One thing I loved about home-basing in Ljubljana is the accessibility to countryside and nature. As the purpose of my Croatia-Slovenia journey was to be outside clearing my head in a beautiful place as much as possible. On the days before my hiking excursion, everyone kept warning me that it would rain.
Grey Skies Don’t Bother Us
By the time I meet my guide Miha at 8am, the grey sky has already opened up and clouds shield the sun. We hop in his Fiat, rain pattering down on the windshield, and he asks me and another guest, George from Greece, if we’d prefer to climb higher into the mountains and attempt some aerial viewpoints, or stay low and enjoy the nature as is, finding special spots lower to the ground.
Despite being a tourist in Slovenia, I honestly didn’t care much about viewpoints. I’d taken in some magnificent vistas at Lake Bled the day before and, for me at least, a hike wasn’t judged only on its aerial views. I just love being outside, enveloped in nature, my mind sitting snug in my own head, wandering only to the places I want it to. Beauty can be seen with every step, not just where someone decided to build a baroque church or create colorful street art. It’s Mother Nature’s palate, a work of art in my favorite gallery.
“Let’s stay low,” I reply happily.
We drive for about 90 minutes, grabbing a quick view of Lake Bled, and continuing to the alpine Vrata Valley. The narrow Jesenice – Kranjska Gora Road takes us toward Mojstrana, until we enter Triglav National Park and park in front of Peričnik Hut. From here, we’d be hiking to the multi-tiered Peričnik Waterfall.
At first we hike upward through woodland, the wet leaves no match for my trusty boots. It takes only 20 minutes before we come to the bottom tier of the waterfall, sitting 52 meters (171 feet) high, cascades flowing down into a bright emerald pool outlined by giant rocks. I’m told in winter it creates a mesmerizing icy curtain of icicles, which I’d love to come back and see sometime.
Once photos are taken Miha leads us higher, to the top tier, where we can look over the waterfall and have a different view. At first the trail is not much different from the first section — although my screaming thighs might beg to differ — until at one point the path becomes covered with an avalanche of icy snow, too slippery to climb over. We trek downward and then head up a steep path of stones — quite the challenge as they slip from under my feet, setting me into a crawl position.
Miha climbs ahead, digging footholds into the hill with his boots for me to grasp, until I make it to the flat path behind the 16-meter (55-foot) curtain waterfall, views of the Julian Alps shrouded in clouds creating a beautiful yet eery ambiance.
This is why I like hiking in the rain. While yesterday I cycled through mountain-hugged countryside on a clear day — and it was beautiful — today I get to know Northwest Slovenia’s other personality.
A Delicious Mountain Meal
By now we’ve worked up an appetite. We end up eating at an adorable wooden hiker hut featuring red and white checkered seat cushions and place mats, a warming furnace, flowery curtains, lots of wood accents and an old fashioned radio from which the day’s local ski jump races are being broadcast. The place, Tonkina Koca, offers energy-rich foods as well as accommodation for trekkers. According to the menu, it’s located at 1,380 meters (4,528 feet) high. Also according to the menu there are a variety of typical Slovenian stews for lunch, along with buckwheat bush, sauerkraut, bread with wild garlic topping, fried pork fat and a sort of bread roll stuffed with thick cottage cheese.
I wash it all down with Turkish coffee and, at the end, a shot of apple schnapps to warm my body and digest my food.
Best of all, I get to have a sort of cultural exchange, as Miha, George and myself compare experiences — what we typically eat, how we spend our summers, traditions, typical sayings — over our meals. I also get the chance to learn more about SloTrips, its philosophy and how it was started.
“The Slotrips.si project started as a collection of “do-it-yourself” trips for active travelers who want to explore Slovenia on their own,” Miha explains. “Apart from giving a lot of information on what to see & what do do, we are also recommending nice places to sleep & eat. The visitors of our webpage started contacting us and wanted to do guided & self-guided trips with us, even though we were initially not offering it. Now we have a small group of hiking & biking guides and a registered tourist agency to organize all sorts of active tours around Slovenia.”
After lunch I’m absolutely stuffed, to the point where I panic that I might be down for the count without at least an hour nap. Luckily, we have about 30 minutes to digest in the car before our next trek. The roads wrap like a snake around spruce tree mountainside, the snowy peaks of the Julian Alps glistening under the sunlight.
Yes! The rain had stopped and the sun is shining. It’s hard to believe just an hour before I’d been donning a raincoat and waterproof pants.
The Great Soča Gorge
Our next hike is in the Soča Valley, aptly named the Great Soča Gorge. Within five minutes of walking, I find myself standing over an bright emerald green river, oddly curved stones creating shapes and textured walls around the crystalline water.
“The color of water depends on its depth,” says Miha. “Water in general absorbs red and yellow light and reflects blue. That is why deep water is dark blue, like the sea. The microorganisms and other elements, like limestone, are dissolved in the Soča River and reflect a part of the green light spectrum. The combination gives this specific emerald color.”
The Gorge seems to go on forever — it actually goes on for 750 meters (2,461-feet) — and because Miha noticed George and I were “good walkers” this morning, he takes us along one of the area’s more adventurous paths, one he doesn’t take many guests, a slender outcropping of earth over the gorge, where we need to climb uphill over rocks while holding onto tree trucks and branches for balance.
