Slovenia by Van

From Eastern Italy we drove into the Soca valley in Slovenia, supposedly renowned for its beauty. Straight away things seemed different here: as the area is popular for outdoor sports with tourists, wild camping seemed much harder (boulders blocking off supposed good spots) so we opted for a camping Cezsoca on our first night.

With the Soca valley being prime Kayak territory, we inquired if it would be ok to go out ourselves. “Do you have experience?” we were asked. Not really, unless you count floating and paddling on some scenic lakes. “Then it’s best to go with a guide”, which made sense since this is the tougher “whitewater” type of kayaking. We didn’t really want to spend money on a a kayak when we have our own, so we skipped any kayaking on this beautiful river. Maybe we could have done it on some of the easy sections of the river, but it still seemed irresponsible and dangerous.

Kugy monument in Triglav National park.

Instead we decided to go hiking, as Triglav national park is one of the best areas in Slovenia for this. There’s one winding, steep road that goes through the park, going over the Vrsic pass at its highest point.

On the Vrsic pass we hiked to Slemenova Spica, offering great views of the Julian Alps.

We also hiked part of the Soca River trail, that runs along the river. The river and valley are about as perfect as it gets when it comes to mountain rivers. Clear blue waters, steep gray mountains and green meadows and forests. Just too bad the river water was so cold your feet would hurt after a dip of only 3 seconds!

Because last year, we changed the trip a bit to meet friends of mine in Sweden, this year Jolien wanted to meet friends of her she met in Iceland 2 years ago. Rebecca, Anais and Franzi would be in Bled for a day or so, and we arrived at the same time at the hostel they were staying.

We’d seen a folder at the hostel of the”beautiful Vintgar Gorge” which wasn’t too far away, so with the girls as stowaways in the back of the van, we went to check it out. When we turned up it was clearly very touristic, and the whole thing turned out to be lots of queueing on small walkways.

Returning to Bled, we really wanted to kayak on the lake. It’s a pretty small lake, and it’s pretty much overrun with tourists who’ve all seen the Instagram hit-posts. The result is the few areas of the shore where you can swim or launch a boat are just packed, and parking is very hard to find.

Going out onto the waters of Bled turned out to be the only way to have your “Lake Bled moment of peace” as Rebecca put it!

Lake Bled might look great on pictures, but unless you don’t mind being part of the horde, I’d only go outside of season, or do like we did the next day: get up early, hike to the top of one of the many surrounding hills for your view, and then get out of there.

I had a great time with the girls, and my initial skepticism about being locked in by the set bookings they had, quickly dissappeared. I told Jolien we should join them for another day or so.

So we ended up on the shores of lake Bohinj, only 30 minutes away from Bled and a world of difference. While it seemed all foreign tourists descended on the previous lake, Bohinj seemed to host only local families, and as a much larger lake you didn’t tend to run in to people every meter.

What was also fun about travelling with some other people, is that using the van took on another dynamic. It became transport for everybody, a dressing room at the lake shore, we’d cook for everybody at night, etc. It really is more fun if the experience is shared!

Anais, who always seems to have crazy ideas, suggested we put the hammock we bought in Italy to use on those old pier poles in the water. It took some effort as the water was pretty deep and the hammock ropes fairly short, but we ended up with a really cool set-up. It turned into an impromptu photoshoot where everybody had a go at chilling/posing in the hammock!

After two days and nights, we said goodbye to the girls. Anais had some crazy plan again to hike up the tall mountains across lake Bohinj for an entire day (she didn’t seem too fussed about details like “is it 6 hours single or return?”, or “how much water do you need?”), so both me and Jolien were kind of glad we weren’t joining on that hot day. They survived but I think it took them like 8 or 10 hours before they got back to the hostel!

We took a very cool shortcut over dusty forest roads, heading for Jamnik. I was half expecting the Church of St. Primoz there to be at least slightly crowded with tourists, but there was barely anyone at this very picturesque place.

The next day we visited probably my favorite one in all of Slovenia. i’d read about “Rakov Skocjan” on a random information sign next to the parking lot we slept for the night. The picture seemed interesting, so we went and walked down into the caves and arches.

The caves and arches were formed by underground streams eroding the karst rock, and the ceiling eventually collapsing. There’s a “little” and “big” natural bridge, but the caves surrounding the little bridge were much more impressive; the water around the big one had all but dried up.

I really liked this place, it felt like stepping into some other, Jurassic-park like world.

Thinking back to some of the overrun places we’d seen the days before, compared to being nearly alone in this place (save for half a dozen others in about an hour),  I kept thinking people are strange: most just don’t seem to wander anywhere past the first one or two things you’d find on the internet!

And after visiting Rakov Skocjan, we headed off to Croatia, where it was looking like another friend was going to be by chance!

The route we took can be seen below, marked in blue.

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