Skiing to My Local Pub: Powder Snow at Pikovo

I was now living in Ljubljana, but with reports that Koroška already had 60cm of snow on the ground and more on the way, I couldn’t resist heading back to the Hinterland.

I have maintained a lifelong love of snow. Not just snowboarding or skiing, but walking in it, taking pictures of it, and just being out in The Great White Deep is one of my greatest pleasures.

My new car was put to the test and passed easily. In 4×4 mode it fired up the snow-covered track with not the slightest hesitation. Pikovo, a small mountain inn lies even further up the mountain, and with the roads up there covered in over half a meter of snow, it was the perfect day to try out my new touring skis.


Snow road? Snow problem in 4WD mode

I attached the skins to the base of the skis, threw some water, chocolate and extra clothes into my backpack, and began skinning up the slope behind my house which leads to the road to Pikovo. I’ve done a fair bit of snowshoeing in the past, normally with a snowboard strapped to my back, but ski touring is far more efficient.


skinning up

The skis glide over the surface of the snow, the skins prevent you from slipping backwards even on steep inclines, and the lightweight boots and bindings mean that overall, you’re carrying less weight and moving much faster than with a board on your back.


The forest was beautifully silent. The sporadic ‘whumpfff’ of snow falling from a tree, the only sound. The first half of the route was quite steep, and with the deep snow, it was hard going. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath. Once at the pinnacle I found the other side had been ploughed more recently leaving just a couple of centimetres of snow on the road.

The underside of my skis would have preferred a deeper covering, but it was enough to ride over, albeit with the occasional p-tex gouging stone taking a bite. I reconfigured my bindings into downhill mode, and skied most of the way, although there were several flat parts where I had to free my heel and employ more of a ‘cross-country ski’ technique.

It took me nigh on two hours to reach Pikovo. It’s always a pretty spot but covered in pillows of snow it looked even better. Nataša and Felix, the proprietors, welcomed me in and served me gulash washed down with a Laško pivo. Sometimes I meet other people at Pikovo, but today it was my own personal bar and restaurant. Conversation was limited as my Slovene is still extremely basic, but this is a perfect place to practice, as their English is also basic, so it puts us on an even keel.

When it comes to communication, I’ve found a little can go a long way. Although I must sound like a caveman, we were able to share some conversation and learn a little more about each other.


The gulash was a welcome meal after the two hour journey

The gulash hit the spot and after resting for an hour, it was time to make my way back to Breg. I kept the skins on for the first half, as it’s mainly flat, but upon reaching the ‘peak’ it was back into downhill mode and deep snow.

It was deep but not so steep, so I had to ski in my own tracks for most of the ride or I came to a halt, but I did cut through a couple of sections where powerlines run, and I got a nice taste of Slovenian powder.


Powerline cuttings provide powder pistes from Pikovo

It’s a great little ski-hike, and one I’ll do again and again whenever conditions permit.

10 Years at Breg House: Before and After

It’s been just over 10 years since my brother and I bought Breg House. It’s been quite the journey with many problems (some of which I’ve not yet written about) and it’s far from finished, but it felt like it was time to show the progress with some ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics.

Perhaps the most striking change, has been the conversion of the upper floor. The entire purpose of this building when built originally some 300 years ago was as a larder in which to hang, cure and store meat. In the ’70s, following the division of the farm into three separate properties, the upper floor just became a storage zone for junk, completely uninhabitable.

A big part of renovating Breg House was to take what was actually a sizeable and very interesting space, and turn it into something useable, namely a cosy lounge, kitchen and a snug.

This meant spending over a week, removing the old lime plaster by hand, using wire brushes and vinegar to reveal the beautiful timbers below, as well as cutting a bigger doorway to open up the entire floor and connect the new lounge space with the new kitchen space.