“Give me your camera,” Miha advises beforehand. “You’ll need both hands for this one.”
I’m proud at Miha’s faith in my ability to not topple over the edge — especially given a clumsy and bloody incident just days prior — and I love the challenge. Not to mention I have a hearty meat stew to work off. With every view I take in as we get higher into the Gorge, I feel good knowing I worked for it. That I, in a way, earned my place in this beautiful forest.
When the land levels out we walk through a small village for a bit, and even meet a hiking companion, a caramel-colored cat who is possibly the most lovable animal I’ve ever met. She throws herself to the ground, twisting and turning in adorable “pet me!” poses, and I happily oblige. She’s at my feet for the rest of the hike.
And in my lap once we reach a white sand and rock beach, local trout chilling out in the translucent waters and lots of giant rocks to sit on and enjoy the enchanting scene. My feline friend cuddles up with me on a rock, and we enjoy it together, beach and translucent water to our left, mountains to our right and woodland to our backs.
By now it’s downright hot, and I take off three layers, my hat, scarf and gloves, the sun rays that were nowhere to be seen this morning warming my skin.
The Kobarid Historic Trail
For out last hike we head south, still in the Soča Valley; however, now we’ll be going back in time, via the 5-kilometer (3-mile) Kobarid Historic Trail. Our first stop: Kozjak Waterfall, also known as Veliki Kozjak.
Out of all of the trails we’ve done today, this one feels the most wide open and flat, passing trenches, forts and buildings from the Italian Army’s WWI defense strategy, until we have the river on our right side. Suddenly, we’re back in the forest. Miha picks up a Trobentica, also known as a “small trumpet” flower, and starts blowing, serenading the group with his mini yellow horn.
We weave up and down, through tunnels and down stairs, until we’re immersed in a world of layered rock, appearing like thinly stacked pancake platters, created in a unique way.
Explains Miha, “All these mountains used to be under water. At that time, dissolved limestone in the water was sedimenting on the bottom of the sea. This is how rocks are made. The layers of rocks mean sedimentation was not constant, but was interrupted many times. The tectonic plate movement pushed the layers into different positions and winkles.”
The gentle Kozjak Brook guides the path on our right. After crossing a small bridge, we start ascending up a short wooden staircase, hugging rock walls in a sort of natural hallway as we stroll over a planked walkway.
We round a corner into what feels like a roof-less cave, and there it is. The 15-meter (49-foot) Kozjak Waterfall drops beautifully into a swim-able pool with water that reminds me of the Caribbean Sea. I bet it feels amazing in summer.
After our time spent in the waterfall we don’t head back to the car, but continue upward — and I mean upward — to Tonocov Grad Hill, once a settlement from the Copper Age until the Middle Ages, although its most prosperous period was from the 4th to 6th centuries AD.
Before the uber exasperating uphill climb, we cross the Soča River — which in this area looks baby blue — via the grey stone Napoleon Bridge, constructed in 1750 and used by General Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops. I allow its beauty to energize me forward. Because right after, I’m greeted me one of the most immense stone staircases I’ve ever seen.
“Well, you said you wanted to hike!” Laughs Miha.
I guess I did.
Up we go, winding around trees and getting close to the top — although the settlement ruins are still nowhere in sight; not to mention every time I think the staircase is over another one appears. You ever see The NeverEnding Story? Well this was The NeverEnding Staircase.
I look around again, the Soča River a small emerald sliver bellow me, the Julian Alps reaching high, allowing the images to push any negative doubts from my mind.
Reaching The Top
I do eventually reach the top. Totally worth it. There are expansive views of the surrounding nature — including the famous 2,244-meter (7,362-foot) Mount Krn — and I can see Kobarid, the small town known for being the site of the 1917 Battle of Caporetto, documented by Ernest Hemingway in his famous A Farewell to Arms. On my perch above, I’m literally standing on lands housing the late-Antique remains of 20 structures, as well as a protective stone wall sit on the hill.
Miha explains to us that he doesn’t typically take guests here, but more often opts for climbs with higher aerial views; however, he opted for this due to the day’s weather issues. To me, however, this is absolutely perfect, a spectacular view paired with important history. We sit for a bit, and just take it all in.
But the trek is not yet complete, although luckily it’s flat woodland for most of the rest. It’s not until about 20 minutes of walking that we come to the top of Gradič hill and the base of the 17th-century Church of St. Anthony. Surrounding the church you’ll find the Charnel House, where the remains of 7,014 Italian soldiers from WWI lay. Both known and unknown soldiers rest here, and on the walls of the structure you’ll see their names etched into its arched stone doorways.
The Charnel House
The day ends with beers and sodas on a small bar patio in Kobaid. I’m extremely thirsty from the long day of walking, and quickly gulp down two drinks in under five minutes. What a workout — and a beautiful one at that. Waterfalls, history, glimmering gorges, spruce woodland, a mix of rain and sun, and an exchange of cultures all came together in the perfect way, as I explored natural Slovenia through the eyes of a local.