In northwestern Slovenia, on the border of Italy and Austria's majestic mountains, lies Triglav National Park. A wild and beautiful area filled with forests, valleys, mountain ranges and light blue lakes. Right through the national park, where the forest is deepest, a road runs over a mountain pass of 1611 meters. The road over mountain pass Vrsic. Perhaps one of Europe's top ten most beautiful roads.
We started our journey over the mountain pass at the ski resort Kranjska Gora and drove south on road 206 against Bovec. A distance of just under 5 miles. Lunch sandwiches were bought, the thermos was filled with coffee and the weather looked like it was going to be OK. Planning to cross Vrsic in November can be a bit of a lottery, as the road closes during the snowy winter months. My weather apps warned of sub-zero temperatures and sleet for the coming week, but this particular day couldn't really get any better. The deciduous trees had changed to their autumn colors and the ground was covered with an orange cloth of dry leaves. The larch trees had also changed color, boasting sun-yellow needles against the gray sky. A golden road over the mountain pass, quite simply.
The views quickly become grand when you get to Kranjska Gora. It is noticeable that the mountains are cousins of the Dolomites. The mountains are simply a bit younger, thornier, steeper and wilder than their Austrian neighbours.
Although the sky offers a gray cloud cover, the sun pushes decisively through the clouds. It's so bright it's like shooting under a clear blue sky. A nice contrast to the dark November we left back home in Stockholm.
Triglav National Park is Slovenia's only national park, but the area is quite large by Slovenian standards. The park covers almost 4% of the entire surface of Slovenia. There are more large animals here than in most other national parks in the Alps. Bears, lynx, mountain goats and eagles are just some of the animals that call the park their home.
The road over Triglav was built in the early 20th century by Russian prisoners of war. An extremely hard job that claimed many lives. Although there are no official figures, the unofficial figures say that up to 10.000 prisoners lost their lives up to the road's inauguration in 1915. Along the road today you can visit several memorials to the fallen prisoners, including the Russian Chapel – a beautiful little wooden chapel.
The road over the mountain pass is well maintained and does not feel difficult to drive at all, despite the fact that the road has as many as 50 hairpin bends. However, the beautiful views after the road are more than the number of parking spaces, so it is important to take the opportunity to stop when the opportunity arises. I can safely say that our journey over the pass was not fast, but this is a typical place where the journey is more important than the destination itself.
Along the road are several b&bs with restaurants and even though it is low season most places are still open. We stopped at Erjavec Lodge and had a cappuccino. Although we had a well-filled thermos with us, it's always good to top up caffeine levels for the rest of the drive. The fire was lit and the coffee good. As I said, we weren't driving fast. There aren't many free toilets along the way, so it might be worth stopping for a coffee just to use the restaurants' toilets for free. For around 2 euros per coffee, it almost feels like a win to get a visit to the toilet in the bargain. Take three (coffee, beautiful view and toilet), pay for one.
On the side of the road we often see wooden signs, picnic tables and small gravel paths. Some of the many hiking trails that permeate the area start where you least expect it. However, our goal for the day is to hike in the Soca Valley, so we only stop to take a few photos and take deep breaths of the fresh air. There's something special about alpine air, isn't there?
It was not difficult to understand when we arrived at the Vrsic pass. Car after car stopped here to take a picture of the sign at 1.611 m above sea level and to have lunch at one of the inns. But I must actually say that this was the most boring stop after the road. We had read up on the trails here beforehand and didn't feel they were even close to hikes we had previously done in Switzerland, Austria and Italy, so we pretty quickly jumped back in the car and headed on our way. Down the other side of the mountain pass. The wild side of the mountain, where the really great views turned out to be.
Several times along the way down to Soca Valley, I had flashbacks to our visits to Yosemite and to Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove down large valleys and mighty rock formations, waterfalls and memorial statues. Every curve took us down towards the valley in leaps and bounds. There weren't many places to stop, so the trip down went much faster than up. The weather was getting a little worse now. The clouds darker and the wind stronger. However, it didn't matter much, because we had passed the mountain pass and were heading down towards Bovec.
We parked the car at the church of Sv. Marije on the edge of Thirty. Here the river flows Soca past, the same river that runs through the Soca Valley. The water is crystal clear and shifts in shades of turquoise, ice cold and fresh. There are several footbridges across the river. Those kind of bridges that probably look more unsafe than they really are. We went out on some of them, but it is not always easy to tell if the bridge goes to a hiking trail or to a private house. The bridges are many but the signs are few. It was time to stop at the tourist information in Thirty and ask for a map, so that we could find the right hiking trail Soca Valley.
We found a detailed map of Soca-Trenta and a dedicated guide in the tourist information. 10 minutes later I came out of there with a scribbled map and a pretty good sense of where we should turn off to find today's hike – ”Sunik water grove trail". The hike that would show the best of the Soca valley.
All the way from Trento, the ice-blue Soca river flows beside the road. Over the years, the river has burrowed its way through the mountain, forming dramatic gorges. At its wildest, the gorge is at "Grand Canyon of Soca”, where the unreasonably blue water of the deep gorge is at its most dramatic and the swirling ice-cold water at its most current. There are turquoise lakes and turquoise rivers in other parts of the Alps too, but everything here in Slovenia feels much more untouched and unspoiled. And maybe even a little more turquoise.
Three donkeys spied us in surprise from a hill as we ran around looking at the gorge from all possible angles. We were right at the front Bovec, the city where we would stay this night. The Vresic pass was conquered, now completely different landscapes and views awaited. How did our hike in the Soca valley go? There will soon be more about it in a completely separate post 🙂
How do I find the road over the Vrsic Pass?
We drove from the ski resort of Kranjska Gora, south on road 206 towards Bovec. The road is only about 5 miles long, but it is curvy and full of cyclists and slow drivers. Expect it to take at least 2 hours to drive over the pass (with a few stops).
What do I need to think about before we drive to Vrsic?
The road is free to drive and open for about 7 months a year. The rest of the year the road is snow-covered and unplowed. There can be rapid changes in weather at the high altitude, so don't take chances if it looks like there will be ice and snow storms. You don't want to get stuck up here with summer tires.
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