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The Mysterious Lake Cerknica

Levitating on Lake Cerknica – the lake that vanishes

In the heart of Notranjska, the most distinct Karst landscape in Slovenia, in a Karst field sheltered from the southwest by the densely wooded Javorniki Hills, lies the illustrious Lake Cerknica. It is an intermittent lake, filled mainly by autumn rains and the early spring thaw, which stops in May or June, sometimes even in mid-winter. The water comes from Karst springs bubbling up at the Lake’s edge and flows out underground, through sinkholes. Its surface level varies by over 7 metres (it lies between 546 and 553 metres above sea level). When the water is low, it spans over 20 square kilometres, but when high waters set in, it is over 10 kilometres in length, almost 5 kilometres wide, and its surface area exceeds 30 square kilometres.

The intermittent lake can cover up to 26 km2 at times of high water
The intermittent lake can cover up to 26 km² at times of high water.

On a lazy november sunday, after half an hour drive, my son and I arrived to a foggy Cerknica vilage. One couldn’t see more than 100 m, but before we could prepare our boards, the fog simply vanished. Still in shorts, we jumped on board and cut the glassy water surface on an immaculate sunny day.

A different, always changing sensation – sup paradise
A different, always changing sensation – sup paradise.

Sort of intereresting, paddling above the fields on a crystal clear water. Transparency allows us to see all the submerged landscape in detail.

While observing the birds and enjoying the easy glide, the fishermen waited for a good catch in pure tranquility.
Pike fishing takes a lot of patience
Pike fishing takes a lot of patience.

The most interesting phase in the Lake’s annual cycle is when it fills up

Water starts bursting from vent holes and the streams rise immediately, flooding the field at the bottom of the valley. When it starts receding, the water disappears into picturesque sinkholes and into swallow-holes, entrances to the hollow Karst underground which is embellished with stalagmites and stalactites.

Some of the outflow water resurfaces at Močilnik, the source of the Ljubljanica River – which is another destination of our SUP tours. Lake Cerknica is an important fish habitat, as well as a nesting ground for many species of birds. It is increasingly popular as a recreational area, ideal for fishing, hiking, nature excursions, speleology, wind-surfing, swimming, and ice-skating – depending on the season and the water level.

The constantly changing landscape makes it worth a visit in any season
The constantly changing landscape makes it worth a visit in any season.

1907 – first documented standup paddlers in Slovenia

While mostly calm and predictive, sometimes nature performs unexpectedly and with brutal force. Just before few days the local inhabitants have witnessed severe floods and loss of property. Before more than 100 years the same situation forced people to use any kind of floating object and standup paddle around the village. Looks like it all began way before we can imagine.

Postcard from Cerknica region dated 1907
Postcard from Cerknica region dated 1907, showing the only possible way of transport on flooded area.

Fame to the Lake, membership of the Royal Society

Stories about the miraculous Lake have for centuries inspired artists, in whose imaginations it acquired a sense of the divine and unfathomable; Dante Alighieri saw it in this way in his Divine Comedy. The lake became known globally when the intermittence mechanism was first described over 300 years ago by the Slovene polymath, historian, topographer, ethnographer and sketcher, Baron Janez Vajkard Valvasor (1641-1693), which earned him membership of the Royal Society. He also published a lengthy summary of his description in his most comprehensive work, The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola.

The Museum of Lake Cerknica

In the direct vicinity of the lake you can visit the one-of-a-kind Museum of Lake Cerknica featuring a unique 3D living model of Lake Cerknica. The model demonstrates, on smaller scale, the spatial position of the lake and its wider karst surroundings, explaining the water system and intermittent behaviour of this karst phenomenon.

3D living model of Lake Cerknica
3D living model of Lake Cerknica

The best way to visit the museum is just after the sup, while your impressions are still fresh and intense. As the presentation uncovers the fascinating stories and facts about the lake your personal experience will expand into completely new dimensions.
The presentation takes you through all seasons of the year, showing the changes of water levels along with the sound recordings of life on the lake – thus experiencing the entire nature, water, birds, and other animals.

The museum also features The Cerknica Polje Ethnological Park. Here you can see a vast collection of specific tools and objects used by the people around the Lake Cerknica through centuries – from fishing, making (wooden) skates, cutting the ice, boating on the lake, transporting wood across the lake …

Old tools for building boats
A collection of old tools for building boats

Old-school fish trap
Life on the lake through centuries

The Museum of Lake Cerknica is a must-see if your are visiting Lake Cerknica. And definitely the best way to wrap up a stand up paddling day on the lake. It has won many national and worldwide recognitions – and ours as well!

For the body, but mostly for the soul

If traveling around Slovenia, visiting Lake Cerknica is a must. It may be walking, cycling or paddling, just breathing in this vast ladscape is experiencing a great peace of freedom …

Lake Cerknica is an important wildlife habitat
Cerknica Lake is an important wildlife habitat.

Levitating above the endless fields
On a calm day, paddling on the lake is like flying.

– Samo, Sup Slovenia Discovery

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