In Part 2 of this month’s destination feature, The Upland Escapes team take us to explore the dramatic Julian Alps in Slovenia.
In a tiny Slovenian hamlet tranquillity reigns and village life is still dominated by the seasonal routines driving the sheep up to high pastures when the snows clear, the daily process of turning their milk into cheese, hay-making (the meadows need to be cut 4 times a year usually by hand!), mushroom-picking in the autumn and tending abundant little vegetable gardens to ensure a supply of fresh greens throughout the year. This calm, pastoral scene is set beneath the stunning, limestone peaks of the Julian Alps, which soar dramatically above the villages and hamlets of the rolling meadows below, and provide the perfect playground for walkers, mountaineers, climbers, ski tourers, kayakers and rafters.An imposing and rugged mountain chain characterized by steep limestone walls, high, jagged peaks and deep valleys, the Julian Alps are the easternmost outpost of the Alpine range that stretches in a crescent across southern central Europe. The highest peak is the sacred Mount Triglav, at 2,864m, and the beautiful emerald Soa River cuts into the heart of the Julian Alps, heading south into Italy, where it becomes the Isonzo. The walking and hiking in this region is rewarding any time between May and October. In the spring, the upland meadows are thick with flowers, including many varieties of orchid, and snow lingers picturesquely on the mountain peaks. Summer can be hot, but the air is usually refreshing above 1500m and there are plenty of shady walks to choose from and cool mountain streams to paddle in. In the valley, these streams join the rushing, turquoise-blue waters of the Soa River tumbling over the rocks and hurtling through narrow gorges on the short journey to the Adriatic. A walk on the slopes and saddles of the Julian Alps themselves invariably yields breathtaking views across the valley to Italy, or into the wild, empty expanse of the Triglav National Park. While Mount Triglav gets its fair share of hiking and climbing attention, the wider area is still relatively off the beaten track, and even during the high season, you will only see a few other hikers. The limestone walls and dramatic peaks make for a huge variety of climbing and mountaineering options, from simple scrambles to very committing ascents. In winter, there are many fantastic ski touring and ice climbing routes for those looking for something a bit different to the overcrowded French, Swiss and Austrian Alps. There is also a decent hut network throughout the region, courtesy of the Slovenian Mountaineering Association. Rather than rewrite it all here, you will find a fantastic guide to the main peaks and ascents for climbing, mountaineering and ski touring in the Julian Alps here on Summit Post. The Soa River and its tributaries are superb for activities like white-water rafting, kayaking and canyoning, with Bled and Bovec being excellent starting points. It is also possible to fish for the marbled trout which is unique to these waters. There are also tandem paragliding flights, horse-riding and mountain biking to be enjoyed. There is an open car-train from Most na Soi to Bohinjska Bistrica, which enables you to visit the beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj for the day. The little town of Tolmin has a farmers market on a Saturday, selling all manner of delicious seasonal treats, whilst a drive to the head of the Soa Valley really takes the breath away, culminating in 25 hair-pins to the Vri Pass. The small market town of Kobarid is home to an award-winning museum focusing on the battles of the WW1 Isonzo/Soa front. These mountains formed the front line of what became known as the Isonzo Front, during World War One. On the peaks and ridges of the high Alps there are still a lot of fascinating trenches and caves dug into the mountainsides, and some poignant memorials to the fallen. The battles not only caused tremendous damage to the environment but also displaced tens of thousands of Slovenes, who were shipped to southern Italy for the duration of the war. When they returned, their beautiful land was in ruins, poisoned by gas and gunpowder, littered with shrapnel and covered in the debris of mechanized warfare. A walk to the mountain-top trench systems, the overgrown gun-emplacements and a visit to the little museums and cemeteries that are dotted about, not only brings home the amazing ability of nature to recover from environmental catastrophe, but it also demonstrates the peace-loving Slovenes amazing pride in their beautiful country. Through sensible, sustainable management of the land, the country is now one of the most environmentally pristine in Europe, home to large populations of brown bear, wolves, lynx and chamois. The rivers run clear and scars of the past are all but healed. It is a remarkable, understated rejection of belligerence in favour of nature and peace, which you can not fail to admire.Get there: The Julian Alps region is about 1.5 hours drive from Trieste (Italy), 2-2.5 hours drive from Ljubljana (Slovenia) or 2.5-3 hours from Venice(Italy). The area can be reached by train from London in under 24 hours. Take the Eurostar to Paris where you can pause for dinner before boarding the night train to Venice. There are daily flights from the UK to Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, and regular low-cost flights to Trieste (Italy)too, from where is it only 1 hour drive over the border to the Soa River area. Upland Escapes are an award winning responsible travel operator, specialising in independent and flexible walking breaks in off the beaten track mountain destinations throughout Europe. Find out more and see a range of their holidays here.