Slovenia – The lesser visited Karavanken and Kamnik Alps by International Mountain Leader Stuart Meese
Slovenia is simply stunning. The Julian Alps get a lot of attention, and rightly so, but this small country has so much more to offer. Like all wonderful places, in the 15 years I have been going to Slovenia the Julians have been getting steadily busier. However, these two lesser known regions are as stunning and as well appointed with huts and routes but you will be more likely to see the locals on the trails rather than tourists. Visitors are drawn to the honey pots of Logarska Dolina but don’t venture much further than the tourist paths or first hut.
The mountains of the Kamnik range offer the same high spiked peaks and steep north faces as Julians and the Karavanken offers the long broader ridge marking the Austria-Slovenia border. It all gets lower and easier the further past Ursla Gora (the last geographic alp) you go but you can still hold 1500m for three days along the Pojhorje ridge towards the second city of Maribor and the start of the Pannonian plains.
The huts are cheaper, more cosy and less commercial. The food served is more in keeping with tradition, taste of the area and the local palette. Hiking is well serviced with local volunteer walking groups proud that their markings are clearer and easier to follow than their neighbour’s – often to the point they are every 50m!
Ljubljana’s main airport is the only real option now that the regular cheap flights to Maribor and Klagenfurt have all but stopped but in such a small country you can be from one end to the other in 2 1/2 hours
Flights arrive from Stansted and Luton and cross the side of the Kamnik range as you circle to land, making the airport as far as Ljubljana away in the opposite direction. A car is handy, but Slovenia is blessed with cheap and plentiful transport options from the airport and I use GoOpti transfers and have always had good service. The local buses are extremely reasonable but not so comfortable.
Can you tell us about the most memorable moment of a recent trip?
Ursla Gora has the highest church in Slovenia at its summit (1699m) and I ventured in to have a gander as I always have whilst up there. This time the bells were being serviced and the warden was keen for me to have a go! My Slovene is not good enough to understand directions but the opportunity to ring out a huge bell at the top of a lonely mountain where all the valleys around would hear was not to be missed. However me (a big lad) plus rucksack was lifted clean off the floor several times. I couldn’t stop giggling.
What are your top tips for anyone travelling to this area?
Spring time along the Western end of Karavanken reveals the most amazing sight of Golica carpeted in vast meadows of white narcissi. Robanov Kot, valley next door to the stunning Logarska Dolina, is hardly visited and as beautiful, if not more so, for it solitude. The best trip, however, is to head to Maribor and walk back towards Jerzerko using the first half of the Transversal route 1 – This transversal route was first opened in 1953, the first of its kind in Europe, and is supported by some 71 ‘Kocas’ or ‘Doms’ (Huts) which are open throughout the main walking season of mid June to end of September – making it a lightweight, long distance mountaineering trail that could be accomplished in around 28 consecutive days or, alternatively, broken down into long weekends and a week or two away. Little navigation effort is needed either on the country’s premier waymarked trail.
What else is there to do, other than mountaineering, in this area?
Petzen/Peca has embraced mountain biking (as most of the low level winter resorts are struggling for snow) and you can cycle 6km in the tiny, pitch black tunnels under the mountain that made up the extensive lead mines. On the other side of the mountain you can enjoy the longest MTB flow trail in Europe and, in winter, visit the amazing snow sculpture competition of King Matjaz’s Castle. The Drava river has ample canoe and rafting provision and a visit to the tourist farms in the foothills brings the most amazing food, schnapps, traditions and hospitality.
Are there any dangers or annoyances here?
The local home made schnapps and the Lasko Pivo (beer) is the only liquid they seem to serve or drink and it goes straight to my head. Seriously, there are few real problems other than ensuring you have checked the huts are open if traveling midweek in the off seasons. Some of the tiny ones may be unmanned but in the main they have ‘winter’ provision. The limestone nature of the region makes summer water sources scarce, so you always end up carrying more.
What one piece of kit could you not manage without on a trip like this?
The locals often bring a clean T-shirt to change into immediately once at the hut, I am however, never without a buff! I could happily do without a compass (but never do) but it lived in my bag unused for 4 years whist living there.
How do people contact you if they want to find out more?
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want some top tips or a chat about the region. Or meet me for a coffee in Slovenj Gradec in the new year!