Radolca Chocolate Festival
This is gonna be a really hard sell.. Don't suppose you would be interested in a chocolate festival by any chance?!
Well the citizens of the unpronounceabubble medieval town of Radovlica, so let's call it Radolca, (say .. Ra Doll Sir.. like the locals do), put on the biggest and best chocolate festival in Green Slovenia every May.. yet another reason to visit in the spring!
First some background..
We were surprised when we first started visiting Slovenia well over 10 years ago that there were so few souvenir shops in such a beautiful country.. We know the locals have a big creative side, but the ONLY place even we could find the kinda stuff tourists want was at local fairs or events that are close to impossible for visitors to stumble upon.
Let us be clear, we were not looking for lines and lines of the same noisy, colourful shops filled with plastic junk like in the other touristy countries.. maybe just one or two local shops would be great, selling the locally made stuff visitors actually want to buy to take home as a pressie for Granny!
It was quite frustrating at first cos we know how skilful, creative and imaginitive a lot of the people here are, but their beautiful and pretty home made stuff was just not getting put in front of the very people who wanted to buy it!
And even worse.. In a middle European country with fairy tale castles, rivers running through medieval old towns and churches dotted on hills everywhere, it was also almost impossible to find locally made chocolate anywhere!!
Yep, a stunning country that looked like a chocolate box, but without any chocolate inside!
So finding decent local chocolate makers became a bit of a quest for us and we got very excited when we heard about a "factory" shop at one of the country's few large scale chocolate producers, which happened to be close to Radovlica.
Talk about a disappointment! It was so difficult to find where this shop was on the edge of a trading estate, outside the main factory in the middle of nowhere, but we did..
The tiny shop was nothing like Willy Wonkas and we were even more disappointed to find such a small selection of just more of what you could get on the shelves in supermarkets anyway.. with a few bags of broken chocolate on sale and not one Oompa Loompa in sight!
We must have been the only tourists to bother finding this place that year.. And seriously, in those days, not so long ago, this chocolate would have been one of the "traditional Slovenian chocolates" on offer at Ljubljana airport for tourists to buy as a last pressie to go home..
So sadly, we pretty much gave up on chocolate in this country..
BREAKING NEWS.. We are delighted to report that creative chocolate production is now making a huge breakthrough in Green Slovenia.. Times are changing and especially younger people here are realising that tourists want to take home a pressie made in Slovenia..
And we are also happy to sing it from the medieval rooftops that, by far the leading influence in Slovenia's chocolate revolution is the "go ahead" town of Radolca.. just a stone's throw from that place with the lake you might have heard of..
Radolca had some pretty good raw materials to start with.. a beautiful compact medieval old town with 500 year old frescos painted on some of the houses in the high street, nice restaurants and a mini cafe culture, easy parking close to old town and located just around the corner from Bled, with stunning views to the mountains..
There is even an ancient Gingerbread museum under a restaurant, where gingerbread was still made in all shapes and sizes..
But the local people have worked hard to make Radolca one of the top old towns we would recommend you visit to get a taste of Green Slovenia..
The major driver for tourism here in Radolca has been the TIC (Tourist Information Centre). In other countries you might expect this, but we always especially noticed on visits here how "go-ahead" and fantastically helpful the good people of the TIC here were.
They were one of the first TIC's to fill their tourist bureau with exactly the kind of local products we think visitors want to buy and we congratulate them massively for the amazing work they have done over the years for tourism.
This has rubbed off on Radolca old town too and we would suggest it is one of the best places in Slovenia to wander around and find EXACTLY those shops we said above were missing..
Just a few little shops selling locally made products like honey and schnapps and other souvenirs have popped up, but that is enough. A Chemist museum also opened up telling the story of medieval remedies at the end of the high street.. and now Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys & Girls.. there is a Chocolate making shop!!
OK, we are discussing all things chocolate here, so you will not be surprised to know that Radolca also changed the chocolate picture in this little country for ever, launching the first Chocolate festival in 2012.
the Radolca Chocolate Festival..
Usually held over a weekend in May, the old town goes chocolate mad with lots of car parking on the edge of town and volunteers who speak English to help you.. it is very well organised indeed..
A huge marquet is set up either in the long pretty park next to the old town OR along the stunning main high street.
You buy a ticket to enter the "Choccy Zone" and straight away, here is a simple tip.. everyone seems to queue at the main entrance at the bit of the old town closest to the the new town and the main parking.. so we just walked around to the back of the old town, where there was another quieter entrance and bought our tickets to roll straight in!
There are also local beer & burger sellers and a dancing tent for kids and lovely ladies walking around dressed as Medieval lovely ladies, but the main event by far is the choccy tent where stall after stall host ALL of Slovenia's top choccy producers, showing off their inspirational wares.
OK, so what you do is buy some vouchers, which are wierdly not sold with the entrance tickets, but at another place at one end of the crowded tent.. then you exchange these bits of paper for chocolate at the stalls.
It isn't particularly expensive, but these vouchers are a whole new currency to behold.. it is quite random how much a hand made chocolate ball will be, at one stall a choccy costs one voucher, then maybe three at another.. but you won't be surprised the biggest crowds are around the one voucher stands!
It is a delight to see the crowds of young people here enjoying chocolate and inevitably some will be inspired to go on and create their own chocolate creations.. so the future of chocolate making in Slovenia looks as rosy as a chocolate filled with raspberry fondant!
Lets say it again.. well done Radovlica!
So you just go round and totally enjoy yourself.. it is choctastic! The sellers are busy, but they always have time for a chat, especially if they hear your English accent and we found several new producers we did not know about. (this will come in handy for our new CHOCOLATE section where we will help you find where these producers are based all around Green Slovenia, as you might not be here for the Chocolate festival).
You will find so many different types of choccy here at the festival and we tried some seriously delicious creations.
And the cherry on top of the chocolate ball was finding a stall run by the same people who have opened the new chocolate factory store in the old town of Radolca..
So folks, our journey is complete.. we can rest in the knowledge that order has been returned to the universe and a country that looks like it should be really good at making choccies finally is!
Ironic that our belief in chocolate was restored in the very place where we had given up!
We finally left the festival for a visit to the lovely chocolate shop at the very start of Medieval high street and this will probably be on your list for a visit to Radolca, as the chances are you will not be here at festival time, but the shop is here all the time!
This is a proper chocolate shop where you can see how they make the product and buy chocolate creations to your taste..
Opposite the shop, sat on top of a roundabout is a sofa made of chocolate, well it certainly looks that way, but probably isn't cos it would melt in the summer..
So finally Green Slovenia has a chocolate capital and whilst you might not come here specifically for chocolate, it is now a part of the story and experience here.. See you next time at the Radolca chocolate festival!