Like Beekeeping? Love Radovljica!

Those interested in beekeeping should definitely make a beeline for Radovljica!

The Radovljica area has a wealth of beekeeping-related sights of interest, all within close proximity, thus making it ideal place to visit for beekeepers or those with an interest in beekeeping.

One such example is the group of 38 beekeepers from Estonia who I helped with their plans to visit Radovljica.

Whilst the main purpose of their trip was beekeeping-related activities, they also managed to find time to do some sightseeing in Ljubljana, took a traditional pletna boat to the island on Lake Bled, and visited Vintgar Gorge.

The main beekeeping day began with a visit to Kralov med in the hamlet of Selo near Bled, where owner Blaž Ambrožič told them everything, and more, that they could possibly want to know about beekeeping in Slovenia. I wrote more extensively about my visit to Kralov med in a previous blog, also about World Bee Day, which you can read here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2016/05/17/world-bee-day-the-anton-jansa-honey-route/

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The undoubted highlight, whether a beekeeper or not, is the chance to see and experience up close the hive found on a nearby tree trunk and transported to its current home. The fact you can get so close is testament to the calm nature of Slovenia’s Carniolan grey bee.

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Next the group came to Radovljica, beginning at the Tourist Information Centre where they tasted local honey and chocolate, and had the chance to buy some gifts to take home. They even brought us some of their own Estonian honey, which, as you can see, the staff enjoyed tasting!

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We then took a stroll through the medieval old town to see the main sights of interest – the Šivec House Gallery, the Radovljica Mansion, St. Peter’s Church, and the other wonderful frescoed buildings.

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Then it was on to the viewpoint for wonderful views of the Julian Alps, the Jelovica plateau and the Sava river.

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The next stop was to Lectar Inn to watch the process of making and decorating the traditional ‘lectar’ gingerbread’ hearts, made with honey, of course!

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And a chance to buy souvenirs and/or gifts for loved ones.

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Having seen Radovljica, it was then time to Taste Radol’ca, with a traditional Slovene lunch, also at Lectar Inn, one of the participating Taste Radol’ca restaurants. During lunch, the owner Jože entertained us with a few of his favourite songs played on the harmonica – never something to be missed!

The final stop in Radovljica was to the Museum of Apiculture, housed in the Radovljica Mansion, where visitors can learn all about the history of beekeeping in Slovenia, watch a video (narrated in English by me!), and in summer watch the bees hard work diligently in the hive.

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The group’s very last stop on the jam-packed, or should I say honey-packed, day, was to the Gorenjska Beekeeping Development and Education Centre in Lesce. You can read more about the centre and its wide-ranging activities here – http://www.radolca.si/en/gorenjska-region-beekeeping-development-and-education-centre/

So, as you can see, the Radovljica area really is a beekeeper’s paradise!

If you’d like any more information about Slovenian beekeeping, or are interested in taking a tour of the town and/or visiting some of the above-mentioned sights, feel free to get in touch or contact Tourism Radol’ca – http://www.radolca.si/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing in Slovenia’s Julian Alps

I’ve had quite a few enquiries recently via my blog regarding winter hiking in Slovenia. So, I thought I would put together a new blog post with some ideas about where to hike here in winter, and also about another alternative winter sport – snowshoeing.

Before I go on, however, one thing I would like to emphasise – and cannot emphasise enough – is that you MUST be properly prepared and equipped for winter hiking. In the past couple of weeks there have been a number of deaths in our mountains, and, as is so often the case, among them are tales of people going to the mountains in trainers or other such inappropriate attire. Proper equipment is essential year-round, but particularly so in winter, as is knowing the terrain. Personally, during winter, particularly when hiking alone, I stick to routes that I know and that I know are well-trodden.

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As I’m not a skier – never have been and never will be – snowshoeing provides great exercise and (can be!) great fun too, provided the conditions are right. Putting on a pair of snowshoes for the first time is a slightly strange experience. One feels rather awkward and clumsy walking around with, what look and feel like, tennis racquets strapped to your feet, though the modern versions, as seen below, are somewhat sleeker in their design.

