Visiting the Traditional Shepherd Settlement at Velika Planina in the Kamnik Alps, Slovenia

We visited some incredible places whilst we were in Slovenia, but this was far and away my favourite.  I’m not sure exactly why – maybe it was the breathtaking views, maybe it was the fact that we seemed to have the place virtually to ourselves or maybe it was the glimpse it afforded us into a simpler way of life – but it really had some magic about it that I loved. We felt privileged to be there and in awe of the beauty and peacefulness of the place. It was very special.

Velika Planina

Velika Planina literally means ‘big mountain’ and the name refers to a large alpine plateau high up in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps north of Ljubljana. Reaching the plateau requires a steep 2+ hour hike from the valley below or else you can make use of the cable car situated about 10km north of the historic town of Kamnik (see full details below on how to get there). Velika Planina is actually made up of several small settlements with romantic names like Small Mountain (Mala Planina) and Silent Valley (Tiha Dolina). Velika Planina has few permanent residents, but in the summer months it becomes populated with herdsmen who bring their cattle up to graze on the mountain pastures as they have done for centuries. It is a unique community and one of very few herders’ settlements of this scale that still exist in Europe and where the traditional Alpine herdsmen’s culture is still alive. And at about 1500m (4900 ft) above sea level, it is also a ski destination in winter and a place for hiking and relaxing in the summer months.

Slovenia Velika Planina Lower Cable Car Station
The lower cable car station

Cable Car to Velika Planina

The cable car is open year round and can carry 35 people at a time on the 1643 metre journey up to the plateau. Standing at the bottom, it appears to take a terrifyingly steep ascent and the journey is in one continuous run, meaning there are no additional supporting gantries along the cable, which appears to hang quite low like a sagging washing line.

Slovenia Velika Planina Cable Car
Not for the faint hearted! The cable car had a very steep climb up to the plateau.

As we parked up by the lower cable car station, the 12 noon cable car was just leaving. We watched it go and gathered our rucksacks and picnic before heading to the ticket office, only to find that we had badly timed our arrival and the next one wasn’t until 2pm! At this time of year the cable car only runs five times a day on weekdays, but every hour on weekends and since it was a Thursday we were out of luck.  You can see the timetable here (see bottom right under ‘working hours’).

Kamniška Bistrica Valley

Catching the 2pm cable car would still give us a couple of hours on the plateau before the last cable car back down at 4pm, so we bought our tickets anyway and looked around at what we could do to fill the time until then. The lower cable car station is situated in the unspoilt Kamniška Bistrica valley and we had seen glimpses of the river from the car on the way there. So we followed the path down behind the ticket office and spent an hour or so marvelling at the incredible turquoise colour of the water and enjoying the beauty of the valley with its lush green forest, set against the deep blue sky and grey mountain peaks, still dotted with winter snow. In fact, we were glad we had missed the cable car as it gave us a chance to experience another side of Slovenia’s incredible beauty.

Slovenia Kamniška Bistrica Valley
The beautiful Kamniška Bistrica river and valley near the lower cable car station up to Velika Planina

Unnerving Ascent

Now, I have never had a problem with travelling in cable cars, but I have to admit that the ascent on this particular line had me holding my breath for a good deal of it. Luckily the stunning views of the mountains as we rose were enough to take my mind off the sudden realisation that we were hanging literally hundreds of feet above the valley, but the 5 minute journey was nevertheless an unnerving one. As we approached the upper station, it seemed a lot more rustic than the one at the bottom and it was so small that the cable car itself didn’t go all the way in but instead seemed to hang out rather precariously over the valley. Let’s just say I was happy to get my feet back on terra firma!  And the views from the top were, well…staggeringly beautiful!

Slovenia Velika Planina View From Upper Cable Car Station
The magnificent view from the upper cable car station

Wooden Shepherd’s Huts

Once you get off the cable car and onto the alpine meadow, a clear path leads you up through the first section of pasture. It follows alongside a two-seat chair lift (Šimnovec chair lift) which operates daily during the summer months and the ski season, but only on Fridays and weekends during the rest of the year.  (You can see the timetable here – see bottom right under ‘working hours’).   So once again we were out of luck and had to go on foot.

Slovenia Velika Planina View of Kamnik Alps

It was about a 30 minute walk up to the top of the hill, but this did afford us great views of the many traditional wooden shepherd’s huts that are dotted between the trees at the side of the path. The huts are generally oval in shape and their roofs, which come almost down to ground level, are covered in pine or spruce shingles which have turned a lovely silvery grey over time.

Slovenia Velika Planina close-up of sherpherds' huts
Some of the traditional shepherds’ huts found up at Velika Planina

Hiking paths

Some of the paths up on the plateau are quite rough and stony; in places there are the remains of old wooden steps that were put into the hillsides to help make them easier to climb, but many of these are rotten now and have fallen away. Much of it is gently sloped, but in other places it is too steep to stand and so you have to keep going right up to the top before stopping. It certainly gave our calves a workout!

Slovenia Velika Planina paths and views
The paths up at Velika Planina were rocky and very steep in places, but the views were fantastic!
Slovenia Velika Planina
It doesn’t look much from here, but the path to the top of this ridge was SO steep!

