Adventure Lovers Love Slovenia
Story and photography by Nicholas Grundy
Nestled tightly between central Europe and its Balkan brothers, Slovenia was the first state to break away from the former Yugoslavia in the early nineties. Unlike their neighbors to the east, Slovenes swiftly gained independence with minimal conflict. Few had even heard of the country before learning that it’s the homeland of our current First Lady. Yet this hidden gem should be included on any Eurotrip. Slovenia is a land of geographical extremes, with soaring peaks in the Julian Alps, rolling hills hiding limestone cavern systems, and its own little stretch of pristine Adriatic coast.
As avid thrill seekers, it only made sense that my wife and I should head over for an out-of-the-ordinary honeymoon. A short train journey from northeastern Italy took us to peaceful Lake Bled for a relaxing first few days. Bled is truly a picture-postcard destination. Perched on the easternmost edge of the Alps, the lake and surrounding villages are overlooked by a stunning cliff-top castle. What’s more, a tiny island near the western shore is home to what is surely Europe’s most charming church. While we sunbathed, more active visitors swam the few hundred yards out to the picturesque isle. Walking along the boardwalk back to our hotel, I spotted something below and stopped in the nick of time. Below my foot, a diligent snail was studiously stretching from plank to plank as the warm summer sun set behind us.
Sunlight glistened on the lake’s subtle ripples as we ate breakfast on our balcony the next morning. Today it was time to rent mountain bikes and head slightly farther afield. We rolled across flat valleys as we ventured a few miles north. Standing up out of our saddles to press uphill now, we cycled through a small hillside village and entered the woods. The road ended right as the hill crested, and from here it was down a rocky track and into Vintgar Gorge. The turquoise and green Radovna River winds through a steep canyon, complete with boardwalks and bridges that provide guests with superb views. These weren’t the only stunning vistas in the area. Back in Bled, we trekked up some of the many beautiful hilltop lookouts. However, it was the coming days that would prove more impressive still.
Traveling westward we reached Lake Bohinj—about twice the size of Lake Bled and wedged right up in the Julian Alps. After a day of diving and swimming in the refreshing waters, we treated ourselves to an ice cream from one of the local shoreside vendors. The list of flavors was rather unique: blueberry, raisin cookie, apple-cinnamon. He even had energy drink ice cream, which fueled our kayak trip across the long, thin lake. As our vessel pierced the smooth, glassy waters, our paddles shattered glistening reflections of pine forests and steep escarpments. The air’s humidity mounted as it bore down on us until clouds suddenly rolled in and a cooling rain drifted out of the sky. Drying off back at our traditional alpine chalet, we noticed a huge assortment of adventure gear piled up next door. No surprise, as Lake Bohinj is Slovenia’s center for adrenaline junkies. Whether it’s white-water rafting, rock climbing, canyoning, or paragliding, the region has it all. We, however, were here for one thing: mountaineering.
Just shy of ten thousand feet, the pinnacle is a strenuous yet safe and accessible climb. The craggy Triglav (which translates to “three peaks”) is synonymous with Slovenia.
Surrounding Lake Bohinj one finds the extensive Triglav National Park, named after Mount Triglav, the highest point in Slovenia. Just shy of ten thousand feet, the pinnacle is a strenuous yet safe and accessible climb. The craggy Triglav (which translates to “three peaks”) is synonymous with Slovenia. Its distinctive three-pronged outline is even emblazoned on the national flag. We departed our lakeside cabin with ample food and water, as well as climbing harnesses and helmets, which would come in handy later. Our three-day hike commenced with a shockingly rapid ascent. The contour lines on our map were indeed close together, but the constant elevation gain seemed never-ending. Fortunately, the dense, misty pine forests shielded us from the sun’s heat. Trickling streams and gushing waterfalls provided romantic rest stops as we caught our breath before trekking onward and upward. Finally, the trail flattened out, and we were immediately thrust out into open alpine terrain. We were above six thousand feet, a zone in which little foliage grew to shield us from the sun’s rays.
Shortly thereafter, we reached the first mountain hut along our path. Vodnikov Dom provided running water—straight from a nearby mountain spring and more than safe to drink. Here luxury hikers can avail themselves of a freshly cooked Slovene meal and even a refreshing beer or wine while marveling at the majestic Triglav towering above. Our own destination for the night, however, was higher still. After ascending another eighteen hundred feet, we’d reached Dom Planika, situated directly beneath Triglav’s summit. Sunset treated us to spectacular bands of orange, yellow, and pink arcing across the sky, silhouetting jagged ridgelines all around. Yet this wasn’t the highlight. Moments after the sun’s last wavering crescent of light dipped beyond the distant Alps, a particular native of the area came out to put on a show. On a precipice opposite, two slender sword-like antlers appeared from behind the rocks. Then another two. A pair of sure-footed mountain goats stood proudly. For a moment, it almost appeared as if the legendary Zlatorog, the golden-horned guardian of Triglav, had blessed us with his presence. A good omen for our final ascent the next day, perhaps.
For a moment, it almost appeared as if the legendary Zlatorog, the golden-horned guardian of Triglav, had blessed us with his presence. A good omen for our final ascent the next day, perhaps.
Up and out before dawn, we moved swiftly toward the very top of Slovenia. Our pace was soon curtailed by a more treacherous section—a knife-edge ridge dropping cliff-like for hundreds of yards on either side. Fortunately, a via ferrata, (literally “iron road”) offered us safe passage the rest of the way. Its long steel cables were bolted firmly to the rock, allowing us to clip our harnesses on and off as we progressed. Pushing onward, we hit the final challenge. The via ferrata shot straight up a near-vertical ridge, the summit just beyond our gaze. Our helmets provided protection from any small rocks kicked loose by climbers above. Jumping with joy after hauling ourselves up and over the summit’s edge, I took out a miniature bottle of spirits. It was most certainly a time for celebration, for anyone who scales Triglav becomes an honorary Slovene citizen! And what better place to mark this occasion than atop the entire country, with a 360-degree panoramic view of its undulating terrain.
After making our descent, we continued our loop through the national park. Yet another via ferrata brought us across the steep southern face of Triglav and out through an immense scree patch. Scree is the name given to the loose stones forming entire sloping sides of steep, rocky mountains. Taking care on the gravelly ground, we gazed out across gorgeous alpine lakes of every color: emerald green, shimmering turquoise, deep navy, and dazzling blue. We stayed one final night at a quaint cabin tucked between the lakes before descending through a forest dotted with lush meadows. Meanwhile, paragliders took the fast way down, leaping off the cliffs on the northern edge of Lake Bohinj.
Our thighs were aching after the unforgettable experience; it was time to cap off our honeymoon by dipping our feet in the soothing waters of the Adriatic Sea. Opposite Venice, one finds the coastal town of Piran. At first, I was astounded by its similarity to the luxurious Dubrovnik, farther down the Dalmatian coast in southern Croatia. Piran, however, is even better. Here we avoided the tourist masses and blended in with the locals. Making the most of our last few days, we snorkeled past sea urchins, basked in the warm sunlight, and enjoyed the local pizza and gelato. Holding hands, we ambled down Piran’s narrow lanes and sauntered atop its town walls, already discussing future trips as a newly married couple.
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Nicholas Grundy is a travel photographer and writer working for international publications such as the Aer Lingus in-flight magazine, Connemara Life, and VIE. His diverse work experience and background were discussed during his recent TEDx talk in his current hometown of Galway, Ireland. You can find more of his work at NicholasGrundy.com.