Slovenia’s Green Karst is abundant with caves, only a few of which are open to the public. Although the Postojna caves and the UNESCO-listed Škocjan caves are by far the most well-known and visited tourist caves in Slovenia, for a more authentic and less Disney-esque experience, I can recommend first-hand the naturally-preserved 8.273 metre-long Križna jama cave. The name, which translates as ‘Cross cave’, comes from the nearby church of St. Cross (Sv. Križa). It is the seventh longest cave system in Slovenia and offers a totally unique experience – a ride in a large rubber dinghy on one, or more, of its 22 underground crystal-clear emerald-green lakes.
I must admit I felt a little trepidation at the thought of entering the cave, togged up in the mandatory wellington boots, torch in hand. But I needn’t have! In fact, once inside it was quite the opposite. The cave is so captivating that you can entirely forget about the outside world.
I opted for the short tour, which lasts around 1 hour and involves a 600 metre walk, followed by a short dinghy ride on the first lake. Here the lake splits and those taking the short tour return on foot the same way. The temperature inside the cave is a constant 8 degrees year-round, so be sure to wear your woolly socks and coats!
On entering the cave into the Great Hall, our guide, Gasper, first acquainted us with the entire cave system and showed us the part that we would be visiting.
We proceeded on foot, stopping at short intervals to see things such as ancient wall writings, the earliest among them date back to the 16th century,
The skulls and bones of cave bears, which are particularly notable for their size – the largest skull measures 56cm.
Gasper pointed out how the edges of the cave walls were rounded by the cave bears brushing past in the pitch black.
There is also an alternative tour to Bear Tunnel (Medvedji rov) for those particularly interested in finding out more about cave bears.
The Križna jama cave is known to contain around 45 animal species, making it the 4th in the world in terms of the number of species. During the tour that I joined, we came face-to-face with one, albeit it a sleeping one!
Then came the best bit. The dinghy awaits! I really didn’t know what to expect, but the overwhelming feeling as we sat in the boat with just the floodlights beneath the boat illuminating the crystal-clear water, was just total serenity and tranquility – a rarity in this modern fast-paced world.
There are also 2 longer tours available for real cave lovers. In order to protect the cave, visitor numbers on these longer tours are strictly limited. The 4-hour tour to the Calvary lake (Kalvarija) can be visited by only 1000 people per year (year-round, by prior arrangement), whilst only 100 people per year can take the 7-hour tour to the end of the 20th lake (from October to March, by prior arrangement).
Should you opt for either of the longer tours, you will be kitted out with all-in-one suits, and will need to take your own refreshments (a small snack, not an entire picnic!). After the first lake, you will transfer to a smaller dinghy and continue the tour partly on foot, partly by dinghy.
The 7-hour tour visits 20 lakes, culminating at Crystal Mountain, which is especially rich with stalactites.
One hour tours of the cave are available from 4.6 – 31.9 with no prior reservations required (at other times tours are available upon prior arrangement). Tours take place daily at 3pm on Saturdays, Sunday and public holidays from 4-30.6, thereafter at 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm until 31st August, and at 11am, 1pm and 3pm during September. The one hour is suitable for all ages, providing you are able to walk on uneven ground. Prior booking for the longer tours is essential.
You can visit come rain or shine! So whilst in Slovenia, don’t miss the opportunity to see this amazing part of the mysterious Karst underworld.
More information about the Križna jama cave can be found here – http://krizna-jama.si/en/about-the-cave/ and more information about what else to see and do in the surrounding Green Karst can be found here – http://zelenikras.si/en/
Official cave photos: Peter Gedei, Gašper Modic.
© Adele in Slovenia