It’s not often that you get to tell people that you enjoy a good slap, yet for the last week I’ve experienced a fair few.
Before we go any further, slap is the Slovenian word for a waterfall (sorry to disappoint) something of which there have been many these last days.
There’s always a concern when you decide to visit somewhere based on the tourist blurb you’ve seen that it just won’t match up to expectations. All those filtered Instagram posts which make the water and the sky look impossibly blue and alluring. But Slovenia it seems has no need of filters, it’s stunning and I am a little bit in love.
After leaving our city campground and neighbouring micro brewery in Kromberk we set off to ride along the Soča Valley towards the area of Tolmin. Almost immediately on leaving town the road crosses over a large river gorge from which you can access the most fantastic bike path at the start of the Socča River cycle route, 7 miles of dedicated smooth, shady tarmac nestled into the side of the valley far away from the road. On the righthand side are dramatic views of the river Soča below and every mile or so a shady picnic bench and even a water fountain. Heaven after the hot and traffic heavy roads of Trieste.
Sadly all bike paths must end but the river valley itself continued to accompany us northward, the water growing clearer and bluer as we rode. Sometimes a broad, fast flowing expanse and sometimes a smaller stream or tributary as we wound through tiny villages and pretty towns such as Kanal ob Soči, criss crossing on bridges that ranged from soaring arches to frightening and dilapidated plank and cable affairs. As the road rose with the temperatures all I wanted to do was dive into those inviting waters.
We had planned a short 24 mile day before an eagerly anticipated mini-break in Tolmin and I couldn’t wait to have a respite from the relentless heat and to explore the small town, as well as to have the opportunity to stock up on dwindling supplies and replace broken bits of kit.
After 24 miles and a frightening stretch of narrow mountain road, being squeezed by overtaking lorries, we gratefully arrived sweaty, shaken and tired at our accommodation, only to find it wasn’t…..
Top tip of the day, don’t try booking anything on a bus trip through the mountains when you are sleep-deprived and there are a lot of tunnels to disrupt your internet connection. Instead of the relaxing little apartment we’d expected, it seem we’d messed up and rented a delightful but remote farmhouse on top of a massive hill. In the middle of nowhere. And 5 miles back the way we’d just come on the road from hell.
Backtracking and grinding up the precipitous climb to the farmhouse was not a happy thing. All the frustration and disappointment of messing up and missing out on our intended stop combined with heat and exhaustion from the last weeks. There may have been tears at the top. I won’t say whose….
The cycletouring gods must have relented however as the owner of the property was the most understanding and wonderful person in the world, not only agreeing that we could cancel our reservation but insisting on giving us homemade apple juice and sweets to help bring us back to life.
This kindness was truly humbling and very decent. I may have cried again.
Restored a little we ploughed down the hill back to Tolmin where, with the help of the internet, a cold drink and some shade we were overjoyed to find a beautiful apartment in the town centre and ready instantly.
The time spent in Tolmin was ideal. Just a short walk from the apartment were the Tolminka and Soča rivers meeting in confluence around sandy beaches, bordered by high, tree-smothered mountains. The latter river had some of the bluest water I have ever seen, a magnificent turquoise when viewed from a distance but up close, so clear it was near invisible. The few kayaks who passed by literally looked like they were floating on air.
This amazing colour is caused by mineral deposits in the rock flour, the tiny particles of rock suspended in the water and reflecting the sunlight, but it has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Finally we could do what we’d been longing to since arriving and go for a swim in these pristine waters.
Due to an unusually low rainfall and mild winter (causing a lack of ice melt) the river was 5 degrees or so warmer than usual. An inviting 9 degrees celsius. Wonderful for swimming but concerning on a wider environmental level.
This unusual and hot weather has been causing havoc in other ways too. Fishing (for the famous Soča trout) has been suspended as has some kayaking as the water levels are dangerously low. Mosquitoes are worse in town too as they leave the river bank and flock to the gardens and vegetable plots which are being watered. Water supplies in general are also very low. This has an impact on the town which is in the midst of hosting two huge music festivals and expecting an influx of people that will double the population.
On a wider level the wildfires we experienced on the way to the border continue to ravage both Slovenia and Italy. We can smell the smoke on the wind and later, in a mountain campsite, ash partics fall like snow one evening as an early dusk of smoke blocks out the evening light. It’s tinder dry everywhere.
The Tolmin break is everything we needed. We clean and mend things, we swim, we explore by mountain bike and we cook good food and chat to random strangers.
It’s sad to leave but, after only a day of cycling we reach another idyllic campsite near the ski resort of Cerkno. Unfortunately this one is located nearly 1000 foot up a mountan side which I may have not realised.
My turn to f**k up with the mapping and a slight error on my part as I only looked at the distance it was off of our route. At only 1 mile it looked close by but, a subsequent review of the elevation showed, that almost a vertical kilometer of ascent and gradients of 26%, pretty impossible with all our luggage.
Again the cycletouring gods rescued us, at least in the form of Jernej, the campsite owner who cheerfully met us at the foot of the climb to drive our bags up the beast of hill. I was secretly hoping deep down that he may have room for the bikes too but the cycle gods weren’t that benevolent.
The climb was brutal but just about do-able luggage-free. And the reward, the most stunning 360 degree mountain views in a small, very well equipped and tranquil site. Fresh vegetables appeared daily from Jernej’s garden and there were plenty of places just to sit and be. So this is what we did and what we’ve continued to do.
We’ve been cycling some long days with some hard climbs, but are now following these up with 2 or 3 night stays in beautiful campsites. There are churches and archaeological sites to visit ( for M) and walks and cafes to check out (me). There are many things I’d love to return to do such as the long distance Juliana Mountain bike trail, a large circuit through the Julian Alps. But that’s for another time.
The Slovenian people we have met here too, apart from putting us to shame with their multi-Iingual prowess, have been unfailingly friendly, helpful and welcoming. No wonder we want to linger. With mountains to climb, rivers to swim in and a good slap or two, I may never want to leave.
Distance travelled to date: 1126 miles, elevation gained: 38,875 feet.
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It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.
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