It has to be said that Slovenia is not a well known tourist destination to most of us. However, during a colourful week of mountain biking, we discovered a rich country, where simplicity and sweetness of life are not just words!
Authors: Murielle Fesler and Stéphane Van Wonterghem
Situated between Austria and Croatia, Slovenia is a diverse destination. Mountains prevail in the north-west. The Julian Alps range – symbolised by the country’s highest peak Mt Triglav (2,864 m) – is of impressive beauty. Its green valleys, smooth and clean, strongly resemble the neighbouring Austrian landscapes. Further to the south lies the Karst region. Sparsely populated, the region is mainly covered in forest and features lower altitudes. Near the Croatian border, the Adriatic coast and its Mediterranean climate attract tourists with ancient cities and beautiful beaches. And we must not forget the great plains in the east, known for the production of high‑quality wine.
To discover a part of the wealth, we were welcomed by Dixi and his family at their beautiful and peaceful country inn in Jamnica, in the northern part of the country, just south of the Austrian border. There are few hotels in this green region orienting into rural tourism, and even fewer visitors. While maintaining an agricultural activity, our hosts have developed accommodation for nature-loving tourists who like to get away from the crowds. We will not describe the first two days spent discovering trails in Jamnica and its surroundings, as all you need to do is (re)read the article published in issue No. 143 (09/2008). Know, however, that we greatly enjoyed the first contact: wacky single tracks in the middle of rich and preserved nature, all under bright sun. Could anyone wish for anything else? A little more madness, grandeur or escape? The following three days took our breath away! We explored the foothills of the Julian Alps in the west of the country, accompanied by Dixi’s son Anej, expert guide and a huge fan of long technical descents, and his smiling girlfriend Klara, who was in charge of van transfers. From Jamnica, we travelled to the beautiful Soča Valley. Over the centuries, the restless and incredibly turquoise river dug out a deep and savage valley, which attracts tourists from all walks of life. We also saw a number of tourist attractions in Slovenia: the charming little town of Bled, unfortunately overcrowded with tourists, as well as Kranjska Gora and Bovec, both places dedicated to outdoor sports. Not to mention a number of peaks and passes of the Triglav National Park, including the famous Vršič, Slovenia’s highest road pass at 1,611 metres. We only arrived to our base camp in Kobarid, a peaceful village at the foot of towering mountains, late in the evening.
TRAILS FULL OF HISTORY!
The next morning, after a good breakfast, we boarded the van to set out on our fist memorable outing on the slopes of Mt Krn (2,240 m). Its soaring cliffs were the arena of a dramatic episode of World War I (see the box). We took a narrow mountain road to get closer and to spare our legs! We climbed several hundred metres and ... spared a few litres of sweat! However, because we also like climbing, we parked at the foot of the cliffs. The imposing mountain forms a sort of arena enclosed by majestic cliffs! We still had to take on some five kilometres of ascent from the parking. Following a meandering track in direct sun was a beautiful passage through undergrowth. Once at the top, we took a short break at an old Italian chapel, a relic of World War I. The view over the green valley was breathtaking! After a short photo session, we slowly started the long journey down. What started as a technical track with a few tricks became a faster one with superb passages through meadows and undergrowth. We arrived at our campsite in Kobarid with big smiles a number of minutes later. Given the high temperatures, Anej decided to adjust the programme: we were going to visit Kobarid’s superb museum in the afternoon. The interesting historical insert was, nonetheless, followed by a second mountain-bike outing of the day. And what a trip it was! Our congenial guide took us on an unforgettable course! We climbed to the top of Mt Matajur (1,642 m) over a stunning slope. This mighty mountain forms the border with Italy. The following descent, some fifteen kilometres, was a hell of a ride! We finished the descent in the small Italian village of Stupizza. “That’s why we call this track the Italian Cappuccino,” Anej explained, smiling. The long ride was epic: steep rolling tracks, followed by some technical and some faster and enjoyable tracks through the undergrowth, which end on most enjoyable and varied mountain trails! We had some problems following our guide’s rear wheel in this maze of technical tracks. It was already late when we saw the first houses of Stupizza. We were exhausted after a long day, but it was not finished yet: we spent the rest of the evening discussing the country, its history and its people with our hosts, washing everything down with shots of schnapps!
