Instantly upon crossing the border from Croatia into Slovenia, the road started to gain in elevation and the scenery turned downright luscious. Wide valleys of fertile farmland were framed on both sides by steep hillsides packed with evergreen trees. It was true: Slovenia is Europe’s green thumb!
Our path led us deep into the Northwest reaches of the country, a destination renowned for its imposing mountains, white water rapids, and untapped nature. We wound along a river while ascending into the Julian Alps, passing by tiny villages featuring vegetable gardens, windowsill planter boxes, and houses that jutted straight out into the road. As the turns got tighter and the road narrower, we finally arrived in our home for the next few nights: Bovec.
After setting up our tent, dropping Tim and Joe off at their hotel, and enjoying a much-needed hearty meal, Stefje and I got our first taste of the fury of Triglav Mountain range, Slovenia’s highest peaks.
While driving back to the campsite huge forks of lightning pierced the sky, lighting up a silhouette of the mountains and scaring us to the bone. Moments later, deep roars of thunder rumbled across the valley for a dozen seconds or more.
Within a few minutes we were safely dry inside the confines of our tent while buckets of rain dumped on us. Every time I almost fell asleep that night, a huge bolt of lightning would make it seem like a flashlight was shining in my face, followed by harrowing claps of thunder.
Nevertheless, the following morning the inside of our tent was still dry. In exchange for the terror of the night before, we were greeted by one of the most magical sights I’ve ever seen. Our campsite was situated directly on the confluence of two streams of the clearest blue color; as the sun rose and the precipitation faded mist rose up off the water, making for a fairy tale sight as we started our first day in Slovenia.
We began by setting off for Vrsic pass, where we were given a marvelous view of the series of mountains that dramatically shape the landscape and their corresponding valleys populated by quaint cottages and gorgeous farmlands.
The water in this region originates from Karst springs and is undisturbed by humans on its way to forming flowing rivers and waterfalls, creating sublime color conditions which continuously blew our minds.
As the afternoon began, we set off on one of the park’s many spectacular hiking trails. Within just twenty minutes the heavens opened up and started dumping again, leaving us apprehensive about our aggressive plans. We huddled under rocky overhangs until the rains started to slow, and then decided to continue climbing.
What a climb it was! Through three layers of forest and 2,000 feet of elevation gain, we pushed through fatigued muscles to truly earn the resulting vistas. The only constant here was remarkable beauty. Frequent rains in the Soca Valley meant the entire forest floor was covered with vegetation: mosses, ferns, sapling, and thick-trunked trees made our surroundings feel more like a jungle than a pathway.
It took the better part of two hours, but the incline finally began to lessen and the trail opened up into a glorious Alpine valley where we were up close and personal with incredible granite leviathans and an evergreen grove that wrapped around our entire view.
Further along we came to a lake, the culmination of our path. Turquoise waters rippled gently across the surface and a rocky beach served as a beautiful lookout point to take in the expanse of the Alpine meadow and its cliffs on all sides.
Utterly exhausted by the climb, we pushed through the downhill as fast as possible due to the promise of beers at the bottom. The descent was a study in hiking styles. While Joe and Stefje took it slow and steady, carefully avoiding any turned ankles on the rocky slopes, Tim and I risked “controlled falling” and ended up trail running whenever possible.
Just as I was pouring my beer into my glass at the tiny lodge next to the trailhead, Joe popped out of the forest. Within five minutes, a torrential downpour had begun and clouds had rolled in across the entire valley, leaving us immensely grateful for such impeccable timing.
Although the ride back was treacherous and every stretch of the road seemed at risk of flash flooding, we made it back in one piece and were even ready for one more excursion. We drove 15 minutes outside of town and down more than a few one way streets until arriving at Slap Virje. This waterfall cascaded over a series of mossy cliffs until it opened up into two light green swimming pools.
Friday morning brought with it another bout of violent weather, but Stefje and I were able to pack up our tent during a dry spell and headed into town to pick up the boys. We had a full day of driving in front of us, as that night everyone had reservations in the Austrian alp town of Zell am See. Yet first we had to escape Slovenia, which was more difficult than we anticipated.
Curling South, East, and then finally North around the impassable peaks of Triglav National Park, we wound through cramped mountain roads built directly into steep hillsides and navigated hairpin turns with the added complication of a few severe downpours.
The Slovenian countryside continued to amaze: every new town brought us into another lush green valley and we continued to wind directly alongside crystal clear rivers. Before noon we arrived in the town of Bohinj, a tiny hamlet primarily of note for its proximity to Lake Bohinj.
Deep, shimmering waters stretched out from a classically designed steeple and widened out into a tremendous body of open water. We posted up on the dock and took in the sights, then hugged the coastline deeper into the park to find a moment of solitude peering back at the steep slopes that cascaded down towards the deep azure abyss.
For lunch we pulled into town and grabbed our first and only meal of traditional Slovenian fare. While Tim took down a sausage and Joe’s house plate featured five kinds of meat, Stefje and I were pleasantly surprised to find the vegetarian options were definitely not lacking. We enjoyed potatoes with cottage cheese, spectacular homemade bread, and a unique and hearty sauerkraut stew featuring beans and potatoes.
Just half an hour later we had navigated North to our last and most anticipated stop in Slovenia: Lake Bled. The setting was the stuff of fairy tales. A high castle perched on a cliff, a clear blue lake with boats paddling across it, and the crown jewel: an island in the middle replete with a wondrous steeple.
We took off for a stroll along the water with competing agendas: while Joe and Stefje were on the hunt for great photos in this picturesque dream land, Tim and I kept our eyes peeled for a nice spot to jump in for a swim.
Once we stripped down and dove in, the fresh water instantly rejuvenated my senses. A cold current pulled us across the surface, and we continuously spun our heads on a swivel to take in the spectacular hillside houses, wealth of natural forests, and tremendous views of the special island.
We left Bled in the middle of the afternoon, trying to squeeze a few more hours worth of driving into the day before arriving in Austria.