The snug was somewhat of an afterthought but is now one of my favourite areas of the house. From bare wood and a bathtub:

To beams and books:

And a new kitchen was added to in a space that was just a storage zone for junk:

Borovets Bulgaria 08 280

Downstairs, the old kitchen was converted into a master bedroom with ensuite shower and WC.

And one of the old bedrooms has been divided to give a shower, as well as updated furnishings.

Bob's Stag Do & Slovenia 086

Moving on to the outside, it was once only possible to access the upper floor via an external staircase. Now an internal stair connects the two floors from the inside, and a new set of chunky steps has been built at the rear.

There are  more improvements to come – but that’s the summary of the last 10 years’ worth. Hopefully the next phases won’t take another 10 years!

Pivo at Pikovo: A Trip To My Local Mountain Inn

This morning I took my new pair of touring skis for a test ride. Although I’ve been snowboarding for 20 years, I’m relatively new to skiing but have wanted to get into the backcountry more.


Plenty of snowy slopes for the taking

I long since discovered that skis are a far more efficient method of getting fresh lines so I’ve decided to up my game, get the kit and develop the skills needed to allow me to explore the mountain forests that surround Breg House by ski.

It was when I was living in rural Japan that my backcountry snow trips really began. Life in Koroška reminds me a lot of my life in Japan, where I spent two years living and working in Ono, Fukui. I seem to be drawn to mountainous places that are little known, and where foreigners are considered curious creatures.

Koroška is in many ways like Fukui. A rural backwater, unknown to most outsiders, and even to natives, considered to be ‘in the sticks’. The landscape shares many similarities too; lots of beautiful wooded mountains, heavy snowy winters, warm summers, lots of untouched nature, and not a lot of people exploring it.


en route to Pikovo (pic: Benito)

In Japan, in a world of often bewildering foreignness, I found solace at a local bar called Yumeya. The owner, Yasu, a smiley-faced mountain-climbing fanatic, was to play a huge part in my enjoyment of area, as he led me and my American friend, Bran Van Man, into the backcountry for snowboarding expeditions on sacred peaks.

Yasu’s bar became a place where I came to know the people of Ono; a place where I could practise my Japanese, drink kirin beer and be merry with the local townsfolk, from gasmen to government officials, monks to maths teachers.


the road to Pikovo

I now find myself in a place that has many parallels with Fukui.

A little under an hour’s walk from Breg House, is a small mountain inn called Pikovo.

Reached by a narrow, unpaved mountain track, it feels like a road to nowhere and the last thing you expect to find is a place where you can buy a beer.


can you spy the spire of St Helena?

Yet, along the track, amongst thick forest, you eventually reach the tiny church of St Helena, and right next to it; Koča Na Pikovem. This is my local.


The tiny church of St Helena

Previously, Pikovo was run by local legend Rajko, who spoke English well and is someone who has gone out of his way to help me with various things at Breg House, for which I am forever grateful. After three years Rajko and his wife Darinka, moved on to a bigger mountain inn in Sleme, which has incredible views and can accommodate some 70 odd people for sleeping. I still visit regulary.


view from Sleme, my other local (pic: Benito)


Koča Na Pikovem; my local

Pikovo now has new management; Felix and Nataša from Ljubljana. So whenever I feel like a pivo (beer), I hike on up to Pikovo. Being such an out-of-the-way place, I am often the only customer there, but I never know who I am going to meet, and today I met Mr Šumah.


Mr Šumah was a rotund gentleman, wore a traditional mountain hat (I want one) and had a friendly smile. The fact that I told Mr Šumah that I didn’t understand Slovene was to be no impediment whatsoever to conversation, as he proceeded to talk away anyway.

I listened hard, picking out a few words and managed to ascertain a little info; namely that he was 77 years old, had driven here in his car, had a son called Rok, and something about cows. I thought he said he could speak Russian, but when I bust out a few phrases (thanks GCSE Russian!) he didn’t respond.

After finishing his coffee, Mr Šumah picked up his crutch, shook my hand, and parted with a srečno! (goodbye/good luck!).


