Naismith’s rule, magnetic declination, hand signals for helicopter rescue, using a whistle to send an SOS – these were some of the things I had to educate myself on and impart my new-found knowledge to my two hiking partners, GC and S. All our hikes so far have been guided and never as long as this. It was all very exciting. With all appropriate gear acquired and tested, maps and routes studied and marked out, all we had to do was hit the ground walking.
We chose Slovenia as our destination for our first self-guided walk. I found Inntravel UK on the internet, did some research on them, ran the idea past my sister and we decided we would give them a go and made all the arrangements through them. They sent notes on how to prepare for the walk and detailed walking notes setting out directions and landmarks and other essential information, without which we would have proven wrong the saying ‘all who wander are not lost’.
Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia and borders Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and has a short coastline with the Adriatic Sea. None of us had been there and we were looking forward to a wonderful new experience. GC learnt useful phrases and taught us the basics that we would need to at least be polite. As it turned out though, most Slovenians speak good English.
Our hike was going to take us to the north-eastern region of Gorenjska where we would start at the famous ski resort of Kranjska Gora surrounded by the dramatic Julian Alps and then through forests and meadows to the mesmerising Lake Bohinj and finally to amazing Bled. A small area when you look at it on a map but pretty extensive when you’re walking. We started our trip in the capital, Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is a medieval city, very pretty and vibrant. The Ljubljanica River runs through the city dividing it to the east and west banks. The east bank is filled with cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants and ice-cream parlours. Our first order of business after checking into our well located and historical Hotel Allegro Garni was to have lunch. We were spoilt for choice as there were restaurants galore right around the corner from us. We settled on Restaurant Julija (‘Yu-li-ya’), it didn’t disappoint.
Exploring by foot was easy as the city centre is pedestrianised. We spent the afternoon walking about and frequently stepping aside for the many cyclists whizzing through pavements and roads.
Before leaving the airport, we had bought the ‘Ljubljana Card’ which entitles the traveller to unlimited free travel on city buses, a regular guided tour of the city, entrances to many of the museums, 24-hour access to WiFi, a free tourist boat cruise and a free funicular ride to Ljubljana Castle. (If you visit, it really is well worth it). In the evening we sauntered over to the west bank, presented our ‘Ljubljana Card’ and went on a relaxing boat cruise which also entitled us to a glass of champagne, wine or fruit juice and a snack – how about that?!
We spent the next day on a guided walking tour of the city which included a sampling of local delicacies at a restaurant and ended with taking the funicular up to the Castle with its commanding view of the city. Our guide, Anže, was an entertaining young man who regaled us with many interesting stories, one of them being about Jason and the dragon.
The story goes that a dragon lived in the swampy marshes by the Ljubljanica River and it would devour all creatures that happened to pass and Jason (yes, the same Greek hero Jason and his pals, the Argonauts) whilst escaping with the Golden Fleece stopped by Ljubljana and killed the dragon. The dragon is on the city’s coat-of-arms, flag, manhole covers etc. and thanks to Game of Thrones, it is now sometimes referred to as ‘King’s Landing’.
This charming, friendly city is known for its bridges – the Triple Bridge, the Dragon bridge, the Cobbler’s bridge – each with their own story. Of course we explored each of these and the famous Prešeren Square (which is actually oval), the beautiful Tivoli Park, the Russian cathedral … it is a lovely city to spend a couple of relaxing days.
Kranjska Gora ( the ‘j’ is silent)
After lunch the next day, we were picked up by our pre-arranged taxi transfer. Rain and the jagged mountains of the Julian Alps welcomed us as we wound our way up. Kranjska Gora lies at the point where Slovenia, Italy and Austria meet and so it was no surprise to hear Italian being spoken locally too. Kranjska Gora is a mountain resort well known for its outdoor activities – skiing, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, mountaineering, it is popular all year round. Many World Cup skiing and ski-jumping events are held here in winter.
We stayed at the lovely Hotel Miklic run by siblings Tina and George Miklic. Such pleasant, wonderful and helpful folks and their staff were great too. As we were triple-sharing we had a lovely duplex apartment with two rooms. We walked about this little mountain village and looked with slight trepidation at the mountains around us. Our extensive and thorough walking notes that the folks at Inntravel sent us, included recommendations of places to eat. We picked one that was in town and had the most delicious meal of substantial soup and trout and pasta. We needed to carbo load.
Our hiking notes said that the timings indicated were “calculated without stops, at a speed of roughly 4km per hour on a flat route. On mountain paths we calculate an elevation gain of about 300m per hour (uphill) and descent of 400/500m per hour downhill. You may take more or less time, depending on how fast you walk and on how often you pause to enjoy your surroundings!”. This is essentially Naismith’s Rule. I read this and I knew this was an issue we would most definitely be facing and I made sure to highlight it and tell my companions. Obviously no one walks non-stop, but we would probably have to add 40–50% to Naismith’s Rule as all 3 of us being photographers we were very likely to dilly dally photographing the one view from numerous angles. We firmly told ourselves that we would be very disciplined with our photography. No lingering. (Ha!)
