I knew Slovenia was going to be my sort of country as soon as we drove out of the airport. We were on the road in our hire car within 40 minutes of landing and already the mountains were in sight.
Lots of them. Rising above meadows and lush forests I could see range upon range of misty peaks, calling us to go walking. The Julian Alps are at the southeastern end of Europe’s great mountain chain and on the drive through Slovenia to Lake Bohinj the landscape is thickly wooded, often from the roadside to the ridgetops.
Ribcev Laz is a tiny village at the head of Lake Bohinj, in the heart of Slovenia’s Triglav National Park. Being within the park boundaries development is not allowed and the village remains peaceful with its wood-shingled, onion-domed church beside the stone bridge across the river flowing out of the lake. The church must once have been very colourful with the faded remains of bright frescoes on the exterior walls.
Although peaceful, Ribcev does have an excellent tourist information office, a small supermarket, a few restaurants, some outdoor bars and an icecream stall in the shady little park by the lake.
On the first day there was not a cloud in the sky so we jumped on the Vogel ski gondola and headed high. Quickly leaving the ski road and runs behind we found ourselves in spectacular country, walking through steep-sided alpine valleys filled with Slovenia’s gorgeous wildflowers.
Climbing higher still we had stunning views across to Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain and a summit all Slovenians harbour an ambition to achieve at least once in their lives.
And when we slipped back down on the gondola it was straight to the lakeshore for a refreshing dip. In fact that became a theme of the week: beautiful walking days punctuated by plunges in the clear waters of Bohinj. There were several episodes each day of sitting at the lake’s edge, feet lapped by the water, mesmerised by the colours and shapes before me.
On day two there was some high, windswept cirrus cloud but the day continued hot and sun-filled so we opted for some shade on the walking track around Lake Bohinj. The gently undulating path sticks close to the lakeshore in many places so you can see the water glinting through the sun-dappled forest.
Another day we stop for lunch at a Slovenian mountain Dom and find an old Babushka, pinny on and hair tidied away under a kerchief, rolling out pastry in the dining room. Not just any pastry, but liberally sprinkled with curd cheese, raisins and fresh herbs snipped from the garden outside the window.
All rolled up, round and around, then carefully wrapped in paper parcels ready for the oven. We were enjoying the view from the Voje Dom (or mountain hut) on the walk to the Mostnice waterfall and were more than happy to wait half an hour for the delicious finished product.
Fresh out of the oven it was meltingly good and delicately flavoured. I tried in vain to establish what it was called but apparently Slovene families often have their own special recipes for cakes and pastries.
Looking out across alpine meadows, a few scattered shepherd’s huts, forests and mountains. Down in Ribcev Laz a herd of cows are waiting to make their annual journey up here to the summer pastures. The flower meadows are particularly rich in Slovenia, there are lilies and exquisite miniature orchids.
A few minutes walk from the Dom the Slap Mostnice waterfall thunders in its gorge. We’ve been enjoying the twists and turns and plunges of this gorge all morning on our walk. Sometimes it is 100ft deep, and then only 10, with labyrinthine formations worn through rock by the force of water over millennia.
The river water is truly crystal clear but in places of depth or relative stillness intense colours appear. Turquoise green, or yellow against the blindingly white rock of the riverbed. On the way back down we stop to paddle our feet in the icy cold water.
Now I’ve often been disappointed by walks to waterfalls, many paths to much-vaunted cascades/tourist attractions end in an uninspiring torrent that fails to live up to the PR. But both Slap Mostnice and Savica near the lake are worth visiting. Walking up through the woods, sunlight lit up clumps of Triglav Rose and the variety of hornbeam and ash mixed with larches was a pleasure.
In the surrounding villages of Brod, Savica and Bohinj Bistrica, Slovenian families are raking up the freshly cut hay in the fields and hanging it on tall wooden frames to dry. I got the impression this is a society where they have all the modern conveniences they want but life hasn’t changed much in years. So it’s a holiday destination that’s as developed as you need it to be while remaining unspoilt.
On a non-walking day we drove down to Bled – Slovenia’s pinup princess and one of those places where the colour of the water really is as intense as the tourism brochures promise. We hired bikes from the tourist information (Euro 3.50) and cycled around the lake in an hour, including stops for cake and icecream.
With its clifftop castle and wooded island where visitors ring the church bell and make a wish, Bled is beautiful but so touristy. At the end of the day we couldn’t wait to escape to the simple undeveloped beauty of Bohinj.
By Natasha von Geldern
In planning my walking holiday in Slovenia I used the Cicerone guidebook to the Julian Alps of Slovenia, which has plenty of ideas for walks of varying difficulties around the Lake Bohinj region to keep hikers busy for weeks. Team the guidebook with a Triglav National Park map 1:50,000.
I think I’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of Eastern Europe’s potential for hiking holidays. Does anyone else have any more suggestions?