Best known as a ski resort, Kranjska Gora in Slovenia is a walker’s paradise in summer. For clear rivers, mountains, pine forests, wildflower meadows and, above all, silence, head for the Julian Alps
Kranjska Gora, better known as a winter ski resort, is a walker’s paradise in summer. Situated in the north-west corner of Slovenia, on the edge of the Triglav National Park, it is only an hour away from Ljubljana – but a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The village itself nestles in a river valley with snow-capped mountains all around. A walking path/cycle track runs up and down the valley, providing easy access to other local villages and the walks into the mountains on either side.
Anyone expecting the manicured chocolate-box villages of neighbouring Austria will be disappointed, but this area of the Julian Alps has a charm all of its own, with dramatic mountains, beautiful wildflower meadows, crystal-clear rivers – and, of course, peace and fresh air.
A route map from the Tourist Office shows all the local walks, their expected duration and their degree of difficulty. The walks themselves are numbered, and signs are fairly well displayed. The terrain varies; some walks are on woodland paths, others use gravel workings or dried river beds. Good shoes or boots are essential and, as with all alpine regions, the weather can change from hot sun to rain in seconds so always carry a warm jacket or waterproof. Insect repellent is also handy.
Where to walk
Our favourite was the two-hour walk from Kranjska Gora to Planica. This takes you through beautiful wildflower meadows, beech woods and pine forests to the World Championship Ski Jumps at Planica. Watching the ski-jumpers (or "fliers" as they are known locally) on TV can’t convey the sheer height and steepness of the jumps – nor, it has to be said, how ramshackle and unsafe they look with no snow. Anyone with enough energy can climb the 200-odd steps to the top of the highest jump, and even sit out on the bar from which the fliers set off. There are no health and safety restrictions here.
If you head on up from Planica, you can walk through the Tamar Valley, so called because Sir Humphry Davy (of safety lamp fame) thought it looked like the Tamar Valley that divides Devon and Cornwall. Coming from that area, we could see no resemblance at all between the gentle wooded slopes of Devon and the magnificent rocky outcrops of Slovenia, but we weren’t complaining. Another half-hour took us up to one of the many mountain huts that serve hearty soups and the local honey liqueur – very welcome.
Another half-day’s walk took us to the Three Countries Pass where, if you were Jake the Peg, you could stand with a foot in each of Slovenia, Italy and Austria. It was a long walk, but well worth it for the magnificent views – but the hourly bus that runs up and down the valley was very welcome when we got back down to the starting point at Racece. If that sounds too strenuous, there are plenty of shorter walks and strolls around the village, and to the Zelenci Nature Reserve.
Some walks started from the top of one of the ski chair lifts, but it is worth noting that this is only open at weekends in the summer season. Despite the number of visitors to the area, we walked in total peace and quiet, exchanging a friendly greeting with fellow hikers as they passed.
Other things to do
In Kranjska Gora, there is more to do than walking. You can hire bikes very reasonably and join local families on the well-marked cycle trails (are there any fitter people than the Slovenians?) or go white-water rafting or canoeing (hotel reps and local companies will arrange this for you). While we were there, Kranjska Gora hosted the European Downhill Mountain Bike Championships: great fun to watch, though the amazing downhill cycle run is open to the general public – and definitely not for the faint-hearted. It also gave us the chance to watch the procession to the opening ceremony, featuring local alpine band and dancers in their beautiful costumes and headdresses.
Where to stay
We stayed (via Inghams) at the Hotel Lek, an independent hotel (most of the others in the area are owned by hotel chains) where we took heed of advice to upgrade our room. That tip applies to all other hotels in the area, since standard rooms tend to be the smaller ones, with few views. However, our room was very spacious, with masses of storage space, a comfortable seating area and a large balcony with a magnificent view to the mountains. The hotel also has a very good swimming pool plus a warm plunge pool and Jacuzzi – ideal after a day’s walking.
There are plenty of self-catering apartments in the village, for those who prefer to do their own thing. Kranjska Gora has two well-stocked supermarkets, a bakery and fruit shops – and no-one can stay there without a visit to Charlies for its delicious ice creams and cream cakes. There are plenty of bars and small restaurants in Kranjska Gora but we stayed half-board (with packed lunches provided) and ate heartily at the Lek.
Going back? Of course, we are. There are still walks we haven’t done, and others we want to do again… or we could just sit still and savour the silence.