I ordered venison goulash, washed down with a Laško pivo, and finished up with a kava z mlekom (coffee with milk).


Soon I will be making a concerted effort to learn Slovenian, and people like Mr Šumah, Felix and Nataša will be the perfect practising partners for me, because they don’t speak any English so it’s Slovene or nothing.

I don’t know why I am drawn to such places, but there is something I find very appealing about the lives of rural folk in secret places, unknown to most of their fellow countrymen, let alone the rest of the world.

Perhaps it’s the fact that it is so untouched that attracts me. There is little tourism here (although it’s an incredibly beautiful place), just people going about their lives in a way which likely has not changed a huge amount since Yugoslav times. And na zdravje (cheers!) to that.

A couple of the pictures in this post were taken by Benito Aramando. See more of his Slovenian photos here.

Slovenian Winter is Coming: Can I survive the Koroška Cold Season?

For the last two months I have mostly been living the life of a mountain hermit.

My days have been spent splitting and stacking firewood, working on the house, and stocking up on supplies. After my chores for the day are done, I have been picking a different logging road each day to explore, and have covered much of the mountain forest that surrounds my home. I spy deer and gams (chamois) amongst the trees, have admired the arboral ‘changing of the colours’, and am now surrounded by The Splendid Whiteness of the premier snow.


Breg House in winter attire

I have harboured the idea of spending the whole winter at Breg. It would be an experiment in simple living and reduced social contact. But having now been here for almost two months, I have identified two challenges.

Firstly, the physical challenge; it’s cold up here in the Slovenian mountains. Now that the first snows have fallen, the temperature outside may not rise much above freezing for some time. I have my beloved log burner but there’s a log crisis at Breg House, no central heating, and until I light up that fire, it’s pretty chilly.

The first snow storm also brought down some trees, which must have taken out a powerline as I was told by the neighbours that there had been no electricity for two days. Thankfully I had been away and by the time I returned, so had the power, but these things can and do happen, and can be quite disastrous up here. No electricity means no means to heat water, which means no hot showers, and also means frozen pipes.


Leaves on the line: I could hear the electricity hissing and buzzing at this invader

I am a snow lover and relish the beauty of a snowscape. But the fun of living in the cold may diminish rather quickly. The novelty of waking up to a house that is only marginally above absolute zero will almost certainly wear off. I love my Piazzetta e905 log burner, but having to empty the ash pan, find suitable fuel, and lay and light the fire each day to get any heat upstairs, may not remain as fun as it was at first.

It’s quite possible to get snowed in up here. Although they are admirably good at clearing even the smaller unpaved tracks, a heavy dump of snow could mean lockdown for a couple of days and it’s quite common for trees to come down and block the road after a storm.


Breg grazing pastures now snowbound

The second challenge is the social isolation. Breg isn’t exactly party central. My two lovely neighbours have been looking out for me, (I think they fear for the strange Englishman’s survival and have taken to bringing me homecooked meals almost every day!), but unless you are into cows (I’m not) and log piles (I am fond of logs but feel my love is unrequited), there’s not a whole lot of social interaction up here in the hinterland.


I love my log pile but does it love me?

I know a few people in and around Mežica (the nearest town), and can always pop down to the local bar where I know the landlord and a couple of regulars, but this is still small-town Slovenia, and opportunities for making new acquaintances is somewhat limited. And this is the greater of the two challenges. I just don’t know how long I can, or want to, spend so much time alone.


Jezersko; en route from Ljubljana to Breg

I have been lucky to have had a few visitors so far, (thanks Andy, Benito and Jen). My anticipation of having such company has highlighted how I am beginning to miss socialising. It’s strange to spend so much time on your own, yet it’s also an interesting experiment.


Breg House from the rear

Part of me wants to see how long I can go, just for the experience. I am at a rare point in my life where I am able to do that if I wish. For some people, living a simple life in a mountain cabin is a dream that may never come true. However, the cosy bars, warm restaurants and cheery townsfolk of Ljubljana beckon, and it may not be long before I am tempted to join them.