To ensure we got back before dark, we decided we would make an early start and went down for breakfast at 6am only to startle the staff who were only just setting up breakfast! The eager beavers had to come back a little later.
There were 2 hiking routes in this region that we were going to attempt and we decided we would tackle what we thought might be the relatively easier of the two routes today and hike the harder one tomorrow. And so we set off after a hearty breakfast with a spring in our step. The route was about 17km with a total ascent/descent of 550m, up to an elevation of almost 1200m. It was estimated to take 5hrs 40mins without stops.
The Russian Chapel
The hike was breathtaking in parts and gruelling at others. (This would be true of every day of our hike!) We broke our rule and lingered as we hiked through the dramatic Julian Alps. It was impossible to not stop and stare.
We finally made it to the Russian Chapel at around 1100m elevation mark. It is at the spot where during WWI more than 300 Russian PoWs perished in an avalanche. The Russian PoWs were building the road through Vršič pass, which is now also known as “the Russian Road”. The survivors built this chapel in memory of their comrades who died in the avalanche. It is a quaint and pretty chapel and not open to the public. We sat on nearby benches and tucked into our packed lunch of ham and cheese sandwich, fruits and a bar of the delicious Milka chocolate that we came to love!
We made our long slow way back and as we approached Lake Jasna, we just threw ourselves on the ground and rested by the lake and snacked. We continued on and were terribly chuffed as we approached the last stretch back to our hotel. With all the photo-op and just-stand-and-stare and pause-to-breathe stops we made, we took slightly over 8 hours.
We decided not go out to the village for dinner and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. The food was delicious and the service excellent.
The next morning started the same way as the previous morning – with great enthusiasm. We were really enjoying it. Today we head to the waterfalls. The route seemed tough from the description and route profile – about 19.2kms with a total ascent/descent 660m and upto an elevation of 1100m, estimated to take 6hrs 40mins without stops.
The route took us through valleys, surrounded by magnificent soul restoring mountains, and as the notes described it “on tranquil paths through woodland, meadows and traditional farming settlements” – it was so beautiful, filling our senses.
By the time we emerged from the forest and got to a place called ‘Spodnje Rute’ we were tired and famished. Our picnic lunch was once again, ham and cheese sandwich (this seems to be the staple packed lunch and if I don’t have another ham and cheese sandwich for the next two years, I’ll be just fine).
We carried on up a very steep ascent to the first lower waterfall, Slap Martulijkov. Just before getting to the top, we were greeted by a rather unique scene of hundreds of rock stacks or cairns along the mountain stream, like an outdoor museum.
We finally made it to Slap Martuljek. The path up was beautiful and pristine. The mountain streams were crystal clear and the air so fresh it was calming. We took off our backpacks and enjoyed our rest by the waterfalls.
We decided we were not going to hike to the second and higher waterfall as it would have involved some climbing (on hands), exceedingly steep terrain with rocky, slippery stones. Although apparently once you get there, the rest of the hike would be gentler and picturesque. Since we had another 4 days of hiking ahead of us, and since we weren’t exactly spring chickens anymore, we thought best to pace ourselves.
So having spent some restful time at the first waterfall, we backtracked to the village of Spodnje Rute and stopped at a local pub for ice-cold beer and fruit juice. Over drinks it was decided we would try the local bus service for the short ride back to Kranjska Gora but this meant a 2-hour wait for the next bus and so there we sat having some cake, snacks and drinks.
Today’s hike was tiring and the ascent challenging. Our hotel owner, George did advise us in the morning that if we found the ascent to the first waterfall challenging, we shouldn’t attempt the harder ascent to the second and that would have added another 2-3 hours. So we didn’t do it and still we found ourselves totally knackered.
Dinner was once again at the lovely restaurant in the hotel and we stuffed ourselves. We were so hungry. Trail mixes and ham and cheese and copious amounts of water weren’t cutting it when you’re walking all day!
We congratulated ourselves, thinking our toughest routes were behind us and the rest of the hike would be a breeze. We were wrong.
Lake Bohinj (the ‘j’ is silent)
Our trusty Taxi Jager, was prompt and waiting to drop us off at the starting point of today’s hike. Milan, our taxi driver, would transfer our luggage to our next destination at Bohinj, while we hiked there. The route profile today was a mere 14.5km with a total ascent of 70m and total descent of 920m starting at the elevation of 1400m. Easy-peasy or so we thought. Milan dropped us off at a place called Rudno-Polje and pointed us in the direction of our intended hike, wished us happy walking and drove off and thus began the longest, most tiring day of our trip.
