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Feature 24 Sep 12

Slovenia’s Divine Mountains are Hikers’ Dream

The stunning mountains of the northwest combine the very best of Mother Nature with some startling reminders of the horrors of war.

Nemanja Cabric
Slovenia draws hikers who want to see both historical sites as well as the natural wonders. 

Northwest Slovenia, a land of natural splendour that has long inspired poets and travellers, is also the final resting place of countless soldiers killed in the First World War.

That’s why in the midst of such remote places as Mrzli Vrh, Mengor hill and Bohinj, traces of long-ago battles can still be seen.

They include caves drilled by Austro-Hungarian soldiers on Mrzli Vrh, trenches, concrete and stone forts, military roads and tracks, shelters dug from rock, bunkers, remnants of barbed wire and bits of guns and equipment.

Most of these places have since become open-air museums, drawing hikers who want to see both historical sites as well as the natural wonders surrounding the country’s highest peak, Mt Triglav.

A hiking festival that takes place in the western Soca region, from September 22 to October 7, including guided tours, exhibitions and lectures, offers tourists first-hand experience of the beauty of this part of Slovenia as well as its turbulent past.

The Soca river valley in western Slovenia is a crossroads for many hiking trails, most of which offer stunning views of the landscape almost every step of the way.

Those who wish to get to know this region can organise their trip themselves. But they will certainly lack professional guidance, and many of the most attractive locations are almost unreachable without guides, hidden in the wild mountainous terrain.

Long-ago battles:

Bohinj valley, home of the mythical creature known as the Zlatorog, has become a starting point for tourists on day-trip walks.

The emerald green waters of the Soca flow for 138 kilometres through western Slovenia and northeast Italy. Its source is in the Trenta valley, in the Julian Alps in northwest Slovenia at an elevation of 876 metres.

The river runs past the towns of Bovec, Kobarid, Tolmin, Kanal ob Soci, Nova Gorica and Gorizia, entering the Adriatic close to the Italian town of Monfalcone.

Its Italian name, Isonzo, still evokes memories of the horrific battles between the Italians and Austro-Hungarian armies in the First World War.

Twelve battles, which raged here in the high mountains on both sides of the river between June 1915 and November 1917, took away an almost unimaginable number of lives.

Half of the entire Italian First World War casualties – some 300,000 of 600,000 – occurred along the Soca, or the Isonzo Front. Austro-Hungarian losses, while not as numerous, were also very high, at around 200,000 of an overall total of around 1.2 million.

The remains of both the Austro-Hungarian and the Italian first lines of defence can be seen on Mrzli Vrh whose peak is arranged as an outdoor museum, offering majestic views of the former battlefield of the Front. The ridge is crisscrossed with numerous trenches and caves.

The outdoor museum can be reached by two paths that start from Zatomlin and Krn villages. The second matches the European trekking path E7 and gradually rises to the Pretovc alp.

The track passes pastures, dairies and places where Austro-Hungarian soldiers hollowed out spacious caves in rocks. In one of cave along the way from Pretovc to Mrzli Vrh an altar is set up, and on top of it stands a cross.

It takes about 40 minutes to reach the top from the alp of Pretovc. Because the tour to Mrzli Vrh takes several hours of walking, it needs to be planned carefully.

Another outdoor museum is located at in the quiet and untouched hills of Mengore.

A circular path here takes tourists past numerous well-preserved and partly cleaned and restored remains of the first Austro-Hungarian line of defence. It runs past trenches, caves, memorials, a reservoir, remains of stonewalled cabins, a former Austro-Hungarian military cemetery, to a well.

Located at the top of Mengore hill is a pilgrimage church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, from where a magnificent view opens over the Soca and the mountains rising on its left and right banks.

God’s gift:

Group climbing to the top of Triglav. | Photo by by Monitotxi/Flickr

Triglav National Park and its surroundings are an authentic fairytale landscape, with almost cartoonish meadows and pastures.

Bohinj valley, home of the mythical creature known as the Zlatorog, has become a starting point for tourists on day-trip walks on trails that run throughout the valley and on mountaineering and climbing tours.

The Bohinj Basin is 20 km long and 5 km wide and lies within the Julian Alps in the Upper Carniola region of northwest Slovenia. It is traversed by the Sava Bohinjka river and its main feature is Lake Bohinj.

In winter, the valley becomes a sports centre for skiers, snowboarders, ice climbers, as well as for ice skaters on the lake. In summer, Lake Bohinj is frequented by swimmers, and on the Sava Bohinjka River, by kayakers and fishermen as well. Biking, trekking and climbing are also tourist activities in the area.

According to legend, when God was giving out land to various peoples, as he finished he realised that he had forgotten about a small group of people who were silent and didn't hustle like the others.

Because of their modesty and patience he felt pity for them and decided to give them the most beautiful land of them all, which he had spared for himself. It’s called Bohinj, after “Boh”, the Slovenian word for “God”.

Another legend says the Turks gave up on conquering Bohinj, because they thought it was the end of the world.

Either way, the Triglav National park offers some of the most stunning landscapes in mountainous Slovenia.

The origin of the name Triglav is uncertain. “Triglav”, meaning “three-headed”, either owes its name to the mountain’s characteristic shape as viewed from the southeast side, or to the highest Slavic deity who was supposed to have a throne on the top of the mountain.

The park lies in the Julian Alps, on the three corners of Slovenia, Austria and Italy. The highest point is the summit of Triglav, at 2,864m, whilst the lowest point lies in the basin of the Tolminka river, at 180m.

Triglav's beauties include glacier-shaped valleys, mountain plateaus, mountains extending far above the tree line, pure waters, deep-cut gorges, remains of virgin forests, rich biodiversity and alpine flowers.

There are three important ascent routes to Triglav. The Bohinj Alpine Path, dedicated to the Bohinj mountaineers who were the first to ascend Triglav in 1778, the approach from the Upper Sava Valley, the Mojstrana, dedicated to the famous priest, Fr Jakob Aljaz, and the Trenta Route, inspired by Dr Julius Kugy.

Although the paths vary in difficulty, they all demand a degree of stamina and in some places climbing is impossible without ropes.

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