Hiking Mount Peca: a mountain mission in Koroška, Slovenia

Despite visiting Koroška several times a year for the last decade, I had never climbed Mount Peca. It’s a mountain that I can see everyday from Breg House and at 2125m tall, it’s the highest peak in the eastern Karawank range.

Three-time Breg visitor, Benito Aramando (who is a long-standing fan of a Karawank) was enjoying his forth visit, and with perfect autumnal weather, it was the ideal time to hike Peca, so we set off in search of the peak.

A 30 minute drive is required from Mežica to get to the base of the hiking route, where there’s a small area for parking cars. Just one other car was present, and we met the owners of it almost straight away; they were just finishing their hike just as we started ours.

It was a sunny day and Benito was lamenting the lack of sunglasses, but was delighted to adopt a Gant baseball cap for the day, which I had inherited in the hire car. From here we followed the logging road up into the forest, a mixture of conifers and deciduous trees, before reaching the rest house ‘Dom na Peci’ after about 45 minutes.


Dom na Peci panorama complete with snow gauge

Now out of season, it was not open for business, but we took a chunky wooden seat all the same, and tucked into our lunch (some mesni burek) whilst enjoying views out over the mountain. After lunch Benito went to enjoy the compost toilet too, but ended up not making a deposit in the end.


From Dom na Peci, we continued up a narrow path through the forest, which eventually opened out on to a grassy clearing. It seemed too remote for the grazing of cattle, and the hunting hide suggested it was maintained purely for shooting deer or perhaps gams – chamois.


We had picked the perfect day for the climb, sunny but not too hot, and clear, which gave us views out over the Karawank range – layers and layers of mountains, each successive layer a slightly lighter shade of blue.


Benito, who had brought out the big guns (his SLR camera) was insatiable for shots.

“I just can’t stop. Every direction is the perfect photo.”

And he was right.


Benito going photo crazy whilst sporting his Gant sports headgear


Dom na peci from up on high

A Hero is Born

At this point the ascent steepened, the path becoming rocky, and the trees shorter and scrub-like. After around 30 minutes Benito was struggling. Recovering from illness, he was not firing on all cylinders, and after a few pit stops, he finally conceded:

“I think I’m done”.

I guessed we were still around an hour from the top and the terrain didn’t look like it was going to get much flatter for a while. I considered the options; turn back and summit another day, or try and push on. I didn’t want to risk exhausting Benito or causing injury, so I suggested turning back, but just as I did, Benito announced that he was ‘going to soldier on’ like the hero that he is.


Benito Aramando: hero

I have seen the exact same behaviour from Benito around the mountains of world, from Italy to India, so I knew once those words were uttered, he could make it and we would see the summit of Peca that day.

And so we headed on, the trees becoming scrub, the ground more rocky, until we reached the shoulder of the peak, and the terrain flattened. At this point we knew we weren’t far, and with the peak in sight, Benito’s spirits rose.


Short shrubby trees gaze at the Karawanks


Peca Peak

The summit of Peca (Petzen in German) affords fairly spectacular views of the Karawank range. Benito took the opportunity to go photo crazy, whilst I signed the mountain visitor’s book, which is kept in a small metal box on the peak.


Signing the mountain visitor’s book on Peca summit

A flock of Alpine choughs noticed our presence and homed in. Cleary used to being thrown titbits by climbers, they made their desires clear; Benito eventually conceded and shared some of his flapjack with them which he had imported all the way from the UK – so the Choughs were really getting a foreign speciality that day.



I eventually manged to get Benito to cease taking pictures, and we began our descent. Taking about an hour and a half, we saw no other hikers so had the entire mountain to ourselves.


The descent

All in all, Peca is a lovely mountain to hike and one that I will certainly return to.

Most of the pictures in this post were taken by Benito Aramando. To see more of his fab photos visit his Flickr page.