The descent was hard-going especially on asphalt and then dirt tracks and stony forest paths. We did pass pretty villages and farms and absolutely stunning views of the Triglav mountain range though. Along our walk, we met other hikers either coming in the opposite direction or overtaking us and the ubiquitous and friendly “Dan” was exchanged. (“Dober dan” means good day in Slovenian and is usually shortened to ‘Dan’).
One little toddler in one of the farms were were walking by, ever so politely greeted each of us “Dan” “Dan” “Dan” with a slight nod of her head. We were so impressed at her politeness to strangers. I suppose they are used to seeing strangers walk through their lands. We had to be quite careful as many properties had electric fencing – no doubt to keep their livestock in and hikers out.
We came upon a mountain hut restaurant where we stopped for a drink. The weather forecast was grim and predicted thunderstorms so we could not stay at this restaurant in the middle of pretty meadows and farmlands and had to continue our descent.
It was quite sapping. Thank goodness we had hiking poles to help with our steep descents. The path was stony. We were walking much slower and not making good time.
We finally made it to the lookout point overlooking the village of Srednja Vas. We plonked ourselves and our packs down on the bench and took long gulps of water and sat down to eat our lunch – yup, you guessed it – ham and cheese sandwich! (If we had only made the effort to go into town and buy stuff we might’ve had a more varied lunch pack. We have only ourselves to blame… but to be honest the ham was good.)
Dark clouds were gathering and we had to get going – we still had some way to go!
We continued on through the forest and it was surreal and slightly disconcerting to hear ‘La Cucaracha’ being blasted somewhere in the village below. We made our slow way down through the cemetery and past the church to this pretty village. The weatherman was right, it started raining and there was lightning and thunder just 4 secs apart – too dangerous for us to be hiking. So we stopped at this lovely restaurant in the village (called ‘Gostilna Pri Hrvatuin’) and had coffee and cake while waiting for the storm to abate. The food coming out of the restaurant looked so inviting. Now we wished we had not had our sandwich earlier!
We still had a long way to go and were getting a little concerned. We spent almost an hour at the restaurant. We got into our rain gear and when the lightning seemed a little further away, we set off again. This was actually one of the prettiest parts of our hike. It was unfortunate that we had to battle the storm as we walked through the tiny settlement of Studor known for its wooden hayracks. The double structure of these hayracks is unique to this area and is considered an architectural monument.
Just as we walked past these unusual hayracks, lightning and thunder recommenced. Where to seek shelter? We were vulnerable in the open and so we took shelter in a farm shed for machinery! With all that metal around us we wondered if we were safer in the open! We remained there until the time between lightning and thunder was more than 10 secs and then continued our walk. It was getting dark and we still had quite a way to go.
We walked by a ranch with Icelandic horses. The ranch offers horse-riding. These Icelandic horses are small and are known for their mild temperament and are patient with inexperienced riders. Had the weather been better, we could have gone for a ride.
We stumbled along to the town of Stara Fuzina. Having just emerged from the peace and quiet of the countryside the traffic was a bit of a rude and unwelcome shock. It was still beating down but at least the thunder and lightning had stopped and we pressed on. We were tired and hungry at this point.
We finally got to Lake Bohinj and oh my, was it beautiful! We’d taken a wrong turn and turned right too soon and ended up walking around the lake through more lush greenery before finally seeing Hotel Jezero. We were aching and tired by the time we dragged our bedraggled selves to the front desk just before dark.
Our luggage was safely there and we were led to a store room to collect them. We asked for help to take our luggage to our room but were met with the response “No ma’am we do not have such service”. You can well guess how amused we were by the fact that we had to negotiate stairs with our bags when we were that tired. He must’ve seen it on our faces and he quickly said, “I’ll help you take it down the stairs”.
It was a very busy hotel with many hikers, cyclists and tourists staying there. After our much needed showers, we felt so much better and had the dinner buffet. We also made the decision that we were not going to hike the next day’s route and were going to rest and take it easy and even made appointments for the spa for the next afternoon.
We had a restful day, exploring the place slowly. We walked about, we chatted, we ate, we visited the Church of St Janez, walked up the bell tower and walked around the spectacular Lake Bohinj taking a great many photos and had a leisurely lunch at a nearby restaurant until it was time for our spa appointment.