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Once you get used to walking with a wider and slightly ungainly gait, you soon get used to it, though a pair of hiking poles is a requisite. Walking with snowshoes enable you to access places on foot that would otherwise be inaccessible during winter. However, snowshoes aren’t suitable for scaling high peaks, but rather for traversing wider, flatter snow-covered terrain.

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One of the best, and one of my favourite, places for winter activities is the Gorenjska region, where I live in the northwest of Slovenia, is the Pokljuka plateau. The entire forested Karst plateau, 20kms in length, is within Triglav National Park, and reaches an elevation of 1,400m. The highest peak is Debela peč (2014m), which, together with the peaks of Brda, Mrežce and Viševnik, are among the most popular with hikers year-round.

As can be seen below – me en-route to Debela peč – winter hiking, when at times you can be waist deep (or deeper!) in snow, can be exhausting at times, so isn’t for the faint-hearted!

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But the rewards can also be fantastic, provided you are well-equipped, sensible, know the terrain, and are fit enough!

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Pokljuka is approximately 15kms from Bled. Other than for a few months during summer, there is no regular, scheduled public transport to the plateau, so a car is essential. The plateau can also be reached from the road which turns off near Bohinjska Bistrica and leads up towards Gorjuše.

This year on 8-11th December Pokljuka hosted the annual BMW Biathlon World Cup. The plateau is a favourite training destination for many winter sports people from across Europe as well as for the Slovene military who have a barracks at Rudno Polje, which is also home to the Pokljuka Sports Centre and the Hotel Center http://www.center-pokljuka.si/en.html

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Pokljuka is a very popular destination with fans of cross-country skiing. I have tried it, on a few occasions, but me and skiing – of any kind – are never going to get along! Here’s me trying to ‘play it cool’ whilst a group of Slovenian military recruits go whizzing by!

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I’ve been there at times when the weather is less than favourable too, though once home in the warm with a cuppa, all is forgiven and forgotten!

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With its wide, open pastures and traditional wooden huts, the beautiful Planina Zajavornik highland is among the most popular parts of Pokljuka. The highland is also equally stunning during summer. You can cross the highland on foot and then head further up to the Blejska koča mountain hut, where you can enjoy hearty, traditional Slovenian food such as Carniolan sausage or a stew such as ričet, or, if the road is clear of snow, you can drive a little further by taking the road to the right from Mrzli studenec then park on the opposite side of the highland before continuing on foot up to the mountain hut.

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There are so many lovely parts of Pokljuka, it’s hard to choose a favourite and it’s equally beautiful, if not more so, during summer. Below you can see the Kranjska dolina highland, which you pass if you take the road as described above. I particularly like cycling in this area in summer.

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It’s fairly easy to navigate your way around Pokljuka, but a map of the Julian Alps will certainly aid you in planning routes.

I hope this has provided some ideas and inspiration for winter hiking in Slovenia. I wish you happy, and above all, safe, hiking!

© Adele in Slovenia

Hiking the Alpe Adria Trail – Stage 23: Kranjska Gora to Trenta, Slovenia

The Alpe Adria Trail, which begins on Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe in Austria and ends on the coast at Muggia in Italy, has 43 stages and a total length of 750kms. The trail is a collaboration between three countries – Austria, Slovenia, Italy and offers lovers of the great outdoors myriad possibilities for enjoying the stunning and ever-changing scenery along the way from the highest glaciers to sea-level.

It’s easy to pick and choose where to start and how far to walk, however, since the route is linear, be sure to have a plan how to get back if you need to do so! In terms of the trail in Slovenia, stage 22 runs from Austria into Slovenia, stages 23, 24 and 25 are entirely within Slovenia, and stage 27 begins in Slovenia ending in Italy.