AN INTERESTING MUSEUM!
During World War I, the village of Kobarid and the surrounding mountain peaks were the arena for one of the bloodiest episodes of the conflict: the battle of Caporetto, or the 12th Battle of the Isonzo. From 1915 to 1917, the Italian and the Austro-Hungarian armies faced off over the valley of the Soča. Trench warfare in the mountains – the 12 battles led to the deaths of nearly one million people! In November 1917, the Austro-Hungarian army, aided by the Germans, put an end to this terrible position warfare by piercing the Italian defences. Italy had to retreat all the way to Venice. The 12th battle was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel "A Farewell to Arms". However, you can also relive it by visiting the great World War I museum in Kobarid. The exhibits, as well as the many written accounts and vintage photographs, illustrate the harshness and absurdity of that war with great emotion! This permanent exhibition should not be missed!
ON THE TRAIL OF THE BEAR!
We discovered another Slovenian region on our last day: another transfer to the southwest got us to the Karst region. Characterised by limestone and famous for its Škocjan Caves, the biggest subterranean wetlands in the world, the landscape of this region is completely different from what we saw during the previous days: there are no majestic mountain peaks there. The hills are green and round, in places reminiscent of the French Jura. It is in this vast wilderness, the home to one of the last primeval forests in Europe, where we could have seen the famous Slovenian bear. While with 500 specimens Slovenia has the greatest density of this great mammal in Europe, our guide assured us that we had no chance of encountering one. Anej proposed that we take a very technical track for our first outing. Not all of us had fully digested the schnapps we had consumed the previous day. Should our guide still have the power to fly over all those rocks and steps, the track was going to be a real ordeal. Too bad, because the track was splendid! We were going to get our spirits back on the other side of the valley on the slopes of Mt Nanos (1,313m). The small improvised picnic was short because of the direct sun. We still managed to take a peek at the Adriatic Sea and the nearby Italian city of Trieste. A photo session, and off we were on another devilish descent! The first part was quite difficult to negotiate, a wide path with loose rocks. Watch out, danger of falling! The track then narrows in the undergrowth and only the best riders can make it through! The last part, winding and fast, allowed us to get some breath back before reaching the town of Vipava. We found the reward at the bottom of a small sunny terrace in this small Slovenian town. Our trip to Slovenia was going to end in a couple of days, and we were going to enjoy them by marvelling at the fabulous landscape. While all our mountain biking trips were pleasurable in one way or another, the week in Slovenia will hold a special place in our memories. We can easily confirm that the discovery was a great surprise: with its nature and breathtaking scenery, Slovenia is full of priceless treasures. And the tracks – you got it right – we were not far from touching the Holy Grail!
Prevalje is some 1,200 kilometres from Brussels, passing through the southern Germany and through Austria. Note, however, that Brussels Airlines flies between the Belgian capital and Ljubljana several times a week.
ECOHOTEL FARM KOROŠ
This tourist farm, located in the north of Slovenia, is a real delight for fans of peace and nature. Dixi and his family offer a la carte stays all over Slovenia, accompanied or not. At the farm, you can rent high‑quality mountain bikes (Specialized) and they are building a bike park with several difficulty levels of tracks (some already existing). Info: www.bikenomad.com
Sloveniahas about fifty places where you can find facilities to quench your thirst for tracks. Some places offer minimum services (bike storage, bike-wash, etc.), while others offer guided excursions lasting one day or longer. Info: www.slovenia.info / cycling
The modern and luxurious chalets at Camp Koren in Kobarid seem an ideal base to discover the the Soča Valley. You will be warmly welcomed by Lidija, the owner. Info: www.kamp-koren.si
What is more, Slovenia has four bike parks: Maribor (http://maribor-pohorje.si), Bovec (www.mtbparkkanin.com) and Kranjska Gora (www.bikepark.si), all located in the north of the country, and Javornik (www.kamplc.net) west of Ljubljana.