I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived in Slovenia last fall, setting out to complete a new walking route in the country’s mountainous northwest before it opened to the public. As an experienced trekker, I was used to backpacker routes like North America’s Pacific Crest Trail and Te Araroa in New Zealand, weathering cold nights on hard ground. But this route — designed with food lovers and culture buffs in mind — promised something different.
The Juliana Trail, a 167-mile loop around the Julian Alps, aims to draw visitors to lesser-traveled parts of Triglav National Park. No tents or dehydrated food here. Instead, farmers produce pungent cheese and potent schnapps, cattle and sheep graze freely, and historic ruins emerge from the forest.
The beginner-friendly route is broken into 16 recommended stages, relatively flat stretches between villages that average 10 miles each. And after each day on the trail, you’ll spend the night in civilization — from resort towns like Bled, on the shores of the famous glacial lake, to tiny settlements like Grahovo ob Bači (population 112). Travelers can start and stop at any point, but the whole route usually takes 10 to 16 days. Here are some highlights from the journey.
The Sava Dolinka River (Stages 1–3)
Begin in the ski town of Kranjska Gora, just five miles from the Italian border, where the Hotel Kotnik is home to the oldest (and best) pizzeria in the province, Pizzeria Pino. Order the Pino, topped with eggplant and prosciutto and cooked in a stone oven. Hiking along grassy riverbanks to the town of Mojstrana, intrepid trekkers can take a detour to summit Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak at 9,396 feet. Later, you'll spend a night in the town of Begunje, where the newly renovated guesthouse Apartments Grad Kamen is an ideal base for exploring the surrounding forests. Grad Kamen, a thousand-year-old castle just above the inn, is a highlight.
The Lakes (Stages 4–7)
Slovenia’s lakes are among its top tourist attractions, and for good reason — these are some of the most stunning (and photographed) bodies of water in the world. Under the cliffs below Bled Castle, a stone’s throw from the mirror-like Lake Bled, Vila Prešeren is a perfect spot to spend the night. Its outstanding restaurant serves delicate dishes and Slovenian wines with outdoor seating on the lakefront; you can even book a private dinner on the hotel’s traditional pletna boat. The nearby Park Café holds the distinction of having created Bled cream cake, Slovenia’s informal national dessert, in the 1950s. The next day, wind through Vintgar Gorge, where elevated walkways cling to cliffsides above the emerald Radovna River, and stop at the famous Vodnik Viewpoint to behold Lake Bohinj before visiting dairy farms along the Bohinj cheese trail.
Baška Grapa Valley (Stages 8–10)
The sloping hillsides above the Bača River are home to isolated villages untouched by tourism. A series of abandoned WWII bunkers along the Vrh Bače pass were my favorite sites on the trail; bring a flashlight to explore this eerie labyrinth winding deep into the mountains. Afterward, in the village of Podbrdo, you can dig into freshly caught river trout at Brunarica Slap, a log-cabin restaurant above the water. The next day, you’ll hike to Most-na-Soči, where I stayed at Penzion Šterk. Its charming A-frame bungalows offer privacy and a glamping feel, plus sublime views of the Bača and Soča rivers.
The Soča River (Stages 11–16)
This final stretch, which winds through a river valley in the southwest of the park, passes through a series of pivotal WWI battle sites. Historical treasures abound, including Fort Hermann, a 100-year-old cliff-top fortress near the town of Bovec, and Javorca Memorial Church, built by Austro-Hungarian soldiers and surrounded by an amphitheater of Alpine peaks. Try traditional Slvoenian frika, a cheese and potato hash, at Letni Vrt Pr Jakču, near the Tolmin Gorges: a gorge system equally as stunning as Vintgar, but far less visited. Drop your backpack at the Hotel Hvala, in Kobarid. Its restaurant, Topli Val, serves local specialties like venison and Kobariški štrukelj, sweet dumplings with raisins and walnuts. The trail then dips across the border into Italy; you’ll visit the village of Tarvisio before finishing back in Kranjska Gora, having made a full loop around the Julian Alps.
A version of this story first appeared in the September 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Strolling Through Slovenia."
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