It was now time to cycle into the fantastic mountains of Slovenia. Steep passes, amazing rivers, beautiful lakes and a spot of downhill mountain biking awaited.
After visiting Ljubljana it was time to head into the mountains, and my plan when I left the city that morning was to cycle 60km north to the town of Bled. On the map there was a cycle path the whole way which I could pick up on the far side of Tivoli Park.In the park was the Museum of Contemporary Historyand on the gravel track leading to the museum there was a picture exhibitionAmong the pictures were some fantastic photos of a mountain area called Velika Planina
It looked stunning and so I decided that Bled could wait a couple of days and changed my plans – that day I would be heading back east and into a different part of the Julian Alps.
When I checked the map the only problem with where I was cycling was into a dead end, I would be cycling back to the border with Austria and there was no road across the Alps from here.
Even though I would have to back track nearly to Ljubljana when I left Velika Planina it looked amazing and so a change of plans was in order.
My route out of the city was north and on the same cycle track that I would have taken to Bled. After 15km I turned east and was back onto the kind of tracks that I preferred
I was now following the River Sava but I needed to cross it to continue east, and found a beautiful walking bridge that would take me across.
The colour of the water was amazing – pure glacial melt water straight from the mountains I could now see the mountains ahead of meThe track that I was following ended and I was back following farmers tracks through fieldsThe tracks got smallerUntil there was not really any track left and I was pushing the bike through a wall of vegetation.This was tour cycling at its craziest!!!
I eventually popped out into a fieldAnd followed a track back to beautifully clear river
that was flowing off the Julian Alps in front of meThis river would be my compass for the rest of the day as I followed it all of the way up the valley to its source on the Slovianian/Austrian border.
I stopped for lunch in the beautiful town of Kamnik
I then continued my ride following the River Kamniska Bistrica up the valley to its source.
It seemed like this road was a bit of a favourite for cyclists to challenge themselves as I passed many cyclists out enjoying a Friday evening ride up the valley
There were even a few pelotons coming back down the valleyI was now cycling through beautiful mountain villagesAnd once I passed the village of Zgornje Stanje the climbing began in earnest
My constant companion was still the river
Up I climbed and the view in front of me was just a wall of mountainsThe valley considerably narrowed and the river I was following became a series of waterfalls and beautiful pools
I had now reached the point where the valley opened up into an area of meadows and in front of me there was a complete curve of mountains with no exitThis was where the good road ended, and to mark the spot there was a pub Of course I stopped for a pintThis it seemed was where most cyclists turned around and cycled back down the valley as they were on racing bikes with 20-23mm tyres.
Thankfully, I was not and as I wanted to get to the very head of the valley after finishing my pint up I went.
The mountain peaks were now tantalizing close But there was still forest in the wayI then hit a section of switch backs which were steeeeep but I was still smiling I pushed on upwards hoping that at the end of track I would be rewarded with a clear view of the mountain peaks.
After more than 2 hours of climbing I finally found the end of the track as I cycled out of the forest into a mountain bowl
This was the end of the road, I could go no further without mountain climbing shoes and ropes.
I had spent all day getting to this point and it was a great feeling to finally get to the source of the Kamniska Bistrica River.
As I sat in the middle of the clearing and looked at the beautiful mountain peaks in front of me I was one happy cyclist.I have no idea how many cyclists cycle this valley, but I had made it right to the end and it was amazing.
As it was getting late there was only one thing to do – roll back down!!!! Here is a short video to show you just how beautiful the mountains were that day:
I stopped at the same pub to work out what I was going to do for the night and got talking to a couple of local cyclists who said that 3km back down the valley there was a cable car that I could take up to the top of the mountain.
As I couldn’t cycle there, then catching a cable car and trying to cycle back down seemed like the next best idea!!!
My new friends didn’t know if it was possible, but I was loving the idea of finding out.
I still needed to find somewhere to sleep and they said that there was a camp ground at the cable car station which sounded ideal.
After finishing my pint I rolled back down the hill to the cable car station.
There indeed was a camp ground, but as it was full of camper vans and right next to the main road so wasn’t exactly inviting.
I needed to eat and on the other side of the road I saw a sign for a pub/restaurant that was up a track in the forest. This seemed like a better idea and so cycled up through the forest.At the end of a long day the last thing I wanted to do was to be back climbing but the prospect of a good meal spurred me on.
The road eventually led me to the pub and the mountains behind were framed beautifully. That night I feasted on fresh trout caught in the river that I had been following all day. What was even better was that I got talking to the owner and he didn’t have a problem with me pitching my tent for the night in the ‘beer garden’
This was my view of the mountains that night as I set up my tentThe next morning I was still up for descending off the top of Mount Gradisce, and as I sat having breakfast in the ‘beer garden’ I could see the cable car station at the top of the mountain high above.I went in search of the owner to see if he was okay with me leaving my stuff there for the day as there was no way that I could do the ride with panniers.
