It’s an unforgettable photo opportunity in front of a mighty fortress that emerges from solid rock. But visitors to Slovenia should plan for enough time to go inside Predjama Castle and learn the real story. It’s not a fairytale.
Erazem of Predjama Castle
The castle’s name in Slovenian –Predjamski Grad — literally means “the castle in front of the cave.” Its most famous resident was the rogue knight Erazem of Predjama, a 15th century Robin Hood who taunted his enemies while withstanding a siege for more than a year. Long after the residents of the fortress should have been starved into submission by the Holy Roman Emperor’s army, Erazem was sending his attackers gifts of fresh cherries and other local foods. Passageways through the rocks and the caves below were the secret to Predjama’s survival.
The audio-guided tour offers a fascinating walk back to that violent time. Concealed in the rock face behind the Renaissance-style castle you see today is an earlier cave fortress. An ingenious rainwater conservation system allowed inhabitants to avoid drinking from poisoned wells. You’ll climb to the entrance of the tunnel Erazem might have used to escape to the outside world.
Until he was betrayed. A servant provided information about the castle’s most vulnerable point — the outhouse — and signaled the enemy when Erazem was using the toilet. That’s when a fatal shot from a catapult hit its mark.
Prayer and Torture in Predjama Castle
In feudal times, security could be more precious than gold. Life inside the fortress was safe, but not luxurious. A judge kept order in a courtroom with a door that opened onto a sheer drop-off, convenient for instantly carrying out the death penalty. Unluckier lawbreakers endured the torture chamber, which could be viewed from the clergyman’s chamber above. By contrast, the ruling family could attend services in the chapel, through a window in the rock, from the comfort of their heated bedroom. Knights kept their fighting equipment at the ready.
In more recent centuries, Predjama Castle became a hunting lodge for various Austrian aristocrats. After World War II, it was taken over by the government of Yugoslavia and became a cultural tourist attraction. Re-enactments of medieval battles and tournaments take place here. Visitors marvel at how the building seamlessly blends with the rock, towering more than 400 feet above the river valley below. According to Slovenia Tourism officials, it is the only preserved cave castle in the world. It is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest cave castle.
Before leaving, pay your respects at the 15th Century church of Our Lady of Sorrows. The place where Erazem was buried is marked by a tall tree. It stands guard as invading modern-day visitors come and go, leaving Predjama Castle to guard its secrets.
Planning Your Visit to Predjama Castle
Getting there: The castle is part of Park Postojnska Jama (Postojna Cave Park), located only 50 km from the capital city of Ljubljana. We arrived in less than 45 minutes in a rental car. Bus tours to the caves and castle are also available, but some of them only stop for the photo opportunity outside the castle and don’t allow time to take the inside tour. Another option is to book with a local guide, who will customize your tour and arrange your transportation from Ljubljana.
Staying there: There is a small guesthouse in the tiny village of Predjama with a view of the castle. Another option is the newly remodeled Hotel Jama, next to the entrance to the Postojna Cave. Admission to all of the park attractions is included in the hotel price.
Planning your time: Most visitors combine the castle visit with the train ride in Postojna Cave, as described in this post. A combination ticket was 35.70 euros for adults, with discounts for students and children. More information and the current prices are available on the park website. There is a shuttle bus to the castle in the summer, and in off-season you can take a taxi for about 10 euros.
We visited the Postojna Cave first and arrived at the castle mid-day on a brilliant spring morning in May. We had the photo observation deck practically to ourselves. Arriving with a crowd means you will have lots of competition for the perfect Instagram shot. Good luck with that in the peak times of July and August.
Show your combination park ticket to receive the audio guide in your chosen language and enter the castle. (Castle admission only, with audio guide, is 13.80 euros per adult.) The commentary with music and sound effects is nicely done and will set your imagination running wild. The audioguide tour takes about one hour and involves a lot of steep stairs. Not suitable for strollers or those with mobility issues.
The 9 km drive from Postojna Cave to Predjama Castle is countryside Slovenia at its most romantic, with idyllic farms, village church steeples and rolling green hills. Parking is limited but free. A small store and museum in the tourist village at the foot of the castle displays hunting trophies and World War I artifacts from the area; admission free with purchase. There are only a few dining options in the village, but we were back in Ljubljana in plenty of time for a late lunch or early dinner.
More Cave Adventures: For thrill-seekers in good physical condition, guided hikes of the caverns beneath the castle can be arranged in July and August. At other times of the year, the huge colonies of bats that sleep in the caves cannot be disturbed. Click here for details on reservations and a preview of what to expect. Nearby, the UNESCO-protected Škočjan Cave offers a guided underground hike with options for longer walks in the surrounding karst region.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Postojna Cave Park. Post reflects the experience and cost for typical visitors at the time of my visit. Research and opinions, as always, are my own.
Want more tips for making the most of your time in Slovenia? Like @strangersinthelivingroom on Facebook, and sign up for the occasional email when there is a new post. Pinning this post? Get more travel ideas from Strangers in the Living Room on Pinterest.