Have you ever had a trip just not work out? After all the careful planning somehow the experience just didn’t come out how you wanted? That was my experience visiting Slovenia. Originally attracted by the the beautiful mountain landscape and great hiking and cycling routes, I worked out how to incorporate it into my summer touring Europe. There are SO MANY long distant through hikes and wonderful places to see it was difficult to zero in on just one spot to use as a base for a few day hikes. While researching the excitement grew when I realized how little I knew about Slovenia. I had no expectations or second-hand travel stories to build a picture in my mind but I liked that and embraces the idea of going somewhere that would really feel new and different.
After leaving Ucka Mountains in Croatia I headed to Begunje na Gorenjskem, a small town in the Upper Carniola region of Slovenia, for several nights. The village is about a 90 minute journey from Ljubljana was easy to reach using a bus to the popular tourist city of Bled and then further with a local bus. The area features incredibly beautiful mountains, green valleys and is a short drive to Triglav National Park. Most homes in the area have apple trees and a few have chickens and horses. I fell in love right away despite the constant rain and thought the local people were very hospitable – one person offered to drive me to my guesthouse after watching me wander around the village, searching for the right road to take.
The original plans for my five days in Slovenia included hiking nearby and making several day trips to Triglav Park. However the constant rains in Central Europe that had begun over a week ago continued. Any break in the downpour produced a near constant fog with poor visibility. Soggy feet, cool temperatures and made staying in with wine and a book seem more appealing than trudging up a slippery mountain with no view so shorted my list of hikes and settled in.
On the nicest day of the short visit I took a short hike towards the west where a network of hiking trails climb up from the Draga Valley into the mountains. Along the way I stumbled upon haunting Grad Kamen, a castle more than 800 years old. With poor visibility and rain I couldn’t make out the ruins until I was up close. With the poor weather the place was deserted, making it really fun to explore on my own.
One day I decided to visit Bled and take a walk along the shores of the lake to Blejski Grad (Bled Castle) during light rain showers. The loop is about 6 km and takes about two hours with breaks to take in the view. The picturesque island was barely visible and parts of the walking path had become flooded. I trudged around for about two hours before retreating back to my accommodation with a sampling of local wine, cheese and bread to nibble on while I read up on the local history.
This was when I learned about the long and heartbreaking past of Begunje na Gorenjskem. Kacenštajn Castle, which is now a museum in the center of the village, has been used as a both prison and mental hospital and functioned as a holding place for victims of Nazis during World War Two. Most of the people arriving were eventually sent on to concentration camps but almost 1,000 were murdered on site. Near the castle a series of mass graves of those that were killed by the Gestapo and, later in the war, the Russian Liberation Army. Eventually I would go out exploring the trails to the east and north from the village and see several monuments to these tragedies.
Too foggy and wet to experience the Julian Alps, I left Begunje na Gorenjskem for Ljubljana after four days of constant rain. I try to be accepting of weather but I felt sad about the time and resources put into visiting and wish I’d come sooner during the drier month of August. I loved what I did get to do and just ran out of time to give the destination the proper time it deserves. I really would like to visit Northeast Italy, South Tyrol and North Slovenia as its own trip. With a lot of ground to cover, I can’t imagine all the beautiful views and wonderful mountain routes. This experience is definitely to be continued.
Thanks for reading!