UTracks: Explore Eastern Europe

I recently came across the company UTracks who offer active walking, trekking and cycling tours throughout Europe, including Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Romania and Transylvania.  There are tours suitable for all capabilities from those seeking something of an introductory level, all through to those seeking something a little more challenging; yet all offer unique opportunities to discover the untrodden Europe, spanning postcard landscapes, centuries-old culture, rural lifestyles and tempting culinary delights. In short, they’re flexible, unique adventures of undiscovered corners, offering you a great deal of independence yet providing support when you need it. Best of all, they start on virtually any day of the week, so you can combine any tour to create exactly the holiday you want.

The six-day Transylvania Castles and Mountains tour includes a trip to Bran Castle to learn about the legends of Dracula, time for discovering unique villages, a walk along limestone ridges to take in the stunning landscapes of Piatra Craiului and plenty of cultural exchanges with local people.

The tour itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrive Bucharest, train to Brasov and transfer to Zărneşti
Day 2 – Walk in Piatra Craiului (Royal Stone) through the Zărneşti Gorge (5hrs, 15km +800m, -600m)
Day 3 – Continue on foot through Piatra Craiului mountains and rural villages (4hrs, 13km +450m, -450m)
Day 4 – Walk to Bran Castle home to the origin of the character known as “Dracula” (4hrs, 12km, +350m, -600m)
Day 5 – Ascend the Bucegi Mountains with stunning views (6 hrs, 18km, +650m, – 900m)
Day 6 – Transfer from Bran to Brasov where you take the train to Bucharest. Trip concludes on arrival in Bucharest.

During the trip you will be accommodated in rural pensions which are rated as 3 stars in Romania. These are traditional guesthouses which while simple, provide a unique dimension to the cultural experience of travelling in the region.

This May UTRACKS are launching a new trip through Slovenia lasting 10 days.  Slovenia encompasses a wealth of stunning natural features: this self guided cycle journey takes in all of the highlights while allowing for time to appreciate the unique culture and culinary delights. From Lake Bohinj and the delightful lakeside town of Bled, the cycle continues around the Julian Alps, with a white water rafting experience on the vivid blue waters of the Soca River! In the wine growing region of Brda enjoy a special dinner and wine tasting before heading to the massive Skocjan Caves with its underground gorge. Ending in the capital city of Ljubljana, there is time to explore the old town and sample the local cuisine.   Departs: Every Monday from May to September 2010.  Price: £1,190 per person

To book a UTRACKS trip, complete the booking form which can be downloaded from their website www.utracks.com

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Slovenia: The Jewel in the New Europe

just-slovenia-logoWhether it’s mushroom picking, leaf peeping, the annual Cow Ball, helping with the grape harvest or staying on a working farm, there is a plethora of reasons to visit Slovenia this autumn.

The Cow’s Ball, Bohinj – The Kravji Bal or Cow’s Ball takes place between 18 and 20 September at picturesque Lake Bohinj in the heart of the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park, and celebrates the return of the cattle to the valley after a long summer pasture. Cows are decorated with wreaths and bells and paraded through the now dry Govic waterfall accompanied by herdsmen, dairy maids and cheese-makers; stalls sell wicker work, wooden products and herdsmen’s cheese. Plus there’s traditional entertainment with folk music, dancing, sling shooting, horse-shoe casting and log sawing. A three-night trip including flights from Stansted, car hire, accommodation and breakfast at the Pr’Gorjup organic farm, starts from £349 per person.

Stay at the Pr'Gorjup Farm for the Cow Ball
Stay at the Pr’Gorjup Farm for the Cow Ball

Mushroom Picking – join Joze and Damjana and their family at Mulej Farm (pronounced ‘moo-lay’), north-west of Ljubljana, approximately ten minutes’ drive from Lake Bled. They know the best times and places to find wild mushrooms in the area and will happily take their guests on a foraging expedition to discover them. Later guests may join their hosts in the farm kitchen to prepare soup or other dishes using the mushrooms they have collected. A seven-night stay at Mulej including return flights from Stansted, car hire and a week’s accommodation, starts from £448 per person based on two people travelling in October. This is also the perfect time to go ‘leaf peeping’ and to enjoy the glorious autumn colours.

