Alpine Wishes and Adriatic Dreams

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1996

Alpine Wishes and Adriatic Dreams

Slovenia, the best of Europe in a space the size of New Jersey
By Debra Weiner

Unappreciated and for the most part unheard-of, the tiny nation of Slovenia, on Central Europe's southern edge, is literally a find. To the north are the Austrian Alps, to the west lies the Adriatic, and Venice is an easy two hours away by car. To the south is Croatia, where the peace may be tenuous, but Slovenians have enjoyed stability and growing prosperity since their ten-day war of independence with Serbia in 1991. In a country where it's possible to hike the Alps in the morning and swim in the Adriatic later the same day, they've made outdoor adventure a way of life.

The baroque capital city of Ljubljana is the hub for some of the best mountain biking in the country. A seven-and-a-half-mile climb to the summit of 3,609-foot Mount Katarina begins in the suburb of Podutik, three and a half miles northwest of the old city center. At the far end of Podutik's main street, Podutiska Cesta, the Tosko Celo sign marks the start of the trail, which leads through spruce forests to 360-degree valley views and St. Jakob, a small, steepled church at the top. For alternative routes, pick up a copy of Okolica Ljublijanae, a hiking map of Ljubljana and environs that's available in most of the city's bookstores. Dekleva & Dekleva Sportcon offers mountain-bike tours of Katarina for $60 per day, including rental. A bike by itself rents for $15 per day. Call 011-386-61-577-492.

Those looking for bigger mountains should try 9,396-foot Triglav, Slovenia's highest peak. A dramatic two-day trip up the south face begins just outside the mountain village of Bohinj, about 40 miles northwest of Ljubljana. AlpinSport, in Bohinj, guides treks up Triglav for $84 per person, $28 per person if you have a group of four or more. Call 64-723-486.

Skalca, Bohinj's special climbing garden, overlooks the town's namesake lake, and its 262-foot cliff face is a popular site for international competitions. AlpinSport offers climbing instruction ($14 for a one-hour lesson, $30 for a two-day six-hour course) on all 44 of Skalca's routes, which range in difficulty from 5.3 to 5.13. Just around the corner from Skalca is Hotel Jezero (doubles, $106; 64-723-441), a 60-room establishment with an intimate bar where you can sample Viljamovka pear brandy.

If water is more your game, try hydrospeeding. Outfitted in a neoprene suit, helmet, swim fins, and life jacket, you ride what looks like a large kickboard down whitewater rapids. The Alpinum Tourist Organization, in Bohinj, organizes one-and-a-half-hour trips down the Sava Bohinjka for $28 per person, including transportation and gear. Call 64-723-441.

Down at the shore, Slovenians have made the most of their mere 28 miles of coastline in the tiny town of Piran. (The main coastal destination, Portoro‘z, is a noisy Riviera-style resort with casinos and discotheques.) Clustered on a narrow peninsula, Piran is a maze of skinny, winding streets, orange tile roofs, and seaside caf‹s. The Hotel Piran (doubles, $100-$120; 66-746-110) overlooks the town's marina.

About 13 miles northeast of Piran on Route M10 is 3,820-foot-deep Skocjan Cave, one of more than 6,000 caves weaving through Slovenia's limestone underground. Daily tours offered by the Slovenian Speleological Association ($14 per person; 66-526-036) take in fantastic canyons with giant dripstone formations and cascading rivers. The group also offers day trips and weeklong expeditions through Slovenia's less-traveled limestone ($7-$15 per day or $150-$400 per week, depending on which caves you visit). Experienced spelunkers raft, rappel, and dive their way around, while novices explore riverbeds and an underground desert at Dimnice Cave, 38 miles northeast of Piran.

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