Ski Slovenia

I was introduced to skiing by my husband 2 years ago and fell in love.

As an expensive holiday we haven’t been able to go as often as we would like, but this year we took the opportunity to book a last minute trip to Slovenia for some skiing, hiking and sightseeing.

While Slovenia may not seem the obvious first choice for a ski holiday, a recommendation from a Slovenian friend combined with a bit of research and the availability of £80 return flights to Ljubljana (albeit at 6am in the morning) confirmed our decision to book.

There were a number of ski resorts to choose from but we settled on Kranjska Gora, an alpine resort situated in northwestern Slovenia, near the mountains and glacial lakes of Triglav National Park, approximately 5 miles from Austria to the north and 10 miles from Italy to the west. Getting there couldn’t have been easier; a straightforward one hour drive from the airport (in a very reasonably priced hire car) without any of the perilous, steep and winding roads that I associate with getting to Austrian and French resorts.

We chose the perfect time to travel too, arriving to a gentle downfall of snow, a forecast of sun and further snow showers and daytime temperatures of 0 to -4 for the week ahead.

Our hotel was even prettier than the  picture and our room was just perfect – big but really cosy, with a balcony and a beautiful view of the mountains, a sofa, coffee table and plenty of space to read and relax when we weren’t skiing.

The hotel also went out of their way to make sure I had plenty to eat for breakfast everyday, buying in soya milk, vegan cheese, vegan butter and three flavours of soya yogurt, not to mention the extensive range of cereals, fruit, nuts and seeds, breads and jams.

The resort was picturesque, with wooden-fronted chalets lit up with fairy lights. There were plenty of cosy little restaurants and cafes, sports and souvenir shops, stalls serving mulled wine and waffles, a well-furnished supermarket and a pool with a spa (where we may have treated ourselves to a swim and a massage!).

 

Our hotel was only a short walk to the slopes but there were also lockers directly next to the piste so we could leave our skis, poles, helmets and boots at the end of each day and stroll back through town in the comfort of our walking boots.

All of the pistes were below the tree line, offering a stunning alpine, snow-topped landscape wherever you looked. I love being outside and this, almost too perfect setting, combined with the gorgeous mountain air, made getting out everyday irresistible! We were even lucky enough to have warm sunshine on a couple of days, allowing us to sit outside the mountain huts for a hot drink or snack during our breaks, but even taking the lifts up the slopes was made pleasurable as it gave you the opportunity to enjoy the the views.

The runs were graded blue, red and black, with some of the blue routes beginning as red runs. As a second-time skier the resort was perfect for me. I was happy to spend the first few mornings on the blue button and chair lifts, taking lessons to get me back up to speed, while R was able to go off and ski the black runs at the other end of the resort. We would then ski the reds together for the rest of the day, with the occasional stop for a hot drink and some leg rest.

The pistes were open 9am to 4pm and we were on the first lifts everyday. There was also night skiing available every evening from 7pm to 10pm.

We only went one evening and while it was really fun it was pretty busy and there were a lot of kamikaze kids which meant that it wasn’t quite as relaxing as the daytime runs! Still, I enjoyed the incredible full-body workout offered by skiing during the days and was certainly aching by the end of it.

If you are looking for a picture-perfect resort for up to 5 days of skiing, provisions for cross-country and night skiing and a chance to watch ski jumpers in training at Planica, which is just a 15 minute drive away, some spa time, a beautiful little village with lots of delicious restaurants that are more than happy to cater for vegetarian and vegan tastes, then I can’t recommend this resort highly enough.

 

There is also some great hiking nearby and a short walk away from town is the beautiful Lake Jasna, which is well worth a visit.

Skiing holidays are such a unique experience and I feel so lucky that we were able to discover this little gem of a resort. While we were too sad to leave I hope we will return!

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Sun, snow and ski!

