Velika Planina boasts one of the best-preserved traditional dairy herdsmen’s settlements in Slovenia. It has an undulating landscape full of karst sinkholes and hollows. The mountain offers numerous possibilities for walks and hiking, which can be combined with the visits of the natural and ethnological sites of interest. It is also a popular family winter ski destination.
Velika planina is a part of the Kamnik-Savinja alpine range, rising high above the Kamniška Bistrica valley. It is Slovenia’s largest highland pasture, extending over 557 hectares at the altitude between 1,400 and 1,668 metres. Velika planina is designated as a geomorphological and geological natural asset of national importance. A calcareous geological base is a precondition for the formation of numerous sinkholes, caves and abysses. The mountainous climate is harsh, but man has successfully adapted to such living conditions as the mountain has been inhabited since prehistoric ages. Research into the plateau’s history also shows a continuous tradition of pasturing in the area, since the beginning of the 16th century. Original herdsmen’s cottages are unique in entire Alpine area, creating a distinctive cultural landscape. It has been preserved to this day, giving the mountain a distinguished charm.
Herdsmen’s huts on the mountain are called “bajte”. Settlements on Velika, Mala and Gojška planina were designed as provisional settlements with an entirely unique shape of huts having an oval and rectangular floor plan. The terrain and weather conditions have greatly influenced the organizational structure of the settlements. They were set up in quite lee areas of lower humidity. In the winter of 1945, German soldiers burned down the entire settlement on the mountain, comprised of more than 100 huts, as well as the Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows.
The Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows was built in the herdsmen’s settlement on Velika planina in 1939. Jože Plečnik, the world-famous Slovenian architect, designed the sketch for the chapel, modelling it upon herdsmen’s huts. The chapel was burnt down by the Germans in the winter of 1945. It took almost four decades to rebuild the chapel upon herdsmen’s initiative and with the help of bajtarji and many others. The chapel is now located in exactly the same place as before.
The Preskar Hut was renovated right after the war in accordance with old construction techniques and has been protected as a cultural monument of local importance since 2005. This small and grey hut built on a rocky cleft is the last and only preserved example of a typical oval hut in Slovenia today. The interior is separated into two parts – the herdsman’s room in the middle is encircled by a cattle pen. The plain central room has no chimney, no windows, not even a toilet. It is furnished only to suffice for a simple everyday life of a herdsman. A hut is covered by characteristic small wooden boards called shingles or “šinkelni”, made of larch or spruce wood.
Hut dwellers or bajtarji are tenants of herdsmen’s huts outside of pasture season and are a very important part of the Velika planina’s tourist image. Before World War II, bajtarji started and gradually developed skiing tourism and after the war, their active socializing and efforts greatly contributed to the revival of Velika planina. Today, hut dwelling is an alternative way of spending active leisure time away from contemporary lifestyle. Bajtarji are not only enthusiastic skiers but also great promoters of tourism.
Taking cattle to pasture for the summer is a very special event for every farm. Summer pasture used to be a necessity as it enabled survival and larger stock of cattle in the valley. This tradition is still kept alive. The cattle are brought to the mountain in the beginning of June. They used to bring it up on June 9th, St. Primus and Felicianus day, but nowadays the day is chosen according to the weather conditions. The landlord would hang a heavy bell on the leading cow or bull to announce the solemn departure to the mountain. Herdsmen took the cattle to pasture with blessed Palm Sunday branches. The long journey from the valley to the mountain usually began early in the morning since it took quite a few hours. Herdsmen tended their cattle on the mountain for three months, from mid-June till September. Traditionally they would depart the mountain on the Nativity of Our Lady Day (September 8th).
In the past, Velika planina was visited mostly by locals for pasturing, hunting, searching for minerals and herbs. An important milestone in the development of Velika planina tourism was the opening of the cottage of Slovenian Mountaineering Society in the herdsmen’s settlement. At the time, first skiers could be seen on the slopes of the mountain. The construction of cable car line in the 1960’s paved the way for mass tourism on the mountain and made it an easily accessible ski resort. Construction of the chair lift to Gradišče followed, as well as several ski lifts around the mountain. Tourist settlements in the area of Zeleni rob and Gradišče were built according to the plans of architect Vlasto Kopač, a former student of Jože Plečnik. Tourist cottages resemble herdsmen’s huts. Nowadays, around 50,000 visitors come to Velika planina by cable car each year; several times more visit the mountain on foot.
Velika planina is a unique Slovenian mountain that never fails to charm visitors regardless of the season. Throughout the year, it attracts with snow-covered huts in winter, blooming pastures in spring, the liveliness of summer, the tranquility of autumn and the slow transition into its winter quietness again.
Web page: velikaplanina.si