A Snug is Born: Breg House’s newest room

Breg House has always been an ever evolving project. There has always been a vision – to restore and ‘cosify’ the 300-year old structure – but exactly how that is being done is an ever changing thing.

The most recent addition – which was also never part of the early vision – is ‘The Snug’. Previously, we thought it would be little more than a storage area, but during the work on other parts of the house, this storage zone showed us it could be more than just a place for tools and bits of wood to gather dust.


And so it became The Snug. A room in its own right, with a custom built day-bed, books, and all the old, dirty, dusty floorboards sanded smooth and sealed with laquer. An armchair, rug and lamp to finish it off, and it’s now one of my favourite rooms.


It’s not quite finished yet but it’s functional and the perfect place for morning coffee or reading a book.


Log Crisis Looms at Breg House: The Rules of Firewood in Slovenia

My wood burning stove probably gives me more pleasure than anything else I own. Fire is so basic, so simple, so primitive. Yet I seem to get an disproportionate amount of enjoyment from being in its presence. A burning fire obviously provides heat and light, but it’s greater than the sum of its parts. I feel a deep comfort, safety and contentedness, when sitting by a fire. My happy place is sitting by a blaze, watching flames dance the night away.


My Pizzaetta e905 – aka: The Post Box

This is what makes the looming log crisis at Breg such a concern. When I bought the house ten years ago, the woodshed was well stocked and I had not needed to order any more wood all this time, especially as the old wood-fired range stove was removed several years ago (after the chimney was repeatedly damaged by snow) and it was only in September 2016 that I had my new pride and joy – my pillar-box red Piazzaetta e905 woodburner –  installed, complete with a brand new, and much better positioned chimney. (Which was done very professionally by local company Kamini Kočevar especially as it was not a straight forward job considering the bizarre construction of the building).

An old cherry tree that my brother felled in Spring 2016 has supplemented my wood supply until now, but it was finally time to order a fresh batch of logs.


J-Bizzle splits some cherry

The Land of Log Piles

Slovenia is the land of log piles. There is firewood stacked everywhere outside of the cities, so I thought getting hold of some seasoned logs, would be a simple task. I was wrong.


One of best log piles I’ve seen in Slovenia. It even has a window.

I first started enquiring about buying firewood in the summer. In the UK, most people buy loads of seasoned firewood – ie wood that has dried out to a moisture level that is considered acceptable for burning, which is <20% water. I had assumed it would be even easier here, a country where almost everyone outside of the cities uses wood as their main source of home heating. But I have discovered that Slovenia is not so forgiving to the unplanned wood-burner.

My initial enquires to my Slovenian friends were that I should speak to my farmer neighbours. They would surely know the best place to get wood and may even be able to sell me some. So I did that. My kindly neighbours took pity on my ill-prepared fuel situation, and gave me a couple of barrows of crisp, dry wood from their own store but explained they would not be able to sell me any as they needed all the wood they had for the winter.

However they told me about a local supplier, who could provide ‘ready to burn’ wood and would deliver to my house. Perfect I thought; my wood worries are over. A few days later, I went to make my order. Everything sounded ok; expect the ‘ready to burn bit’. The man said the wood was ‘dry, but not really dry’. But with winter looming and fresh out of firewood options, I had to take it.

The following day, the delivery arrived in a rather large, square truck. It was so tall, that the roof snagged the fruit trees on the track to the house, preventing it from being able to get very close to my woodshed. With little more than sign language, gesture and the occasional word of mutual understanding, the man unloaded the pallet of oak from the back of his truck onto his little pallet truck. I thought we’d be able to drag this along the track to my wood shed but I was very much mistaken. 1.8m cubed of Slovenian oak is very, very heavy and pallet trucks are not designed to roll over unpaved, gravel tracks.


