Following our amazing night’s sleep on the hay of Stanka’s farm, we set off after a terrific organic breakfast mostly produced on site, a little reluctant to leave such a glorious spot and the very friendly people we’d met there. Two nights there would have been a good idea, but we had to keep moving on.
After two exhausting days, day 22 would turn out to be much easier, with a steady walk along the banks of the Soča on an undulating trail with a total of just 245 metres of ascents for the whole day (mostly towards the end when we left the river to climb up to Bovec. The only real problem was, once again, the stony terrain, which was a little annoying underfoot at times. However, as there were no long descents today, this was less of a problem than on the two previous days.
We picked up the trail at the campsite below the farm. The place was packed and it became clear that we would be seeing a lot of people as we made our way along the Soča valley over the next couple of days. This was the height of the holiday season and, during the course of the day, we would meet Slovenians, Germans, Italians and even Peruvians (living in Barcelona).
It was another glorious day, without a cloud in sight. The walking was easy, more or less flat for most of the morning as we kept criss-crossing the incredibly clear waters of the river on various bridges. The trail occasionally ran close to the road, which was fairly busy, but fortunately only for brief sections.
At around 10:30, halfway to Bovec, we stopped for an apple juice at Kamp Korita, a pretty little spot by the river with a great, shady bar and quaint little huts to rent. There, we found the two German ladies met at the foot of the horrible descent from the pass the previous day. They were in the middle of a late breakfast and seemed to be taking a very leisurely approach to the hike. They told us they were planning to walk all the way to Trieste but were finding it heavy going. And, indeed, after this brief encounter, we never saw them again!
After our drink stop, we carried on along the trail and soon reached the Soča where the river, about ten metres wide further upstream, narrowed to one to two metres for a stretch, with a fair number of viewpoints providing glimpses of the surging waters below. There were huge numbers of people on this section, which was clearly a major tourist attraction, with some kids leaping off the rocks to allow themselves to be carried downstream, for a very short distance as the water was clearly freezing.
A little further on, shortly after the confluence with the Lepenjica, we took a long rest on a beach by the river, snacking on cereal bars. We tested the water but it was really too cold to stay in for long, even though the day was getting hotter and hotter.
After a good rest, we carried on to Bovec, crossing the river again a number of times as the trail switched from bank to bank. On crossing one last bridge to a campsite just outside Bovec, we spotted a guy on a camp chair on a rock in the middle of the river, making the most of the shade and cool water. He clearly had the right idea!
The campsite was packed and provided all sorts of activities on the Soča and in the surrounding area. It even had a funky-looking cocktail bar (closed when we passed through at 2 pm). We had clearly reached the heart of the valley’s outdoor activity industry, centred on Bovec, which we reached after a steep climb up from the campsite, across a meadow with absolutely no shade. Fortunately, with the heat increasing, we finished the day at around 3 pm. Less fortunately, our hostel room turned out to be a tiny attic with the sun beating down on the roof. Even worse, it overlooked the main square, but more of that later.
After a refreshing shower, we went out to get a drink and do a little shopping for food supplies for the next few days (with our second rest day coming up). We found a little bar just off the main street that served various different kinds of lemonade, a drink that was more than welcome in the heat. And, after that, we tried a couple of excellent beers from the micro-brewery attached to our hostel. Dinner, however, was a bit more or a problem as the couple of likely restaurants that we had spotted in the town centre turned out to be full, with long queues at each one. As a result, we ended up at Martinov Hram, a hotel-restaurant a short way out of the centre. Not the best dining experience ever, but it filled us up.
We then headed back to the hostel for what we hoped would be a good night’s sleep despite the mugginess in our attic room. With the window open and the fan on, we thought we’d be okay. We were so wrong! We hadn’t realized that August 14th, the day before Assumption Day, a holiday in many Catholic countries, was such a big deal in Slovenia. What happened on the square below that evening was like a Bastille Day celebration back in France, with Slovenia’s female equivalent of Bruce Springsteen, stamina-wise (and vocally). She performed from 7:30 in the evening until 11:30 without a break, singing a mixture of what appeared to be Slovenian classics, given how the crowd sang along, and a number of covers of American hits (including “I’m So Excited” three times!). Even after she gave up, we had a pretty fitful night’s sleep because of the heat, but finally got a few hours in before getting up at 6 for an early start in the cool of the day.
