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On Foot In Slovenia

Situated in Central Europe, this small but beautiful country has an amazing diversity of scenery, none more so than the spectacular Julian Alps and the Triglav National Park at its centre with the clear waters of lakes Bled and Bohinj. The second major mountain range, the Karavake Mountains, is close by.

Both regions offer spectacular scenery for those looking for gentle walks in the foothills and valleys as well as for the experienced trekker. Our time was spent close to lake Bohinj, where meadows and woodlands surround the shoreline of the blue-green lake and the whole valley is encircled by the Bohinj Mountains.

The Bohinj valley that leads east from the lake has been described as one of the most peaceful and tranquil settings in Slovenia and is home to the handsome marble trout. Slightly further east is Slovenia’s mountain capital, the town of Bled, which enjoys a fine location on another mountain lake.

The Julian Alps, so named by a Roman general in honour of Julius Caesar, are a compact massif of limestone mountains tucked into the north-western corner of Slovenia, close to the border with Austria and Italy. They are the most south-easterly extension of the whole Alpine chain.

While no higher than 3000 metres, the Julian Alps are the highest in Slovenia and, more importantly, hold some of the finest trekking scenery in the whole of the Europe. Slovenians are great outdoor people and love to take to the mountains.

The centre-based walking week’s holiday with Exodus in the quiet rural valley that links Lake Bohinj to the town and lake of Bled offered excellent access to a huge variety of walks. Some walks start from the valley; others involve a short bus transfer to enjoy the best of the Julian Alps and Karavanke Mountains.

Both massifs are small and compact, allowing the experience of the many faces of this area without travelling too far from base. There are walks through alpine meadows, past shepherd’s huts and some easy excursions into high mountain terrain, but the walking was of moderate difficulty with walking times between 4 –6 hours per day.

Base itself was a comfortable pension about three kilometres from Lake Bohinj; the clear waters of the river Sava Bohinjka ran fast at the bottom of the garden. Representative of a typical day, a journey of about fifteen minutes by bus took us to the old hamlet of Stara Fuzina (Old Forge). Here a quiet forest trail led us to Hudicev Most (Devil’s Bridge) with a drop down 50 feet into the river below.

Our walk followed the spectacular Mostnica Gorge and the natural path that the river has cut through the rock. Following the Mostnica River we walked through quiet forest with flowers and alpine trees galore and whirlpools, cascades and small waterfalls as a soundtrack.

Rain woke me early on the following morning. That’s to be expected in any mountain area so the trick is to ignore it, confident that it will clear up later – or the next day. As we left our bus to follow the trail, mist swirled around us and we were soon enveloped in the stillness of the dense forest.

Indeed, it was so quiet and peaceful in the forest that the dozens of writhing, mating salamanders we stepped over on the trail ignored us completely but then they did have a different agenda to us.

A steady uphill trek brought us out at a hut as the cloud thickened, dropping visibility to just a few yards. Not a problem with waymarks and good trails but hardly inspiring.

Hot fruit juice at the Blejska hut and the purchase of a pair of very durable, ‘hand-welded’ socks that should last many years whiled away the time as we debated the rest of the day. They were of a style knitted for partisans who lived for years in the mountains in WWII. I still treasure them.

The unanimous decision was made to follow another valley in the hope of the weather clearing rather than slog to the mountain summit of Lipanski Vrh in the thickening cloud, mist or fog. Our amiable guide, Dejan Vidic, had a true mountaineer’s philosophical approach to the weather and, rightly, promised nothing.

Apart from the route-finding and natural history knowledge of a local guide, there’s also the opportunity to learn about the country’s history. I found the tales about WWII partisans had much more relevance in the mountains as we came across isolated memorials which still had candles burning alongside fresh flowers.

Myth and legend were Dejan‘s forte and he regaled us fluently with tales of trolls and princesses as the miles flowed beneath our feet. People make trips memorable and I’ll never forget the man who said, “Hello!” as we passed on the trail, then called out to me. I stopped and he rushed forward to pour me a nip of slivovitz plum brandy. Why doesn’t matter.

On our last day, we discovered that Lake Bohinj has plenty of possibilities – rowing boats and canoes can be hired on the lake. Savica waterfall can be visited, lying at the far end of the lake, and a walk right around the lake takes about three hours.

We rounded off the trip with a visit to Bled with its variety of attractions, cultural and touristy. I’d been there years before when, as a student, I’d passed through hitch-hiking from England on my way to Nepal. It was very different.

Weather – Slovenia has a mixed alpine climate with summer temperatures in the range of 18 – 28 °C. In the mountains, cool mornings are normally followed by warm pleasant days with temperatures in the Alps being ideal for walking. During summer months, occasional afternoon showers or thunderstorms cool the humidity, giving way to clear skies and pleasant temperatures; night-time temperatures will rarely fall below freezing.

Exodus – Since my trip, the holiday has evolved and looks even more interesting. Founded in 1974, Exodus is one of the leading adventure travel companies in the UK, offering a selection of group and self-guided tours, planned and operated by experts who share a passion for travel.

© John Traynor – from the Journeys Of A Thousand Words series

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