Škofja Loka – Slovenia’s Overlooked Medieval Treasure
Slovenia is a criminally overlooked nation for tourism. Nestled at the crossroads of the Alps, the Mediterranean and the Balkans – It affords visitors with an incredible diversity of culture, food and scenery. Sadly the few tourists it does get rarely venture outside its major destinations (which I will write about later). Those who dare leave the safety of the capital city, Ljubljana will find themselves rewarded with a myriad of treasures unspoilt by mass tourism.
Škofja Loka is one such treasure.
Škofja Loka is one of the earliest settlements recorded in Slovenia, its first mention being in the year 973. It stands now as a small village with a population of around 12,000 and one of the best-preserved medieval urban centres in Slovenia (and indeed, the world). Shockingly the one thing that Škofja Loka lacks, is tourism.
Upon expressing our interest in the town to our taxi driver as we arrived from the airport, she was taken a-back. The fact that we had even heard of the town, let alone wanted to visit, was akin to some kind of foreign mystic voodoo. Her confusion was not unfounded – You will not find Škofja Loka on any “must see” lists or on any tourist maps. As an example; I collect magnets. I must have visited over 30 tourist stores in Slovenia looking for a magnet bearing the name Škofja Loka. I found zero.
Getting there is simple enough. Head to the bus station in Ljubljana and ask them for a ticket. For the princely sum of 3 whole euros, you will be given passage on a short 40-minute bus ride to the town centre. After stepping off the bus and walking around the corner, prepare to be gobsmacked by the view.
The village sits perched about halfway up a hill and is split by the Selška Sora river. It is forded by 2 separate bridges. A modern pedestrian bridge (which seemingly exists simply for you to get a good view of the other one…) and the stunning Capuchin’s bridge. A 14th century stone arch bridge that is the only one of its kind in central Europe and also Slovenia’s best preserved historic bridge.
Strolling into the town I was struck by the quiet of the place. It was 11am on a Monday and there was simply nobody about. We were the only tourists wandering the streets. The only signs of life were a handful of locals going about their business or sitting in cafes. Somewhat eerie, but made up for by the location itself. The town is beautiful, no doubt about it. Narrow alleyways, cobbled streets and potted plants full to bursting with red flowers hanging from every window. This place was ripped straight out of a fairytale.
The town square is only a few hundred meters into the town from the bridge. The baroque style church, built in the 1350s, with its imposing bell tower takes centre stage. We walked into the church and found it utterly abandoned. Not one single worshipper, nor priest to be found. We were alone in a building surrounded by priceless artefacts and the owners had seemingly stepped out for a siesta and left the doors unlocked. We took a look around and left fairly quickly. An abandoned church is creepy and we felt a bit like trespassers…
Leaving the church we rounded the corner onto the old main street. A beautiful wide promenade with trees and statues. Again, almost nobody to be found. No tourist shops hawking baubles, no hotels, not even restaurants. Shocking.
We wandered around about for a while (the town is tiny and can be crossed in 15 mins at a healthy pace) and decided to head upwards to the castle that looms above the city.
Škofja Loka castle is very cute and just as well preserved. It sits just beneath the crest of the hill and overlooks the entire valley beneath. There was a very low cloud at the time we visited and it looked amazing to see them drifting beneath us over the town below.
Worth noting, do not come on a Monday as the castle is closed. We were a little surprised, as none of the online information we had about the castle said anything about this. Apparently, there is a nice little museum inside, but alas we were forced to take in the splendour from the outside. We wandered past the castle into its gardens with some old farmhouses and shacks that all looked very beautiful covered in the autumn leaves.
We left the castle and headed up the hill. You can insert any positive superlative you like here to describe the view, but words simply do it no justice.
Wandering through a small, leaf covered trail we ascended to the peak of the hill hoping to be able to get an even better view if such a thing was even possible.
It was here that we stumbled across the ruins of a once mighty old castle. Overgrown with vines and covered in leaves it was very picturesque in a creepy kind of way. You could still make out the walls, stairs and even the well. We later googled and discovered it was the ruins of the the Tower of Krancelj – The first recorded castle in the region, dating back to the 1200s and abandoned in the 1500s after it was levelled by an earthquake. Neat.
After this, we began our descent back to the town. We were ravenously hungry. Along the way, we cursed that we had not made plans to stay here longer and engage in a lengthy hike across the hilltops of this stunningly beautiful region. Perhaps next time?
After making our way back down into town (did I mention we did not encounter a single soul since walking out of the town up to the castle?) we stopped to grab a late lunch in one of the 3 cafes we managed to find in the whole town. Our bellies full, we then headed down to the “lower town” to poke around and enjoy more of the architecture. Finally, we walked a little bit aways to snap a picture of the whole town as the sun was setting (which I will close this post with…), before jumping on the bus and heading back to the capital.
A perfect day trip from Ljubljana for the grand total of 6 euros. Škofja Loka is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt little towns in Europe. A town so untouched by tourism that they don’t even sell magnets! Get yourself over there for a day (and bring your hiking shoes) before word gets out – It’s worth it!