Reaching the Main Settlement

Back at the campsite before we set off, we had seen a photograph of Velika Planina where the huts were scattered across an open meadow and it looked so captivating that we wanted to find that view for ourselves. The pastures are vast and we had no idea in which part the main settlement was located, so the various signs on the path didn’t really help us. So we pushed on up the hill, past the end of the chair lift, determined to get to the top of the next ridge in the hope that we may be able to see it from there.   And to our delight, when we reached the top there it was, spread out before us like something out of a fairytale. It really was idyllic.

Slovenia Velika Planina Shepherd Huts view
We found them! Our hunch had been right and the main settlement was just over the hill.
Slovenia Velika Planina Shepherd huts settlement
This was the view we had seen in a magazine and wanted to find for ourselves

Alpine Meadows and Spring Flowers

We explored around the area for a while, taking in the views all around, across to the Kamnik Alps and down onto the plain where we thought we could just make out Ljubljana in the distance.

Slovenia Velika Planina view towards Ljubljana
We could see all the way out over the plain, towards Ljubljana

In places the views of the green pasture with the grey and white alpine peaks behind reminded me of the opening of ‘The Sound of Music’ and to everyone’s embarrassment I indulged my inner Maria and set off at a run across the meadow, arms outstretched. I fear I was rather ungainly in my shorts with my rucksack jigging up and down on my back, but I really didn’t care, there was only us and the birds up there!

Slovenia Kamnik
Me, channeling my inner ‘Maria’

The meadows were full of wild alpine flowers, including lots of purple crocuses, which made it even more beautiful. I have since read that in June there are so many of them in bloom that the whole area is carpeted in purple, which must be a sight to behold. Once again we were just a little early in the season; sadly we missed the full glory of the crocuses, but happily we also missed the crowds – I fear you may not be able to have one without the other!

Slovenia Velika Planina crocuses
The crocuses were just starting to come out. In a few weeks time the mountain pastures will turn purple with all the flowers

Anyway, once I’d finished channelling my inner Maria, we realised that we would need to start heading back. We were conscious that the last cable car down the mountain left at 4pm and we really didn’t want to miss it. As we strolled happily along, we talked about how wonderful it would be to stay up there and spend the night in the settlement. To gaze at the stars on a clear night and wake up in the morning to the crisp mountain air and the peace and quiet of the hillside – how magical that would be!

Slovenia Velika Planina Upper Cable Car station
Going back down the mountain on the last cable car of the day was a little crowded!

Back at the lower cable car station, we saw someone dressed in the clothing of a traditional herdsman.  We would’ve loved to find out more about what he was wearing and about their way of life, but sadly he didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Slovenian.  He looks pretty dapper, doesn’t he?  And seeing him helped bring this traditional way of life alive for us.

Slovenia Velika Planina Shepherd in Traditional clothes
This is how the shepherds traditionally dressed

The rest of this post is really just practical information for anyone who may be thinking of visiting Velika Planina – the sort of information I wished I’d known before we set off, but before that I have to share with you the gem used by the tourism authority in Slovenia – it claims to be the only country in the world with the word LOVE in its name. It seems very apt for such a wonderfully welcoming, stunningly beautiful country. We did indeed love Slovenia, and hope to come back and explore it further one day. It is a strange reality that even with a year to travel around Europe we sometimes feel as though we have only scratched the surface of it and wherever we go there are always things that we don’t manage to see. As we reluctantly left the campsite – Ljubljana Resort – Mia and Živa on reception, who had been so helpful and friendly to us during our stay, sent us off with a bottle of wine and a book about Ljubljana and we vowed to come back to this lovely country one day. But for now our compass was set south and east towards Croatia and its capital, Zagreb.

Tips and Practical Information for Visiting Velika Planina:

A lot of this information we didn’t know before we set off and it would’ve made things a bit easier when we were up on Velika Planina, so hopefully it will help you if you are planning a trip. A really good source of information and a great place to start is the Velika Planina website.

Getting to Velika Planina

The lower cable car station for Velika Planina is located about 10km north of Kamnik, which itself is about a 20km (30 minute) drive north east of Ljubljana.

From Kamnik itself you head up the valley on the 225, following signs for Kamniška Bistrica and Gornji Grad. After about 5km you reach the village of Stahovica, where you take the left fork onto the 923. From here the road continues to wind up the valley alongside the river and you follow the signs for Kamniška Bistrica and the cable car. After about another 5km you will see the sign for Kamp Alpe and the cable car station. The station itself is on the left, whilst the main car park is on the right. It was quiet when we visited and so we were able to park at the side of the access road to the cable car, but in busier months you would need to use the car park.

Slovenia Velika Planina Kamnik location
Map showing the location of Velika Planina, about 10km north of Kamnik. Yellow = lower cable car station. Red = upper cable car station. Blue = Simnovec chair lift stations. Purple = Snow Mary Chapel on Velika Planina. (Map courtesy of maps.me)

The second part of the journey involves a 2+ hour hike or a 5 minute cable car ride up to the plateau. After this you can walk or take the two-seat chair lift (assuming it is operating) which has a further two stops up the plateau, one at Zeleni Rob and one at Gradišče.

