Settlement of Črna vas (Black village) and other black things
At the beginning of the route from Ljubljana to Ig, soon after the southern ring road overpass, there is a junction with traffic lights and on the right side after the junction, an inn which used to be called the Pri Mokarju Inn , . It is here (or nearby) that the route named after Snake's Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), a typical marsh flower which blooms in March or April, starts.
Turn towards west, that is, towards the settlement of Črna vas . The road is flat, as if it was drawn with a ruler . It does not rise even for a metre and it also does not turn off direction for a metre. An ideal road for the use of autopilot but unfortunately it has not been invented yet for bicycles. What is more, the autopilot would not be suitable for this part of the route because you have to focus attention elsewhere. You cycle along a busy road, where the vehicles also drive quite fast. Of course, there are limits but do not mind the details...
When you pedal in rhythm and your thoughts wander off, you can see how intensively the Marshes are being urbanised. A few years ago, this was intact plain and you could easily see across the meadow to the overgrown bank of the Ljubljanica River. Only here and there stood an old homestead, on both sides surrounded by mejice , typical marsh avenues of bushes and black alders which grow along drainage canals and usually mark the borders of land estates. Nowadays, this area is somewhat urban – house next to a house and certainly some illegal buildings among them. Only the road is still typically rural – no pavement, let alone a bicycle track.
Plečnik on the Marshes and something a hundred years older
It is impossible to overlook the renowned Church of St Michael, built according to Plečnik's plans, on the right side of the road, not far from your starting point . It is so special that you won't miss it. Jože Plečnik designed it at the initiative of Fran Saleški Finžgar, the writer and priest in Trnovo, and for his nephew, who was also a priest. It was built between 1937 and 1938. Its foot was made of stone and everything else was made of wood and intended for latter addition which was prevented by World War II. A stone bridge leads to the entrance into the church nave which typically emphasises the exterior of the church, while the interior is quite simple .
Let's count bridges from the church on. There is nothing by the first one, soon after the church. Then follows a longer section without bridges, excluding the small one over insignificant water. Look left at the second bridge (over the Peščenek Canal). Across the road, just before the bridge, stands Tomaževa hiša House (Črna vas 219), which is the oldest residential building on the original marsh and which is under monumental protection. It was built in 1844, which is about 14 years after the drainage of this part of the Marshes and the establishment of conditions for residential dwelling. The house is an example of typical architecture and is entirely built of wooden logs.
The Marshes – part one
With the aim of not being taken too far, turn left after about three kilometres from the starting point. The turn is behind the bridge over the Iška River, at the beginning of the village of Lipa (house number 1) . This is the third bridge from Plečnik's church. The road is asphalted at the beginning; then it becomes macadam and is as flat as the previous one, just that it leads to the south. Straight ahead is a mighty mass of Krim; about ten minutes are needed to arrive to its foot . The macadam ends there and when the asphalt starts, you are already at the junction. The asphalted road may take you by surprise since you have gotten used of flat, soft macadam. Turn left and dash off towards Brest.
Brest, brest and Brest
Brest (elm) is a tree variety threatened with extinction in Slovenia, and only few "true" city dwellers know how it looks like. No wonder, since they've almost disappeared because of Dutch elm disease which killed almost all elm trees in America and decimated them in Europe. But this brest will continue to exist. It is actually not a tree, but a settlement called Brest. You are there in a flash. Is there anything worth visiting? Certainly! In addition to the settlement of Brest (first mentioned in 1330), which is in any case worth visiting, there is also the Brest pumping station , which supplies Ljubljana with drinking water and even a small castle or manor, named Brest . Thus, there is no confusion with names. The manor was built in 1664 and has been preserved in almost untouched form. If you would like to visit it, turn right at the first junction at the beginning of the village, cycle through the village and make a sharp right turn at the last junction (behind the church). The address of the manor is Brest 23 and the pumping station is approximately 400 metres south. The Church of St Andrew from 1614 which was heavily rebuilt in the 18th century is interesting as well.
If you are not interested in this kind of attractions, turn left at the first junction at the beginning of the village and again left at the next junction (bar at no. 45). At the turning, you can see a dead end sign which marks the course of your route - there is no better indicator. After a few hundred metres, when the houses and asphalt end, you finally leave Brest.
The Marshes – part two
Now you are again in the middle of the Marshes and are advancing fast along a good macadam road. The sun dries your sweaty back. The Marshes is to the left and right, the Kamnik Alps and Ljubljana Castle are in front of you. An idyll. Turn left at the crossroads. You suddenly see a notice board and a bird observatory. Awesome! Make a stop and read about measures for the protection of corncrake's habitat, a bird that you can see in this area . From there on, the road is slightly less compacted but passable throughout. Continue towards north to the macadam road which led you to Brest. However, do not turn towards it. At the first larger ditch on your way, the road ends and you have to turn. This time turn right - to make it clear - there is no other way. And again, you are on a wider, quite good and, of course, completely flat road, as any other road in the Marshes. Cycle along the cultivated landscape, there are ditches to the left and right, a small forest here and there. The houses are gradually becoming bigger and bigger. The settlement, asphalt, Ižanska Road, a stop sign, and then - turn right!
You are on Ižanska Road, along with the rest of traffic. It is unpleasant, but not for long. You have to cycle there only for about half a kilometre. The settlement on your right: Ižanska Road 398 and 400. A settlement with only two houses? No, there is an entire street of houses and all of them have a house number 398 or 400 – together with practically the entire alphabet of extensions. You are probably used to extended house numbers that finish with "a", "b" or "c", you might have also seen "f" or "g", but here the numbers extend to "z" . Truly a complete use of numbers which indicate that a letter or two should be added to the alphabet...
