Saturday, 26 September 2015

Slovenia - a holiday destination for the future? Definitely!

September has proved to be a relatively quiet month for us after the hustle & bustle of August. There is always plenty to be done however; and amongst other things there are always new venues to be checked out in order that we can develop the breadth of adventures we offer our clients at Kendal Mountaineering Services.

Slovenia is a country that had been on our "radar" for some time ever since Iain first visited in 2008; and the area that we feel would particularly appeal to people visiting our website is the Julian Alps.

Part of the Southern Limestone Alps stretching from North East Italy to Slovenia, the Julian Alps cover an area of 4'400 square kilometres in Western Slovenia bordering with Italy. The views are of lofty mountain ridges reaching over 2000 metres in height, thickly wooded with deciduous trees with valleys containing rivers such as The Soca, seen here in photo 1.
So what does Slovenia have to offer the adventure traveller? A great deal by all accounts. Lofty Limestone ridges to be traversed, high mountain summits to be reached, mountain huts to stay in - indeed, Slovenia's highest mountain Triglav 2864 metres offers a multi-day mountaineering excursion to a mountain summit of Alpine proportions set in stunning scenery.

As well as hiking, scrambling and mountaineering, the Julian Alps also offer the opportunity for extreme sports such as Canyoning which we offer ourselves here in The Lake District. Canyoning as we describe it, is descending a mountain stream, abseiling down waterfalls of jumping down waterfalls into pools. Canyoning at venues such as this one at the Mlinarica Gorge in the Soca Valley (photo 2) are altogether more serious propositions requiring a lot more abseiling as this particular venue involves over 100 metres of vertical descent! However there are other less extreme canyoning venues that we intend to check out that will be more suitable for our clients - watch this space!
Due to the fact that the Julian Alps are predominantly Limestone much of the rainfall disappears underground meaning that there are numerous opportunities for caving in the area. Again, this is a sport that we offer here in The Yorkshire Dales.

In Slovenia, much of the rain reappears as vast springs welling up out of the ground at the foot of the mountains or even on the mountain slopes. Such springs are a truly impressive sight and are features of this unique landscape well worth visiting as part of a hike in the area. Again - something for us to think about as we plan the itinerary for our forthcoming Slovenian Adventure Holidays

The River Soca issues from one such spring - the Izvir Soca. The spring is reached from a car park at the head of the Soca Valley and after a steep climb and a short exposed section of via ferrata descending into the cleft one can marvel at the clear, slightly blue tinged water welling from the rock (photo 3).

On this visit to Slovenia of five days in duration, we took a drive from our base at Bovec along the Soca Valley to visit the Mlinarica Gorge, the Izvir Soca and the Vrsic Pass (altitude 1'611 metres) before dropping to Kranjska Gora to the north east. Our journey then took us back west into Italy at Tarvisio - a winter Ski resort; and then back over the Passo Del Predil into Slovenia (altitude 1'156 metres) into the Koritnica Valley en route back to Bovec. Photo 4 - taken from the Predil Pass looks towards the upper Koritnica Valley and to the left of centre - Mangart, one of the highest summits of the Julian Alps at 2'679 metres and a venue for Via ferrata excursions easily reached by a road leading to just below the summit. Again, this is an activity we are considering adding to our future itinerary!

For people interested in history, there are historical remains evident in the Bovec area such as this tunnel in the Koritnica Valley (photo 5) - a relic of the first world war battlements which include many of the via ferratas (iron man-ways) to be found today all over the Dolomites in Southern Italy and The Julian Alps.

This site in the Koritnica Valley is adjacent to the Kluze Fortress and the history of the fortifications in this region can be be read about by visiting this webpage. Interesting stuff!
As outlined above, our first day out involved a drive through some of the best scenery that the north western corner of the Julian Alps has to offer coupled with visiting some of the areas best attractions.

We were not here purely for our own purposes but were in the area in the company of a friend already owning a property in the area and looking to buy another. Indeed property in Slovenia is currently very cheap - 100'000 Euros (around £73,5000) will buy you a large property in this area often with land attached. Apparently there are currently over 800 properties in the area vacant and for sale. It's a buyers market by all accounts!

Having spent a morning investigating a few such properties, we once again turned our attention to an afternoon adventure in the Bovec Valley - a visit to the amazing Slap Boka or Boka Waterfall seen here in photo 6.
To get to the Slap Boka, one has two choices of route - through the woods and up the gorge seen in photo six to get to the foot of the fall; or up through the woods to the right of the waterfall to reach a point approximately 100 metres above the top of the fall from which one can descend to the resurgence (photo 7).

The height of the waterfall is an impressive 106 metres and the water issues from the foot of an equally as high cliff. This place is another attraction well worth a visit, a truly awesome place!!
As previously mentioned, caving can also be done in the Julian Alps and there are no shortage of caving systems that can be visited. At the same time as visiting Slap Boka, we also took the opportunity of a brief excursion into the nearby Mala Boka Cave (photo 8).

The Mala Boka system is 8168 metres long and is 1319 metres deep from the entrance on the Kanin Plateau - a cave known as BC4. You can read about the history of exploring this cave system from either end until a connection was eventually made by going here.

Our trip into the system was only short and on a level with one of our Introductory Caving Sessions in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Apparently, local activity providers also run guided trips into the lower part of the system - so it may be possible that we could offer you the same!

