Ian Middleton: Travel Writer

An Oasis of Healing Nestled Among the Verdant Hills of the East

It’s virtually impossible to travel in Slovenia without noticing its abundance of health spas. However, Rogaška Slatina is not only unique, but encompasses a wealth of hidden gems. It has a long history of quality glassmaking, and among the surrounding foothills you’ll find wine cellars and picturesque villages each with its own story to tell.

There aren’t many places in the world where you could indulge yourself in some of life’s wicked pleasures, wine and good food, and then ease your guilt by purging your body of all the unhealthy elements of that pleasure by simply drinking a glass of water.

Rogaška Slatina is located about 110kms east of Ljubljana. From the motorway either take the exit for central Celje, or continue on to the next exit and head to Šentjur. From here simply follow the signs and the road will take you into the heart of the town.

This is Slovenia’s oldest spa town. Nestled among the lovely hills of the Macelj range, Boc, its highest peak (960m) overlooks the town. The summit’s viewing tower affords a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. A special flower blooms here only at Easter time, called the velikonocnica, and the area is now a protected nature reserve

The town itself grew up around several natural springs that have been known since the Romans and Celts were here. However, it wasn’t until a written analysis was published in 1572 in a book called Pisson by Leonhard Thurneysser that its fame began to spread.

Word of this miracle water spread as far as the imperial court in Vienna and soon people began to flood here, including many famous names such as: Emperor Ferdinand, Franz Liszt and the French Bonapartes. In 1803 the head of the Styrian government, Count Ferdinand Attems, established the first spa resort here. This soon grew into one of Europe’s most popular and grandest, and in 2003 the resort celebrated its 200th anniversary.

The town emblem is the winged-horse Pegasus. Local legend tells of how the Greek God Apollo was riding through the nearby mountain range when he commanded Pegasus to rise up on his hind legs and repeatedly slam his front hooves down hard in order to open the spring.

There are actually an indeterminate number of springs in the area of Rogaška, but the most famous of these is Donat Mg, which is bottled and distributed all around the country. The water from this spring is a veritable cocktail of minerals, but most importantly, it contains an unusually high level of magnesium; an important element for many of the biochemical processes in our bodies. People don’t just come here for a relaxing holiday; they come here to get well. Magnesium is not only said to help illnesses such as heart and liver disease, but can also help reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol, constipation, excess stomach acids, heartburn and obesity.

But there is more to Rogaška Slatina than just its famous spa. The town also has a long history of producing high quality glassware, one of which is Rogaška Crystal. The origins of Rogaška’s glassmaking tradition can be traced as far back as 1665.

The outskirts contain a scattering of pretty villages each with its own church, and many have their own legend as to the origins of the church. Sv. Lenart, where a beautiful tall church greets you upon arrival, is a tiny hamlet wedged into the hills. Local legend says that a church was built here in 1000AD, but a massive earthquake hit the region causing the church to sink into the ground. It was hidden by vegetation for hundreds of years until one day, while some animals were chewing on the grass, the bell rang and the church was rediscovered.

The surrounding karst hills are completely full of water, hence the reason for it’s abundance of springs. In the small village of Zg. Gabernik, where farmhouses dot the verdant hills and a great rocky outcrop looms over them, legend tells of an underground lake where a great dragon sleeps. Locals believe that when the weather is stormy, the dragon is stirring.

After a day of luxurious pampering, or hiking, you can relax at one of the many wine cellars where you can try the municipality’s superb wines.

Mineral baths, mud treatment and lymph drainage.

It not as bad as it sounds. Lymph drainage is not a form of medieval torture, but a type of massage in which excess liquids that collect in the body’s tissues are drained and is just one of many healing therapies on the list at Zdravlišce Rogaška.

Zdravliški Trg forms the heart of Rogaška Slatina. Lining this historic square you’ll be spoilt for choice for ways in which to pamper all your aches and pains, and indulge yourself in a wealth of beauty rituals.

In the circular drinking hall you can sample the water straight from its source via dispensers. There are two types: Donat Mg, and Styria. Try the Styria first, but try not to grimace at its sour taste. The bottled versions are refined, but being straight from the spring this is much stronger. The Donat is mildly more palatable and also the better of the two, health-wise.

If you are here to cure a particular ailment, the adjacent 12-storey building has a number of qualified doctors on hand to prescribe the necessary treatment. The mineral baths are ideal for improving blood circulation, due to the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the water. Other rheumatic treatments on offer involve herbal mud packs made from volcanic clay and mixed with the local water.

Whether you are sick, or otherwise fit and healthy and simply want to relax and de-stress, you can head for the thermal mineral swimming pools. Or you can participate in one of the many health programmes, choose from a long list of massages, or if you prefer to be more active, visit the large sports complex.

The art of glassmaking.

A tour of Rogaška Crystal is an absolute must. Watch with fascination as a beautiful piece of crystal glass is produced from a glowing red blob taken from the 1400°C furnace, and blown with expert precision in order to shape the outline, before being placed it into a mould for the finishing touch.

Visit Rogaška Crystal website

In the shop you can indulged yourself by wandering through the exquisite collection of glassware with renewed appreciation for the care, hard work and artistic craft that has gone into making them, and if your pockets are deep enough, come away with a souvenir of the tour.

Spring of the kings

If you have time, take a drive through the gorgeous rolling green hills surrounding the town. Stop for a drink at the nearby village of Sp. Kostrivnica where Kraljevi Vrelec has been restored to its original glory, just as it was in 1857. The keeper of the well is Marija, who opens it to the public twice a week, or by prior arrangement for groups. Years ago Celtic coins were found at the bottom of the well.

Hiking the trail

The nearby hills also offer a large network of walking trails, shown clearly on the tourist office map. The most popular hike is to the summit of Boc. You can either start your hike from town, or if you are pushed for time, drive as far as the Church of St. Nicholas. From the church follow the marked trail to the top and enjoy the view.

Sleepy villages and dragons.

If you prefer the country life there are several good tourist farms where you can stay and sample the rural life of the Rogaška municipality. Zgorni Gabernik is a small village locked into the foothills of Boc, where one such tourist farm holds a dominant position overlooking the verdant hills, rivalled only by a great rocky outcrop which looms over the entire village. The hollow clunking of the Klopotec, wooden wind-powered rattles designed to scare off birds, will fill the air. If you hear thunder in the night it might be the dragon snoring; or a local farmer.

A desert oasis in the otherwise green hills.

For something you’re not likely to see everyday, take a trip out to the village of Cerovec pod Bocem and take a look at Paviljon Kaktej, an interesting display of cacti that were once the proud collection of a local man, who handed them over when he became too old to tend them.

An evening of wine tasting.

A perfect end to a perfect day. In Cerovec you can reflect on the day’s events at Vinoteka Klet Kregar, while munching on cheese and salami and tasting a variety of wines as you stare out across the endless green fields to the distant mountains. The people here in Rogaška Slatina are so friendly and welcoming, and it seems like a world away from the bustle of the city, but in fact it’s just 1½ hours from Ljubljana.

Visit Vinoteka Klet Kregar website



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