A little further, a right signpost directs you to the monument to the National Liberation War in the forest of Kozlarjeva gošča. Let's visit the monument of our recent history. The large, noticeable monument is still standing but all boards denoting the historical event have been completely destroyed and the surroundings are neglected. Unfortunately, this is also a part of present Slovenian culture. If you skip the visit of the monument, there is a turn towards Matena about 200 metres further. On your way, you will pass another settlement with a similar story about house numbers.
There is an airport on the left soon after the turning. But do not be misled, not a real airport but an airport for model makers. Everything is properly minimised; there are benches for tired passenger instead of the terminal building. Thus, pass the fields and cycle along the asphalt to Matena . This is another old settlement, built on gravel alluvium. The Marshes are not just peat and similar unstable ground, there are also some gravel spits and islands appropriate for construction. And this is where the settlements have emerged. One of them is a village with an interesting name which sounds somewhat foreign – Matena. It must have been inhabited in prehistoric times, as a dugout canoe was dug out nearby. A castle used to be situated in Matena but it disappeared without a trace, leaving the Gothic Church of St Hermagoras and Fortunatus with a large linden tree in front of it the only major attraction of the settlement. You can visit it, but you would have to go back since it is not situated directly on your route. The church is nothing special, so it's best to turn left (the church is to the right) at the first junction and continue along the main road through Iška Loka towards Ig, a settlement approximately two kilometres away. A section of the local road to Iška Loka and to the first houses of Ig has not been asphalted yet.
Rest in Ig
You arrive straight in the centre of Ig , . There you can enjoy a short rest. Fresh water will certainly be welcome, especially in summer, together with some shade since the marsh routes can be darn sultry. Ig offers several attractions, including Ig Castle which is now a women's prison. The castle was built in 1696 by Erazem Engelhaus after demolition of the old one named Sonneg, which was situated in the centre of Ig.
At the bus station turn left and cycle along the priority road through the settlement and towards Ljubljana. There is a powerful spring of the Ižica River right next the road at the junction where you have to turn left.
The road turns towards Ljubljana. When you arrive to the petrol station, turn right onto a rather unrecognisable street which can be missed easily. Do not forget: turn right exactly opposite of the petrol station!
The Marshes – part three
The macadam soon begins but the road is still normally wide. This part of the Marshes is today more or less cultivated, but this was not the case in the past. The Marshes used to be a large lake which was later partly drained and turned into a marsh. Close to where you cycle, pile dwellers used to live who inhabited the area of the Marshes long ago. They are known for typical buildings on piles and smooth black ceramics with engraved patterns. This is a very, very old culture whose origins date back to the fifth millennium BC.
Soon after crossing the Ižica River, you arrive to the junction of five roads. Head north, but first look at the powerful spring (to the left before the bridge); there is also a place to rest with children's playground. The crystal clear water flows into the Podvin Canal right after the spring.
Dices and a chessboard
From there onwards, the cultivated agricultural landscape slowly makes way for the wilderness. Flood meadows, thin forest, uncultivated and unmown lands. An ideal habitat for a special plant that lent its name to today's route, whose outline looks a bit like the shape of the plant's blossom. This is Snake's Head Fritillary (also called Checkered Daffodil), Fritillaria meleagris, which is the feature of the Ljubljana Marshes and also adorns the coat-of-arms of the Municipality of Ig . It used to be quite widespread on the wet marshy ground; however, it is very sensitive to the changes in the environment and is today one of the endangered species. It prefers marshy meadows which must be neither cultivated nor fertilised. The marsh soil is acidic and poor in organic substances, so it needs to be fertilised in order to grow produce. Unfortunately, this destroys the habitats of Snake's Head Fritillary which has thus been slowly disappearing. Nevertheless, there are still some meadows where so many Snake's Heads bloom at the end of March and at the beginning of April that the meadows turn black. The Latin name of Snake's Head (fritillaria) derives from the word fritillus which denotes a pot for shuffling dices before throwing them, since the shape of its blossom somewhat resembles it. It has another feature – a chessboard pattern. It has scarlet blossoms with evenly spaced white dots which resemble the chessboard and, of course, the coat-of-arms of Croatia which is also supposed to copy the pattern of this plant, called kockavica in Croatian. Snake's Head is protected, and it is thus forbidden to pick up blossoms or destroy these plants in any other way! The blossoms wither very fast when in vase, they do not last even for two days. In addition, the plant contains alkaloids which make it toxic.
When approaching the two slopes, the solitary hills of the Marshes, Grmez Hill on the left and Babna gorica Hill on the right , the straight road comes to an end. Turn left to the west and ride past Grmez . And although the road tempts you to turn towards north again, stay in the direction of the west. It is true that the surface is in quite bad condition but it will soon get better. You are again approaching the Ižica River which accompanied you in the far distance all along. When the first houses on the left appear and the runway on the right, you are close to Hauptmanca . At the junction with the wider road turn left and you end up in front of Ižanska Road, near the turning where you previously turned to Matena. This time turn to the opposite direction – to the right, towards north. You have to ride carefully since there is a lot of traffic on this road. Barely two kilometres remain until the finish line.
It is true that Snake's Head blooms only in spring, when the cycling season barely begins, but the route is interesting in other seasons as well, don't you agree? Thirty kilometres was a nice walk for your bike and body.