To me, Slovenia has always punched above its weight as an alpine nation.
It can of course be argued that the modern day border that wraps around a territory occupied by 2 million inhabits has within it quite by chance some of the most dramatic mountainscapes of Europe, but it isn’t necessarily what you have but how you use it, or in Slovenia’s example – the way it is conserved and preserved within a framework of walking routes designed to attract the curious, respectful, but adventurous tourist.
There is a misconception that altitude equals difficulty for both skiers and hikers. Whilst it is true that challenging terrain at lower levels does not last as long as it theoretically might in more lofty settings, these themselves do not always offer the physical test some might expect, other than subtly diminishing oxygen levels as the altimeter nudges over 3,000 metres above sea level.
What actually constitutes difficulty of terrain and the demands that alpinists might want from their visits to the mountains will differ and are subjective, but as an intermediate hiker I can speak from significant personal experience that the aspects of being physically stretched, a rich variety of landscape and trails, and theoretically being able to sample the mountains, coastline and capital city Ljubljana in one day, Slovenia has not only the topographic attributes but also an unabashed commitment to shape experiences in a way that benefits visitors, residents, and the natural environment.
Recent publicity of the now award-winning Juliana Trail prompted me to revisit online the numerous walking and hiking routes available throughout the country – the amount of which being a surprise to someone who has visited Slovenia on numerous occasions. Although more will be written on another occasion about the Juliana Trail, the fact that its reasons for being include taking some of the strain off the routes to Mount Triglav, the country’s highest peak, and for visitors to interact with locals highlights an proactive and innovative approach completely at odds with the seemingly insatiable ‘arms race’ in other alpine nations where pylons, cableways,concrete, and parking lots increasingly dominate the landscape.
To many visitors of an alpine persuasion Slovenia will remain a byword for Lake Bled, and to a lesser extent Bohinj, Kranjska Gora, and Bovec. That in itself is not a bad thing, but even within a country of such bijou size there are countless alternative options to the aforementioned, including numerous paths less trodden away from the madding crowds but adjacent to its most well-known regions. Many routes amount to multi-day treks but with some forward planning there is little difficulty in securing bed and board in Slovenia’s network of mountain huts. It is though essential to book ahead, and to thoroughly research the kit needed to survive and thrive in a landscape where mountain rescuers correctly take a dim view of the poorly clad and badly prepared.
Such a profusion of options within a small space may conjure images of overdevelopment but this couldn’t be further from the truth; the overriding impression when in Slovenia is of a desire to allow visitors to seek out corners of the country not otherwise included in cliched itineraries, Instagram ‘must sees’ and cut and paste online ‘we’ve been to’ lists that seem to invariably include, for example, Bohinj’s Savica waterfall but not the more appealing, to me at least, its nearby equivalent at Voje or the impromptu Govic torrent on the northern side of Lake Bohinj. The Slovenian tourism office, local municipalities, the alpine association, and environmental custodians such as the Triglav National Park(TNP) authority are through such coordinated initiatives throwing the onus upon travellers to challenge body, mind, and misconceptions that stimulates inquisitiveness rarely encouraged within those staying on package holidays or who are at the mercy of tightly controlled itineraries that rigidly stick to the ‘usual suspects’.
The trails are for the time being at least the preserve of those fortunate enough to have them and the Julian Alps on their doorstep, but later this summer a pent up demand for the great outdoors will in all likelihood be unleashed upon and across Europe’s mountainous regions. It can sometimes look like the whole of civilization has decamped to the Alps, but Slovenia’s many and varied trails ensures that one can feel pleasantly alone, or are at least with the type of company who respects fellow travellers and their shared surroundings.
Despite the untapped alpine potential of many of Slovenia’s fellow members of the former Yugoslavia there is still a relative air of the unknown about for example the Julian Alps. There are of course other ranges within the country that demand equal attention, and therein lies the rub: Slovenia amounts to far more than where package holiday operators and Instagram influencers wish to drive customers. Have a look at the places away from the headlines; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Slovenian Tourist Board: http://www.slovenia.info/en/things-to-do/active-holidays/hiking-backpacking/long-distance-trails