On our final full day in Slovenia, we decided to walk up Svinjak (seen here in photo 9) This photo was taken out of the window of our apartment in Bovec looking east towards the mountain which is the really obvious one in the centre of the photo.

Svinjak separates the Soca valley (to the right of Svinjak) and the Koritnica Valley to the left. We travelled along both during our drive two days previously. The mountain is known locally as the "Matterhorn" of Bovec - looking at this view of it from town, you can see why!

A good starting point for climbing Svinjak is the village of Kal Koritnica at it's western foot and only a short drive from Bovec.

After walking through the houses & farm buildings one heads off up through pastures interspersed with woodland (photo 10) past a footpath leading to the plateau of Celo where there are many World War One fortifications to be observed.

The recommended time for an ascent is two and a half hours, the height gain is 1193 metres to reach the summit at an elevation of 1653 metres. The distance involved is 7.2 kilometres. The route is graded as medium in difficulty and a total of four & a half hours is recommended to do the ascent and descent - usually done by the same route.
After passing the path forking off to the trenches and fortifications at Celo one continues up the rocky path through the woods - always on the Soca Valley side of the ridge. However, along the way, one arrives on several shoulders from where there are views down the steep northern side into the Koritnica Valley from where the old fortifications of Hermann on the slopes of Rombon, opposite; and Kluze, nestling on the Koritnica Valley floor can be observed.

The woods are largely composed of Beech interspersed with Larch and the trees extend all the way up to the summit on the Koritnica side of the ridge.

Looking at Svinjak from Bovec, the final part of the ridge to the summit appears to taper steeply to an exposed rocky and bare crest. However, looking at it from much nearer in photo 11 (approximately a kilometer away) it is neither as exposed or as steep as it looks from Bovec; although a slip on the final section could have serious consequences, care is still needed!

At the summit of Svinjak (photo 12) is to be found a miniature replica of the shelter to be found on the summit of Triglav - Slovenia's highest mountain.

Apparently, a book is contained within where visitors to the summit can record their achievement.

This is a nice idea; and apparently a common feature of many Slovenian mountain summits, however, sadly, it would appear that the catch on this container had been vandalised and we were unable to open it on this occasion.

We enjoyed the views from the summit which were great all round despite some cloud touching the higher ridges and had some lunch before descending back to Kal Koritnica. The descent took us only an hour!

Photo 13. This was one of the views from Svinjak's summit looking south east into the Soca Valley below.

As previously mentioned, the slopes from the limestone ridges in The Julian Alps fall precipitously to the valley floors often over 1000 metres below.

The side of the valleys are thickly wooded with Beech being the predominant tree species although Larch & Ash are also to be found as well as Hazelnut on the lower slopes.

The whole area has a continental European feel to it. Summer temperatures can be as high as the mid-30's and winter can bring temperatures well below freezing and a considerable amount of snow falls in the area. The Ski area on Kanin, above Bovec, has been closed for the past few years, but following a re-funding of the facility, it is hoped that it will reopen either in time for the coming winter season or for winter 2016.

Photo 14 was taken from the top of the steep section just below Svinjak's summit.

The township of Bovec can be seen beyond the foot of the ridge with the Soca River flowing away in the distance.

The temperature at the summit despite the overcast weather was probably in the high teens low twenties and the weather can remain this warm well into October. During our stay the weather was largely overcast and we experienced some rain one morning and some torrential rain the night before. This was nothing to the weather experienced the day before we arrived when torrential rain caused landslides and the volume of The Soca to increase from 20 to 300 Cumecs - that's a massive increase and most unusual for the time of year when in fact, we ought to have experienced blue skies and sunshine and temperatures in the twenties throughout our stay!

So what did we think of this part of Slovenia during our stay? Well, we thought it was awesome in every respect. For the outdoor enthusiast, the mountains offer quality walking through a network of well maintained and signposted footpaths. The ridges and summits offer the opportunity for scrambling, mountaineering, rock climbing and via ferrata. The Limestone rock offers the opportunity to venture underground caving.

The Soca River offers a whole host of opportunities for activities itself with many companies offering rafting excursions along the river as well as the opportunity to go canoeing and kayaking and hydrospeed. Bovec, itself, has a number of excellent restaurants such as this one where we dined for three nights out of the four. Here a two course meal with drinks cost around 30 euros each or £22 - fantastic value! A coffee is typically 1 Euro and a beer 2 euros, 20 cents or  £1.60!
So, our plan is to put together a package consisting of 6 nights in the area with Bed & Breakfast and lunch provided. Transfers to & from Treviso Airport at Venice will also be provided as well as drop off and pick up from each days activities. The activities to be provided by us will include Mountain Walking, Rock Climbing and Via Ferrata and will be provided by us over four out of the five days. The total cost for this inclusive package will be £500 per person

There will be a day available during the week when you will have an opportunity to go off and try a half day of rafting and a half day of Canyoning with a local guide. These activities are not part of the package provided by us, but shouldn't not cost you more than 45 euros each per activity.

Again, flight and travel insurance costs are not part of our package. Ryanair fly from the UK for around £150 return if booked well in advance. Evening meals are not included, but as indicated, excellent food at excellent prices is to be found in Bovec.

If this package sounds appealing then Contact us to enquire. Dates to follow; and currently, we are considering a week in May and possibly two in October each year starting in 2016.

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