We have seen many stunning mountains on our travels. The Andes in Ecuador, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and New Zealand’s Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park are among our favourites. After visiting Western Slovenia earlier this year, we have now added the Julian Alps. If you are heading to Slovenia we invite you to come and visit to see the beauty of the Julian Alps for yourself. We have prepared this three-day itinerary for you.
What and where are the Julian Alps?
The Julian Alps are a mountain range stretching from north-eastern Italy into north-western Slovenia. With 2,864 metres, Mt Triglav is the highest peak in the Julian Alps and Slovenia’s highest mountain. It also lent its name to Slovenia’s only National Park – Triglav National Park – which covers are large part of the Julian Alps.
Triglav National Park is also the source of the Soča river, which has carved a valley from the Julian Alps (where it’s most picturesque) all the way to the Adriatic. The river is well-known for its emerald green/turquoise colour (and infamous for the bloody WWI battles that occurred on its shores).
Key vantage points in the Julian Alps are Bohinj in the south-east, Kranjska Gora to the north and the Soča Valley to the (south-)west.
Can you visit the Julian Alps from Ljubljana or Lake Bled?
Our three-day itinerary starts at Vintgar Gorge near Lake Bled (assuming you visit Lake Bled and/or Ljubljana beforehand), takes you over the Alps from Kranjska Gora, and into and along the Soča Valley. From there, you can easily return to Ljubljana.
|Day 1||Drive over Vršič Pass to Bovec|
|Day 2||Hike to Slap Virje, Visit Fort Kluze and hike to Fort Hermann|
|Day 3||Hike to Slap Kosjak, Visit the Tolmin Gorges (and return to Ljubljana)|
In our view, three days are the absolute minimum to appreciate the natural beauty of the Julian Alps and the rich history and culture of the area. You could spend months in the here exploring all the different hiking trails, so if you have more time add more days. You won’t regret it.
To explore the Julian Alps, it is best to hire a car.
You can do this itinerary by bus. However, it is not the easiest or most practical option, and it is limited to the summer months, as buses only travel across Vršič Pass (Route 206) between 20 June and 30 September.
During that time, there are direct Nomago buses from Ljubljana via Bled to Bovec (in the afternoon) but no direct buses by Arriva. With Arriva, you need to travel from Bled to Jesenice, then from Jesenice to Kranjska Gora and finally from Kranjska Gora to Bovec.
Day 1 – Drive over Vršič Pass
Nothing could have prepared us for the drive across Vršič Pass. It’s one of the most breath-taking mountain roads we’ve ever driven along. Between Kranjska Gora in the north and Bovec in the south, a total of 50 serpentines lead up to the 1,611m high mountain pass and then back down the other side.
The drive from Vintgar Gorge near Bled over Vršič Pass to Bovec is approximately 80km long and takes about 2 hours (without stops). With stops (including lunch and short hikes) as outlined below, it took us almost six hours.
We travelled along the road on the first weekend in June. With brilliant sunshine after days of rain, everyone seemed to be out and about: motorcyclists from Austria, Porsche enthusiasts from Germany, cyclists from Italy… and of course heaps and heaps of hikers.
Make sure you stop along the way (where it’s safe to do so) to take in the scenery. Some great stopping points are (from north to south):
- Jasna Lake
- Russian Orthodox Chapel
- Lunch stops: Koča na Gozdu (or Tonkina Koča)
- Vršič Pass
- Velika Korita
You pass Jasna Lake a kilometre or so after you turned onto the route 206 in Kranjska Gora. On a gorgeous day, the views across the artificial lake towards the mountains are absolutely stunning.
Russian Orthodox Chapel
Just after serpentine #8 (all serpentines are numbered), there is a wooden chapel. The chapel was built by the same Russian POWs who built this mammoth of a road during WWI.
There is a small parking lot on the right after the bend. The chapel is on the left a short walk above the road.
Koča na Gozdu (fittingly translated the Chalet in the forest) is about a kilometre after the chapel. It has a big parking lot and is a great spot for lunch. The mountain behind the chalet (Prisojnik or Prisank) is seriously impressive and has a large window to its right. While you can hike up to and through the window (from Vršič Pass), the hike is only recommended for experienced mountaineers.
An alternative lunch spot is Tonkina Koča (Tonkin’s Hut), located 2km after Koča na Gozdu.
About 3km further up, you finally reach Vršič Pass. At 1,611 metres above sea level, you can enjoy stunning vistas from the pass into the Trenta valley to the south. The pass is the starting point for numerous hiking trails, so it can get quite busy here.
