It's no wonder that the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia has produced some of the world's best mountaineers: You can't travel north of the country's capital, Ljubljana, without butting up against some of Europe's most precipitous ranges. And since the 11-year-old country is still underneath most Americans' radar, Europeans have had this bounty all to themselves.
Until now. Climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, caving, skiing, you name itSlovenia is the finest alpine terrain this side of the Urals. Head first to the Julian Alps, home to 207,000-acre Mount Triglav National Park and the country's highest peak, 9,395-foot Mount Triglav. Slightly lower in altitude but less crowded in summer is Tomaz Humar's backyard range, the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, which offer Humarian climbing challenges. Conveniently tucked between the two ranges is Bled, a Slovenian Geneva complete with lakeside chalets and castles, not to mention precious bottles of blueberry schnapps.
Mountaineering, Hiking, & Climbing:
It's a matter of national pride for Slovenians to summit Mount Triglav at least once in their lives. One way to knock off a nontechnical ascent of the peak is via a four-day hut trip along a portion of the 496-mile Transversal Route, which starts in the town of Maribor, passes through Mount Triglav National Park, and then winds its way to the Adriatic Sea. An hour northwest of Bled, in the Vrata valley, the trail begins with a six-hour trek up to the summit of 8,583-foot Mount Razor before an easy hour-long descent to Pogacnikov Dom hut for the night. (Each hut offers bunk beds, typical Slovenian mealsricet, a barley porridge; jota, a vegetable soup with sauerkraut; and sausageplus, of course, plenty of beer, wine, and schnapps.) The next morning, a four-hour hike southeast will take you over 8,000-foot peaks to the Koca Na Dolicu lodge. On day three you'll summit Mount Triglav by way of a four-hour hike along a moderately difficult trail. The last hour includes a steep jaunt on the exposed Western face of Mount Triglav with fixed belays to help with the climb and descent. Spend the night at the park's highest lodge, 8,299-foot Trig Dom na Kredarici, before completing this multi-day loop.
Outfitter: The Alpine Association of Slovenia (011-386-1-4343-022; www.pzs.si) has a list of 150 mountain lodges and can arrange hut reservations ($6$12 per night) and mountain guides ($95 per day). For information on more technical routes in the area, contact the Triglav National Park Information Center (011-386-5-3889-330; www.sigov.si.tnp).
Where to stay: Set up your base camp at Hotel Vila Bled (doubles, $155 per night, including breakfast; 011-386-4-5791-500), a former villa that served Austrian and Yugoslav royaltyand Titowith views of Lake Bled. Or pitch a tent near the lake at Camping Bled (011-386-4-5752-000, for $7 per night.)
Kayaking & Rafting:
Playboaters rave about the Class IV+ rapids and the azure water of the Soca Riversite of the 1991 World Kayak Championships' wildwater eventswhich winds its way 34 miles through limestone gorges from the town of Bovec, just beyond the southeastern edge of Mount Triglav National Park, to Nova Gorica, near the Italian border. The best paddling is the 12.5-mile stretch between Bovec and Kobarid, which gets gnarlier the farther downstream you go. For the most intense whitewater, expert paddlers put in just before the town of Trnovo ob Soci for four thrilling miles of Class III to V rapids. Beware: A local paddling partner is a must to help navigate the blind drops and undercut rocks.
Outfitter: Soca Rafting (011-386-5-3896-200; www.arctur.si/soca_rafting) offers kayak rentals for $20 per day, kayak guides for $30 per person for two hours on the river, and half-day raft trips for $27 per person. If you decide to paddle on your own, purchase a permit from Soca Rafting for $2.
Where to stay: Park your playboat near the town of Bovec at Camp Liza, a 45-site forested campground near the confluence of the Koritnica and the Soca Rivers (campsites $5 per night; 011-386-5-3896-370; www.campliza-maksim.si).
Mountain & Road Biking:
While there is ample cycling in the Julian Alps, mountain biking is forbidden within Triglav National Park except on designated forest roads. To find singletrack, head to the Kamnik-Savinja Alps to the old mining town of Crna na Koroskem, whose own 186 miles of singletrack and 434 miles of doubletrack spiderweb around the 62-square-mile Mountain Bike Park.
Outfitter: The park (011-386-2-8238-555; www.mtbpark.com) rents front-suspension mountain bikes for $8 per day and offers guided one-day trips for $13$38.
Where to stay: Rooms at the Hotel Club Krnes at the mountain-bike park in Crna na Koroskem are $33 per night (doubles, including breakfast).
There are no direct flights to Ljubljana from the United States. However, Lufthansa has partnered with the Slovenian airline Adria to offer a daily flight from New Yorks JFK to Ljubljana via Munich ($1,213 round-trip; 800-645-3880; www.lufthansa.com). The Slovenian Tourist Board in New York City can provide helpful planning information and maps (212-358-9686; www.slovenia-tourism.si).