Saturday, 7 March 2015

My Top 5 Hikes in Slovenia

I've mentioned before my love for Slovenia which all began about 5 years ago when, freshly graduated and poor, my boyfriend and I wanted to go to Lausanne in Switzerland. Having very little money saved from our minimum wage jobs we googled something along the lines of "cheap Switzerland" and like internet-based pioneers we "discovered" Slovenia and booked ourselves a week in Bled for something like £100 each including flights. We had such a great time that we came back to Slovenia each summer for the next 3 years and as such we've done a hell of a lot of hiking over those holidays.

Last year we decided to go to Italy for a change and had a week hiking in the Dolomites. It was spectacular but we missed the peaceful, ramshackle charm of Slovenia so this week I've been planning our return! To put me in the mood I've decided to share my top 5 hikes in and around the Triglav National Park.

I should point out that some of these walks aren't designated trails but just routes we've put together by looking at maps or a view and thinking - "let's go there" - so the names I've given them are just what I've called them. I hope someone somewhere planning a hiking holiday might read this and follow my recommendations but not all of the walks are suitable for everyone. Do your own research, always take a map, compass, hat, waterproof, food, water and so on and so on.

Ok let's go!

5. Babji zob via Kupljenik

Straight in with the weird names! Babji Zob literally means "Hag's tooth" and refers to a rocky bit sticking out of the mountain. Below this outcrop is a cave system which is where we were heading to.

Babji Zob and electric fence

This was actually my first ever proper long hike and it must have been a good one because I caught the hiking bug. We started off from Bled and walked through the quaint villages of Ribno and Selo before leaving the road behind and heading up to the alpine pasture above Kupljenik which is another tiny village that seems to consist of just a church and a field. If ever I'm feeling stressed out with London I like to remember that Kupljenik exists and that there's probably nothing going on there.

Kupljenik, an alipine village


One of the most memorable things for us about this walk was that I electrocuted myself.Whilst frolicking through the pasture like Maria in the sound of music as eagles swooped gracefully high above us I flailed my hand out to twang a wire fence but being a stupid city girl I failed to recognise that the fence was electrified and my cries of "B*****d!" rang out for all 3 people in Kupljenik to hear. It gave me quite a jolt to say the least as I'm about a quarter of the size of an alpine cow. I won't be touching one again.

The fun didn't stop there. As we made our way into the forest we literally stumbled upon the biggest snake I've ever seen. We must have startled it because it went absolutely mental. We're pretty sure it was just a huge grass snake but the surprise (and probably the shock from the fence) made us a bit jumpy for the next few miles as we convinced ourselves that the forest was home to bears. It wasn't. 

The walk up the rest of the mountain was under tree cover which was for the best as it was pretty steep and the path was non-existent. I did my first bit of scrambling and managed all of this in a dress. Finally we reached the cave only to find it was locked with a big gate but the walk itself was well worth it. Definitely one I will always remember.

Cave under Babji Zob - Jama Pod Babjim Zobom

4. Planica to Tamar

This walk actually started as a bike ride, from Kranjska Gora, through Rateče and up to the ski jump at Planica, which at one time was the biggest in the world and is apparently soon to regain that title. Beyond Planica the road turned to a rubble track so we locked our bikes to a tree and proceeded on foot through the valley.

The views were gorgeous with Sleme towering above us to the left and beautiful alpine forest to our right (Sleme itself almost made it into this list but the next hike on my list is quite similar). It was a very gentle walk leading to the Tamar valley which gets its name from the Tamer valley in Devon. Now I've not visited the original Tamar valley but I'm pretty sure it isn't a patch on the new Tamar valley!

We continued on to the Planinski Dom, a moutain hut next to a waterfall where we stopped for a beer before heading back. We arrived at our bike only to find that we'd somehow lost the keys to the bike lock. You can see now that our walks are often calamitous in some way or other....In the end our only option was to try and break the lock which was actually way easier than it should have been but I won't share how, just in case!

Somehow I don't have photos from this walk but the view was a lot like this:

3. Mala Mojstrovka

This was what I would consider my first hike in high mountains. Mala Mojstrovka is 2332m. To put that into UK perspective, that's 1000m higher than Ben Nevis. Thankfully we were starting from the Vršič Pass which is already at 1611m, but even from here Mala Mojstrovka looks like a proper mountain. And I was nervous.

Mala Mojstrovka from Vrsic pass

We were off to a cracking start though and we overtook a whole hoard of Czechs on the spruce-covered lower slope. I kept powering up the mountain, through the clouds and out the other side no problem until we reached a saddle in the mountain with a over thousand metre drop in front of us. Here was when I realised for the first time that I'm actually afraid of heights and I got completely stuck, unable to continue up but also too stubborn to turn around and walk back past all those Czechs. Thankfully a really lovely lady created a distraction by proposing she give us sweets in exchange for sun lotion. She started walking with us after that and in broken English referred to us as her "gold children" for the next hour or so. I forgot about being scared and made it to the top, which felt like a massive achievement and was well worth it for the view of the alps.