One of the things I really love about enjoying a healthy lifestyle is that it opens up so many learning opportunities. Whether it’s testing new recipes or discovering new ingredients (who knew spirulina and chlorella would become such kitchen staples?!), trying new training plans (HIIT session anyone?), listening to fitness podcasts, reading new exercise research, or challenging yourself with new sports, there is so much to keep your mind and body fully engaged.

Learning new things as an adult is such an undervalued pleasure. The feeling of trying something new and seeing your progress day-by-day, week-by-week is so incredibly uplifting and motivating, and it’s so easy to forget this feeling which, as a child, you enjoyed every single day.

I’ve indulged in this pleasure on a number of occasions since I started writing this blog. As regular readers will know, a couple of years ago I began bouldering, a sport which required me to counter some of my natural instincts as I found myself twisting and turning up a wall relying only on minimal hand and foot holds. Last year R and I tried our hands (or feet) at ballroom dancing, which necessitated a combination of coordinated movement and the ability to let go of our inhibitions about how elegant (or otherwise) we looked. I am also a relatively recent convert to yoga, again an activity which challenges me, in this case to slow down, to sync my mind, body and breath, and to look inward, rather than worrying about whether my headstand is as good as that of the person next to me.

As it was, last week the gauntlet of learning something new was thrown out to me again, this time in the form of my first family skiing holiday.

I had only stood on skis once before the holiday during a two hour lesson at the indoor ski slope at Milton Keynes, a hasty initiation before a week-long trip to Val d’Isere. Luckily this brief foray meant that I was able to put on ski boots (easier said than done), and manoeuvre myself with a (minimal) degree of competency along the flat down the nursery slopes.

As the rest of the party I was skiing with were all fully-fledged black-run skiers I hastily booked myself into ski school for the week, which commenced with a five hour lesson on day one and three hour lessons for the remainder of the week.

IMG_1377We were eight in total in our class and we all seemed to progress at roughly the same rate. It was so nice to have people of a similar level to ski with and who could empathise with the freak-outs that came with steep turns or the feeling of losing control while going that little bit too fast. We were all also able to sympathise with the various aches and pains that came from challenging previously under-used muscles groups.

As a group we seemed to sync into an order as we made our sweeping S-shaped turns down the slopes. I really enjoyed skiing as a ‘team’ and I started to worry that without Rachel and Siobhan in front of me and Mary behind I wouldn’t be able to ski!

Being outside in the mountains all day everyday was absolute bliss. The sun shone every morning and at times it was warm enough to ski without a jacket on and to sit in the mountain-top cafes in just a base layer and fleece. Needless to say, my cheeks and nose picked up a sunny mountain ‘glow’ and I acquired the obligatory skier’s panda eyes.

Because there always seemed to be so much to think about, be it my body position, the transfer of weight from one foot to the other, keeping my skis parallel, or the bend and straighten of my legs as I made my turns, skiing became all encompassing and left little space in my mind to think about anything else. As with climbing or dancing, I found myself totally within the moment as I wound my way down the slopes; a state of utter bliss!

We were staying in a beautiful wooden chalet just off the piste. With mealtimes set by our chalet hosts and daily ski lessons my days fell into a pleasant routine.

I was up just after 7am and we had breakfast together at 8. For me this consisted of soya yogurt and fruit topped with seeds and chopped nuts, delish! My ski lesson ran from 9-12 and afterwards I was more than ready for an espresso, a Nakd bar and some almonds or cashews on the mountain before a further couple of hours of skiing in the sunshine and glorious fresh mountain air.

R and I skied together most afternoons and after an initial blip where he took me on a slope that I didn’t feel quite confident enough for (by ‘blip’ read me having a total freak out half way down the piste) I gained my confidence (and the ability to turn left) and by the end of the week he was taking me down blue runs.

I was also able to ski a little with R’s mum and sister, and they helped to build my confidence and gave me plenty of guidance. The most useful tip came from R’s mum, which was bend your body down the slope like a banana. It may sound bizarre but it worked in helping me get over my fear of turning left on steeper inclines and stopped me from my bad habit of leaning backwards when I got scared.