Stage 23 of the trail officially starts in the centre of Kranjska Gora (810m), though I started my early morning hike from the stunning Lake Jasna, which sits at the foot of the Vršič Pass. It was very tempting to linger a while, however, I had a long hike ahead so headed onwards, and upwards.

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The mythical golden-horned mountain goat ‘zlatorog‘ is a landmark and obligatory photo spot!

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From the far-end of the lake the route then leads along the Krnica valley, beside the Pišnica river and makes a fairly level easy start to the day. Note: If you’re looking to escape the summer heat, this valley is the place to be. Whatever the time of year in the early morning it’s freeeeeezing!!! In winter, Krnica is a particularly popular place for sledging.

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The route then turns right, passes the Mali Tamar Memorial to those who have lost their lives in the mountains, crosses a bridge over the stream, and then the ascent to Vršič begins. It is well-marked throughout with Alpe Adria signs as well as the usual Slovene way-markers (a red circle with a white inner).

The Vršič Pass is the highest mountain pass in Slovenia. It was built in the early 19th century, originally for military purposes, and has a total of 50 hairpin bends. You can, of course, drive up instead of hiking, or even cycle – as many do, though note that the pass is usually closed throughout winter when there is heavy snowfall due to the danger of avalanches.

The trail goes largely through the forest, though in places it emerges – or if ‘it’ doesn’t then ‘you’ can – from the forest at sights of interest and to take in the views. The first such sight is the Russian Chapel, which was built in memory of the suffering of the thousands of Russian prisoners during construction of the road. Hundreds of prisoners and their guards – Russian and Austrian – lost their lives due to an enormous avalanche in winter 1916 – the exact number who died was never known.

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The route continues to the right of the chapel, again through the forest. I recommend a stop at bend 17 to see the somewhat eerie looking stones that have begun to ‘appear’ in recent years. I guess someone started the trend and others followed!

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The view from here isn’t half bad either!

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It’s now not far to reach the top, less than half-an-hour and I was already at 1611m at the top of the Vršič Pass.

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From the top it was easy to see where I was heading, down towards the Soča Valley and I could hardly wait to glimpse the always-stunning emerald-green Soča river.

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When leaving the top, look for this sign and walk down the road for approximately 500 metres.

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As tempting as it is to admire the views, be sure to keep your eyes to the ground here, as here the way-marker for the trail is only on the ground and could easily be missed.

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From here the trail re-enters the forest and leads on a pleasant gently-descending path, eventually emerging between stones walls into the parking area at the source of the Soča river, where there is a small hut offering refreshments. In places the trail is marked by the letters AAT – as shown below.

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If you choose to take a detour to see the source of the Soča river, it takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the first viewpoint – a relatively easy path, thereafter its a bit of a climb, assisted by iron pegs and rope, so not for the faint-hearted! Knowing I still had a way to go, I just went to the first viewpoint (well, that’s my excuse anyway!).

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From here it is downhill all the way. The Soča River Trail leads on traffic-free paths to Trenta, home to a Triglav National Park Information Centre, and where there is a mini-market, restaurant and a sprinkling of accommodation options.

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The total distance of this stage of the trail is 17.8km, of which the ascent is 962m and 1146m descent. It can easily be shortened as required – at least during the summer months when buses operate over the Vršič pass from Kranjska Gora to the Soča Valley. Out of peak season, however, you would need to ensure you have suitable onward, or return, transport.

In total the hike took less than 5 hours, including photo stops. If you take time to linger and savour the views, perhaps enjoy a meal at one of the several mountain huts en-route to, or at the top of, the Vršič pass, then it makes a very enjoyable full day trip. Highly recommended!

More information about the trail can be found here – http://alpe-adria-trail.com/en/ and more information about autumn hiking in Slovenia here – http://www.slovenia.info/en/Autumn-hiking-in-Slovenia.htm?aktivna_pohodniska_jesen_slovenija=0&lng=2

© Adele in Slovenia

 

Kindness in the Karavanke

In this often turbulent world we live in, the kindness of strangers is something to be valued and cherished, as I discovered on my latest adventure in the Karavanke mountains last weekend!