When I spoke to him he said that I could camp there again that night if I wanted to and so there was no need to pack away the tent.
I cycled back down through the forest to the cable car station, and for 7 euro (5 euro for me and 2 for the bike) I was soon on my way to the top of the mountain
Once off the cable car the view back down the valley was lovelyI still wasn’t at the top though and needed to get the chair lift to the summit.
It seemed that not too many people took their bike to the summit though as at first they said that I couldn’t take my bike on the chair lift, and after a bit of a discussion agreed.
The only problem was that there was no place for the bike, and if I wanted to take it to the top they would have to just put it onto the chair lift on it’s own and hope that it didn’t fall off on the way.
We put it on but as there was no way of shutting the safety bar then my bike could easily fall. I really should have just said no at this point but wanted to get to the summit and so we set off – my bike precariously balanced on a chair lift in front of me and me following behind The view back down the mountain was pretty special.and the view to the top wasn’t too shabbyHonestly, in hindsight I should have said no to putting the bike on the chair lift as it wasn’t strapped in and at points the bike was a good 20 or 30 metres above the ground. If it had fallen off then my cycle tour would have been finished when it hit the rocks below.
However, my bike reached the summit
and I was ready to rollFirst things first – it was time for lunch
Now, it was time to rollHere is a 9 minute video which can much better sum up my descent of Velika Planina than I can in words:
For those of you with busy lives who don’t have a spare 9 minutes (may I suggest you take a work/life balance check !!!) then here a few photos of what you missed
Now that was one hell of a ride and by the time I reached the bottom my arms and legs were shaking. I never saw anybody else trying to get down on a bicycle, and all that I can say is that if you are of a sane mind then you really shouldn’t do it on a touring bike with no suspension. BUT, if you do ever find yourself here on a touring bike then give it a go and you will have an amazing adventure !!!!
See if you can spot the cable car station (this was just over halfway to the summit) in the picture below
After descending back to the cable car station I cycled through the forest to the pub where I spent another very enjoyable night.
The next day was once again a glorious morning, and I sat and had a leisurely breakfast in the morning sunshine As I was effectively at a dead end it was then time to cycle back down the valley that I had cycled up 2 days before. The easiest way would have been to cycle back to within 10km of Ljubljana, and pick up the cycle track to the town of Bled, which was my destination that night.
I had not come to cycling in Slovenia to take the easy option though and so when I left that morning my route was due west, straight over the mountains.
When I reached the beautiful church on the hill instead of continuing down the valley I headed back up and over a different peakIt was an amazing day on the bike as I cycled my way up hills, down into valleys, and then climbed again.
As usual, I tried to stick to off road tracks where possible
The scenery that day was amazing
I stopped for lunch at the beautiful town of Kranj
Before tackling the last 30km to the town of Bled. As I was now bang in the middle of the mountains this was where some of the steepest climbs were
If you ever get the chance then I would urge you to come cycling in Slovenia. It really is amazing
By nightfall, I had reached the town of Lesce which was about 10km from Bled. I stopped here to get dinner Before following the River Sava back into the mountains to find a place to camp for the night
That night I fell asleep to the beautiful sound of a river flowing its way down the valley.
The next morning when I woke up I’m not sure that there could have been a more beautiful sight as when I unzipped the tentThe sun was shining and I was one hell of a happy camper as I ate breakfast on the bank of the river
It was then time to finish my ride and go visit Bled.
If you have never been to Slovenia then Bled should definitely be on your itinerary – think of a picturesque town set on a lake with a castle on a hillside overlooking the lake and church on an island in the middle
If you look too hard then you will see that Bled is a tourist mecca, and in a way a little contrived.
It is only an hour by train from the capital Ljubljana and it is definitely on every bus tour itinerary. Tourists are bused in and taken on pony rides around the lake or rowed out to the beautiful church that sits on an island in the centre of the lake If however, you can turn a blind eye to the ‘Disney Land’ feel then it really is a great place to spend the day.
Around the outside of the lake there is a loop cycle/walking track that has sublime views and great places to stop for a coffee or a beer
Of course, for the bused in tourists even cycling around a perfectly flat track would be too much of an effort, instead they get given electric bikes!!!Each to their own…
As it was such a beautiful day there was only one thing to doThis was a superb way to spend the afternoon, and even though the lake is very touristy there are many spots where I could be alone with the wildlifeAs it was getting dark I cycled out of Bled back to the river that I had slept the night before and found a place to camp Another perfect end to a fabulous day.
