Project Description

Right in the heart of Europe, Slovenia has retained traces of its glorious passing neighbors. Covered by thick forests, this land offers landscapes of unparalleled diversity: from alpine peaks to lakes and glacial valleys, from its bucolic countryside to the thousands of caves and underground rivers, not to mention the multitude of medieval cities with an undeniable Slavic charm.

Today, I leave Ljubljana for a day tour entitled “Emerald River” and you will soon find out why! I am using again the services of Roundabout, specialized in tours and excursions in Slovenia and currently #1 on TripAdvisor. Let’s hit the road!

On the way to the top

This new day begins as usual in Ljubljana, where someone comes to pick me up nearby my accommodation. I’m lucky today, as it seems I am the only one in the car, until my guide and driver of the day tells me that we’re going to pick up a family on the road. We drive an hour to Bled, where we pick up a mother and her two teenagers. From Bled, we truly begin our journey on nothing less than Slovenia’s highest mountain road! But before that, and as we will pass through one of the most important area of the country, let me write a few words about it.

Triglav Natural Park

Located in the Julian Alps in the northwestern part of Slovenia, it is the country’s only national park. Its striking beauty easily explains its protected status. It was named Triglav after the highest Slovenian summit at 2864 meters of altitude.

The park extends on 838 km² (4% of the Slovenian territory) along the Italian border and covers almost all of the eastern Julian Alps. Largest protected natural area of the country, it has an environmental protection regime mure more strict than other parks in Slovenia. Among others, this plan strictly regulates the construction of tourist infrastructure to maintain the unspoiled nature, while allowing many visitors to enjoy its beauties. This territory is one of the oldest parks in Europe.

Triglav National Park is home to the majority of the 400 peaks over 2000 meters altitude of the country and is thus one of the attractions whose sight immediately attracts all visitors. In addition to Triglav, visible from much of Slovenia on clear days, tops of Mangrt, Jalovec, Prisojnik and Špik are also impressive to see. Although the park is located on a karst area, more than two thirds are covered by beech forests in the south and spruce and larch forests in the north. The land is very rugged, with sharp peaks and deeply incised steep walls as well as numerous glacial valleys. A must-see for lovers of outdoor activities!

What goes up on one side…

Those like me who know this type of mountain road will not be disoriented and even here I have the feeling to be back in Switzerland! The road starts to climb slowly but surely while the view rises as here the hairpin bends come! There are 50 of them in total, 25 on each side of the collar and they are indicated by a small numbered panel. This gives guidance to travelers on the road, but also to a few brave cyclists who start the climb the road to the sheer force of their legs. Good luck guys, you’ll need it!

We take a short break after about half an hour, over the road from where we see the south side of Vršič pass, our next destination. Here is a monument dating from the First World War, hidden among the trees: a small Russian chapel which was built in memory of the thousands of Russians who suffered and died during the war. It is surrounded by a small cemetery and a stone pyramid with the Cyrillic inscription Synam Rossii (“To the Sons of Russia”) acts as a funerary monument.

Because of supply problems of the hinterland of the Soča, the Austrian army had already decided to build a road through Vršič mountain well before the war. As they were lacking of labor force, Russian prisoners were employed for its construction. Intensive work began in autumn 1915. The winter of the following year, a huge avalanche of snow happened and buried many prisoners and their guards. The exact number of dead is still unclear today, but some are talking about 170 to 300 Russians and 10 to 80 Austrian soldiers. It was during the burial of the victims that was born the idea to erect a monument in their memory.

Until November 1916, Russian prisoners built by the volunteer work the little wooden chapel on a stone base. Nowadays it is open to the public, but unfortunately not today. The small towers of the chapel end with a baroque cupola as it can be seen in Russia. Initially, they were covered with bark, and later with shingles and boards. Our guide then describes the interior, a small but simple space, painted in white color. During the war, on the altar was an icon of the Virgin Mary, which disappeared after the end of hostilities. The altar itself is made of cut logs of wood and decorated with icons painted in oil. Still inside, one can find forged chandeliers and candlesticks, and a photograph of the opening ceremony. With the help of Russian priests and other high government authorities, a solemn memorial mass is held annually near the small chapel.

A few photos later, we get back of the road to the foot of Mount Vršič, covered with grass and at 1737 meters of altitude, between Prisank and Mojstrovka and a large mountain starting point.

Climbing to the top is (unfortunately) not part of our agenda, so we simply mark a few minutes stop to admire the imposing mountains.

We are on the lowest part at 1611 meters and there is quite a lot of visitors here! Cars have stopped anywhere along the road among dozens of bikers and tourists are preparing for the walk of the day. In short, we feel more like being in the middle of a mountain village festival! But to find the greatness of this place, simply enjoy the surrounding nature.

… may go down by another !

