Looking for a holiday that’s a breath of fresh air? Head for the Slovenian hills says Shereen Low.
Puffing and panting, sweat dripping from my forehead and my backpack feeling heavier by the minute, I mentally calculate the distance to the summit. I’m a few kilometres away from the peak of the Matajur, part of the mountain range in the Julian Alps bordering Italy and Slovenia.When I finally reach the top,1,642m up, I’m rewarded with a magnificent view of mountain peaks jutting into a cloudless blue sky. I can even make out the distinctive Dolomites in the distance.
But walking along slippery rock ledges, trying not to slide, takes muscles I never knew existed. My husband and I are part way through a week-long Hidden Italy and Slovenia holiday with Inntravel, the self-described “slow holiday” experts. I have to admit, I’m not a seasoned hiker, so the prospect of spending seven consecutive days trailing up and down mountains did seem a little daunting. But the idea of boosting my metabolism and soaking up some Vitamin D, while enjoying some fantastic scenery, did appeal.
Fortunately, all the arrangements and little details – from the flights and travel, to accommodation and most meals – have been taken care of. All I had to worry about was what to pack – and with my belongings transported from one town to another, there was no need to stress about how much to bring.
Our journey begins in Venice, with a two-hour train journey to Cividale del Friuli in the foothills of the eastern Alps in the north-east of Italy. During our warm-up walk, we explore the medieval town, visiting the famous Ponte del Diavolo (The Devil’s Bridge) followed by a gentle sojourn crossing meadows, vineyards and cornfields to reach the neighbouring village of Sanguarzo.
But it’s on our second day that the adventure really begins. We’re dropped off at 1,300m to begin our ascent to the Matajur summit, and after an incredible climb, we descend through unspoiled hamlets and villages, such as Livek and Irdsko.
Eventually, we reach the Slovenian town of Kobarid before sunset, and arrive at the Hvala Hotel, where we can’t wait to soothe our aching muscles in a Jacuzzi.
The following day, we take a historical trail around the Alpine town, visiting preserved World War I dugouts, the stunningly beautiful Soca Gorge with its emerald green natural pool, and the Slap Kozjak waterfall. By now, our legs are starting to feel weary, but there are even more challenges yet to come.
Our next strenuous walk heads 19.5km from Kobarid to Bovec, through woods, meadows and villages.
There’s also a challenging, steep uphill hike to Slap Boka, where we have to scramble across scree to catch a glimpse of Slovenia’s mightiest waterfall with the highest flow rate.
After seven hours of walking, we just want to reach our destination. As we approach Bovec, the four-star Dobra Vila, with its elegant art deco interior, is a sight for sore legs and muscles, and the warm welcome we receive from fashionable brothers Matjaz and Yuri makes the hike worthwhile.
The brief rest prepares us for the fifth and sixth days, when we embark on hikes around Bovec. On our final day, we hike to Triglav National Park, and are rewarded with breathtaking scenery. We relish the serenity and silence, barely encountering anyone.
After days spent in the calm countryside, it’s a shock to the system to return to busy, bustling Venice for our journey home. It may be the jewel of northern Italy, but for us, Slovenia was the real crowning glory of our trip.
Shereen Low was a guest of Inntravel (01653 617 000, inntravel.co.uk) who offers the seven-night Hidden Italy and Slovenia self-guided hotel-to-hotel walking tour from £755p per person, including most meals, luggage transport, route notes and maps, and itinerant transfers.
Flights (to Trieste or Venice) and airport transfers are extra. Return rail/taxi from Venice £68 per person.