Take to the pristine waters of Lake Bled by boat, mountain trek in the Julian Alps, or speed down gorges on a raft. Slovenia is Europe's hidden gem of unspoilt landscapes and off-beat adventure...
Imagine a land of vaulting mountains, sweeping valleys and wildlflower sprinkled Alpine meadows, where the tumbling rivers and glacial lakes sparkle crystal clear. You don’t need to imagine – it exists. Welcome to the clean, green oasis of Slovenia, an epic land that Mother Nature seems to have sculpted with myriad outdoor adventures in mind, whether you want to hike or bike, or even rush downriver whitewater rafting and or fling yourself off a bridge with only a bungee cord for company.
Slovenia is an unspoilt, unpolluted country where the great outdoors abound, ideal for escaping the stress of modern life with a loved one, or blasting the cobwebs away with friends. You don’t have to choose between swimming in the balmy Mediterranean or a cool Alpine lake – you can do both in the same day. Or you can ski in the morning, whitewater raft in the afternoon and still make it down to the Med in time for a sunset dip.
Slovenia is quite simply a truly world class hiking destination, with getting out on two feet integral to the national psyche. Indeed an ascent of the highest peak of mighty Triglav (at 2,864m over double the height of the UK’s highest, Ben Nevis) is a Holy Grail that all Slovenians aim to complete at least once. You can follow suit with this spectacular challenge or just enjoy more than 10,000km of marked hiking trails and almost 200 mountain huts dotted across this mountainous nation.
Much of deeply scenic Slovenia is protected as a national park or nature reserve, with Triglav National Park the most famous. A great base for exploring this park is Kranjska Gora in the Julian Alps. In winter there are 18 ski runs; in summer hiking takes over. Amongst myriad options is the unique chance to hike up Peč. This peak sits at 1,510m and lies on the borders of three nations – Austria, Italy and, Slovenia - with a festival held every year to mark this meeting of countries and cultures.
A northern charmer that looks impossibly pretty on postcards is, if anything, even more striking in real life. Logar Valley is up there with any Alpine valley in Europe, its lush green valley floor giving way to hulking, craggy mountains all around. Even short hikes open up its grandeur, like the trail to the Rinka Waterfall, one of the highest in Slovenia. Above the tumbling waters mountain huts and high ridges tempt in a wildscape far beyond busy roads and the beep of mobile phones.
Slovenia boasts serious strength in hiking depth. The Cerkno Hills surge up above 1,000m in narrow gorges and karst plateaus, while the twin mountain plateaus of Velika Planina and Pokljuka Plateau await with a world of shepherds and walking trails. Glacial Lake Bohinj is surrounded by the towering peaks and sports numerous walking trails, mountaineering challenges and themed walks. It’s not all tough day-long hikes as you can head to the Savica waterfall, or just catch the cable car up Vogel Ski Resort. It may touch the heavens at 1,922m, but you can sneak up to 1,540m on the cable car.
Bohinj may be the country’s largest lake, but Lake Bled is the most famous, a chocolate box beauty surrounded by snow-capped peaks with a little island in the middle blessed with a church whose bells echo out across the smooth waters. Traditional wooden boats (pletnas) have eased visitors across to the island for centuries. After climbing the 99 stone steps to reach the church you can ring the bell for yourself and listen as it echoes out around this famous spa resort. When you return by boat a scenic walk around the lake awaits along with a visit to the striking castle that nestles high above.
One of Slovenia’s best short walks lies near Bled at Vintgar Gorge. Here a series of wooden bridges and viewing galleries enable you to snake along the 1.6 km long gorge admiring its plunging waterfalls and mirror-clear pools and cascades. The ice cool, ice clear waters gurgle around as you are lost in nature and enjoy the highlight – the 13 m high Šum waterfall.
Delving further south now we come to the legendary Soča Valley, home to the eponymous whitewater wonder that is the emerald green Soča River. If the Soča Valley feels a bit like the Garden of Eden it is. Literally. It was the first European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) destination in Slovenia, awarded for its sustainable development of tourism and keen eye on conserving nature.
It is hard to believe that the Soča Valley was the scene of bitter fighting during the largest mountain battle in history in World War One (you can explore its legacy easily on foot today), as the emerald hue and lush banks make the Soča River look like something out of fairytale. Today a whole host of grown-up pleasures await as it’s one of Europe’s top rivers for whitewater sports action. Yes it is a world class trout fishing river, but here we’re talking flinging yourself downriver in a raft or kayak, or canyoning, with expert guides and all the gear available from a handful of local companies.
The epicentre of the white-water action is the resort of Bovec. The power of the local water is symbolised by the nearby the Boka Waterfall, which has the most powerful water flow in the country. The waters pound down from a height of 144 m and flow into the mighty Soča. If watersports are not your thing then there is also plenty of hiking, biking and even paragliding locally, the latter an ideal way to really appreciate the drama of the Soča Valley.
The biggest town in the region is Tolmin (which was named the ‘Alpine Town’ in 2016, recognising its efforts to emphasise on sustainability), tucked on the confluence of the Soča and the Tolminka rivers. Here you can forge through the Tolmin Gorges, the southernmost entry point to the Triglav National Park on trails carved into the rocks. Just south of Tolmin there is the ultimate thrill of bungee jumping as you throw yourself off the Solkan Bridge from a height of 55m. Your adrenaline will be pumping and still you’ll have to try hydrospeed, scuba diving and zip lining. The treasure trove of natural adventures in the great outdoors never end in clean, green Slovenia.
This article was supported by the Slovenia Tourist Board (www.slovenia.info) but it is impartial and independent, just like all Wanderlust editorial.