Vrsic pass

The walk down was painfully slow as once again I was reminded how scared I am of falling to my death (it's all psychological, I was safe) and we both got really sun burnt. But I can tell you the beer I had at the mountain hut down on the pass was the sweetest nectar I have ever tasted. 

After this walk we decided that there was probably a good reason why all the Czechs had hiking poles and we invested in a pair each. I'd say descents are ten times easier with poles. Not only do they give you better balance but they also give me a lot more confidence, so who cares about looking like a wally?

Julian Alps Slovenia

2. Boka waterfall

It's a bold statement but I'd say that this was one of the best days of my life.

We'd seen this waterfall from the road a few days before and found out from a kayaking guide that you can do a walk up to where the water bubbles out from rocks on the side of the mountain so we thought we'd give it a go.

Boka waterfall, Soca valley, Slovenia

The first half of the walk was from Bovec to the bottom of the waterfall which, although lovely, is about 3 miles so we were already quite hot. Then you have to following a zig-zag path up the side of the mountain through woods. This was a bit of a slog as the ground was loose and there was not much of a view to be seen from within the trees but eventually the trees thinned out and the path became more rocky. All the way up we kept overtaking a Belgian couple who in turn would overtake us. We got talking to them and ended up spending the rest of the walk chatting about different hikes and rafting trips we've been on. They were a lot of fun and the same kind of fitness level as us so made for good walking partners. 

The map showed that there were some sections of Via Ferrata (literally meaning "iron route" this is where iron cables have been fixed into the rock to provide some protection on more exposed sections) so we all got harnessed up. This was my first time via ferrata-ing so I was grateful to learn that our new pals were pretty experienced. As it turns out there really was no need to get clipped on but it was a bit of fun.

Then we ran out of path and the real fun began. We all decided we had not come all that way not to get to the source of the waterfall - we hadn't even had a view of the waterfall yet! We had no idea what had happened to the path but could hear the water so with the use of some ropes the men scouted out a route for us down a short slope and we made a very un-ladylike scramble down after them.

We climbed over a few more boulders and arrived at the the mouth of the waterfall where the water drops away from the mountain, like the edge of an infinity pool. This was the most amazing place I have ever been. We were all a bit lost for words and I still can't really describe the feeling of sitting on top of the waterfall.

Belgian man on Boka

Boka waterfall

Us on Boka waterfall

It was to be a long walk back to Bovec but thankfully our new Belgian friends had a car and gave us a lift back to town before spending what was left of the afternoon with us sipping on beer at a cafe. That's right, all these hikes end with a beer.

1. Longest walk ever

There is no definitive name for this walk because it took in so many amazing sights and places that it would be unfair to name it one thing. We started off by forgetting the map so straight away we added an extra 20 mins on to the walk. But thankfully the first stage involved taking a boat from one end of Lake Bohinj to the other. From Unkanc we walked through woods towards to Savica waterfall but since we'd seen this before we by-passed it and started an ascent towards Črno jezero, literally meaning Black Lake it is the first of the seven Triglav lakes and the lowest at 1300m.

My boyfriend didn't tell me until afterwards some statistic about the walk up to this lake being the one that's claimed the most lives! Not because it's particularly dangerous but because of it's accessible location you get lots of people trying to go up there with flip flops on and no helmets or anything. It was a demanding route and we encountered a French couple who'd given up and were coming back down. They'd decided it was a it too tricky, "The path, it's crazy!" the French man told me, but I would not be deterred! 

As it turned out there was just a bit of via ferrata and this time it was a good idea to clip in as there was the potential to fall a long way if you didn't. It was easy enough and we soon reached the lake which was not black but was full of newts.

Via ferrata

Crno lake, seven lakes, Triglav, Slovenia

After stopping for some lunch we continued up and emerged into a lush forest that was more like a jungle. Everything was so green and bursting with life, it was as though it was actually growing before our eyes. The sound of all the crickets and bees and flies was loud in our ears. 

Finally we fought our way through the forest and topped out in a high alpine pasture full of cows with clanging bells on their necks. We edged our way past these huge beasts and after another 30mins we came to an even bigger pasture with a gorgeous blue lake and, thankfully, a mountain hut. It felt so remote and almost like we'd traveled back in time. We'd been walking for hours by this time and were exhausted but it was well worth it. 

Alpine pasture

Alpine cattle, Slovenia

After downing an energy drink and a bottle of water we had to keep going because we didn't want to risk still being out as it got dark. We had to take the easier option and head back down an access road for the mountain hut but thankfully we saw a park ranger driving past and hitched a ride from him back to Bohinj.

In total we walked for about 8 hours and I don't even know how far we walked, but the reason why I chose this as my favourite was because it was so varied. Pretty much everything we saw was only accessible by foot and it seemed the further away from civilisation we got, the more spectacular the scenery. I'd definitely like to do this walk again.

Wow, this post turned into an essay, congratulations if you've read this far! I hope I've done the Slovenian tourist board proud and now I absolutely can not wait to return there in July.

Let me know your favourite hikes!