Walking and trekking
Slovenia is verdant in the valleys and magnificently bald on its mountain tops, offering a genuine two-pronged walking experience, whether you want something comely or something scary. It’s a small country, given the title ‘Europe in miniature’ due to its postcard-perfect blend of high mountains, thick forests, fairytale architecture and muscled peaks constantly brooding over the lowland. Overall it is mountainous, with extensive limestone formations in the Karst region in the west (whose impressive size made it the namesake of all other similar regions around the world) the Dinaric mountain range which runs along Slovenia’s tiny south-western coastline into Croatia, and the northern barrier of the lengthy Karavanke mountain chain which forms the border with Austria comprising some highlights. But it is the far northwest of the country which will pull most walkers, given its ragged splendour and dominating height, and the fact that the area contains the country’s highest peak: the Julian Alps, and Triglav (2,864m).
Climbing Triglav is a satisfying expedition. Its name means ‘three heads,’ and when approaching its summit ridge broadside you can see why, made up as it is of three large limestone domes. Technicality-wise, the normal route is a scrambly walk, but the walk is a long one: you’re talking one very long day or two reasonable ones to get to the top, and to savour the experience there are several Doms (huts) on the walk in from Bohinj, the first being Vodnikov Dom (tel. +386 51 607 211; about four hours in) and the second the Dom Planika (tel. +386 51 614 773; below the main summit ridge, about two hours from there.) The walk in takes you through a spectacular biome shift from river valley, through forest, into Alpine meadow then onto the hard, snow smeared slopes of the mountain. The top stretches of Triglav are really quite thrilling: the nasty sections are pegged and cabled, and though the route is marked by red smears on rock it is quite easy to lose the way and embark upon a dead-end scramble, so be careful. The summit ridge is a narrow crest, which takes you to the final climb to Triglav’s top, and a peculiar little emergency shelter. The views are particularly good, with dizzying perspectives on the huts on both sides of the mountain.
Also in this region is the spellbinding Kranjska Gora, which takes the crown for being the most visually impressive and technically satisfying mountain range in Slovenia. Here, the mountains are very steep and pyramidal, but amazingly many offer ways to the top that a walker with stamina and nerves can manage, thanks to an array of cables and pitons which provide valuable handholds in times of querrel. One such is Prisank (2,547m) a magnificent ridge dropping to walls of plunging limestone of unexpectedly epic scale. Visoki Kanin (2,587m) and Manrt (2,678m) in the Italian border Bovec area are likewise challenging, but achievable given good conditions.
Elsewhere in the country there is much to occupy the lower-level walker, in surroundings so thickly eastern European it seems to perfect to be true. There is a marvellous walk through Alpine meadow along the Karavenke mountain chain, which meanders beneath and between the mountain chain it accompanies. Local cuisine can be sampled, farms and rural life observed, and many an Alpine pasture skipped through. The Logarska Dolina valley offers many fantastic walking opportunities to a variety of grades, from easy valley wanders to cable-assisted scrambling, all beneath the glare of some of Slovenia’s most impressive peaks. A fascinating walk over the Pohorje, a rounded mountain chain in the north of the country, follows a path called the Slovenska planiska pot (the Slovenian Mountain Path) and takes a high but easy geologically fascinating meander over 54km, with plenty in the way of Alpine accommodation en route. And there are European Long Distance Walking routes which make the best of the south and west: the E6, which takes a traverse through Slovenia from the north, then south-west through the middle, and the E7, which traverses the south of the country before ascending into the mountainous west.
In addition, there are two via Alpin routes which, on their eight-country traverse, pass through Slovenia and are spellbindingly beautiful, (see links, below) and a number of Slovenia’s own long-distance walking routes, such as the Idrija-Cerkno Mountain Path, which takes in a range of low-grade hills and gorgeous valleys, and the Slovenian Alpine Trail, which crosses all the major peaks and invites serious mountaineers to test their mettle. In short, you’ll be amazed how much there is here: book your ticket, then buy a book. If you can walk, you’ll love it.
Slovenia’s most popular activity is skiing, so if you fancy a winter break there is plenty to keep you amused. Vogel, Kranjska Gora, Kanin and Krvavec are the major places to ski, and there is good infrastructure and all the usual ameneties such a ski lifts and equipment rental. Best time to go for this is between December and March. Kayaking, rafting and conoeing is also widely practised, and occurs just about anywhere there is water. If it’s hairy white-water stuff, head for the river Soca, which has beautifully unspoiled sections in the upper river, and is accessible from Bovec.
The Vingtar gorge near Bled is a unique, deep canyon carved by its river, with high wooden walkways over the violent waters. Pack your waterproofs for this one, before returning to the town of Bled, where a steepled church sits in the middle of the town’s namesake lake, which – with the backdrop of the Julian Alps beyond – forms a view which is iconically Slovenian.
The Karst region offers spectacular caves, especially at Postojna, which is considered the largest and one of the most spectacular underground wonders of the world. Dazzlng caverns of pin-dense stalactites and stalagmites, and an odd denizen known as the proteus anguinius, or the ‘human fish’ (it’s indescribable: Google it) can both be viewed here.
The independence War between Yugoslavia and Slovenia lasted 10 years: FALSE. It lasted for 10 Days in 1991, and the Slovenians gained independence. Slovenia currently holds the EU presidency.
The oldest musical instrument in Europe was discovered in Slovenia, and was a rudimentary flute: TRUE. It was a cave bear bone with human-drilled holes.
Must see and do
- Spend a night in the Hostel Celica, Ljubljana It’s a former prison, and the rooms are cells. If you’ve got a night to kill in Slovenia’s capital, this makes for a lively stopover. www.hostelcelica.si
- Climb Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain Base yourself in one of the achingly quaint and very un-touristically geared villages around the mountain and launch a two-day assault. Buy the 1:50,000 Triglav National Park Map from Cordee www.cordee.co.uk
- Have a Lasko Pivo beer in a bar overlooking Lake Bled.
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