There were no breakfast possibilities at the hostel, so we began August 15th, a national holiday, at a local bakery just down the street, where we had excellent coffee and some tasty pastries standing at a table outside.
We then set off for a fairly easy 23-km hike to Mazgozd, where we would be taking our second rest day. We set off before 8 AM and the conditions were perfect, with an easy, steady climb through meadows and woods, passing under the cable-car to a barren, rocky peak that loomed over us, before reaching a turn-off to the Virje waterfall where we headed down to take a look at what is known as one of Slovenia’s most romantic waterfalls. It was indeed pretty but had slowed to a trickle in the peak of summer and the pond of green slime at its foot didn’t show it to the best of its advantage.
After climbing back up to the trail, we carried on our way, passing an odd little reservoir in the middle of nowhere that seemed to capture water from local springs before channelling it down to the Soča. It provided a great setting for photos of the surrounding mountains.
There were plenty of people out and about on this sunny and pleasantly warm holiday morning, but we didn’t really come across the crowds until we descended to the Soča again. The road along the valley was very busy and we decided to skip a visit to the Boka waterfall, one of the highest in the country, because of the sheer numbers of people heading up there. It looked spectacular from the bridge below, but we preferred to carry on our way, crossing back over the Soča river where we saw huge numbers of people in kayaks and on rafts. The trail continued to follow the river along a stony path, at times some way above it.
It was quite difficult to get down to the water where we wanted to make a rest stop around midday. However, at one point, Odile spotted a bridge over the Soča with a beach just below it. We ended up staying there from midday until 2 pm, dozing in the shade and taking chilly dips in the very cold water. In the time we were there, around 20 rafting groups passed by, along with 60 kayaks or so. The river is clearly a huge generator of revenue around here.
When we resumed walking, the going was fairly easy but with steep climbs now and then in the afternoon heat. We headed higher and higher above the river through woods that provided some welcome shade along the track that was made up of white stones and gravel.
At around 3 pm, we arrived in Mazgozd where we had booked a rather unusual house for two days. The place was easy to find thanks to the owner’s instructions and there was a trough of icy water filled with drinks for hikers just outside. Half the house was made up of a large number of beehives. Our accommodation was in the other half and there was one section where we could open a shutter to view the bees at work behind glass. There were also masks hooked up to pipes that allowed us to inhale the air from the hives, rich in propolis and other good things. The whole place was beautifully designed with a huge bedroom upstairs and a very modern bathroom with a great shower. There was a comfortable terrace outside where we could hear the continual buzzing of the bees on the other side of the building.
We had a wonderful reception from the absent owner’s sister-in-law who gave us a ton of tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, along with a pitcher of elderflower lemonade. Cooking was forbidden in the house as the smell could disturb the bees, so we had an outdoor kitchen on the other side of the garden, which was full of fruit trees. With the honey from the bees, the excellent tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, and all these fruit trees, Mazgozd felt like a Slovenian Garden of Eden.
After showering and resting for a while, we cooked up a packet soup on the garden stove and ate it with a tomato and cucumber salad, surrounded by incredible peace and calm. We were in bed by 10 and slept soundly until 9 the following morning – 11 hours in all.
August 16th was our second rest day, our first stop of more than one night since Seeboden two weeks earlier. However, unlike our lazy day in Seeboden where we did next to nothing, on this second “rest” day we racked up another 12 km by going down to Kobarid, the town on the banks of the Soča below Mazgozd, to have lunch and buy food for dinner.
It was a fairly easy descent, with a stop part-way to see the Kozjak waterfall, another of Slovenia’s iconic waterfalls that is located at the end of a gorge. A truly beautiful place that was spoiled a little by the sheer number of visiting tourists on this holiday weekend.
From the waterfall, there was a fairly dusty and stony trail down to the Soča that we crossed on the Napoleon bridge that got its name during the four years when Kobarid was part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy (Napoleon himself never actually made it this far). From the bridge, it was just a short walk uphill to the centre of the town where we skipped the First World War Museum in favour of lunch on a shady terrace on the main square.
After eating, we headed back towards the Soča and the bridge, stopping off on the way in a supermarket selling lots of local produce where we stocked up for dinner (beers, cheese and sausage), before heading back up to the beehive house. The climb up to Mazgozd was tough, as the weather began to turn horribly muggy, heralding the terrific storm that would strike during the night.
