Hrastovlje, Slovenia

In the village of Hrastovlje, near where Slovenia, Italy, and Croatia meet, the Church of the Holy Trinity, above, was first built in the 12th century. Its defensive wall was added in the early 1500s against Ottoman attacks.

In the 1950s, the church caretaker scraped away the whitewash inside and found breathtaking Biblical frescoes dating to 1490. The most impressive and chilling is the Dance Macabre (above, courtesy of Slovenia’s Tourist Board), which depicts humankind–child and adult, pauper and rich man–making a slow but steady march to the grave.

Photography isn’t permitted inside, but this virtual tour is worth a visit.

The Buzz on Slovenian Honey



By Jennifer Dorroh Special to The Wall Street Journal

Bled, Slovenia — IN SLOVENIA, WHERE ONE in every 250 residents keeps bees, the hills are alive with the buzz of honey making. On a hot summer afternoon at a sidewalk cafe; here, it is often a bee, rather than a fly, that alights on the rim of your coffee cup or beer glass.

The indigenous Carniolan gray bee thrives amid the diverse vegetation, pristine Alpine environment and forests that cover 60% of the country. The result is a mouthwatering variety of artisanal honeys, including fir, spruce, sweet chestnut, lime, maple and wild cherry — plus honey liqueurs and wines, and even beehive art — available everywhere from the stalls of Ljubljana’s Central Market to typical grocery stores and gift shops, as well as from the beekeepers themselves.

Base your hunt for honey in the town of Bled, about 60 kilometers northwest of Ljubljana in the Julian Alps. With its medieval castle overlooking a sapphire-blue lake with an island church, Bled is the perfect jumping-off point for buying gourmet honey from the beekeepers in nearby villages. (Bled’s tourist office has a free map that marks each village.)

The small artisanal producers’ patient attention to their hives yields thicker honeys with richer, more intense flavors than mass-produced honey. Slovenia‘s small apiaries refrain from harvesting honey until the bees build wax caps over the cells of their honeycombs, signaling that the honey is mature. Big producers, pressed for time, often harvest a more watery, unripe honey, which they then sometimes heat to reduce its moisture content.

You can get a good look at the process at the Cebularski Muzej (Beekeeping Museum), in the baroque Thurn Manor in the tiny, well-preserved 400-year-old town center of Radovljica, less than 10 kilometers from Bled. From May through October, the museum’s centerpiece is an active, transparent beehive.

The museum focuses on the Carniolan bee (prized for its gentleness — it won’t attack humans unless its home is threatened) and local beekeepers who, by the 16th century, had pioneered a form of apiculture in which wooden hives are stacked together in several rows and housed under one roof. Most Slovenian beekeepers today still group their hives this way, although their apicultural methods have changed, says Franc Sivic, vice president of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association and a prolific photographer whose close-ups of bees are featured in the museum.

In the mid-18th century, busy hives inspired local artists who used the rectangular wooden front panels as their canvases. A single bee house offered dozens of panels on which to paint religious figures, scenes of bucolic bliss and illustrations of human weakness: On one, the devil sharpens a gossipy woman’s tongue on a whetstone; on another, soldiers sneak up behind their enemies. These open-air galleries made it easier for the queen bee to find her way home after mating.

The museum features nearly 200 panels of antique apiary-inspired art.

Beehive panel reproductions (19 euros) are found in the museum’s gift shop, along with sweet-smelling hive-shaped candles (3.30 euros), honey cookies (1.60 euros), jars of cinnamon- and chocolate-laced honey (2.50 euros), chestnut, flower, fir and forest honeys (4 euros-7.50 euros), apiculture books (4 euros-19.20 euros) and the children’s book “From Hunny-Bee’s Diary” (10 euros), available in English and Slovenian versions.

Across the street at Gostilna Avgustin, enjoy a hearty lunch of grilled trout served with spinach and potatoes for about 10 euros. On clear days, the restaurant’s Alpine view includes a glimpse of Mount Triglav, Slovenia‘s highest peak. (Call ahead to secure a balcony or solarium table.)

Next head to Bostjan and Anton Noc Beekeeping in the village of Zirovnica, about nine kilometers from Radovljica. Although the operation and shop are named for the father and son who head the business, the whole family is involved. Bostjan Noc’s wife, Vanja, makes award-winning honey wine and acts as the family’s English interpreter; his nephew Jaka, 11, already tends his own bees.

The family hives are mobile: A truck bearing a two-meter-high bee house stacked with up to 90 hives can be moved to catch the best pollen on any given day. (The local call-in farm report provides daily pollen counts.) Although no elaborate pictures grace the hives, their rectangular fronts are painted in eye-catching shades of blue, green, red, yellow, purple and pink.

In summer, the family brings customers to their hives to watch as they collect and process the honey. Visitors can even don mesh-covered beekeeper’s hats and gear to help remove it. The family shop, nearly wallpapered in prize certificates, sells chestnut, spruce, fir, acacia, blossom, forest, lime, and flower honeys (1.60 euros-14.60 euros), as well as propolis, the bud resin that bees use as glue, which is valued for its healing powers (2 euros), deliciously sweet honey wine (6 euros) and honey liqueur (6 euros).

