One of my earliest memories of vacationing in Slovenia’s Bohinj region was of a headscarf-wearing lady of indeterminate age, perhaps in her late fifties or early sixties, cutting pasture grass by hand; in other words, with a scythe – before placing the presumed silage in a back-mounted basket.
Now, if I was to ask you in what era did this occur, you would assume it to be a bucolic scene reminiscent of and standard practice in agricultural up until the 1960s, maybe even two decades hence. It was though in the year 2000, and performed approximately opposite the Pension Rozic in Ribcev Laz, only a few hundred yards from Lake Bohinj. I recall at the time being fascinated by the juxtaposing of this ancient practice with the immediately adjacent and albeit modest but modern tourist centre.
Such a relatively basic but undeniably back-breaking method of cultivating every last blade of grass for winter feed did not though indicate a country being poor or behind the times, nor some graphic form of conspicuous penance. Just because something has always been done the same way does not mean its modus operandi must be altered; perhaps though in this instance the lady in question was allowed to cut the grass for her own purposes, but did not have a more mechanized way of achieving it.
The point is though as to the attitude towards using every last blade of this natural resource, and not how it was removed. Stepping away from the bustle and mildly touristic nature of Ribcev Laz, heading northeast away from Lake Bohinj takes visitors into another world, where agriculture predominates to such a point where tourist accommodation only occasionally punctuates an agronomic landscape enclosed by the Studor and Rudnica hills, not vice versa.
It is to Stara Fuzina, Srednja vas, and in particular the village of Studor itself where traditional methods of drying hay and food from the fields continues in the form of hayracks – the design of which having stayed true to centuries-old principals. Although these have become accidental tourist attractions in their own right, the hayracks or toplarji continue to serve the practical purpose for which they were originally intended and are anything but twee exhibits of yesteryear.
As was shown by the hardworking lady in the field and hayrack ‘houses’ that can also be used to shelter livestock, and have on occasion been known to harbour courting couples, innovation did not begin when the mechanization of agricultural practices started to predominate over manual labour. Bohinj has grown as a vacation destination, in particular ‘thanks’ to an endless presence on Instagram accounts detailing the latest ‘must see’ locations, but at heart remains first and foremost an agricultural centre.
There is little point in espousing the area’s farming heritage if the only evidence to back it up is found in sepia photography. Striking an important balance that encourages locally-made produce to arrive at guests’ tables with credentials rooted in high standards of animal welfare, organic practices, and few if any food miles whilst outlawing the conversion of agricultural barns into tourist accommodation lends authenticity to Bohinj’s commitment to agriculture and brings the interests of farmers, local traders, and visitors much closer together. By bringing neglected land back into productive use the spellbinding Bohinj landscape will be preserved, where active agriculture acts both as a counterpoint to the hills and mountainscape, but also represents an industry that can harmonize with and respect surroundings it very much relies upon.
It is easy for many locations throughout the Alps to give over previously farmed land, especially on the valley floor, to tourist-related infrastructure which seemingly does not affect the visual appeal of the higher reaches which most guests come for. To retain the link with the past just for the sake of it is no longer a sufficient reason to do so, but to work in conjunction with the tourist industry provides mutual benefits without the reasons visitors’ arrive being aesthetically tarnished by incongruous or yet more generic edifices. Even where agricultural practices have been previously abandoned there is no justifiable reason why most alpine areas cannot adopt a local field to table philosophy, binding together tourist trade with authentic local produce that enables a peaceful coexistence between two sectors who historically haven’t always been comfortable bedfellows.
Without a blanket top down policy it remains within the hands of individual municipalities to make unilateral decisions as to how they strike a balance between tourism and agriculture; in effect, which of the two they deem to be more important if a mutually beneficial alliance cannot otherwise be struck. In those circumstances it is difficult to imagine that agriculture would ever be the preferred option.
Following on from showing real purpose in dealing with illegal parking, an over-reliance on the use of private motor vehicles, and a determination to protect its lake from the worst modern day excesses, the Bohinj region has once more identified issues that are common throughout the Alps and acted accordingly. Whether taken as a whole or specifically relating to its lakeside area stretching from Ribcev Laz to Ukanc, Bohinj is not a resort and does not have any desire to be one. It is this line in the sand that will keep a fine balance between tourism and agriculture, where each will work in unison, not isolation, towards enriching the lives of locals and all who visit with the right intentions.
Pension Rozic: http://www.pensionrozic-bohinj.com/en/about-us-2/
Gorenjski Glas: http://www.gorenjskiglas.si/article/20210224/C/210229910/1011/prihodnost-je-v-povezovanju and http://www.gorenjskiglas.si/article/20210408/C/210409830/1178/sus-bo-se-vec–poplav-pa-tudi