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Alpe-Adria Trail

Hiking in the Garden of Eden

Trenta Valley is famous for traditional homesteads and numerous bridges across Soča River. Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik/www.slovenia.info

When I took a few days in May this year to hike the Slovenian section of the Alpe-Adria Trail, I truly felt like I was walking in the Garden of Eden. Magnificent nature, hiking trails that inspire the even the most jaded hikers, and the range of culinary experiences on offer, all convinced me to take on some other stage of the trail on my next visit.

The entire Alpe-Adria Trail (AAT)  is 750 km long and connects Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria, with the Adriatic Sea. It links together three regions: Austrian Carinthia, Slovenia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy. It is a trail of three countries, which owing to its diversity, cultural heritage and natural beauty, is becoming one of the most recognised European footpaths. The trail comprises 43 stages, each averaging 20 km or a little more. Hikers can combine them as they wish, and thus determine their own personal distance. Each stage leads along a marked path you can hike in either direction. Hikers can travel the trail from the glaciers to the sea, or vice versa. Most hikers, however, opt to walk towards the sea. The ATT is also a very attractive culinary excursion destination, and each stage ends in a place with adequate facilities for overnight visits.

Enjoyment is the mainstay of hiking this trail, which runs mostly through non-Alpine areas. While the altitude differences are not excessive, and the walking is pleasant, you must be prepared to hike a few long hours, so it’s a good idea to be in proper physical shape before setting off on your walk. The trail runs along established hiking paths, and was designed by partners from Austria (Kärnten Werbung), Slovenia (Slovenian Tourist Board) and Italy (Friuli-Venezia Giulia Tourist Board). Individual mountaineering societies take care of maintaining the trail and marking it with signs. Each year, before the tourist season, there is an opening event at a different location, and this year it was in Bovec on the shortened 24th stage of the AAT along the emerald-green River Soča. Here the walking was enhance with live music and local cuisine. 

The trail

The trail itself is interesting, not least because it goes through three countries. Its designers were guided by the concept that they should aim to create a route for enjoyment that runs along existing paths of adequate hiking quality, and the slogan “Hiking in the Garden of Eden” has stuck to the project. Referring to the trail in this way also indicates the great variety of scenes one encounters on the southern side of the Alps, and in the Alps-Adriatic area in particular. 

On the hike from the High Tauern, going passed lakes and streams all the way to the Adriatic coast, hikers discover the cultural diversity of three different countries that are linked by a long common history. The beauty and magic of the landscape during the hike ensure many unforgettable impressions and moments. Each stage in itself reveals numerous special features. And yes, along the way you will not just observe the landscape, but also sense it in all its abundance. Each stage offers numerous distinguishing features that have an important influence on the rhythm of walking, and invite hikers to make a stop and soak it all in.

Kranjska Gora to Tolmin

The Virje waterfall near Bovec is a magical spot. It was featured also in the movie ''The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian''. Photo: Boris Pretnar/www.slovenia.info

I started my journey at Kranjska Gora, the beginning of the 23rd stage. This is the first Slovenian stage if you start below the Austrian glaciers. The trail leads past the famous Russian Chapel, which is dedicated to Russian prisoners from World War I who died while building the road over the Vršič mountain pass. On the other side the trail descends to the source of the River Soča, along the Walk of Peace, then follows the river downstream. 

In Trenta I was able to take a look at the famous Trenta homesteads, I tried sheep’s cheese at isolated farms, and marvelled at the wonder of the emerald colour of the Soča. Since there had been rain a few days earlier, the waters had an even more striking colour. Spring was in the air, and it had painted the meadows and forests in a soft green, while the mountain peaks were still draped in white snow.  

The concept of the AAT is that it should run along existing hiking paths, connect them, and of course that these hiking paths should be maintained to a passable standard. From Trenta to Bovec the route follows the Soča trail, which runs along the banks of the river. Hikers cross the river several times on suspended wooden log bridges, which is itself a special experience. Along the way there are also numerous little waterfalls. 

From Bovec via Drežnica to Tolmin the trail follows the Walk of Peace, which is another testament to the battles of the World War I. The Walk of Peace  passes through the area of the Isonzo (Soča) Front, which Ernest Hemingway wrote about in his novel A Farewell to Arms. Indeed, you can still come across some abandoned bunkers or military bases in the area. 

After four stages and four days of walking, I concluded my hiking holiday in Tolmin. The experience was fantastic, and I am already planning my next trek along other stages. Discovering the natural environment, local traditions, cultural heritage and outstanding local people was a truly lovely experience. I visited villages and locations that I would otherwise probably never see. I encountered their stories and tasted the local cuisine. Almost every village in these parts has its own typical dish. If you decide to do it, you can hike the trail by individual stages, or you can simply adapt the hike to the time available and how well prepared you are. Even if you just do a stage or two, you will not regret it, and will come home full of inspiration.

Text by Polona Prešeren