In the nearby village of Begunje na Goreskem, near the striking yellow 18th-century St. Urh’s Church, Janez Luznar’s colorful bee house hums against a backdrop of snow-capped Alps. A third-generation beekeeper, he sells a dark, rich-tasting fir honey, plus lime, chestnut, dandelion, spruce, forest, and blossom varieties (3.50 euros-7 euros) and beeswax crafts such as a nativity set (30 euros).

Back in Bled, you can stroll around the lake, cross it by boat to reach the baroque Church of the Assumption, hike beside the turquoise river of the nearby Vintgar Gorge, or visit Bled Castle, whose museum will reopen this spring with a new exhibition on the history of the frequently beleaguered region.

Though hardly seen as a weapon of destruction today, invaders once felt the sting of Slovenia‘s beekeeping tradition. In the 16th century, locals defended their fortresses from invading Turks by hurling angry hives on their heads. Fortunately, today’s Slovenian beekeepers can afford to be much more welcoming to visitors.

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National Museum of Slovenia-Metelkova Opens

Slovenia unveiled its new National Museum of Slovenia-Metelkova (Metelkova cesta 25) Thursday in a redesigned Yugoslav Army barracks in a grungy-but-hip neighborhood near the Ljubljana train station. Its first exhibition celebrates Primož Trubar, the 16th-century Protestant reformer who penned the first Slovene-language book. The museum’s permanent collection will debut this fall, featuring works of applied art such as iconic 20th-century Slovenian architect and designer Jože Plečnik’s dining room set and one of the lampposts he created for Ljubljana’s Tivoli Park.

“Emerging Slovenia” in London


Portrait of contemporary dancer Iztok Kovač by Borut Peterlin

IMAGINATIVE portraits of Slovenian artists, performers, and others making their mark on the nation’s cultural life are the focus of a new exhibition in London.

“Emerging Slovenia,” a collection of 38 portraits by photojournalist Borut Peterlin, opened this week at the Host Gallery in central London’s Clerkenwell neighborhood.

First published in the Slovene-language magazine Mladina, the portraits often juxtapose incongruous elements that play off their subjects’ public images. In one, jazz festival founder Marijan Dović saws a barbed wire fence using the bow of a violin. (Or is he playing the fence?) Another (above) depicts contemporary dancer Iztok Kovač falling down a flight of stairs.

Peterlin says he aims for “this kind of twist in the picture, to have visual elements that are fighting between each other. I say, ‘Let’s make it unpredictable, something that’s fun to see not only in the week it’s made, but that will be interesting years later.’”

Taken together, the portraits form a lively introduction to the creative life of Slovenia today.

The Host Gallery considers Peterlin’s work “an interesting and unusual way of presenting a country through its artists,” says the gallery’s Michael Regnier.

“We’re quite a new, young gallery, so we’ve done eclectic shows, and a young photographer from Slovenia showing portraits of his compatriots fits in perfectly,” he says. And the timing was right: The Host was enthusiastic about highlighting Slovenia as it prepares to take on the presidency of the European Union in January.

Two years ago, Jon Levy, of the magazine foto8, and Adrian Evans, of the agency Panos, founded the gallery to provide a showcase for work that might not otherwise find its audience. Its early exhibitions included Pep Bonet’s “POSITHIV+,” a multi-country, multi-year project on HIV/AIDS.

“The outlets for classic photojournalism are becoming smaller and smaller,” Regnier says. “The gallery is not dependent on the whims of the advertising industry. It offers a much more pure, much more direct way of displaying the work.”

It will also offer wider exposure for the work of Peterlin, who has covered many of the country’s biggest stories for Mladina. During the last year, he has captured gripping photos of members of a Roma family who were evicted from their home in eastern Slovenia.

Peterlin, who is also the magazine’s photo editor, says his experience with photojournalism informs the portraits, and vice-versa. “The aesthetic that I learn in photojournalism is applied here, and the portrait aesthetic appears in the photojournalism, as in the pictures I took of deaf children.”

Peterlin chooses the portraits’ subjects in cooperation with other editors of Mladina, but the approach to each shot is purely his own.

“I want to think of a way to turn the situation upside down,” he says. In preparing to photograph Kovač, perhaps best known for dancing on a chimney in the 1997 film Vrtoglavi Ptič (Dizzy Bird), Peterlin says he told his subject: “Ok, you are defying gravity, but I would like to photograph you falling in your own apartment.”

The choices can also be impulsive, as when he photographed Slovenian writer Nejc Gazvoda underwater. “With Nejc, it wasn’t really rational,” he says. “It was warm that day, so I said, ‘Let’s shoot it in the pool.’”

Despite their artistic and inspired nature, the portraits are as deadline-driven as any news photo would be. “I have a day or two to think about it and an hour to do it. It’s really stressful. But the stress helps me with focus,” Peterlin says.

“I have to minimize all the doubts. I have to be very clear with what to do,” he says. “I really learn how to exclude the thoughts that are not productive. I just have to concentrate on the subject and act fast.”

“I say, ‘Let’s do a good picture in an hour, and then run to the next press conference.’”

For those who can’t make it to London, the portraits selected for the Host exhibition are here. The rest of the portraits in the Mladina series are here. (In the latter gallery, move your cursor over each photo for nuggets about the subject and the photographer’s inspiration for the shot.)

“Emerging Slovenia” will be at the Host Gallery (1 Honduras Street, near the Barbican Tube station) through November 3.