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Those of you who also follow me on my Adele in Slovenia Facebook page are likely to have already read my (mild) rant last week about the queues of people and two hour wait to ascend to the top of Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav, on a busy Bank Holiday weekend in August.

I have often waxed lyrical here about the Karavanke mountains, which seem to get so overlooked by those visiting Slovenia who automatically head for the better-known Julian Alps. The Karavanke form a natural border between Slovenia and Austria so, in addition to offering myriad possibilities for day and multi-day hikes, there are the added bonuses of less crowds and far-reaching views across 2 countries.

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My home town of Radovljica is in a perfect location to base yourself to explore the Karavanke mountains, being in close proximity to Stol – the highest peak of the Karavanke, as well as Begunščica and numerous other peaks, many of which I have written about previously. Note: you can use the search facility on this blog to find previous posts by using keywords and/or visit the Tourism Radol’ca website for more information – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

So, back to my latest adventure. This time I headed slightly further from home to hike in the Karavanke mountains, first to Tržić, then to the village of Dolina, near Jelendol, from where I hiked up to the ever-popular Kofce highland and mountain hut (1488m). The sky really was that perfectly blue – no photo-shopping required!

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From there I continued to the Šija highland and hut and past grazing cattle, of which there are plenty on the highlands along the length of the range.

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Next I continued along an old unmarked path to the Pungrat highland before joining the path up to Škrbina ridge (1869 m) from where there were bird’s eye views across both Slovenia and Austria.

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As much as I hate crowds (as per the Triglav rant), there was barely a soul to be found here so I was more than elated to encounter two kindly, gallant strangers who came to my rescue when I got myself into a spot of bother just beneath the peak of Kladivo (2094m). They were passing in opposing directions but didn’t hesitate to help, which served as the wonderful reminder of how such altruistic acts of simple kindness can make the world a much better place.

So, thank you once again Olga and Anže for for your help and part in a (mostly!) wonderful, and certainly unforgettable, day. As was well that ended well and new acquaintances were made to boot. So, all in all, despite my little ‘moment’, it was a(nother) great day in the Karavanke!

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© Adele in Slovenia

 

Spring in the Karavanke Mountains

After all the excesses of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival, last week was all about my other great love – Slovenia’s great outdoors!

Spring has arrived in the Karavanke mountains and, particularly on the south facing slopes, the snow is melting at a pace, or rather ‘was’. When I started writing this blog last week, it certainly was ‘Spring in the Karavanke Mountains’. Now, however, looking out of my window at the fresh snow, and digging out my gloves and warm clothes again, it feels anything but spring-like! Nevertheless, the blog below remains ‘as was’ and hopefully spring-proper will return very soon.

It is, however, a different matter on the north facing slopes of the Karavanke, so it’s still a bit too soon in the season for any serious hiking above 1,500 metres, and it’s an entirely different matter in the Julian Alps, where there is still a significant amount of snow, even at lower levels.

It’s still a little nippy early morning, especially for cycling, but wrapped up well I cycled from Radovljica to the Završnica reservoir then headed on foot to Smolnik (1002m). What I particularly like about Smolnik is that despite it being near the Valvasor mountain hut (Valvasorjev dom) – a very popular destination for hikers, Smolnik itself is relatively unknown as the path is not marked, thus only those ‘in the know’ frequent it – until now perhaps!!!

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Though I also often hike up to the Valvasor hut at this time of year, what sets Smolnik apart is the view, since the views from the hut are rather restricted. The path up through the forest is very steep, so I consider a pair of hiking poles a must – though there is an option to approach it from the opposite direction, via the road that leads to the Ajdna archeological site, which is a far less steep option. In places it little more than a mass of tangled tree routes, however, the path is clear and easy to follow.

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On reaching the top of Smolnik there are wonderful views across the valley and towards Bled Lake, a great reward for my effort.

