Dolenjska is like the softness of an enchanted song and such are its people, too. Its low hills scattered with castles, country crisscrossed by green rivers, streams, and forests, and facetiousness and hospitality of the locals can be met at every step.
Magic birch groves of Bela Krajina sing a different tune. They leave behind a tale reminiscent of our childhood. Rich folk tradition, typical songs, noble wine, and genuine food are relaxing for the eyes as well as the soul.
Rudolfswert was founded in 1365 by a Habsburg, Rudolf II, who named it after himself. It was named Novo Mesto in the 15th century.
The town was built on a high promontory above the Krka River Houses in the old town core line the right-angled town square.
The town was fortified by strong city walls and several defense towers. But the best protection was the Krka River. Although often under siege in times of Turkish invasions, the town was never taken. In those days the town was in its prime. Franciscan monks came to town in 1492 and in 1746 they established a gymnasium. Of great importance is also the Dolenjska Museum whose collections are exhibited in the old building of Križantija.
Today, Novo Mesto, extending on both banks of the Krka, is the industrial and cultural center of Dolenjska. On the plain between Novo Mesto and Straža is an aircraft center and to the north and west stretch green hills with tilled valleys and slopes. The whole area is densely populated.
Between the villages of Brusnice and Šentjemej lies the Gracaijev turn Castle which was only given today’s structure in the 16th century. Only a kilometer to the south is the Vrhovo Castle, and a bit further south, above the village of Cerovo at the foot of the Gorjanci, is the small Prežek Castle which was first mentioned in writing in 1180.
The best-known castle in Dolenjska is Otočec situated on a tiny island in the middle of the Krka river. The castle is a rare example of a water castle in Slovenia. Its history begins far back in the Middle Ages. During WWII it was severely damaged, but it has been rebuilt and turned into a hotel.
State border with Croatia runs on the ridges of the Gorjanci via the highest peak Trdinov vrh ( 1178 m ). Above the village of Gabrje is Gospodična ( 828 m ) with great views of the area.
There are two other castles nearby: Hmeljnik near the village Karteljevo and Stari grad nad Otočcem. Hmeljnik sits on the ridge of Hmeljniski boršt and can easily be spotted from the main road linking Ljubljana and Zagreb. It was first mentioned in writing in 1217 and it is one of the most important Romanesque castles in Slovenia. Sadly, the castle suffered a similar fate to so many other castles in Slovenia. It was burnt down in 1942 and after the war even shelled and mined.
The Old Castle ( Stari grad ) sits on the slope of Trška gora, surrounded by vineyards and many wine cellars. This castle can also be easily spotted from the main road. The first Stari grad knight was Albert who lived in the first half of the 13th century. The castle has been restored, for which we can thank Krka, the Novo Mesto pharmaceutical company.
Only a few kilometers from Otočec is the spa Šmarjeske Toplice. Tourism has its origins in 1790 but it was only modernized in the period between the two world wars.
Collections in the Dolenjski Muzej in Novo Mesto testify to the rich history of the area. From Marof, the popular Novo Mesto promenade extends a great view of the town center. Another popular excursion spot is Trška gora a renowned wine-growing district.
The Capitol Church of St. Nicholas is the oldest architectural monument in Novo Mesto and one of the finest Gothic churches in Slovenia. Gracarjev turn is just one of the numerous castles in the Krka valley – the valley of castles.