After this interlude, we go through the pass, down on the other side, then drive through the Trenta valley to Bovec, picturesque small town of 1,700 inhabitants and known in the area for its huge hotel capacity. The pace of life in the city is serviced by many sports associations, by organizing events and thanks to the famous hospitality of the locals. Bovec is bisected by the Alpine river Soča and it is this river we will follow while stopping occasionally to take some pictures and enjoy the beautiful scenery. At the first stop, I just would like to do one thing: to settle in a small hut along the banks of the river and live frugally from hunting and fishing, while completely disconnecting myself from society ! However, this requires a lot of preparation, so I keep this idea somewhere in my mind and we continue our journey in this green oasis crossed by the river with emerald hues.

And yes, now I’m sure you understand: as it is for the emerald, color of the Soča river symbolizes regeneration and enlightenment. The gemstone and the river meet in the seamless harmony of green, the color of peace and refreshment. What is a trip on the banks of the Soča, but a search of the beauty of the emerald, a rest for the souls issued to men by its pristine water, constantly lavished by the majestic peaks around ?

The emerald water of the Soča river and its tributaries also arouses in many people a sense of irresistible excitement. They then began to descend the course of the river in large zodiac or kayak, to who we can also add amateurs of hydrospeed and canyoning who entrust their bodies to waterfalls and other chasms.

At the end of the road is waiting for us the nice little town of Kobarid, located at the historic crossroads of routes through the Soča valley towards Friuli. Many archaeological remains dating from the Iron Age testify to the strategic importance of the region during the Antiquity. The deepest impression was without a doubt left by the First World War when Austrian army, with the support of the Germans broke through the front of the Soča during the 12th battle. The history of the region and mainly the front of the Soča is told in the Kobarid Museum, named best European museum in 1993 and our next visit. But before that, it is time to have something to eat! We are given about one hour to do so, more than enough to settle down on the terrace of a nearby restaurant. Later on, we meet again in front of the museum and visit its different rooms filled to bursting with rich photographic material and multi-visions projections, subtly expose the difficult history and bloody hours on the banks of the Soča river.

After a very interesting tour of the museum and a small informative film, our guide informs us of the possibility to do a rafting descent in the area or staying in Kobarid. I chose the second option, first because I have no towel nor bathing suit, and secondly because I want to visit the city at my own pace. The mother and her two teenagers have chosen to try out rafting, a first for them. As myself had the opportunity to do in New Zealand, it’s not something I feel I miss and inform our guide. So I have about two hours of freetime to walk along the historic streets of Kobarid.

However, in less than 15 minutes, the sky rapidly covers and a titanic storm finally burst shortly after. So much for the trip in town, I quickly run and take refuge in one of the restaurants nearby and sit down in front of a window, admiring Mother Nature going wild. An incredibly powerful wind is blowing now in the streets and a heavy rain begin to fall. Within minutes, it’s literally the Apocalypse. The visibility is significantly reduced and many motorists stopped on the side of the road waiting for the rain to cease. I enjoyed a drink and think about the family who left to try out rafting on the emerald waters of the Soča river. I guess this weather gives a fun side to the experience, but when it suddenly started to hail, I tell myself that it is not fun anymore, but quite dangerous in fact. The storm will last for about 40 minutes and won’t weak during this time. Feels good to be inside, enjoy a drink and a book and having a look to the pictures I’ve taken already.

The time for someone to pick me up about two hours later, the sky has cleared and the weather is relatively nice again. I then ask the family if they could do their rafting, but unfortunately not: after a 30 minutes drive, time for them to reach the starting rafting point, it started to hail and rafting instructors have chosen to cancel the exit. Therefore they remained sheltered in the sports center with the guide for almost two hours, bad luck… Well, from my side too as I could not visit Kobarid, but this is only a postponement!

It is now under a serene sky that we hit the road again, always following the Soča river. Half an hour later, we stop and get off the car to start walking one hour first along an impressive gorge crossed by the emerald river.

We follow a small dirt road along the gorge until a wooden bridge on which we venture. This is an opportunity to admire the view of the Soča river and a few kayakers who are having fun there. Some brave swimmers soak feet in the river or even take a dip in the icy waters! The surrounding nature is magnificent and so peaceful!

We continue our walk and move away a bit from the river to follow Kozjak stream, left tributary of the Soča to its embouchure, always in a dense forest. We see some tourists who, like us, seek to get face to face with the most picturesque waterfall throughout Slovenia: Veliki Kozjak (or “The Great Kozjak”). It finally after about twenty minutes walk that we arrive at the end of the path. It rushes between some rocks from where a slight rumble appears to come from, obviously caused by the waterfall.

The latter has widened over the centuries a kind of large underground hall whose bottom is pierced with blue green chasms, and whose walls made of limestone concretion reverberate all sounds to meters around, as in karst caves. A white column of water 15 meters high offers visitors an unforgettable spectacle, not to mention thrill-seekers who are about to jump from the heights and swimmers equally adventurous!

It is finally late afternoon when we take the road back to Ljubljana after another wonderful day in the heart of a natural environment like no other! My travel book is already full of ideas for future trips in the area and I am looking forward to it!