Rivers and valleys are one of the highlights of Slovenia. We truly have them in abundance, but one amongst them undoubtedly stands out from the rest. It is known for its unique emerald color and stunning mountains around its river bed. The place I’m talking about is Soča valley.
It is one of the most visited places in Slovenia, with the majority of the tourists coming here for the nature and outdoor activities. The river, surrounded by mountains and forests, makes this valley a perfect retreat for those who seek a more active vacation. Whether you’re into hiking, rafting, or simply enjoying nature, Soča valley will not let you down.
Soča valley guide – overview
Even if you’re not an outdoors person, Soča valley can still be a suitable destination for you. All along the river’s path, you can see countless landmarks, cultural as well as natural. You’ll encounter numerous smaller, but still very intriguing sights along the road – or a bit outside the beaten path. It’s those quirky little spots, that give the area its charm. But not all sights are small and hidden. The valley is home to some of Slovenia’s most magnificent natural landmarks.
Another interesting thing about Soča valley is its history. During the first world war, Soča valley was a part of the border, that separated the Central and the Allied forces. This area was known as the Soča front, a part of the Italian front that stretched from the Alps all the way to the Adriatic sea. Those were dark and hard times, that left a long-lasting mark on the area. To this day, you can see countless memorials and remains, that remind us of the war that ravaged in this valley.
But life there wasn’t always so bleak. In the times before the World wars, locals lived the hard-working lives of a farmer in rural Europe. These times also left a lasting impression on the valley. All over the area, you can see relics of this lost time, or learn about them in local museums.
Now that we’ve established that Soča valley is a great destination, let’s take a closer look and see what exactly makes it so great.
Where to go in Soča valley
The river flows for about 100km through the valleys and past the mountains, before it reaches the flat (and frankly not nearly as interesting) lands. In this guide, we’ll cover the first 70 or so kilometers, where most places of interest are situated.
In the following chapters, you can read all about Soča river and the interesting places you can encounter along its path. Each chapter will represent a town or a place of interest along the river and will feature all the things that might impress you in that area. First, we will talk about the river’s spring and then gradually move downwards along the river.
Soča, the illustrious and captivating river, emerges in a rather elusive way. The spring is a decent-sized hole, almost a cave, leading downwards into the mountain. You can walk right up to the entrance and look down at the water, which is usually below the entrance, just outside your reach. But do not attempt to reach the water, you’ll have a hard time getting out if you happen to fall in.
The river (which is merely a stream at that point) seems disconnected from the actual spring. That’s because the water flows through the porous rocky soil and emerges a few meters away. After heavy rainfall, however, the water level reaches the cave’s entrance and is gushing out and down the stream. You can then still walk fairly close to the stream, but I’d suggest against getting too close to it. That much water together with slippery rocks is a dangerous combination.
The spring is accessible only by foot. There’s a narrow path leading to it, going over slippery rocks at a few points, so make sure you bring proper footwear. The walk to the spring is short, only about 10 minutes uphill. The path starts at a cabin with a road leading to it, which is accessible by car.
This natural landmark is located in the upper Trenta valley, a gorgeous and pristine alpine valley. It lies about half an hour’s drive from Bovec, the nearest town. Alternatively, you can reach the spring from Kranjska gora, but you’ll have to go over a mountain pass on this route, which makes the journey longer. There is a local bus, driving from Bovec to Kranjska gora, that stops on the way, about 20 minutes walk from the spring. You can check the bus schedule here (link).
However, I would suggest going to spring yourself. Whether you’re going by car, by motorcycle, by bicycle, or any other mode of transportation you prefer, the journey itself will be rewarding. For me, driving through a gorgeous alpine valley has always been a joyous experience. And besides, if you’re not bound to a bus’s schedule, you can stop whenever you want and admire all the sights you’ll encounter on the way.
Trenta valley is an alpine river valley, carved by the river Soča. This magical valley offers you unique experiences in a pristine and virtually untouched nature. It is a perfect retreat from the bustling everyday most of us live in, and offers a place to indulge in peace and serenity.
