An article that had completely slipped my memory which I had published online, nearly five years ago. To complement my previous posting on Lake Bohinj you might find it of interest, despite some of the detail now being outdated.
Lake Bohinj (Bohinjsko Jezero), a cerulean gem lesser known than its busier and overdeveloped cousin in nearby Bled, offers stunning vistas and boundless leisure pursuits which stimulate many an alter ego hitherto seeking a more sedate furlough. All this is to be found under the protective wing of the Triglav National Park (TNP), which will proselytise even the most demanding of alpine – aesthetes.
The lake (Jezero) is surrounded by the behemoth-like limestone peaks of the Julian Alps and sits within the inner limits of the TNP, which is Slovenia’s only National Park and named after the country’s highest peak, whose ubiquitous presence throughout the country will be discussed later.
Covering 3% of Slovenia, the idea of forming the TNP was first conceived in 1924 and still today its ideals of protection and research are upheld. Development within its boundaries are heavily regulated, thus protecting its rich flora and fauna and adding further credence to the assertion that Slovenia is the “little green place of Europe”.
Bohinj, 74 km from Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana, but feeling further after a ponderous two hour bus-journey (www.ap-ljubljana.si/eng/), is not actually a resort but a collection of settlements, the main one being Bohinjska Bistrica – its administrative centre – 10 km from the lakeside. However, the main tourist infrastructure is based at Ribčev Laz where you won’t find casinos or parades of expensive shops, just the prerequisites needed for a successful holiday, whether you are an experienced Alpinist or plodding hiker.
Accommodation can be found here for all depths of pockets, from private rooms arranged through the tourist-office in Ribčev Laz (00386 4572 3370 http://www.bohinj-info.com) to the magnificently positioned lakeside Hotel Jezero (00386 4572 9100 email@example.com). Prices for singles start from €65, though a lake-view, albeit more pricey, should be requested to fully appreciate its expedient position.
Behind the Hotel Jezero, at the denouement of a steep 800 metre long forest road, is the Hotel Bellevue (00386 4572 3331 prices from €44 for a single half-board), frequented by Agatha Christie in the 1960’s. The architectural & interior aesthetics have seen many better days, but nevertheless the Bellevue’s name is an apt one for its scenically advantageous position on a plateau amongst a dark forest. Again, like the Hotel Jezero, a lake-view room is a must and apart from the Christie connection, the only tangible reason for staying here. On a clear day, these rooms behold breathtaking views across the lake and Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain at 2864 metres. The prosaic menu will not detain you for too long, but for the views alone, and a visit to Room 206 where Agatha stayed, a short detour is recommended.
Careful observers will note the three-headed Triglav on the national flag; in fact references to it are to be found all over the country, including even a Triglav Insurance Company. All good Slovenians are expected to make the ascent at least once in their lifetimes, which would probably explain why the nation’s politicians take a helicopter to the summit. Should you have the fitness and necessary preparation to mount an assault on Triglav, it should be noted that on weekends the popular routes become stiflingly packed. There are many routes to ascend Triglav from but for the best advice, including guides and up-to-date conditions, the Slovenian Alpine Association (PZS) – www.pzs.si– should be contacted (firstname.lastname@example.org) for all things Triglav and alpine in Slovenia.
The derivation of the word “Triglav” comes from the mountain’s unusual 3-headed appearance, most clearly defined from the south western approaches. Many locals though trace its epithet to a Slavic deity, which apparently looked down on the Kingdom from its thrown on the summit. Whichever of the perceived wisdom floats your boat, one indisputable fact is Triglav, first conquered in 1787, is a fearsome mountain which has instilled fear and fascination into Slovene’s and tourists ever since.
In hiking circles, Bohinj (pronounced Boheen), is unusual that there are routes for all standards of hikers, therefore catering for the timid and the experienced. You are just as likely to see a group of chiseled mountaineers setting off in the early hours heading for Triglav as you are a party of elderly travellers doing circuits of the lake, which takes three to four hours. The lake walk is an excellent ice-breaker and introduction to the area and which brings you to the western end of the lake where many of the more strenuous walks commence. Alternatively, if you want to maximise your walking-time, a five minute bus journey from Ribev Laz will drop you at the hamlet of Ukanc, 4.5 km’s away, and where the bottom-station of the Mount Vogel cable-car (www.vogel.si) is to be found. The gondola, €13 for a return journey, whisks you imperceptibly to 1535 metres in a matter of minutes, whilst affording, you guessed it, outstanding views of the lake and beyond. From the top-station, Mount Vogel (1922metres) can be reached in a couple of hours via strenuous and at times vertiginous paths, eventually leading to a difficult but pleasing traverse of such peaks as Šija, Rodica and Črna Prst, where a mountain-hut can be found (mid June – October opening) to replenish your flagging energy levels. As in common with the whole area, walks of lesser-difficulty are easily accessed and signposted. All these summits (vrhs) hover just below the 2000 metre mark but the change in temperature is significant, as are the chances of electrical-storms. Care therefore should be taken on these routes, where little natural shelter is available and should be factored in to your itinerary. On a clear day, views of the Adriatic coast are possible.
