads and we will tell you later about several very special green secret places you could visit along the way or close to here so you might be seriously tempted to have a quiet adventure out here in the green paradise that surrounds Ribnica!
So what is there to do in Ribnica?
The key to your visit is to find and park at the Handicraft centre.. there is a bend off the tiny town centre that leads to the river, even if you drive around a bit you will eventually find the river! Just along from here is a large modern non descript building with a big car park and some flags outside..
This would be a good start to your Ribnica adventure as there is a big choice of locally made wooden souvenirs here! It is so rare outside the main tourist hotspots that you can get such a good opportunity like this to buy granny a really good quality pressie from Slovenia!
There are wooden bowls, plates and cutlery, but also so many different household wooden gadgets and decortive items that you might never have imagined you needed until coming here, so you are sure to find something.. Pottery was also an important trade in these parts and you can also find it here in the shop with some beautifully imaginative local creations. We got a really good wine caraffe that looks like something the Romans would use.
This building is also large enough to have pottery and wooden basket making workshops where the locals can learn the trade. We did our tour with the lovely local ladies from the TIC, (Tourist Info Centre) so we mentioned it would be really cool for tourists to be able to sit down for an hour or so and learn a bit about weaving the baskets.. point noted, watch this space.
For the moment we had to be content watching a lady bending bits of hazelnut branch around like a magician to conjure up a wicker basket.
Upstairs there are 2 more floors of local exhibits with examples of many of the wooden products that were made in this mini region and sent out for sale. There is also a really cool drinks machine, but it doesn't dispense pepsi cans.. it is fully loaded with little wooden products! Do go to see this upstairs, as it is a bit hidden away, but for us was the secret highlight of the museum!
Tower of Torture
The perfect place for kids and if Harry Potter visited Slovenia, then he would park his broomstick at the Tower of Torture! Leave your car where it is and just cross the road and go through the walled gates opposite into a pretty little park with a castle. The TIC is located in the castle and you need to go in and get your ticket here to visit the tower of torture.
There are broomsticks hanging up and a spooky metal cage dangling off the tower wall. This person sized mini metal prison is the most chillin exhibit here.. during Medieval times if a young lady was suspected of being a witch they were put inside one of these gruesome cages and lowered into the river.. if they survived then they had to be a witch.. so they were then burned! And guess what.. if they died, then they were innocent of all charges and not a witch.. very useful!
Inside the tower there is a clanky staircase up with nasty devices of torture everywhere to scare the kids and a witches cauldron with interesting recipees for potions. You also get to go into a side room in the castle where there are more exhibits about the local wooden handicraft industry, including lots of photos of the people and the old days and a device for making the baskets called a "hedgehog".
Napoleon Bridge and the town centre
The centre of Ribnica is very photogenic with an arched bridge crossing a pretty river and the castle & tower in the background. The bridge was constructed in Napoleon times while his armies marched across Slovenia to the East and has 4 lovely stone arches bouncing across the river.
The bridge is impressive enough with 4 arches, but it actually had 5.. there is a reason the 5th arch was destroyed and we absolutely cannot remember, but it is a great reason, so answers on the back of a postcard to Lipizzaner Lodge please!
There is a lovely looking cafe in the rose covered castle gardens, but when we visited, it suffered from the strange Slovenian obsession for playing loud music in a place where you just want to sit quietly and enjoy the culture with a cappucino!
Source of the Ribnica River
Little did we know that our biggest surprise of the day came when the ladies at the TIC casually mentioned the source of the river Ribnica being close by.. our ears pricked up at this and we interrogated them further as you must do here to get good directions, (local people always seem to underestimate the abilities of mere mortals from outside Slovenia and don't realise the difficulty us foreigners have to find places only marked with signs in Slovenian or red dots).
Sufficiently mapped up, off we tootled to find the start of the path.. You drive out of the town on the road by the handicraft centre to a very grand local manor house where there is a car park and the start of a hiking path.. apparently!
