Sunday, 8 July 2012

Furious Rivers in Fluted Gorges

It had rained heavily overnight, water poured off the crags and mist lurked over a river that looked furious at being constrained by its gorge walls. Towards the end of our guide’s spiel about rafting, he got to the bit about capsizing. ‘Conditions are difficult today’ [it was too dangerous for hydrospeed] ‘and we will go straight into the rapid. We’ll have no time to practise. You must pay attention and paddle strongly if I tell you. If we capsize I cannot save you all. I will save the children and perhaps the women....’

We – our family of four – had to paddle furiously through each of the rapids as the river tried to throw itself at us, spun us and up-end the inflatable but in the calmer stretches we gazed up to the mountain tops and marvelled at the Boka waterfall that seems to just issue directly from the living rock.
This was our second day based in Kobarid. The previous day we’d donned wetsuits and followed the amiable Dejan (from up a long scramble through cyclamen-dotted beech forest, our feet disturbing fallen leaves and brought the rich smell of moulder to our nostrils. We were breathing hard by the time we reached the spot where we could begin our first taste of canyoning. Much of Slovenia is carved out of limestone, and although the rocks seem immovable, they are slowly dissolving. There are chutes and slides where the limestone is water-smoothed which are better than any swimming pool flume.

The idea of the activity is to slide, slither and scramble along in the course of a river, down at the level of dippers and pond-skaters. In places there are cliffs to leap off. The delight is that the guide knows the terrain intimately so he knows which inviting green pools are deep enough for a high-dive and which you can slide headfirst into. Wetsuits kept us warm as well as buoyant so often family members bobbed to the surface feet first after some head-first plunges or dare-devil jumps. Our descent – which was said to be a good one for cannoning virgins – ended in a 5m drop through a little waterfall. Alarmingly a guide just ahead of us kissed the rock goodbye before he launched himself over the edge. My confidence was further undermined by a comment from the guide that people sometimes break their backs on these long plunges. I decided not to look before my turn. At the bottom – invigorated as I waded out of a puddle that was barely waist-deep – Dejan said, ‘Even Mummy did it!’

Lake Bled, a centre for tourism and rowing
The landscape is superb throughout the country with the meadows peppered with cornflowers and other lovely plants; even the steepest ravines are covered in trees. There are plenty of castles and other signs of the country’s tumultuous past. The extreme north-west of Slovenia and in particular the upper Soča Valley is spectacular and varied. There’s scope for kayaking, hydrospeed, paragliding, horse-riding and fine forest walks. More sedate canoeing is possible on the tranquil Bohinj Lake where mountain bikes are also on offer and there are views of the country’s highest peak – Triglav. Or you can chill in one of many excellent open air restaurants overlooking Lake Bled, where the turquoise water is so clear you feel you could reach in and touch the fish. Menus were interesting. It took us a while to work out that Malice = Snacks in Slovene and we’re still unsure whether we should have tried the young horse cheek or morels and eggs. ‘Waiter, do you have morels?’
Slovenia is small but diverse and there is plenty to do while based in the capital. Ljubljana itself is a beautiful open city with excellent dining and a lively nightlife. We did a day trip to board the underground train (at 27) that goes deep into the Postojnska Cave system (; this is home to the unique blind white cave salamander that lives to 100 and can fast for several years. It never really grows up but its whole life looks like an overgrown bleached newt tadpole. My sons concluded that these creatures needed to get out more.

1 comment:

  1. Just researching my next Wanderlust piece and discover that Slovenia is a hotspot for tick-borne Lyme Disease, so anyone planning to do anything outdoory in the forests needs to gen up on tick bite avoidance.