It was just meant to be for us to meet the lovely Lidija. She works part-time at the spa and also runs her own guesthouse. She absolutely surprised us when she said she had been to Muar! (Muar, is a town in Malaysia which many Malaysians wouldn’t have visited either!) She has a Malaysian friend who comes from Muar and she has visited Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore but that was more than 20 years ago. We took an instant liking to her – so kind and helpful. She even drove us to Srednja Vas to that restaurant we took shelter at. She confirmed that it was indeed a good restaurant and worth the trip out (of course it was not as far by car as it was by foot!). We had tried to book a taxi earlier but were told there were only 2 taxis and both were busy (!). So it was quite lovely of her to drive us there and she later came back to join us for dessert. We had a lovely dinner and conversation and today’s rest was quite restorative.
The next morning we were collected once again by Milan of Taxi Jager who hurried us along (we were 5 mins late). We figured he must have been one of the 2 taxis in town and he might be in a hurry because he probably had another ride waiting. We were dropped off at the small village of Bohinjska Bela from where we wound our slow way up a steep climb to the pretty little settlement of Kupljenik.
Today’s route profile didn’t look too bad at all – 4 1/2 hours (which meant we would be adding a couple of hours to that), total ascent 355m, total descent 370m – what we didn’t count on was how hot a day it was going to be. Kupljenik is a small farm settlement. Once again we found it rather surprising that in all the days we hiked through farmlands, except for the one time, we never once met anyone! It was quite strange. Livestock however was quite a different matter. As we approached the centre of the settlement, a huge cow up on a slope began to moo so loudly and incessantly, rather like she was raising the alarm – “strangers approaching” – yet we still did not see a soul. It reminded me of the old classic movie “Brigadoon” about a Scottish village which appears for only one day every hundred years. Perhaps we stumbled onto Slovenia’s “Brigadoon”:-)
The last stretch of beautiful forests we hiked through
As we left the cover of the beautiful cool forest, we found the next section really sapping of our energy as the sun beat down relentlessly. There was not much tree cover and the route took us through little towns and open spaces. When were we ever going to reach bleeding Bled?! We stopped and sat by a bench in the village of Ribno. It was near a school and it was break time. The little ones were very curious and suddenly we found ourselves the centre of attraction.
We continued on tar roads and gravel tracks across meadows and farms until we finally saw the sign to Bled and descended a narrow tar road and caught sight of the piercing blue waters of Lake Bled. As we reached it, we let out a collectively gasp. It was so so pretty! It was afternoon and many were sun-bathing by the lake. As we walked past these half-clothed bodies as they soaked in the sun, we were boiling in our hiking clothes.
As we walked up the stairs to Villa Bled and announced ourselves at the front desk, we felt like riff-raff in this rather well appointed hotel. Villa Bled used to be the summer home of Marshal Tito (the much-loved ‘benevolent dictator’ of the former Yugoslavia). During our stay, GC made friends with the lady at the front desk and she allowed us to see Marshall Tito’s suite – large with a commanding view of the lake but suitably spartan befitting a socialist leader.
We went down to have something to eat and our jaws dropped as we had the most wonderful view of Lake Bled from the outside dining area. What a lovely place to end our holiday. Bled is beautiful. Hmm, I realise I’ve said that of every place we’ve been in Slovenia!
Once again we decided to go off-itinerary and do our own exploring. We loved it here. We took a boat to the Church of the Mother of God on the Lake, we went up to Bled Castle, we found a wonderful restaurant (Sova) and went there twice, we spent a ridiculous amount of time taking panning shots of the Harleys that were rolling into Bled on their way to Austria for their yearly meet and we took a extraordinarily silly number of photos of the church, the castle and the lake experimenting with all sorts of settings.
We ended our trip with a visit to the magical Vintgar Gorge. We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly – we went late in the evening as folks were making their way out and the lady at the ticket counter reminded us to be out by 8pm. We practically had the place to ourselves and without having to jostle with the crowd, we had the time and space to experiment with shutters speeds and made some wonderful photos. The gorge is stunning and really quite mesmerising.
In the end, our smartwatches told us we had walked 120-odd kms, burnt thousands of calories and walked an even crazier number of steps! Paul Mowrer knew what he was saying when he said “There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.” We savoured many moments of standing still and embracing the beauty around us. There were long stretches of peaceful silence, as we kept a steady pace, each of us cocooned in our own thoughts.
Slovenia was a revelation to us – unspoilt and tranquil. (And now that I’ve been to Slovenia, I can read Coelho’s “Veronika Decides to Die”:-)). There were amazing places that were pristine, desolate and alluring. The people we met were so friendly and helpful. This is what someone who has been to the country had to say “It is just wonderful, and achingly beautiful. I am torn between shouting about how amazing it is, and wanting to keep it a secret!”
For more photos, please click on the following link: https://www.shobhagopinath.com/Travel/Slovenia-/
To the good folks at Inntravel UK, thank you for the seamless arrangements and the detailed and thorough walking notes. For those who are interested, they may be contacted at https://www.inntravel.co.uk
So my readers, we have come to the end of the walk, thank you for reading; now, take a hike!