Slovenia Summer Walking - a 2012 BlueDome trip with Crystal Lakes and Mountains
Towering mountain scenery, crystal clear lakes, rivers and streams, good food and pleasant people who all seem to speak english. Slovenia.
Slovenia, don't get confused with Slovakia. Slovenia was the first of the old Yugoslavian countries to join the EU and is a wonderful place for anyone who loves mountains and the outdoor life. It was a destination that had been on our 'to do' list for years so when the chance came to visit Slovenia we grabbed it with both hands.
We flew from Manchester to Salzburg in Austria. Because the summer season is quite short in Slovenia flights to Lubijana can be difficult to find. We travelled with Crystal Lakes and Mountains for our two centre holiday. The transfer from Salzburg to Bohinj was over three hours but as the drive is on great roads through fantastic mountains you can very easily put up with it.
We stopped briefly in Bled to transfer to a taxi which delivered us to the Hotel Jezero at Lake Bohinj (pronounced Bokin). The hotel sits at the point where the lake runs out to create the Sava Bohinj river which in turn runs to the Soca river. There are no engines allowed on the lake only wind power, muscle power or the electric tourist boats which provide tours. The result is clear, clean water, making Bohinj possibly the cleanest lake in Europe, with huge numbers of large, healthy trout to prove it. Fishing permits are available but they are not cheap, a day ticket for the lake is 25 euros and the river day ticket comes in at a breathtaking 100 euros (catch and release!).
Bohinj is a village consisting of small groups of farms, a few houses with hotels, restaurants and a few shops. Tour buses arrive on a regular basis and the visitors are unloaded for a few hours to enjoy the mountain scenery. Activity providers offer everything from canoe and bike hire to paragliding so if you get tired of walking there is lots going on to keep you occupied. At the weekend Bohinj gets a little busier as the locals come to enjoy the place and lots of day trippers from Italy and Austria also make the trip and it gains a very cosmopolitan feel.
We met with a few groups of english walkers who were packing up to leave as we arrived. We are coming late in the season for our visit and it means we were amongst the last few walkers hitting the trails. This means that you can sometimes walk for hours without seeing anyone.
A trail runs around the lake and other trails run off into the mountains and deep into the less accessible regions of the Triglav National Park. The park is so called because of the highest peak in the centre of the park called Triglav, three heads, due to the shape of the main peaks. On the south side of the lake is a road and a walking track. Buses run past the hotel up to the end of the lake and a few go all the way to the car park for the Slap Savica waterfall. Having cut its way through the limestone mountains the Slap Savica water tumbles for 240 feet to feed the lake. After rain the waterfall is really spectacular. We reached it by taking a local bus from outside the hotel to the foot of the Vogel cable car and then walking for about 90 minutes to reach the falls. There is a small fee to pay at the entrance which helps to cover the maintenance of the steps, over 300 of them to reach the viewing platform to see the falls. There are picnic tables and benches along the steps, we sat with a fabulous view of the lake and enjoyed lunch. Back to the car park at the visitors centre and a cold beer in a cafe followed by an easy walk down the access road and back along the lakeside to the hotel.
As you head up to Slap Savice waterfall you pass the signs to the Vogel cable car station. The cable car lifts you to the plateau where a series of chair and ski lifts span out across the upper reaches of the mountain. In winter this area is deep in snow and is busy with skiers and snowboarders. In summer it is for walkers and mountain bikers who share the slopes with semi wild goats. The views to the north and to the summit of Triglav are brilliant, it gives you a great chance to see the wider national park. Food can be had at the cable car station but there also mountain huts here that serve very good local food. We sat in the sunshine and feasted on wild boar casserole and ice cold beers.
Another short walk from the steps of the hotel takes you across the bridge and past the famous church of St John. You can cross over another small bridge and walk traffic free along the riverside path to the village of Star Finestra. It has all the appearance of a traditional alpine village that would not be out of place anywhere between here and the other end of the alps in France. Small farms and alpine houses sit around pastures where the small herds of cattle have been brought from their high alpine pastures. Winter is coming and the animals will soon be under cover and sheltered from the snow that is on its way. Looking to the mountain side above the village are launching points for hand gliders and they are often seen soaring above the lake. As I said there is an activity for everyone.
We had two full days exploring the region around Bohinj and could easily fill another couple of days exploring more of the valleys and trails but we were booked in at the Hotel Compass at Kranjska Gora on the northern edge of the national park. We were fortunate that our transfer was by car driven by Miro Mulej who runs a company providing transport and transfers to the Slovenian hotels, you will probably travel in one of his cars or buses when you arrive. Miro took us on a guided tour of the Bohinj valley to Bled where we stopped in at the lovely Lake Bled Golf Club before heading on to Kranjska Gora. Our drive with Miro took in fantastic forests where you spot Slovenia families out mushroom picking, a national pastime. The old Austrian barracks on the edge of the forest is now a state of the art training centre for olympic biathlon athletes and when there is no snow they are out training on roller skates around a specially designed track. Miro delivers us about three hours late to the Hotel Compass but before he finishes with us we are back in the car and off to the olympic ski jumps at Planica. The huge ski ramps sweep up the sides of the valley and the two new ski jumps which will open in 2013 are the second biggest in Europe.