Soča’s source is considered the valley’s greatest attraction, but we already have that covered. Don’t worry though, Trenta has much more to offer than the Soča’s spring. The valley itself could be considered a landmark. The sights of its nature and the surrounding mountains are absolutely stunning, regardless of the time you’re visiting.
If you’re into hiking or mountain biking, Trenta is the perfect destination for you. Since it is an alpine valley, there are plenty of mountains on each side. There are many gravel roads around, that are perfect for mountain bike enthusiasts. And for the hikers, each of the surrounding mountains has at least one trail leading to its peak. Just make sure you go on your trip prepared – bring enough water, and have a map, so you don’t get lost.
Trenta valley has much to offer to a traveler, and most of the sights can be simply encountered from the main road. But to keep you from wandering aimlessly (and possibly get you excited about the place) I’ll walk you through the best among them.
Just a short way from Soča’s spring, the stream Mlinarica merges with the river. This is a torrential stream, which has carved a narrow gorge into the side of the main valley. The gorge is just over a kilometer long and up to 100 meters deep, with a gorgeous waterfall near its end. The waterfall itself is also the sight’s main highlight.
The Mlinarica gorge is accessible from the main road leading through the valley of Trenta. There’s a small parking space, only large enough for a few cars, at the side of the road, where you can leave your car and hike into the gorge. The waterfall is only a short walk away from the main road, about 5 minutes each way. This is also as far you can go, anything above this waterfall is inaccessible. At the end of the path, you’ll find a wooden platform, from which you can admire the waterfall.
Alpine botanic garden Juliana
Juliana is Slovenia’s oldest botanical garden, situated in a natural environment. It was founded in 1926 by Albert Bois de Chesne, a wealthy landowner from Trieste, and named after his wife. It stretches over 2572 square meters and features over 600 different types of plants.
The best time to visit the garden is in late spring – in May and early June, when most of the alpine flowers are blossoming. But don’t worry if you happen to be there later in the year. The garden features a wide variety of flowers and plants, that bloom throughout the entire summer and autumn. Juliana also features several endemic plants, meaning they are found exclusively in that area.
The garden is open every day from May to the end of September from 8:30 till 18:30. The entrance fee is 2€ for students, 6€ for the whole family and 3€ for everyone else (checked in 2019). It is located near the main road, just after the Saint Mary church in the upper Trenta valley.
The village Trenta
A bit further downstream lies the village Trenta, a typical village you’d find in a sparsely populated alpine valley. It is a prime example of architecture and heritage in this area. There, you can find a shop, a tourist information board and a museum of Trenta.
The Trenta museum is perfect for those interested in nature in the area as well as the history and cultural heritage. They have a permanent exhibition about water life in Soča, cultural and ethnological heritage, mountain forests and more. The museum’s schedule varies depending on the season, so make sure it’s operating beforehand. To book a guided tour, or simply to get more information, contact the museum staff at +368 5 388 93 30 or at email@example.com. The entrance fee is 6€ per adult, 15€ per family, and they offer free guided tours for groups of 10 or more.
Velika korita Soče (Soča’s great troughs)
About 15km downstream from the spring, and just outside the village Soča, you can find the great troughs of Soča. Here, the river has carved a narrow and tall canyon. Inside, a circular currents, much like whirlpools, have formed cavities in the rock, that resemble a trough or a basin. The canyon is up to 15 meters deep, and the two banks are, at some points, only 2 meters apart.
The canyon’s appearance is largely dependant on the amount of water. The best time to visit this landmark is in the drier seasons, when the water level is low enough to reveal the troughs. After heavy rain, the water level rises significantly, sometimes, it even floods the entire canyon.
To access the Soča’s great troughs, you have to look for the tourist information board on the main road through the valley. There, you can cross the river on a suspension bridge and see some of the troughs below you. After crossing the bridge, you can follow a footpath along the river to see the rest of the canyon. Most of it is visible clearly from the footpath, and the entire section is about 750 meters long.
Šunikov vodni gaj (Shunik’s water grove)
Just after Soča exits the canyon with the troughs, the stream Lepenca merges with it. Lepenca may only be a mere stream, but it has carved a little valley of its own. The main attraction of the Lepenca stream is Šunikov vodni gaj (Shunik’s water grove). It is about 100 meters long section of the stream that features waterfalls with small pools in between and idyllic moss-covered stones scattered around the river bed. It is a beautiful corner and a prime example of how serene and relaxing nature can be.