Having failed miserably to find the start of the path, our upgraded advice is to drive to the start of the souce, particularly if it has been raining a lot. We hope you might find it if you want to, but we decided to follow the map and drive on a forest road to get to the source of the river instead.
The road is tarmac to start with and actually crosses the river at one point.. we made a few wrong turns, but eventually found the turn onto the forest track to the springs.. (we have a photo of the turn below in our gallery so you know the exact spot as you will not find a sign in English)!
The one lane track went down and round and down through thick green forest and we were just at the point where we thought we had taken another wrong road when we spotted a small space for parking at the side of the road and a path going off into the forest.
We walked back up the road a bit first as we had spotted water on the other side of the trees and we were getting more and more confident this was the spring. So we looked for a way down from here.. there isnt a way down, but as we turned to walk back to the car we were facing a female deer just 20 metres from us.. she had strolled out of the trees onto the track without noticing us.. we stared at each other, thick green forest all around, no sound, apart from fierce running water and we were so happy that we were at this place in time in Green Slovenia.
We cannot guaruntee you will see a deer here, but we can guaruntee you will not see one in the centre of Ljubljana or walking around lake Bled with the other tourists.. Of course you should absolutely visit those fantastic places, but we want you to know that Slovenia is absolutely fill of hidden secret natural treasures such as the Ribnica springs and there is a very good chance you will see these amazing places with nobody else around for company.. or maybe with a deer!
Our attempt at a photo was pathetic as the deer legged it and was gone.. we see a lot of different animlas on our adventures in the Slovenian forest and our best advice is just to watch and enjoy them and to resist the reflex to take a photo as they are gone in a flash of a white tail.
After this excitement, we took that only path back at the car and tip toed into the forest. Now we can tell you that this path is the END of the path that we couldn't find earlier and it pops out next to a stone dam construction that you have to climb onto, keep your balance and approach the springs of the river.
There had been quite a bit of rain in the previous days, so we were thrilled to see a massive swell of aqua blue water seeping out from under the trees and sailing off past the dam. What with the deer and this exclusive sight of a river beginning its journey, we were very very happy and felt a part of nature.
This really was our lucky day as the wooden boardwalk that pretty much ended the hiking path from the town to the spring was submerged under a couple of foot of crystal clear water.. so if we had found the path, we would not have made it to the source!
So Ribnica is an option for a bit of culture & horror with a bit of Green Slovenia mixed in. It can easily fill half of a wonderful day out.. we really recommend you drive to the springs, but if you do walk, just be sure you have the right path and a bit of extra time. Oh yes and by the way, Springs in Slovenian is IZVIR, if you need to ask a local.
There is a decent restaurant close to Ribnica town centre, but why not have a picnic somewhere near the Ribnica river springs.. we found some submerged picnic tables, but we figure most of the year these tables would not be under water and a perfect spot to have a picnic here.
Why the Fish on the Flag??
On the outskirts of Ribnica is a large empty lake where a huge fish used to live.. He was great friends with the local giant and used to help him find smaller fish. But one day the locals got greedy and caught the big fish for themselves.. the giant went bananas and bashed his fists so hard on the lake that it emptied and the locals never had fish here again!
Every Slovenian mini region or "municipality" has their own sign, often associated with a legend and it is something to look out for as you whizz from region to region, but we particularly love this legend.. is it true we hear your 12 year old daughter asking?! Well, Ribe means fish in Slovenian.. Ribnica..Ribe..
What other Treasures can I mix with Ribnica for the perfect Day out?
We have two main recommendations for you, but there are soooooo many you could do.. The roads to Ribnica are green and packed with little places you could visit. We think a morning trip to the biggest disappearing lake in Europe, Cerknica would be a perfect match with some lunch on the way to Ribnica.
But you could also do a larger loop in the opposite direction and go first to a proper castle at the fab Turjak then drive the short distance from there to Ribnica.. and there would still be time for a short visit to lake Cerknica on the way back.
Between Ribnica and Cerknica, there is another local legend at Sodrazica with a giant "DogFrog" statue and only a short hop from here are the mini Kadice Springs where another river begins its journey in the middle of a hidden forest.. What a day!