One of the strange things about ‘wild camping’ is noises in the night, and that night I definitely was not alone.
I have no idea what was out there, but at about 2am I was woken by something pretty big pushing its way through the trees and vegetation next to the river.
Not one to sit in my tent wondering what the noise was I got up and went looking (now this part of Slovenia shouldn’t have any bears…..) I could hear the noise of the animal as it made its way up river, and despite having a 100 GBP torch which puts out 800 lumens, the vegetation was too thick for me to see what the animal was.
Once the noise had moved away from my tent I gave up looking as if it was a bear I would rather not know and retreated to my tent. Safe to say I had a sleepless rest of the night !!!
The next morning it was time for me to continue westwards into the Julian Alps and Peter, who I had stayed with in Ljubljana, had said that one place I must visit was Lake Bohinj, which was apparently like Lake Bled but without the tourists.
It was located 40km to the west of Bled, and so after my usual breakfast of coffee and porridge I packed up my tent and cycled back to the lake in Bled.
It was slightly cloudier than when I had been here the day before and the forecast was for rain. For now though the sun was shining, and so I called at the supermarket to get myself a picnicI was away from the ‘touristy’ section of the lake and there were a fair few fishermen lining the bank of the lake. While I sat enjoying lunch one of them got ‘lucky’A huge 27 lb carp which as we are in Europe, and not Asia, was released back into the lake to grow fatter.
After a great picnic it was then time to continue my journey west and for the first 15km I was able to stick to tracks and side roads
Once I reached the village of Bohinjska Bela the valley narrowed and I was forced onto the only road through this section of the valley
The road wound it’s way next to the beautiful Sava Bohinjka River which was flowing out of the lake that I was cycling to
Once I climbed through the narrow neck the valley opened up again and I was off the main road and back on tracks
The river here was perhaps even more stunning
I passed many fishermen who were fly fishing for troutAs the sun began to set I arrived at Lake Bohinjsko which would be my home for the night.I stopped at a café for a pint and to check that there were any bears on the lake(there were not) Before cycling around the lake to find a spot to camp
I still had some bread and meat left over from my picnic at Lake Bled and that was dinner that nightThe next morning there was only one way to start the day – with a swimAfter a bright start the weather completely changed and it looked like the rain that had been forecast for the day before had finally arrived.
With a misty fog descending over the lake it looked stunningMy plan for the day was to cycle to the far end of the lake and then follow tracks that would take me to the very end of the valley where there was a waterfall.
As this lake was not touristy there were no beautifully paved cycle tracks around it. Instead, I was pushing my bike more than cycling it as I made my way through the forest to the far end of the lake.
There were a few river beds that I needed to cross on my 6km ride/hike
The boulders in these were not small
Still, the lake looked beautiful At the far end of the lake there was a clearing area where picnic benches had been set upHere there was a stream which had some of the clearest water that I had seen on this tripWhere it flowed into the lake there was a gravel beach area that made for some stunning photos
Can you spot the difference in the two pictures below?
It was now time for my legs to be put to work as I needed to climb my way to the top of the very top of the valley in search of my waterfall. When I set off the weather wasn’t looking too promising
There was a road but as usual I tried to cycle on tracks Once I reached the forest area the tracks got pretty rugged and fairly steep
I had to eventually abandon the tracks and finish the climb on the paved roadAt the end of the road there was a car park and pubThis was the end of the road for my bike too as up ahead I was told that there were 500 steps to reach the waterfall.
I left my bike at the pub and finished the climb to the waterfall on foot
It took me about 30 minutes to reach the waterfall and it was worth the trek As I started to hike back down to my bike the heavens opened and I could no longer see the lake back down the valleyWhen I reached the pub I asked if there was any accommodation nearby as I didn’t fancy a wet and cold night in my tent. The landlord said that he had two sets of dorm rooms, and that as he had no bookings that night he could give me one of them as a ‘private’ room.
The dorm rooms were more mountain hut type accommodation above the kitchen of the pub. It consisted of a few beds, a heater and an area to dry clothes.
The roof was low which meant that it heated quickly.
In the pub that night they lit a fire and as nobody else stayed I had the pub to myself
Dinner was a meat and sauerkraut soup that tasted divine.What a perfect way to end my first week in the mountains of Slovenia, and as I was staying in a pub dinner that night was washed down with a few pints.
I was effectively now at another ‘dead end’ as there was no way I could get further over the mountain without ropes and climbing shoes. Instead, to cycle through the very heart of the Julian Alps I would need to retrace my steps back down the valley to Bohinjska Bistrica where I had a choice of a 1000m climb over the top of the pass, or a railway tunnel under it.
Tune in next time to see which one I chose !!!!!