Park your car – it’s really worth stopping here for a while. As a very minimum, do the easy loop hike to see Ajdovska Deklica (the Pagan Girl), a rock formation on the side of Prisank (yes, the same mountain with the window) that looks like a woman’s face. The easy hike takes just over an hour.
24km after the pass, you reach Velika Korita. Turn off route 206 at Kamp Soča and park your car. Here you can walk along the Soča river gorge, take a swim or even join a rafting tour.
At a river bend just after the camp ground, the Lepena river joins the Soča river. Four kilometres further up the Lepena river is the starting point of a short hike to the Lepena Waterfall. The starting point has a small parking lot.
From Kamp Soča it’s another 10km drive until you reach Bovec.
If you don’t have your own transport: You can still enjoy the scenery along route 206 (probably even more so as you don’t need to concentrate on driving). If you want to get off along the route to do a bit of hiking (if you don’t have too much luggage), the best spots would be either Vršič Pass or Velika Korita. We didn’t check it but you might be able to leave your luggage at Ticarjev Dom (Vršič Pass) or Kamp Soča (Velika Korita) during your hike (if you ask nicely).
Spend the night in Bovec.
Day 2 – Hiking trails around Bovec
Bovec is the adventure capital of Slovenia. If hiking is not your thing you can pop into any of the many tour agencies around the small town and book whatever adventure activity your heart desires (and your wallet can afford).
We love the great outdoors, and with so much beauty around us, we did a few easy hikes around Bovec which we’re going to include in our itinerary.
Morning – Hike to Slap Virje
The first hike is an easy 10km loop trail to Slap Virje, a gorgeous waterfall formed by the Gljun creek (another tributary of the Soča). Simply follow the instructions in this hiking guide and use the Maps.Me app as back-up, especially as you’re trying to locate the start of the trailhead in Bovec.
The trail to Slap Virje follows the Alpe Adria Trail and leads through pastures and the village of Plužna. The trail can get a bit muddy but it’s beautiful and for the most part, well protected from the sun.
As you continue the trail after the waterfall, you pass a small hydroelectric plant with a holding pond that reflects the surrounding mountains.
You follow the Alpe Adria Trail for a little while longer, effectively walking on top of the hydro plant’s water pipes, but turn eventually left towards the golf course. The part from here back to Bovec past the Kanin cable car was less exciting for us. It is also more exposed to the sun, so make sure you start your hike early.
Lunch – Kanin Cable Car or Bovec
If it’s a sunny day and you don’t mind paying EUR20 per person, the Kanin cable car can take you up to over 2,200m in about 30min. There is even a restaurant at the top (if you don’t want to have lunch in Bovec). Great if you love the silence of the mountains or want to experience snow in summer and stunning vistas all the way to the Adriatic.
Afternoon – Fort Kluže and Fort Hermann
If you don’t have your own transport: Your best choice would be to hitchhike or rent a bike in Bovec and cycle there.
At Fort Kluže, the Koritnica river (also a tributary of the Soča) flows through a 70m deep, very narrow gorge – quite a spectacle of nature in itself.
Being such a strategic point, fortifications have stood here from the 15th century and were used to deter a number of invading armies, including the Ottomans in the 15th century and Napoleon’s army in the 18th century (which managed to destroy the fort).
Fort Kluže was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century and played an important role during the WWI Battles of Isonzo (the Italian name for the Soča river).
Fort Hermann is located above Fort Kluze and can be reached via a hiking trail of about 1.5km each way. Cross the road from Fort Kluže but without crossing the bridge. A rocky path leads along the right side of the cliff face to the entrance of a tunnel. Walk through the tunnel and continue your hike up the mountain on the other side. For the most part, the trail up is forested and offers good protection from the sun. The trail however is narrow and steep in parts, so make sure you wear appropriate shoes.
Once you reach Fort Hermann stick to the trails that lead around and into the abandoned fort (as there are numerous holes in the ground covered by vegetation). There are various information signs that explain the history of the fort and what the different areas were used for.
You can also take a ladder down to watch post and gun positions in the cliff face underneath the fort. The views from the top towards Bovec and the Soča valley are also stunning.
Spend the night in Kobarid, a 20min drive (or 30min bus ride) south of Bovec. Parking right in the centre of town is not free, but there is free parking available at the big parking lot on Stresova Ulica, only a few minutes’ walk away from the centre.
Day 3 – Hiking trails around Kobarid
Morning – Hike to Slap Kosjak
This morning, we suggest you hike to Slap Kosjak. This relatively easy 8km hike takes you not only to another gorgeous waterfall and across the turquoise waters of the Soča river but also past important historic sites, including remnants of WWI battles and an archaeological site dating back to the 4th century.