Mulej Farm
Mulej Farm

Grape Harvesting – Stay in a Vineyard Cottage, traditionally used as a weekend home for families tending their vines, and help to bring in Slovenia’s grape harvest this autumn. At Rataj Cottage near Novo Mesto, close to the Croatian border, guests have wonderful panoramic views across the vineyards, the Krka River Valley and the surrounding countryside. Comfortably furnished accommodation provides an an ideal hideaway for two people, with plenty of outdoor space plus a balcony upstairs and an outside seating area with BBQ. Prices start from £423 per person based on two sharing and include flights from Stansted, car hire and seven nights’ self-catering accommodation.

Vinska Kraljica
Vinska Kraljica

Farm Stays – More than 200 farms across Slovenia open their doors to visitors each year, giving them an authentic taste of rural life in this fascinating central-European country. Visitors are welcome to muck in with the chores or to help out in the kitchen, while children are encouraged to feed the animals. Meals are generally produced using organic food grown on the farms themselves, and are often based on recipes handed down through the generations. Prices for a four-night break with Just Slovenia – leading UK tour operator for farmhouse stays in Slovenia – start from £358 per person for b&b and £388 for half board, based on two people sharing, including flights from Stansted and car hire.

For further details about travel to Slovenia, telephone 01373 814230 or visit www.justslovenia.co.uk.

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Unforgettable Holiday Experiences at Slovenian Tourist Farms

Triglav Mountain. Photo credit: K. Kunaver
Triglav Mountain. Photo credit: K. Kunaver

Try something different this summer and stay in any of the 200 tourist farms spread across the Slovenian countryside.  Staying at a tourist farm gives travellers a real insight into the customs and traditions of Slovenian life, plus a chance to get closer to the country’s nature and landscapes.

Tourist farms are genuine working farms that welcome help from their guests – including children.  Some jobs which guests can get involved in include fruit picking, egg collecting, mushroom picking, grape harvesting and animal feeding.  As well as traditional bed and breakfast accommodation, evening meals are also available.  These are usually traditional homemade Slovene dishes that are produced from fresh organic ingredients, grown on the farm’s land.

Being based in the Slovenian countryside offers the perfect opportunity for holidaymakers to make the most of Slovenia’s outdoor activities including hiking in the Julian Alps, rowing on Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, white-water rafting and kayaking on the Soča River, or horse riding and mountain biking in the Triglav National Park.  With over 7,000km of marked mountain trails in Slovenia which vary in difficulty and length, there are also options for everyone from gentle walkers to serious hikers.

Lake Bled. Photo credit: J. Skok
Lake Bled. Photo credit: J. Skok

With a wide and varied mix of tourist farms, visitors will find something to suit all tastes and needs.  The Hlebec tourist farm in the hamlet of Kog, in northeastern Slovenia close to the Croatian border, is the perfect base for travellers wanting to explore the eastern wine routes.  The farm is owned by the Hlebec family, who cultivate 20,000 vintage vines to produce Renski, Laski Rizling, Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines.  There are seven bedrooms and guests are served traditional meals specially selected to complement the different wines.

Travellers in search of an active break in Slovenia’s mountains and national parks might like the Pr’Gorjup Farm near Lake Bohinj.  The farm is located on a wooded mountain plateau and boasts panoramic views across the valley.  The farm has four guest bedrooms and offers home grown produce including traditional Bohinj meats and cheeses.  The Pr’Gorjup Farm is within easy reach of excellent hiking and mountain biking trails, horse riding and canoeing on Lake Bohinj.

Tourist farms can be booked directly, or via a tour operator. A list of tour operators can be found atwww.slovenia.info/en/Foreign-Travel-Agents

For more information about Slovenia and the tourist farms visit www.slovenia.info or call 020 7928 6108

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