We were lucky in that we were able to ski to within a few metres of the front door of our chalet, which meant minimal walking in ski boots (not comfortable) or ‘poling’ along the slopes while attempting to skate on the flat (which R made look easy, but which I made look significantly less elegant).

We were usually exhausted by 3:30-4pm and headed back to the cosy confines of the chalet for tea and cake for R and lots of satsumas for me!

IMG_1154It was quite nice to have a mooch in the town and a sneaky vin chaud in the evening, or to play cards or chess curled up around the coffee table in the chalet. One afternoon during a whiteout we also enjoyed a trip to a local spa, for a swim, sauna, jacuzzi and steam (in what was possibly the world’s hottest steam room!).

The post-ski tiredness was something that R had warned me about but it was still something that I wasn’t prepared for. The combination of exercise, mountain air, sunshine, learning a new skill and masses of adrenaline as I came to terms with flying down snowy hills at speed, left me more tired than even the longest of my long runs. Some evenings I wasn’t even sure I’d stay awake for supper and in the warmth of the chalet with a glass of wine I found myself more than a little soporific.

Each evening we had a delicious three course meal cooked for us by Tracey, our chalet chef and served with four types of local wine; such luxury! Tracey made me some really tasty vegan meals (no mean feat in a mountain top village in France), which included ratatouille, a vegan cottage pie, quinoa salad and homemade hummus. She and her husband Gary looked after us so well and were always interested to hear how our respective days skiing had gone and how my lessons were progressing.

IMG_1283My lessons finished on Friday and I was sad to say goodbye to my classmates. We still had the whole of Saturday to ski so R and I headed out together for the day. We were so lucky that the sun was shining and the conditions were perfect for our final day. It had snowed the afternoon previously and a fresh dusting of snow made everything look so beautiful, as well as making the pistes great to ski down.

We had planned to try out a few green runs and I had thought that the number of routes was slightly ambitious, but once we got going everything seemed a lot easier than I’d feared. I was particularly helped by the weather, as skiing in the snowstorm on the previous day had been so tricky it made the same routes in glorious sunshine seem so much easier.

R had suggested we try one blue route and I was amazed that, having started the trip slightly terrified on the nursery slopes, that I was able to ski a blue without fear or falling. Buoyed by my success we skied three further blues, as well as all of the greens we had planned. R skied off-piste and when he was really showing off, backwards, and he was also able to sneak in a couple of black runs while I enjoyed a coffee in the sunshine!

We had taken the first lifts at 9am and didn’t finish until 4pm, with only a couple of coffee breaks in between, so we were totally exhausted by the time we finally dropped off our skis. It was the absolute perfect end to an amazing holiday and by the end of that evening we were planning out next trip!

New mountains to climb

IMG_9723With no x-ray results and a dogged determination to go on press to see my book printed, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, (3:30am early), I got up, took a good handful of painkillers and set out on my trip to Slovenia.

With the early morning and with my sleepiness and blood sugar all over the place I decided to allow my normal eating routine slip for my trip, and by the time I boarded the plane at 6:30am had already devoured an apple and a banana bread Nakd bar.

Blessed with the Simpson travel-narcolepsy gene I was able to sleep on the plane, waking up only to drink what was possibly the worlds worst, but most needed, cup of coffee.

I landed in a very sunny, very hot Ljubljana and was picked up by Miha, our account manager, to go to the factory.

Having not been to Slovenia before I wasn’t sure what to expect. Bordered by Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, and with a little window to the Adriatic Sea, it combines beautiful mountain ranges with beaches, forests and lakes. The Alps run through the northern and north-west of the country and even though it was 36 degrees in Kranj, where the print works were based, there were still flecks of snow on the peaks

I hadn’t expected to have been able to see much of the country, but as the book before ours was delayed we had some time between final page approvals and going to print so I was treated to a tour of the print works followed by a tour of the nearby area.