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There is a bench for resting weary limbs if required, with Stol, the highest peak in the Karavanke range, dominating the backdrop, and looking very ‘moody’ on this occasion.

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From the peak of Smolnik it’s easy to reach the Valvasor mountain hut, from where you can continue to one of the mountain highlands as I did – in this case the Žirovniška planina highland, for marvellous views of the snow-capped Julian Alps, or continue towards Ajdna, which is well worth a visit. You can read more about that in a previous blog here – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2014/01/13/fascinating-ajdna/

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It’s just the start of the season, so plenty of this, and more, to come!

© Adele in Slovenia 2016

The Bohinj Wild Flower Festival – A Jubilee Year

The annual Bohinj International Wild Flower Festival will take place from 21st May to 5th June and this year, the 10th successive year, marks a jubilee. The first festival was held in 2007 and since then it has been growing (pun intended!) in popularity, and gaining ever more recognition, by the year.

The main theme of the festival is the presentation of alpine flowers in the waters, meadows, hills and mountains of the areas surrounding Bohinj Lake, part of Triglav National Park.

During the festival a variety of events take place including guided walks and hikes, workshops, local craft and farmers markets, exhibitions, excursions, concerts and culinary evenings.

There are also activities for the whole family including a ‘Weekend for Families and Children’ which includes flower-related events as well as participation in water sports and other outdoor activities.

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You can get really hands-on at many of the workshops, first picking the flowers, then preparing them for various uses.

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Culinary evenings take place at selected local restaurants, such as at the restaurant at Camp Danica in Bohinjska Bistrica, seen below, where you can enjoy local delicacies, such as trout, paired with edible wild flowers.

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There are around 70 known types of flower which are endemic to Slovenia, and/or the immediate surroundings. A walk among them is a botanist’s dream. Theses species include:

Zois’ bellflower – endemic to Slovenia, Austria and Northern Italy and most prevalent in the Julian and Kamnik-Savinja Alps (shown below)

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Triglav Hawksbeard – discovered by one of the first four men to climb Triglav in 1778. It was found near where the Planika mountain hut now stands. It is very rare and is on the list of threatened species. So rare, I haven’t yet found it to photograph myself!

European False Stitchwort – first discovered near Ljubljana Castle in 1762 by the Carinthian botanist Jesuit Franc Ksaver Wolfen. It belongs to the Pink family, to which carnations also belong.

Trenta Scabious – discovered over 200 years ago in Idrija by a physician. The original finding is preserved in Slovenia’s Natural History Museum.

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Depending on the weather – late snowfall can sometimes mean the season begins later – you can expect to find wildflowers in the meadows and highlands from the end of May through to late summer.

If you are interested in wild flowers, and/or considering a visit, here’s a sneak peek of what you can expect to see, those that I have been lucky enough to encounter on my hikes within Triglav National Park.

  • Here I am on a hike in the highlands above Bohinj Lake; from Planina Krstenica towards Ogradi.

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  • Surrounded by wonderful wild flowers during a summer walk to the Seven Triglav Lakes valley. One can almost feel as if in a botanical garden, whilst completely at one with nature.

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Here are a few of my close-up snaps.

  • Alpine carnation (Alpski nagelj) – also known as Alpine Pink

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  • Carniolan lily (Kranjska lilija) – Not entirely endemic to Slovenia, since it can also be found in areas from north-east Italy to Bosnia, however, it is most common in Slovenia.

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  • Yellow Gentian (Košutnik) – native to the mountains of central and southern Europe

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  • Edelweiss (Planika) – this one probably doesn’t need any explanation as it’s widely known, but I had to include it as it’s such a special one, and also because we have a mountain hut named after it, which sits just beneath our highest mountain, Triglav.

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You can read more about the festival and find the whole of this year’s programme here – http://www.bohinj.si/alpskocvetje/eng/index.php

© AdeleinSlovenia 2016

 

Highlights of Triglav National Park!

