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

gostilna Walking Pokljuka’s Highlands / Radovljica Ceramics Festival 2015

I’ve had a bit of a cold hanging around for the past few days, maybe the weather is to blame due to a week of temperatures in the mid-twenties followed by half a week of rain and temperatures barely reaching 10 degrees. This week, however, with the exception of a blip yesterday, it looks set to warm up again and hopefully I, and the weather, are now on the up!

I’m not good at being ill so, unless I’m really at death’s door, I still prefer to get outdoors in the fresh air rather than be cooped up indoors. Though, since I was feeling a bit lacklustre I needed a more gentle alternative and therefore a trip to the Pokljuka plateau was just the ticket. The vast plateau really does offer something for everyone. I usually go for longer hikes and baulk at the thought of driving part of the way, but this time I did let the car take some of the strain! There are endless places to walk of all lengths and difficulties, though, it is best to stick to marked paths and forest roads as one could very easily get lost in the great swathes of forest. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter where, how far, or how high, you go on Pokljuka, every path offers its own magic.

I began by driving past the Kranjska dolina highland, from where Stol, the highest peak in the Karavanke, can be seen in the background.

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Next I set off, on foot, towards Lipanca and the Blejska koća mountain hut. However, instead of continuing up to the hut, I took another path back down to rejoin the road, reaching one of my favourite highlands, Planina zajavornik. The whole of Pokljuka lies within Triglav National Park, which means there are certain rules to abide to protect nature and, as can be seen below, there are bears in the area, though the chances of meeting one are probably one in a million!

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I then enjoyed a rest in the sun among the wildflowers. The sun was lovely and warm though the wind was a bit nippy hence why I’m wrapped up in an old bivvie bag! There are a smattering of small wooden houses on the highland and, during the summer months, cheese, yoghurt and sour milk can be bought direct from the herdsmen.

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On Saturday it was the main day, Market Day, of this year’s Ceramics Festival in Radovljica. Aside from the monster of a hail storm early afternoon, it was a fine day that drew visitors – locals and tourists alike – to browse and buy from the stalls where they could chat directly with the ceramists themselves. There were also workshops, for adults and children, for those interested in having a go at making something for themselves. The Festival was officially opened on Thursday at an event attended by Radovljica’s Mayor and the ceramist Grainne Watts from Ireland whose exhibits could be seen in the lobby of the Radovljica Mansion.

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As a collector of elephants, though I don’t actually recall when or why I started collecting them, these colourful ornaments caught my eye.

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Later on Saturday, as part of Vurnik Days (Vurnikovi dnevi), the event ‘Pozdrav trti’ (A Toast to the Vine) took place at Kunstelj Inn in Radovljica. The vine is in the garden at Kunstelj Inn which offers great local food and one of the finest views in town. The vine, of the original variety Žametna črnina, is a descendant of the world’s oldest vine (as recorded in the Guiness Book of Records) which is found in Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, Maribor.  More information about Kunstelj Inn can be found here – http://www.kunstelj.si/

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Snowy Slovenia Facts and Figures

Allow me to start this week’s blog by giving myself a small pat on the back. Why? Well, because last Friday my blog achieved its 50,000th view – something I’m really rather proud of. Ok, granted, it’s not up there matching the figures of some of the world’s ‘supper bloggers’, some of whom probably achieve that many views in a day, but for somewhat lesser-known Slovenia, and little old humble me, I think/hope/believe it’s quite an achievement. The greatest number of readers are actually in Slovenia, as often Slovenes themselves tell me that they turn to my blog for ideas and inspiration; this is followed by readers from the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands…… and as far away as Bangladesh, Mongolia, Senegal, Ghana, Martinique and more; a total of 110 countries to date.

It’s now been 3 weeks since my fall and, hopefully, that means I’m at least halfway through the healing time. Unfortunately, the fresh, and heavy snowfall on Friday, and again on Sunday afternoon, meant that I couldn’t get out much at the weekend as I’m just too scared at the moment in case I fall on ice again, particularly as I currently only have one arm for balance.

As I was sitting watching the snowfall from my window on Friday, and the snow was growing higher by the minute, I was wondering what the actual record snowfall figures are for Slovenia and set about finding out. Here, instead of a blog about MY latest snowy adventures, are some rather fascinating Slovenia snowy facts and figures:

  • The most amount of snowfall in 24 hours – 125cm – Dom na Komni mountain hut, 1951 & 1970
  • The most amount of snowfall at less than 500m above sea level – 105cm – village of Soča, near Bovec, 1970
  • The most amount of snow in one place – 700cm – Kredarica, below Mt. Triglav – 2001
  • The most snowfall in one season – 1662cm – Kredarica, winter 2000/2001
  • The longest lasting snow cover – 290 days, Kredarica – 1976/77 & 1984/85
  • The earliest snowfall in a place below 500m above sea level – Kotlje, Šmartno pri Slovenj Gradcu, 11 September 1970
  • The latest snowfall in a place below 500m above sea level – Nomenj – 10 June 1974

So, instead of being out there enjoying snowy hikes, I’m resigned to looking back wistfully at photos of previous ones and looking forward to future ones. With that in mind, and for those looking for somewhere to enjoy the snow, and/or those who are maybe thinking about a winter visit to Slovenia, I offer below a few ideas for some of my favourite winter hikes and other snowy activities in and around the Radovljica area:

  • The Pokljuka plateau is a haven for all things ‘snowy’ – there’s the biathlon centre, cross-country ski tracks, skiing, and hiking. A very popular destination is to the hut ‘Blejska koča’, which can be a destination in itself, or the more hardy can continue onwards towards Mrežce (as seen below), Brda or Debela peč, the highest peak of the plateau.

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  • The Dom na Komni hut is one of the few huts that is open all-year round and the route up, beginning from the car park by the Savica waterfall at Lake Bohinj, is usually well-frequented and trodden. From the hut there are also a number of other options to continue onwards on the Komna plateau.

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  • The Koča na Taležu hut (725m) is popular with locals from around the Radovljica area as it is easily accessed, offers fantastic views for relatively little effort, and offers good food and a warm welcome

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  • The Valvasor dom hut is another popular winter destination for hikers and sledgers. The path begins at the Završnica reservoir.

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There are also currently tracks prepared for cross-country skiing in Radovljica, behind the Spar supermarket, and in Kamna Gorica.

It should of course be remembered that during winter anyone visiting the mountains must be well-prepared, equipped, and experienced in such conditions. The current fresh snowfall means the risk of avalanches is high, currently level 4 out of 5 on the avalanche danger scale, and unless you are familiar with the terrain and the conditions its not recommended to take on anything too adventurous at this time of the year, hence I tend to stick to (relatively) easy and well-trodden routes.

You can also find out more about these destinations in previous posts by using this blog’s search facility (top right corner).

The week ahead looks like being snow all the way, so until next week……

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015