Descending on the gondola or on foot via the precipitous Zagarjev Graben route – a winter ski-run of some repute – will bring you back to your starting point at the cable-car bottom-station. From here, a twenty – five minute walk following signs to Savica will bring you to, in the eyes of many Slovenian’s, the jewel in the Bohinj crown. The internationally renowned Savica waterfall (Slap Savica) is a 60metre cascade of poetry in motion, so much so that Slovenia’s pre-eminent poet, France Prešeren (1800 – 1849), felt sufficiently moved to write the “baptism at Savica Waterfall”, the seminal work in his oeuvre. This alone ensures the permanent residence of Bohinj and especially Savica in the hearts of many of his compatriates. A steep walk of about 30 minutes after the toll – booth (€2.40 entrance fee) will amply reward you with an awe-inspiring spectacle, especially if you have been propitious to visit after a heavy storm. Lake Bohinj – 4.5 Km long, 1 Km wide and a terrifying 45 metres deep at it’s centre, is fed by the cataract at Slap Savica, which in turn receives it’s at times raging torrent from the 7 Triglav lakes at altitude. The limestone leviathans – which house the 7 lakes – loom over the northern edges of the lake and percolate the rainwater through the porous terrain. When precipitation is at its heaviest, and after a tortuous journey through a complex network of caves, the water can also manifest itself at the impromptu Govic spout, which discharges its liquid–sunshine into the lake from an excess of 300 feet.
From Savica, a two and a half hour trek uphill – well signposted – will bring you to Dom na Komni (00386 4069 5783), a mountain-hut situated at 1520 metres and offering the ubiquitous stunning panoramas and a friendly welcome, common to all Slovenian mountain-refuges. Whilst sipping your Ledeni Čaj (ice-tea), you will be able to look back over the lake to your starting point at Ribčev Laz and the densely – wooded hills of Rudnica and Peč further beyond. To the right you will get a different perspective of Mount Vogel and on your left the limestone-hulk at Vogar, all looking higher than the relatively modest altitudes at which they stand. Dom na Komni welcomes visitors all year round with overnight accommodation always possible. As with all popular routes, booking ahead is invariably a prerequisite.
On your return to Ribčev laz, a change of pace might be the order of the day. If you can resist the bewildering array of cakes on the Hotel Jezero terrace, situated directly opposite is the Alpinsport agency (00386 4572 3486), where all imaginable adrenalin-laced pursuits can be engaged in: canyoning, caving, rafting and paragliding to name but a few. Equipment for all of the above and more can be hired, as can mountain-bikes. For extra confidence on the high-level routes, experience local walking guides can be hired, from €100 per day. Care should also be taken to ensure your travel insurance policy covers you for such activities.
Crepuscular gatherings, as one would expect, are tranquil and relaxed affairs, centering around the terraces at the Hotels Jezero and the nearby Rožic (www.pensionrozic-bohinj.com – prices from €44 half-board for a single). Here, tired but exuberant hikers swap stories of their respective days in the mountains, over a beer or three, of which the Črni Baron & Temno Lasko – both dark beers – are particularly recommended – aficionados will liken its colour, taste and texture to Murphy’s. For those seeking flesh-pot pubs and clubs pumping out repetitious euro-dance anthems will be disappointed. Even during the ski-season, the atmosphere rarely, if ever becomes anything nearing raucous.
Whilst prices have inevitably increased, as popularity and awareness of the area has exponentially grown, a break in Slovenia’s north-western Julian Alps offers fantastic value for money and a great introduction for children to the wonderful world of alpinism.
Generations of Britain’s have enjoyed the serenity of this area and the hospitality it offers long before the Yugoslav disintegration commenced. Standing defiantly and independently for nearly twenty years now, Slovenia is a fully paid-up member of the European Union & NATO and the first country of the old eastern-block to adopt free-market reforms, plus to adopt the Euro (€). Slovenia is now justly one of Europe’s most popular alpine destinations and with sympathetic development of its tourist infrastructure, looks certain to go from strength to strength in the future.
Agatha Christie said she could never base a book in Bohinj, for it was deemed too beautiful to stain the area with a murder. In these days where hardly anywhere is immune from such crimes, there are few greater endorsements than this.
Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) fly daily to Ljubljana from London Stansted.
The national-carrier Adria Airways (0207-7344630 http://www.adria.si) fly daily from London Gatwick and during May to September, from Birmingham & Manchester.
© Charles L. Bowman
*The pre-edited version of the above was first published on 29th March 2009, at http://www.travelmag.co.uk/article_1494.shtml
The copyright is retained by: Charles L. Bowman.