The track is not pallet truck friendly

Plan B: the man pulled out a tow rope, and gestured to my car. We would tow the pallet truck closer to the house. Initially I was reluctant to try this plan. I had visions of 1.8m cubed of Slovenian oak crashing through the rear windscreen of my hire car and me having to pay a hefty excess (I suspect that ‘towing towers of firewood’ would not have been covered by my standard insurance).

But there was no other way to get the wood any closer. So the man popped the little secret tow socket at the back of the car, delved into the spare wheel and attached a metal towing eye. This was useful knowledge for me – I had no idea these even existed. Eye attached to car, and rope attached to logs, I cautiously took up the slack, and with the log man steering the pallet truck, we towed the 1.8m cubed log pile closer to its new home: my wood shed.

However, due to the lay of the land the closest we could get was still about 20 metres way. So the log man dropped his load there. He then promplty disappeared in to Anchka’s house, no doubt for schnapps, coffee and cake. Meanwhile, I fetched my wheelbarrow and began the task of porting 1.8 cubic metres of Slovenian oak to the wood shed.

As I began, I could see that the wood was very far from being ‘ready to burn’. In fact I estimated it couldn’t have been cut down much more than a month ago. Some logs still had a twigs of green oak leaves attached (at least I knew I was definitely getting oak). Conventional wisdom says that oak takes at least a year to dry, (some people recommend two – it obviously depends on your drying conditions). So, although I had 1.8m cubed of oak – right now – it was useless to me.

As I ferried barrow after barrow into the woodshed and stacked it neatly, I considered my options. I  had probably enough cherry to last me a couple of weeks if I was careful. After that my firewood choices slimmed somewhat. I had a stack of offcuts from 10 years’ worth of renovations but this was little more than kindling really. I was surrounded by forest – there would inevitably be some hanging deadwood that was dry enough to burn, but taking trees from the forest is frowned upon by the authorities (ie illegal) and would unlikely be able to provide sufficient amounts of dry wood anyway.


Firewood, firewood everywhere, but not a log to burn.

Could I somehow ‘speed season’ my new log load? I could certainly stack some close to the fire but I doubted I could dry enough, fast enough. The only other option was to try and track down a supplier of genuinely ‘ready to burn’ firewood or buy some bags of the compressed sawdust logs which I’d seen at the local DIY store – Inpos.

About halfway through the log relocation job, Štefka, my kindly neighbour, invited me in for a coffee. Sipping on the thick, Turkish-style brew, we compared log-notes. My 1.8m cubed had cost me €128. She normally paid €120; no great discrepancy there. However, she was not impressed at how freshly cut the wood was.

“It was the best they had” I said, remembering what the wood man in the shop had told me.

“Not the best!” she retorted.

I wondered if I’d been duped into taking a wet load when they had had drier. Were they taking advantage of the ignorant foreigner? It was possible – although the logman had never claimed to have had any fully seasoned wood, and another log supplier had also told me that at this time of year, no one had dry wood.

It just seems that people in Slovenia are much better planned when it comes to firewood, ordering their loads in the spring, stacking it outside where it would experience a Slovenian summer – plenty of sun and warm wind – so that by autumn, they had plenty of bone-dry wood to burn. I had assumed, that just like in the UK, buying seasoned firewood at any time of year would not be a problem in Slovenia. I was wrong.

But there was hope on the horizon. Štefka explained that autumn was a good time to dry wood and that wood stacked outside, where it would get wind and sun, could dry quickly.

How long? I asked, expecting that even in ideal conditions, my log load would take at least 6 months.

“Maybe one month” – Štefka replied.

I have to say I’m sceptical. But she’s been doing this for decades so I have faith. I stacked half of my supply outside, under the cover of a mini-hay rack (known in Slovene as a kozolec these structures are a very Slovenian thing found almost nowhere else and are somewhat celebrated here). I’m going to buy a wood moisture meter and do some proper measurements so I can compare drying zones – more on that soon.


Pimp my log pile: a kozolec (a Slovenian hay rack) doubles as my log store

I just hope Štefka’s right – otherwise it could be a cold, log-less winter.