In this blog I’d like to show you some of the highlights of Triglav National Park, including some of my personal favourite parts, which will hopefully provide some ideas and inspiration for those interested in exploring this wonderful part of Slovenia.

Triglav National Park is Slovenia’s only national park and is the heart of the Julian Alps. The park is located in the north-western part of Slovenia and is named after the country’s highest mountain, Mt. Triglav (2,864m). It covers an area of over 83,000 hectares.

On my blog I have always strived to ensure I give readers a personal account of my adventures and experiences in Slovenia, rather than just regurgitating information which is already readily available. Therefore, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve never actually been to the top of Triglav, though I’ve been close!

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Unlike in some national parks, there are no official entry and exit points to the park, and no entrance fees to be paid. However, there are some rules by which visitors must abide to protect the flora and fauna of this jewel of nature. For example, wild flowers are not to be picked, no fires may be lit, and camping anywhere within the park, other than in designated campsites, is strictly forbidden.

One among my many favourite parts of Triglav National Park is Krn Lake (1391m) – as seen below, with Mt. Krn (2244m) in the background.

For this trip I started from the car park at the Savica waterfall in Bohinj and walked up to Komna (1520m), onwards past the Koča pod Bogatinom hut to the Vratca saddle then descended to the Dom pri Krnskih jezerih hut (1385m) where I stayed overnight. The next morning I got up (very!) early to hike up Mt. Krn, then returned the same way back to Savica. It makes a long 2nd day but the scenery is so wonderful, and other than the climb up to Krn, its reasonably easy going. If you don’t need to return back to Savica, then you can instead take the path down to the Dom dr. Klemena Juga hut (700m) in the Lepena valley from where you can explore the beautiful Soča valley.

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The picture-postcard pretty Planina pri Jezeru highland is another of my favourites and the options for reaching it are numerous. I like to start from Stara Fužina and walk first to Vogar, from where there are magnificent views over Bohinj lake and the surrounding mountains, then past the Kosijev dom na Vogarju hut (1054m).

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On this hike I continued first towards the Planina pri Jezeru hut (1453m) but then branched off towards Planina Blato (1147m) then to Planina Laz (1560m) – the oldest highland in Slovenia. From Planina Laz a very pleasant almost level route leads to Planina pri Jezeru from where, after a break for some sustenance, I returned to the Vogar highland and back to Stara Fužina. There are, however, also several other alternative routes that I have also taken, such as via Planina Viševnik and onwards to Pršivec (1761m).

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Planina Laz is on part of the Tourist Cheese Route (Turistična sirarna pot). The route leads across the many highlands in the Bohinj area where cheese and other dairy products can be sampled and bought. The route, which is marked with yellow signs, also leads past numerous natural features of interest such as gorges, waterfalls, museums, churches, and archeological sites. The path covers a very wide area so its not possible to walk it in its entirety (at least not in a day), so it’s best to just choose part of it and visit one or two of the highlands and dairies.

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One of the most popular destinations for hiking in Triglav National Park is the Seven Triglav Lakes Valley. It is doable in a day trip, particularly if you drive up the toll road, saving yourself approx. 1.5 hours of hiking, to begin at Planina Blato. However, to have time to fully experience and appreciate the entire length of the valley, it is best to stay at least one night in a mountain hut, such as the Koča pri Triglavskih jezerih (1685m), where you also get a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the surroundings, enjoy some hearty homemade food, and chat to some fellow hikers.

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As you can see, there’s no shortage of routes to choose!

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Wherever you see signs such as this one, you can buy home-produced cheese, sour milk, and other highland treats!

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And you can certainly see exactly where it comes from. There are no food miles here!

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Provided you have a map of the Julian Alps it is very easy to put together an itinerary for day, or multi-day, hikes. Routes are generally well-marked and there are plenty of mountain huts where you can overnight, though in the summer months I’d recommend booking ahead for the most popular huts – you wouldn’t want to hike all that way to find yourself without a bed for the night!

Triglav National Park awaits – time to get exploring!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2016