IMG_9698We took a trip to Bled, where there is the most a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains and trees. The nearest peak is topped with a fairy tail castle and at the centre of the lake is an island which houses a beautiful church. It is so picturesque. There is a path round the lake which would make for a good afternoon stroll, and it is also a popular swimming spot. There are a couple of campsites nearby, which I earmarked for a future trip.

We had lunch near to the factory at Gostilna Kristof where I was surprised to find a dedicated ‘vegan’ section of the menu. The food was beyond delicious, with an amuse-bouche of tiny tofu burgers with pumpkin seeds, flaked almonds and flavourful  Slovenian olive oil (which I can confirm rivals that of its Italian neighbour), followed by cabbage leaves wrapped around quinoa on bed of wilted and seasoned spinach. Although we we did not order pudding we were brought a  shot of the most amazing vegan chocolate ice cream that I’ve ever tasted, topped with a strawberry, and finished with a perfect, rich cup of coffee with soya. The restaurant also served meat and fish dishes also and I would strongly recommend it.

Back at the factory we worked late to get the first sheets approved, and then, despite being totally exhausted from my early morning, ventured out for a late night tour of old town Ljubljana and to enjoy a glass of something by the river.

IMG_9724It happened that Miha was also a climber and hiker and he recommended a number of walking routes to some of the many mountain-top restaurants, which freckle the faces of the peaks. There are also longer hikes between huts and refuges, trad and sport climbing and skiing in the winter.

He sent me some links of activities including the Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, Prian and the seaside and climbing. With mountains, skiing, beautiful beaches, lakes, forests and vineyards, what more could you want?!

The next morning I found my 6:30am alarm a welcome relief after the early start of the previous day and enjoyed a quick breakfast and coffee at the hotel.
As is always the case with hotel buffet breakfasts I went all out and had oats with all the toppings – pumpkin seeds, linseed, sesame sees dried apricots, figs and raisins – and I was pleasantly surprised that they also offered both soya and rice milk.

The second day was spent in the factory and with the heat of the previous day breaking we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm. As we were checking proofs off as they were printed we didn’t manage to get lunch until 5pm, so I was pleased to have eaten a hearty breakfast! However the printers had done their research and we filled our plates at the  Ljubljana ‘Loving Hut‘, a Europe-wide vegan chain, where we enjoyed a delicious mix of spinach, green beans, lentils and mixed roasted vegetables.

IMG_9754Once everything was approved to continue to print overnight I was able to go back to the hotel and luxuriated in a swim in the rooftop pool and a relaxing sauna, which was a real treat. It was my second swim since the FFFD and having just spent 40 minutes doing freestyle pull for the first swim (not the most exciting set in the world) I braved some freestyle kick and breaststroke. The kick was ok, the breaststroke less so and I had to adjust my tumble-turns to push off with just one foot. Nonetheless it was nice to do something and I can hopefully write some sets to fit around what I am able to do.

I then spent a rather decadent half hour lounging in my hotel robe while catching up on work emails, which is how all email correspondence should be done in future!

IMG_9714For my last evening I was taken out to sample Slovenian wines and can confirm that they are deliciously deadly.

My foot held up well for the trip; I discovered that if I place the arch of my foot on stairs when I walk down them the pain is less acute and if I keep the pressure to the side of my foot and away from my big and second toe then I can walk reasonably well. The main issue is the aching at night where toes feel like they are cramping. I’ve been trying to cut down on the pain relief and listen more to my body but it’s a slow process.

Back in the UK I have a couple of swims planned for the week and some abs and upper body gym workouts. I’m also debating going back to climbing as I’m feeling particularly sad at the moment about missing it. I wonder if I just do some easy routes where I don’t need to worry about jumping (or falling) down I might be ok? I just have to see if I can face putting my climbing boots on…hmmm, maybe not quite yet!