Bela Krajina

A land of Easter eggs and many other curiosities

The River Kopča, one of the celanest and warmest rivers. Photo: STB archive

April 2010

In the far south-east of Slovenia, right by the border with Croatia, along the river Kolpa, lies Bela Krajina. The local people often say of their region that it lies on the sunny side of the Gorjanci Hills, and that it is a land of white birches and white national costumes, all of which is true. Today the region is known above all for its extraordinarily rich cultural heritage, while we should not overlook the numerous other material goods that the people of Bela Krajina can boast: the region's wines are extremely good – the best known are the red Metliška Črnina and the white Belokranjsko Belo. A road tunnel below the Gorjanci Hills is planned to be built in the next few years. This will connect Bela Krajina more closely to central Slovenia. The two traditional centres of Bela Krajina are the old towns of Črnomelj and Metlika. More recently, they have been joined by Semič, a rapidly developing market town.

Tourist gems

Distinguishing feature of Bela Krajina is its folk heritage, with numerous folklore events. Photo: Aleš Fevžer /STB archive

The region's many interesting sights and unspoilt and extremely beautiful countryside greatly help the development of tourism in Bela Krajina. The number of private tourism enterprises is growing, farm tourism is on the increase, with many farms offering excellent food and wine, and a number of hotels are being renovated.

The town of Črnomelj recently celebrated the 600th anniversary of the granting of town rights. Metlika is half a century older. Both towns have much to offer in terms of cultural history. Sights in the town centres include old castles, numerous museums and galleries and other institutions of national importance. The other undoubted distinguishing feature of Bela Krajina is its folk heritage, with numerous folklore events attracting visitors from far and wide. Bela Krajina's winemakers are among the finest in Slovenia and their wines have won numerous international awards.

The most important natural sights of Bela Krajina include the river Kolpa, one of Slovenia's cleanest and warmest rivers, part of which flows through the protected landscape of the Kolpa Nature Park, and the river Lahinja, part of the basin of which forms a protected landscape area containing numerous karst phenomena. Also very beautiful and interesting is the powerful spring of the river Krupa near Semič, where it is even possible to find specimens of the 'human fish' (Proteus anguinus).

Bela Krajina also offers many interesting cultural and historical sights. Not far from Metlika is Tri Fare, a complex of three Gothic churches built between the 14th and 16th centuries. The Kolpa Nature Park information centre is housed in a beautifully restored typical Bela Krajina farmhouse, Šokčev Dvor, not far from the village of Adlešiči. In the village of Drašiči, every visitor is taken on a hospitable visit to the communal wine cellar and introduced to an old custom that is still maintained today: all the villagers contribute their own wine to this cellar, after which they can receive it back as a loan as necessary, recording their consumption on a special tally stick. Of course, visitors are also invited to taste the wine. Another sight worth visiting, in the vicinity of Semič, is the ancient temple of Mithra above Rožanec.

No visitor to Bela Krajina should miss the chance to visit the Bela Krajina Museum in Metlika. Metlika is also home to the National Museum of Firefighting, where you can learn about the development of firefighting in Slovenia. The first volunteer fire brigade in Slovenia was founded in Metlika in 1869. Also worth visiting in Metlika is the Kambič Gallery. The village of Vinica ob Kolpi has a lovingly curated commemorative collection dedicated to Oton Župančič, one of Slovenia's greatest poets and a native of these parts.

Among the popular events attracting large numbers of visitors to Bela Krajina every year is the Vinska Vigred ('Wine Spring') event in Metlika. Folklore enthusiasts gather in Črnomelj for Slovenia's oldest folklore festival, Jurjevanje ('Feast of St George'), while a similar folklore-based event in Semič is the Semiška Ohcet ('Semič Wedding'), where couples get married according to the old Bela Krajina tradition, dressed in traditional local costumes.

The Easter tradition as a symbol of Bela Krajina

Traditional ornament - painted eggs from Bela Krajina. Photo: Igor Modic

A distinctive feature of Bela Krajina, and one of the most popular souvenirs of Slovenia throughout the year, is the pisanica, a coloured Easter egg decorated in a characteristic manner.

Bela Krajina at Easter time is no different from the other regions of Slovenia – tables groan beneath the weight of an abundance of good things, including various types of potica, hams, horseradish, cakes and of course the traditional Belokranjska pogača (Bela Krajina flatbread), which has recently been granted the European Union's Traditional Speciality Guaranteed designation.

Text by Jože Prešeren, Sinfo, April 2010