Guide Update: Avid Hikers on a Trail Through Slovenia’s Julian Alps

“It is like finding a path back to ourselves, and to our beginnings. Birds chirp, flowers bloom, and leaves whisper with the help of light winds. Our lungs are full of fresh air and fragrant pastures. Our eyes bathe in the wonderful scenery unfolding in front of us step by step.” That’s how two of our Slovenian guides describe rediscovering long-forgotten alpine hiking trails while staying close to home during this crazy summer.

Within yodeling distance of Italy and Austria, Slovenia is the least visited and most underrated of Europe’s alpine countries. Kissing the Adriatic Coast — where the Germanic, Mediterranean, and Slavic worlds collide — Slovenia is a small country with a big appeal. It’s also home to two of our talented guides, Tina Hiti and Sašo Golub, who lead Rick Steves’ Adriatic tours, offer custom tours of their own, and co-write a blog about all things Slovenian at Private Guide Slovenia.

With the challenges of coronavirus in mind, Tina reports to us from their homeland, sharing how she and Sašo (and their two sons) embrace a healthy combination of outdoor sport and beautiful nature…kicking the couch to the curb and heading for the hills instead. As you join Tina on this hike through Slovenia, imagine all the fun you can have connecting with guides like her on our Guides’ Marketplace — a special website we’ve created to put homebound travelers in touch with their European friends until we can all get traveling together again.

“You crazy Slovenians, do you always need to hike?” This is what I often hear from friends. Whenever they describe us, we always come off as avid hikers, skiers, bikers, or runners, who dress up in waterproof clothes and sports gear daily. And it is so true. If I think of most of my friends, sports is really who we are. I personally come from a sports family, where skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, and lots of other activities in between were a natural way of life. Raising our sons is not that different — they both play ice hockey and miss every day when practices are not in session. Besides that, we hike, ski, bike, swim, or paddle any other time we have available.

Being active is also something that is helping us in these times of COVID-19. I cannot think of a day in the past months that we were just lying on a couch doing nothing. It is a natural force within us that calls us into nature and kicks us off those couches. Sport is truly something that I would characterize as a part of being Slovenian. Athletes are our biggest heroes and the people we are super proud of. They are the ones who make promotion for our beautiful little country — much better than any of the politicians do.

Summers are exclusively reserved for hiking and biking. While biking takes more stamina, hiking is actually what everybody does. Once in a lifetime you should climb up Mount Triglav, the highest Slovenian mountain (at 2864 meters), to prove you are a true Slovenian. Triglav is also on our national coat-of-arms; this is how serious we are about our mountains. Even when we go on summer vacation somewhere along the coastline, you can recognize a Slovenian — the one hiking, biking, climbing, paddling, canoeing, or windsurfing early in the morning when normal vacationers are still asleep.

The times we are going through are harsh for us from a sports perspective. Everything that we watched on TV was canceled. People who are a part of teams and clubs — and that is a lot of people — were put on hold. No results, no reason to throw a party. And the first two months were hard on us also because we were locked within the boundaries of our small municipalities, and pretty soon we were done with most of the hiking routes in our areas. When the restrictions eased, it wasn’t the bars and terraces that were full, it was the parking spots of the famous hiking destinations.

Since famous spots were full, we had to think of alternate hiking adventures. At first, we were super-happy to hike just above our house. We discovered numerous little paths and areas that we have never walked before. One of our favorites was finding a waterfall called “Devil Washing an Old Lady” — a very funny name and a beautiful spot to do some hiking, without the crowds. Then we started exploring other options and came to Juliana Trail, a beautiful long-distance trail along the edges of the two mountain ranges of Slovenia, the Julian Alps and Karavanke. Parts of it take you through the Triglav National Park area, an immense area full of incredible flora and fauna. Besides discovering pastures, river springs, bigger and smaller waterfalls, enchanting forests, there is also enough history that follows the trail of old miners, writers, poets, musicians, blacksmiths, beekeepers… It sounded so exciting that we decided to do it.

The path’s length is 270 km and runs along 16 stages, starting and finishing in Kranjska Gora. It doesn’t reach any high peaks, but it helps a bit with personal endurance (walking around 20 km per stage, slightly up and slightly down the hill) and gives us a respect for the amazing nature and what our ancestors left for us to cherish. The stage is marked with the letters “J” and “A” on a diamond-shaped sign, with a little spruce at the bottom. The “J” and “A” stand for Julian Alps, because this is where the majority of the trail goes. The Julian Alps — the same mountain range as the Alps that start in France and finish in our country — are the lowest part of the range. This is why Julius Caesar, back in the day, decided to cross right here and has given our part of the Alps its name.

At this moment, we’ve only started with the trail. We gave ourselves time until the end of this summer. The first six stages are completed, and we are overwhelmed by the beauty and charm of the place. On all walks so far, we haven’t encountered other hikers — only a handful of locals and farmers at points where the trail goes through villages and pastures. But we have encountered immense beauty, peace, and tranquility. It is like finding a path back to ourselves, and to our beginnings. Birds chirp, flowers bloom, and leaves whisper with the help of light winds. Our lungs are full of fresh air and fragrant pastures. Our eyes bathe in the wonderful scenery unfolding in front of us step by step. And I am surprised how easy it actually is to walk each of those 20-km stages. Yes, the feet hurt and muscles ache, but the body cannot wait to go on another stage and discover more and more of the beauty our little country has to offer.

To connect with guides like Tina and Sašo directly, and to hear from them in their own words, check out the Rick Steves Guides’ Marketplace, which we’ve designed just for this purpose. There you’ll learn about the many ways our guides — all of whom are working hard to stay creative and keep teaching through these challenging times — have been applying a travel mindset to current times. Many of them, like Tina and Sašo, have engaging blogs that allow you to do a little vicarious travel in Europe. Others are coming up with creative ways to generate some income during this crisis. And all of them celebrate our collective passion for Europe.