It really is worth checking out the timetable for the cable car and the chair lift before you set off as, although it is open year round, at certain times of the week/year it only operates 5 times a day.  You can access the timetable for the cable car and chair lift here (see bottom right under ‘Working hours’).

When we visited, the last cable car made its descent at 4pm and it was packed! Obviously there were more people up on the plateau than we had realised. They did reassure us though that had there been more passengers than it could hold, it would just do another trip.

Reaching the Herder settlement

The closest herder settlement to the cable car is Velika Planina itself and you reach it by either walking (it is about a 30 minute hike) or catching the Šimnovec chair lift from the upper cable car station. Once you reach the end of the chairlift at Gradišče, you need to press on right to the top of the hill. From here you will be able to see a large number of shepherd’s huts spread out before you. This is also the location of the Snow Mary Chapel (see below) and you can walk down into the settlement to have a closer look at all the huts. Other settlements like Mala Planina and Gojška Planina are a further 30-45 minute hike away, so leave yourself plenty of time if you want to reach these too.

Slovenia Velika Planina location
Map of the Velika Planina area and the different settlements. Red = upper cable car station. Blue = Simnovec chair lift stations. Purple = Snow Mary Chapel in the main herder settlement. Other settlements are at Mala Planina and Gojska Planina. The tourist settlement is near to the first (left) chair lift station.

The tourist settlement (see below for information about staying at Velika Planina) is located in the area near to the Zeleni Rob lodging house. From the first station of the chair lift, you pass Zeleni Rob where the path curves round to the left and descends into the settlement.

Food and Drink Options

There is a small café with outside tables at the lower cable car station. Unfortunately the Gostilna Pod Žičnic lodging house that used to be there burnt down in January 2017 and has yet to be rebuilt.

At the upper cable car station is the Skodla Lodging House where you can get snacks and drinks. It has a lovely outdoor terrace with magnificent views.

Up on the plateau, the Zeleni Rob Lodging House has a large outdoor terrace as well as indoor seating and serves traditional Slovenian food. It is located near the top of the Šimnovec chair lift.

At Mala Planina, food and drink are available at the mountain huts of Domžalski DomJarški Dom and Črnuče Dom, which also have accommodation (see below).

There are toilets at the upper and lower cable car station and at the various lodging houses, assuming that they are open when you visit.

Staying at Velika Planina

I was delighted to discover that there is a section of Velika Planina that is made up of cottages for tourists. I would love to stay up there for a few nights and experience the stillness and quiet of the early morning and gaze up at the stars. They are similar to the herdsmen’s cottages, but their interior is somewhat more luxurious and they have running water and electricity. What is great about this so-called tourist settlement is that when it was being built in the1960s, they made the cottages look just like the shepherd’s huts so as to keep the traditional look of the landscape, but kept them strictly separate from the herdsmen’s settlement. I hope that this separation continues as it would be sad to see the way of life and traditions of the herdsmen destroyed by the huts in these areas being turned into Airbnb rentals or holiday homes.

You can find more information about accommodation on the Velika Planina website.   Or type ‘Velika Planina’ into Airbnb and you will find a whole host of cottages available to rent.  You can also stay in one of the mountain huts in the Mala Planina area, such as Domžalski Dom, Jarški Dom and Črnuče Dom.   There is also information about these accommodations here (although you will have to use google chrome to translate it as for some reason this page doesn’t appear on the English version of the website).

Finally, there is a campsite next to the lower cable car station.  Kamp Alpe is in the beautiful, unspoilt Kamniska Bistrica valley where there are plenty of walks, great views and easy access up onto Velika Planina. It is also only 10km from the lovely historic town of Kamnik. The campsite has spaces for tents, camper vans and also had some cabins for rent.

Other Attractions at Velika Planina

Preskar’s Hut Museum

The museum doesn’t open until early June each year and so was closed when we visited. Apparently it is the only remaining hut with the original oval floor plan and is just how the original huts would’ve been, without a chimney or windows. Here you can see what life was like for the herdsmen in the 19th century and learn about their history and traditions. It is located in the main settlement at Mala Planina.

Snow Mary Chapel

This little chapel is located just above the main settlement. It was designed by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik to mirror the architecture of the surrounding shepherds’ huts and was originally built in 1938. Sadly during the Second World War the chapel, along with about a hundred of the wooden huts, was burnt down. The chapel was rebuilt in 1988 and during the summer mass is held their every Sunday. And apparently on Christmas Eve thousands of people make their way across the snow covered slopes of the plateau to celebrate midnight mass there by torchlight. That must indeed be a magical experience!

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2 thoughts on “Visiting the Traditional Shepherd Settlement at Velika Planina in the Kamnik Alps, Slovenia

  1. O Sarah, ths made me laugh! All I could think of looking at the scenery was “The Sound of Music,” so when you said you channeled your inner Maria, I was just delighted. The picture of you doing so is a classic! I absolutely love how each place you visit has a character all its own. Another great day and another part of our “big blue ball” that I got to see! Thank You!!

    Liked by 1 person

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