Triglav National Park

I couldn’t wait to step foot into a country that I (and my friends) hardly knew about, and little did I know that I would immediately be awe stricken by Slovenia’s only national park, Triglav National Park.  Driving from Venice to the national park required another border crossing from Italy into Slovenia, which meant a new vignette (only €15 for a week in Slovenia!) and drastically lower fuel prices.  YAY!

Not only do France, Switzerland, and Italy have bragging rights with the Alps, Slovenia also has magical Alps to boast–the Julian Alps.  Jaw-dropping valleys, craggy mountains and peaks, and the truly most beautiful river in Europe make up Slovenia’s Julian Alps. Unfortunately it was too early in the season to summit Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak at 9,396 ft., so we stuck to the lush valleys and its alpine rivers.  I didn’t have a problem with that.  There were thunderstorms in the forecast, and the river was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

As we headed toward Velika Korita Soca (The Great Soca Gorge), we passed through adventure-center town Bovec where we saw plenty of people rafting.IMG_2663

We found free parking along the road immediately past Kamp Soca.  Once we drove past the sign for the campground, we made the first right turn which was a single narrow hairpin turn down to the river.IMG_2669

From there it was a gentle, short stroll to the breathtaking Soca gorge, which was fueled by countless waterfalls gushing from the sides.  Although we only hiked a few kilometers, we stopped often to admire the river and take pictures.  We stumbled across only a couple of other hikers on the entire trail.  Amazing how there were hardly any people considering the Soca River’s epic factor–another reason to wander off the beaten path.IMG_2702IMG_2689

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From there we continued our drive through the town of Trenta, passing by numerous campgrounds, footbridges, and river viewpoints along the way.  Before climbing the hair-raising Vrsic Pass, we detoured to see the source of the Soca River.  Yes, that’s right, the SOURCE of the incredible Soca River!  Side note–there is actually a hiking trail from Bovec all the way to the river source along the river itself, but a 20-km one-way hike was a long day I didn’t want to endeavor.

By the time we arrived to the trailhead, it was early evening, and the only other people there were a group of students who had just returned from the source.  There was plenty of parking, and the hike was a short, 15-minute walk uphill.  As we approached the river source, the trail became a wall-hugging, cable-grabbing finish.

Gazing into the source of the pure Soca river:IMG_20160603_174802

When we returned to the parking lot, we ventured out to drive over Slovenia’s highest road.  With ~14% grade and about 50 hairpin turns, the pass is not for the faint of heart.  We were so proud of our motorhome–she made it! View from the window while driving:IMG_2736

At the top of Vrsic pass:IMG_2739

Driving down, down, down was a bit nerve-wrecking and during the drive we wondered where we would be sleeping that night.  Immediately upon finishing the descent, we saw three motorhomes parked in a fairly large parking lot on the left side of the road!  “OMG, we can totally sleep there!” I pointed at the lot, Chris pulled in, and sure enough it was evident that the others were planning to remain there for the night.IMG_20160604_102245

Turned out it was a parking lot for a popular recreational area and the Kozorog monument, which we enjoyed the following morning.  That night we slept in complete darkness, with only the sound of the gushing river flowing beside us.  To our amusement we awoke to the sounds of tour buses and day hikers at the popular day site.

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We were literally down the street from the town of Kranjska Gora, and we continued our drive out of the park and onward toward Lake Bled.  Scenery as we left the park:

From the highway we followed signs for Lake Bled, and once in town, we saw a sign for motorhome parking.  We followed signs to a giant mixed-car parking lot, where plenty of other cars, motorhomes, and massive tour buses were parked.  A quick look around showed us that parking was FREE!  And we were only a 10-minute walk away from the lake too. Score!

Lake Bled is Slovenia’s most-visited attraction.  With its glass-like lake, towering castle in the backdrop, and a tiny island equipped with a quaint church, the lake definitely has a fairytale feel.  Even though the lake is Slovenia’s #1 tourist destination with numerous tour groups and North American travelers, there were absolutely no scammers or people trying to sell me selfie sticks.  A short walk from town along the outskirts of the lake provided serenity.  If this is Slovenia’s tourist hot spot, then the country is not just beautiful, but free from harassment.

During the entire afternoon we were in Lake Bled, the weather was abysmal.  Thunder boomed above, and periods of rain passed by.  I had hoped to walk around the lake (~5.5 km), and I needed to wait for the skies to clear in order to enjoy the stroll.  While I waited, I tried Lake Bled’s famous cream cake at Panorama Restaurant, one of few eateries serving the original Bled cream cake.  It was good, but it mostly consisted of cream and custard rather than cake.IMG_2754

Clouds and rain came and went and didn’t leave for good until early in the evening.  Seeing blue in the sky, we hurriedly returned to the lake just in time for the final hour of light. Our plan was to circle the lake in a clockwise direction in order to have the castle as the finale.

The church on Lake Bled’s tiny island shined brightly. IMG_2771

Most people enter the castle by walking along the lake counterclockwise.  Because we came from the opposite side via trail, we found ourselves at the back of the castle with this awesome, free view:IMG_2773

By the time we arrived to the castle facade, it was past 8pm and the ticket booth was closed.  Perfect, because we didn’t want to pay anyway.  Doors were still open, so we walked in to spectate the views that people normally pay for.  Better yet, it was sunset!IMG_20160604_202334

The next morning provided several hours of sunlight before the midday thunderstorms could make their way in again.  We ventured out to the lake one last time, but this time we included a short “hike” for a different view of the lake.

The castle with the morning light:IMG_20160605_105148

And one final view during our short hike near the summer tobogganing/Straza ski slope:IMG_20160605_102528

Triglav National Park, the Soca river, and Lake Bled make Slovenia a truly special place. If these natural wonders were in any other well-traveled country, they would absolutely be overrun with tourists.  I can’t recall the last time I had such places all to myself. Once again, we’ve discovered another underrated, incredible country in Europe.

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