After touring Croatia’s historic coast, we took a train to nearby Slovenia. Here we spent time exploring it’s charming capital, Ljubljana, and hiked through the Julian Alps.
Ljubljana is as beautiful as it is as difficult to pronounce (actually pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah). The city center is separated from government buildings by a river – with a castle overlooking the entire scene. With a dragon serving as the city emblem, you get the feeling that dragons did indeed take refuge in this fairytale capital.
On our first night, we settled into our sleek and modern apartment in the historic old town. Desperate for a beer with hops (and flavor), we were elated to find a nearby ‘hipster’ restaurant serving up delicious Slovenian craft beer and burgers. The following day was rainy, but didn’t stop us from exploring the city center and its castle perched above. Continuing on with excellent food and drink, we ate at a wonderful tapas bar that evening.
Slovenians are immensely proud of their mountains, which are named after Julius Caesar – so much so that the countries highest peak, Mt. Triglav, adorns their national flag. Although not as impressive as the similarly limestone Italian Dolomites, the Julian Alps are beautiful nonetheless. We found it refreshing that unlike the Italian Alps, Slovenia’s mountains are more natural with healthy forests and less commercialization.
As it was difficult to plan a hike on our own, we went through a local guiding company who arranged a “self-guided trek” through Triglav National Park. Unfortunately, due to unstable weather and copious early season snow – we had to cancel our plans to summit Mt. Triglav – instead staying in lower valleys.
After transfer to Bohinj, we took advantage of nice weather to go on a day hike to Mostnica Gorge – which is a stunning gorge through the Voje Valley. With the weather forecast looking dreary for several days, we started our through hike the following morning. In a lovely 27-degree fog, we walked along a nice path alongside Lake Bohinj. By late morning, the fog layer started to clear, revealing stunning glimpses of the surrounding peaks. After a cappuccino near the seasonally closed national park information center, we gained ~2500 feet in about 1.5 hours of walking, stopping to eat lunch at Black Lake, which is a mostly drained small mountain tarn.
Continuing on through Triglav Lakes Valley the cloud layers grew thick, starting to obscure an assuredly beautiful view. Instead of overnighting in a mouse-infested winter room on the valley floor at Triglav Lakes Hut, we (Katie) opted to hike on 2 hours for cleaner and newer accommodations. Now joining the cloud, we hiked in freezing wet weather, which would be the theme for the foreseeable future. The view from Zasavska koča na Prehodavcih mountain hut is reportedly stupendous – but we were lucky to see 10 feet up the trail. With the winter room nearly smacking us in the face on our arrival, we were thankful for dry sleeping quarters.
The following morning, we awoke to a trace of snow and more freezing precipitation. The next several hours were a trial of our hiking psyche. Things were wet. Mother nature laughed at our carefully curated “rain-gear,” soaking us down to our cores. The only waterproofing my boots did was keeping cold water in my boots. Adding insult to injury – our carefully time trip to see the Larch trees in their golden glory was poorly timed and the trees were still very much green. Why were we here? Shouldn’t we be in a hotel, under a duvet, and drinking cappuccinos?
In my swimming career my coach re-inforced the idea that things could always be worse. Usually this is a helpful mindset, until you can’t think of anything that is worse then a soaking 30-degree rain on a poorly time trip – with a failed summit of an awesome mountain – and fall colors lagging behind the season change. After letting the defeatist take hold, I eventually did realize things aren’t so bad – I could be in this, and my head, all by myself. Katie and I spent the 7-hour hike alternating the role of defeatist and spirit lifter.
Few and far between, there were shreds of optimism; at least we are staying in a serviced and warm hut. On our arrival there, we changed into dry clothes and started the long process of drying our other gear. We warmed up with coffee and warm pasta. With the continued deluge outside, we snuggled into our beds for an afternoon nap and played games on our tablets. Isn’t this why I go hiking? It isn’t always rainbows and beautiful sunsets – I explore to share my love of the outdoors with someone else, which fortunately happens to be my wife. Sometimes the simple experience of playing scrabble during miserable weather is the most fun of the trip.
Knowing the forecast called for more of the same the next day and perhaps that evening, we were left to wonder – should we just bail? The next morning we ate breakfast and planned to stay in the warm hut until the last moment then start our hike. During our mid-morning nap, the clouds slightly lifted and the rain stopped briefly. Taking advantage of this possible weather window, we hit the soggy trail in dry clothes and boots. Much to our surprise, the weather seemed to be stabilizing, the clouds continued to lift and skies appear less ominous. Thankfully Mother Nature continues to know more then meteorologists. After 36 hours of dreary, wet, hiking – our fortunes flipped 180 degrees.
The hike to Krn Lake was wonderful now that we could finally see the Julian Alps. From the saddle of Bogatin Pass we hiked the nearby Bogatin Peak for a panoramic view. From there, we continued on the WW1 mule trail (excellent footing and well graded) towards Krn Lake Hut winter room. Once Lakeside, we ate lunch under sunny skies on the shores of the stunning alpine lake. We watched a stunning sunset, ate a warm meal, and settled into a long night of restful sleep.
The following morning was bluebird clear and autumn crisp. Today we had a long 20 km hike out to the town of Bovec. We were treated with panoramic views of the Soca Valley with a trail meandering through blazing yellow beech trees. After lunch, we hiked along the emerald green Soca River, which is described by Slovenians as the most beautiful river in Europe. Finding little to disagree with that proclamation, we weaved through a landscape reminiscent of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Finally, we arrived to our accommodations in Bovec to a celebratory beer on our hotel balcony.
Bled is a charming touristic town best known for Bled Lake with its island and an accompanying chapel. Knowing this may be an ideal way to wind down from a long tour through Europe, we planned to stay here for 3 nights at the historic Hotel Triglav.
From Bovec, we were transferred to Bled via Italy and along the border with Austria (yes, Slovenia really is this small). Unfortunately, the weather changed yet again on arriving to Bled. Under slate grey skies, we spent the afternoon hiking to various viewpoints of the Lake. After, we drank wine and tea on our balcony, later indulging in a fabulous dinner. The following few days were dreary and rainy. We lazily explored the nearby gorge, toured a honeybee museum, and walked around the lake. There is no better encouragement to return to Colorado’s blue skies then an incessant cold drizzle. After our time in Bled concluded, we took a supposedly scenic train through Austria to Munich.
Despite the dreary and sometimes miserable weather, we were enamored with Slovenia’s charm and mountains. Although not as stunning as the nearby Dolomites, Slovenia should be a destination on everyone’s list. In one tiny and compact country, it has something for everyone.
Tips: For assistance with routes and transfers, we used Life Adventures and loved them. To see the Larch trees change, I would go in later October (3rd-4th week). Weather is more stable in September with less crowds. For those that like multi-sport activities, a spring visit would permit valley hiking, rafting, canyoneering etc.
Pros: stunning country, good hiking, uncrowded (time of year and weather related!)
Cons: weather is usually more unstable in October