The central European country of Slovenia packs an adventure-sports punch much greater than its diminutive size would suggest. The north of the country is dominated by towering mountain ranges that provide plentiful challenges for hikers and skiers. In the west, pure alpine streams strengthen as they descend into the valleys, becoming churning white-water rapids, ideal for rafting and the relatively new sport of canyoning. Elsewhere, picturesque lakeside paths provide perfect terrain for cyclists and the lush fields of the Karst are home to a rare breed of white stallion. If you love the outdoors, it's time you got acquainted with Europe's adventure playground.
Rafting on the Soča River
The Soča gets off to a rather placid start in a corner of the Trenta Valley before continuing its swift journey south through western Slovenia to the Adriatic Sea. Don a wetsuit and helmet, jump into an inflatable and, after an initially gentle start, prepare for some thrills as the river begins to churn into rapids of grade 2/3+. Alpine in character, the Soča is a unique colour. But is it emerald green, cobalt blue or turquoise? The jury is still out, but your fellow rafters are sure to have their own ideas.
Trips usually lasts between 1½ and 2½ hours, depending on the distance covered and weather; the season is from April to October. If weather conditions allow, you'll also enjoy stunning views of the Julian Alps along the way, including Slovenia's highest mountain Triglav, towering upwards of 3000 metres above you. Bled-based 3glav Adventures offers the best rafting trips in the region. In Bovec contact Soča Rafting (socarafting.si) or Bovec Rafting Team (bovec-rafting-team.com).
Cycling and mountain biking in Bohinj
The area around Bohinj, an Alpine lake 4km long and about a kilometre across in Triglav National Park, is ideal terrain for both conventional cycling and mountain biking. The road along the lake’s southern shore leading to the Savica Waterfall is picturesque and flat. And the best way to see the nearby traditional villages of Stara Fužina and Studor, with their old-style barns and hayracks, is on two wheels.
But there’s a lot more on offer than just an easy day’s ride. The new Kolesarske Poti (Cycling Routes) map available from the local tourist office lists much more difficult on- and off-road trails, including the downright mad ‘Downhill from Mt Vogel’, starting more than 1500m up at the top of the Vogel Ski Centre cable car and finishing at the lake. The trail is uneven, steep and every bit as thrilling as it sounds. PAC Sports in Bohinj rents out mountain bikes and organises tours of various lengths and levels of difficulty.
Climbing Mt Triglav
Getting to the top of Mt Triglav, at 2864m the highest peak in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, has been a rite of passage for Slovenes since at least the 19th century, and everyone is expected to climb old ‘Three Heads’ at least once. At last count there were 20 different ways to get to the top, but most people follow the trail from the Pokljuka Plateau southwest of Bled. An experienced climber can make it up and down in 12 hours, but it’s wiser to spend a night in one of the two mountain huts located close to the summit. The last hour involves a scramble along the rocky, knife-edge ridge; think twice if you don’t have a head for heights.
Consider hiring a local guide, who will know the trail and conditions and prove invaluable in helping to arrange sleeping space. Qualified mountain guides are available through the Alpine Association of Slovenia (pzs.si) as well as agencies like 3glav Adventures in Bled and Alpinsport in Bohinj.
Skiing in the Pohorje Massif
If skiing or snowboarding is your passion, you're in good company here – a large percentage of Slovenes ski between December and March at the country’s more than two dozen ski grounds and resorts. The Krvavec ski centre is tempting; it’s well-equipped and just an hour northeast of the capital Ljubljana. But it gets hopelessly crowded at weekends.
Avoid the queues by heading east to the ski grounds of the Pohorje Massif. The Maribor Pohorje ski grounds, covering 250 hectares, are the largest in the country, with more than 40km of slopes and 27km of trails. Skiing reaches just over 1300 metres, and plentiful snow cannons guarantee a 100-day season. Even higher is the Rogla ski area (1517m) to the southwest, where the Slovenian Olympic team trains. Both have equipment rental, ski and snowboarding schools, and wellness centres.
Canyoning near Bled
This relatively new sport, which has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, is definitely not something to attempt on your own. A qualified guide will provide you with a neoprene suit and helmet, lead you to an appropriate point in a canyon, and guide you safely down the watercourse. The best man to accompany you in the area around Bled is qualified mountain guide and canyoning expert Robert ‘Canyoning Bob’ Žerovec (canyoningbob.com).
You’ll find yourself descending through gorges, jumping over and sliding down waterfalls, swimming in rock pools and abseiling down cliffs. It's like being in one huge water park. And in Slovenia, where all water is potable, a good dunking feels particularly enjoyable.
Horse riding in Lipica
To ride a snow-white Lipizzaner horse in the village of Lipica (Lipizza in Italian), where the famous breed used at Vienna's Spanish Riding School first originated, is one of the holy grails of equestrianism. The Lipica Stud Farm puts these elegant horses through their paces daily in an awesome exhibition performance and offers carriage rides to one and all, but lessons and trail riding here are available to experienced riders only.
Less experienced riders are welcome to ride beautiful Lipizzaners through the mountainous scenery around Bled with 3glav Adventures, and Mrcina Ranč in Studor near Lake Bohinj offers riding and training on pony-like Icelandic horses.