You can leave your car in Kobarid as the trail starts from the centre of town, first ascending along the Stations of the Cross path to the Italian Charnel House and Church of St Anthony and then leading into the forest. The Charnel House contains the remains of over 7,000 Italian soldiers who died in the Battles of Isonzo during WWI. It was foggy on the morning of our hike which gave the whole area an even more sombre and otherworldly feel.
From the Charnel House, the path takes you (mostly) through forest to Tonovcov Grad, an archaeological site located on top of a hill above the Soča river. Archaeologists found here items from the Stone Age, Iron Age, Roman period and Medieval times. The structures that can still be seen today date back to the 4th to 7th centuries and include dwellings, churches and a water reservoir. The views from here towards Kobarid and the Soča Valley are beautiful too.
From the archaeological site, the trail descends steeply towards the Soča river. On your way down, you pass through several trenches and fortifications used during WWI. After crossing route 203, the trail continues its descend on the other side until it eventually reaches the river and a wooden suspension bridge.
Cross the river and turn left and up the forest road until you reach a stone bridge that takes you over the lower parts of the waterfall. Cross the bridge and continue along the trail keeping right until you reach the upper parts of the waterfall. The waterfall flows into a cavern from above – an absolutely stunning sight.
Update 2021: You can no longer visit Slap Kosjak free of charge and 24/7. Between the stone bridge/lower parts of the waterfall and the upper parts, there is now an entry point – open from mid May to end October and daily from 8.30am until 7.00/8.00pm (depending on your travel date). For further details including entry fees check out the Soča Valley Tourism website.
From the waterfall, you have to backtrack all the way to the suspension bridge. If you’re up for a swim in the cooling waters of the Soča river there is a small beach just before you reach the bridge (and a small path leads down to it). Otherwise, continue on this side of the river (without crossing the suspension bridge again).
The trail continues along the forest road (which turns to gravel shortly after the bridge), and you can enjoy stunning views along the Soča Valley. As you’re returning to Kobarid, the trail takes you across the Soča river once again, via Napoleon’s bridge.
Lunch – Kobarid
Afternoon – Visit the Tolmin Gorges (and return to Ljubljana)
After a good rest and delicious meal, you are ready for your final activity in the Julian Alps: the Tolmin Gorges.
Tolmin is a short 20min drive (or bus ride) south-east of Kobarid. If you come by car there are several parking lots: one right by the entrance (which costs EUR7 during summer) and a second parking lot (free of charge) approximately 15 minutes walk away from the entrance.
If you don’t have your own transport: From the bus stop in Tolmin’s centre to the entrance of the Tolmin Gorges, it’s an easy 2km/30min walk along the Tolminka river.
There is a trail leading through the Tolmin Gorges, and you’ll be given a map at the entrance to guide you.
My favourite parts were the deep and narrow Tolminka Gorge with its thermal spring – #2 on the map (the water was low enough for me to see it) and Devil’s Bridge high above, as well as Bear’s Head (a large mossy rock wedged into the narrow gorge of the Zadlaščica river) – #7 on the map.
The 2 kilometre loop around the two gorges, Dante’s Cave and across Devil’s Bridge takes 90 minutes – more if you share the narrow trail with heaps of people or stop frequently to take pictures.
If you’re not in a rush you could stay another night in Kobarid and visit the Tolmin Gorges first thing in the morning. I came here right when they opened, and was by myself for the first 30 minutes.
The drive back to Ljubljana (city or airport) takes about two hours. If you have time stop in Most na Soči along the way. Thanks to a nearby hydro-electric plant, the Soča river forms a lake here, creating a very picturesque setting for this quaint little town.
If you don’t have your own transport: We would recommend to stay a second night in Kobarid and visit the Tolmin Gorges in the morning, as buses to Ljubljana from Tolmin are thinning out in the afternoon. Alternatively, you could take a taxi or hitchhike from Tolmin to Most na Soči (5 kilometres south) and take the train back to Ljubljana from there.
Where to stay in the Soča Valley?
Bovec reminded us a bit of Queenstown in New Zealand. While it isn’t located on a big mountain lake, it’s the adventure capital of Slovenia. If you’re an adrenaline junkie you can knock yourself out, literally. Rafting, canyoning, kayaking, paragliding, skydiving, ziplining… you can do all of it in Bovec. And in winter, the Kanin-Sella Nevea Ski fields await.
Kobarid has a more tranquil, relaxed feel to it. As one of the locals put it to us: you go to Bovec for the action and to Kobarid for the culture. Well, we visited both and can only recommend it.
Feature Image by David Mark on Pixabay