Our hotel, the Compass is very comfortable and our room looks north to the limestone peaks and forest covered valleys. The town is compact and has all the amenities you could need. Pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, shops and a supermarket. The ski lifts are running and the weekend brings mountain bikers to the single track downhill trails. The bikers buy a day ticket for the ski lift and just go up on the ski lift and then allow gravity to take care of getting back down. Red Bull are running one of their race series so the visitors take turns to get onto the trail. The slopes also have a steel track tobogan, you can hear the screams across the valley as riders come flying down the track.
Kranjska Gora sits close to the borders of Austria and Italy and on one walking route you are advised to carry your passport as you can be stopped by the border police. There is a point where the borders of all three countries meet. There are about 40 signed and way marked trails that start from Kranjska Gora or from close by. They range in severity from very easy low level walking right up to full on Via Ferrata routes where you may need a guide and full climbing gear. Kranjska Gora is also the home to Slovenia's first mountain rescue team and their old headquarters carry a commemorative plaque. The new HQ is closer to the ski lifts and also incorporates the ski rescue service. The local tourist office is worth a visit and there are several guiding companies based here.
I managed to do one of the ridge walks which can be reached by taking firstly the ski lift and then onto a single seat chairlift. A bit like a tea tray with a safety bar to keep you in. It comes to a complete stop from time to time to allow people to get on board or to get off. It's a strange sensation to sit 40ft up in the forest silently swaying until the chair moves forward again. A few casual walkers follow me off the chair lift but the terrain is very undulating and in places you do need either walking boots or good quality walking shoes. There a few places where you can look back down to the valley and see the road that leads to the old Austrian border. There is a russian T34 tank, World War 2 vintage sat by the closed border and customs buildings, no one stops to check your papers today.
Apart from the usual outdoor pursuits Kranjska Gora has one of the most unique golf courses I have ever played. It only has six holes and has a bright blue river running through the middle. The river water is clear and the river bed is made of white limestone so the colour is simply amazing. The clubhouse is a small wooden hut and I had to make three phone calls before I managed to get hold of the club secretary who came down to let me have a set of hire clubs and to take 20 Euros off me. So three times round for a full card of 18 holes. The longest hole is about 230 yards and the shortest about 40 yards with two carries across the river. I lost two balls to the river until I discovered that the 9 iron I was hitting was from a ladies set and kept coming up short of the other bank! On my visit to the third hole I chatted with a local resident who was sawing up timber for the coming winter, his large german shepherd stole my golf ball off the green and set off with the old man in pursuit, he brought it back and suggested I get a move on before the dog grabbed it again. On completing my round and returning to the clubhouse another golfer was waiting and we chatted about golf in the UK while the secretary poured schnapps into small shot glasses in celebration of my visit, priceless.
The bus service is good and widely used, we travelled to Lake Bled by bus from Kranjska Gora and met and spoke with lots of other travellers. With english being spoken so widely in Slovenia it is easy to strike up conversations. Lake Bled is the largest lake in Slovenia and is a popular tourist destination as well as catering for day trips from Italy, Austria and other regions of Slovenia. The small town has a shopping centre surround by cafe's and the full range of every activity from bike hire to climbing and paragliding. We just wanted to walk and be tourist for a day. There are some top quality hotels around the lakeside but none of them overpower the place. It seems that there is a fishing ban and we saw some huge fish that looked like carp cruising the edges of the lake. The town also has an ice hockey stadium, it was closed for some repairs but we were allowed in to have a look. Walking from the sunny park at the front of the stadium into a huge fridge was a shock, we didn't stay long. The return bus journey was pleasant and very busy as school children and students were going home too.
We have returned to the UK after enjoying every minute of our week in Slovenia. We found every meal to be good and I think the Italian influence can be found in lots of dishes. I would go as far as to say that the pizza's we ate were amongst the best we have tasted. The hotels were both very good and the staff were professional and attentive. Free WiFi in every hotel, how refreshing not to be asked for 10 Euros for 30 minutes connection! Flights from Manchester were good and even our rides to and from Salzburg airport became part of the holiday. Would we go again? Like a shot.
We travelled with Crystal Holidays for a week of exploring the Triglav National Park and divided our stay between Bohinj and Kranjska Gora. Please view our gallery of images for more information about the Slovenian destinations we visited.
BlueDome Slovenia Gallery
Hotel Jezero - Bohinj
Hotel Kompas - Kranjska Gora