That evening, we had a visit from the owner’s brother, who came to check on the hives in the other half of the house, and his daughter who was studying in Ljubljana to be a sports teacher. They gave us a small honeycomb from the hives to eat with our evening yoghurt and for breakfast the next morning. The honey was delicious, some of the best we have ever had anywhere. Slovenian bees are a specific subspecies, the Carniolan honeybee, and are protected by legislation. Approximately one in every 200 people in Slovenia keeps bees, and honey appears in many Slovenian delicacies. It was a real treat to be able to sample the produce direct from the hive.
During the night, we had a terrific thunderstorm, the one that had been brewing all afternoon, and when we set off at six thirty the next morning, the air was a lot fresher and the walking much more pleasant.
It was an easy hike up to the village of Dreznica, mostly along a quiet road that was lined by a number of unusual sculptures with religious and agricultural overtones.
From Dreznica, we had a steady and pleasant 600-metre climb up to the Italian chapel, even though the final section was steep and much tougher underfoot. There were stunning views back along the valley from the chapel, built in memory of the Italian soldiers who fell on this front in World War One. There was no one else around and we had this peaceful and moving place to ourselves.
Shortly after the chapel, we crossed a pass and began our 1,000-metre descent to Tolmin. There was a wide, cow-lined track down from the pass where we saw our first fellow hikers of the day who were heading uphill.
We followed this track to the Kuhinja mountain hut, a glorious spot in a very picturesque setting where we had a late second breakfast/early lunch made up of a tasty Slovenian soup with sausage. As we ate, we saw numerous shifting clouds forming against the magnificent mountains above us, probably vapour from last night’s storm as the sun began to warm the wet ground. They created a magical spectacle as we sat in the shade of the trees outside the hut. There too, we saw a couple of other people, but they weren’t hikers as they had simply driven up to the hut to eat.
After this pleasant and restful refuelling stop, the rest of the day was much less enjoyable as, around two kilometres after the hut, we veered off the cow-lined track for a long, exhausting and painful descent to the Soča over more Slovenian stones. It was a genuine relief to reach the river at the bottom and soak our sore feet in its cold waters, even though the setting, in the middle of a pretty basic campsite full of vans, wasn’t ideal.
After resting for around half-an-hour, we carried on along a reasonably flat trail into Tolmin, passing an unusual, pyramid-like hill topped by a castle, the Kozlov rob. The town was not a particularly pretty place and it took us a while to find our accommodation, where we arrived at 4 pm, only to find the place closed until 5. Fortunately, there was a shady terrace with comfortable couches where we were able to wait, after a quick trip to a nearby supermarket for cold drinks and ice creams. Shortly after us, a couple of French cyclists on their honeymoon turned up. They had been to a lot of places (Vienna, Prague, Ljubljana, Bled, etc.) and were now cycling part of the Alpe-Adria cycle track. It was great chatting to them and comparing our experiences.
The manager, who arrived at 5 pm, was a friendly lady who spoke a little French. And the hostel itself turned out to be very comfortable with a large bedroom and a spotless communal bathroom.
For dinner, on the manager’s recommendation, we went to a local pizza place. Halfway through the excellent pizzas, we had a huge surprise when Emma, last seen in Stall on our third day, three weeks earlier, turned up at the restaurant. We spent the rest of our meal chatting to her. She hadn’t been following the trail as religiously as us and had done side trips to Venice, Bled and Ljubljana in the last few weeks before returning to it a couple of days earlier.
After dinner, we went for ice cream on the way back to the hostel. On leaving the ice cream parlour, the three of us crossed the road without observing the traffic lights, French-style. A second later, a Slovenian police van screeched to a halt in front of us. A policeman and a policewoman got out and asked us for our ID. They told us that we were supposed to use the pedestrian crossing and observe the lights. They were a little stern at first, but it soon became apparent that they had stopped us because they had no bigger criminals to hunt down in this quiet town. At one point, they asked us what we thought of Slovenia and when we all replied that we loved the country and were having a great time there, they dropped the stern act entirely. They even burst out laughing when I asked if there was a fine to pay, told us to have a great time during the rest of our trip and sent us on our way with smiles and waves.
After saying goodbye to Emma, whom we would never see again after this evening, we headed back to the hostel for a good night’s sleep before the next day’s border crossing into Italy, our third country on the trail.