To access the grove, you must go off the main road at the road sign Lepena, and then go right at the next intersection. There is a circular route, about 3 km long, that runs along the stream up to the grove and back downstream. The path begins shortly after exiting the main road, just outside the camp.
Krnsko jezero (Krn lake)
Krn lake is a beautiful glacier lake. It lies up in the mountains, almost 1400 meters above sea level, surrounded by magnificent alpine peaks. The highest among them is Krn – the mountain, from which the lake got its name. It truly is a pristine and unspoiled glacier lake, nested under mighty alpine peaks. You can relax there and admire the sights, but bathing is unfortunately prohibited in order to protect the fragile ecosystem.
To reach the lake, you need to start in Trenta and continue your way upwards through Lepena valley. There’s an asphalt road up to the first cabin (dom dr. Klementa), but the only way from there on is a narrow path. The hike to the lake takes about two and a half hours. From there, you can continue the hike towards the peak of Krn, which extends the hike by about two hours.
Žičnica Golobar (Golobar cable car)
Just before the mouth of the Trenta valley, you’ll find the Golobar cable car. This structure is a preserved piece of history, that speaks about technological advancement in this area. Shortly after the first world war began, cable stations such as this one sprouted all over the region. Their main purpose was transporting wood from the slopes down into the valley. After the war ended, the cable cars remained an important tool, that aided the locals and made their work easier.
The cable car station is located right by the main road, it’s nearly impossible to miss it. Beside it, there’s a small parking space, only large enough for a few cars. Though the sight is interesting, it’s fairly small and would make for a rather short visit. To extend your stop, you can head down to Soča. You’ll find a small rope bridge, that takes you to the opposite bank, where you can admire nature.
Žičnica Golobar could also be perceived as the last (or first) place of interest in the Trenta valley. Here, the valley widens into a basin, which offers a whole new variety of sights and landmarks. But more on that in the next chapter.
After a magnificent, but arguably short journey through Trenta, Soča leaves the valley and enters a much wider basin. In this basin lies Bovec, a quaint countryside town with a mere 1500 inhabitants. Though it is nice, the town itself wouldn’t be a place of interest if it was situated elsewhere. In other words, its main attraction is the nature around it.
Because of its great location, Bovec is quite touristic, especially in summer. Most of the visitors go there to experience nature and enjoy various outdoor activities. Many take Bovec as a base, from where they go on daily trips. If you’re into outdoor activities, Bovec will feel like heaven to you. Mountains and rivers in the area are perfect for all sorts of sports, such as hiking, mountain biking, climbing, etc… You can read more about things to do around Bovec in a separate guide.
Besides outdoor activities, Bovec has many natural as well as cultural landmarks in its surroundings. Trenta valley does count as one, but we’ve already covered that, and you can read about more in the following chapters.
Trdnjava Kluže (Kluzhe fort)
This fort is an important landmark of the local cultural heritage. It played an important role in history, serving as an important defensive structure. The fort is situated about 5 kilometers north of Bovec, nested in a narrow valley of the river Koritnica. It was the location, that gave it its importance. This narrow valley, surrounded by steep mountains, was the only entry point in the valley of Bovec.
The fort’s history
According to historical documents, it was first mentioned in 1471 by the Venetians. The initially wooden fort’s purpose was to protect this strategic point from the Turkish invasion. In the early 1500s, the Habsburg dynasty took over the area and remade the fortress out of stone. After that, fort Kluže continued to be an important defense feature for several hundred years.
In 1797, the impending danger of Napoleon’s army encouraged the reconstruction of the fort. The French army reached and eventually captured the fortress, but they suffered heavy losses. Afterward, the soldiers burned the fortress to the ground out of vengeance. All that was left of the fort were smoldering ruins, and it stayed that way for quite a while.
The fort we see today was built in 1882 on the same spot the old one used to be. A few years later, another one was built above the street. It was initially named fort Rombon and was later renamed to fort Hermann. The purpose of fort Hermann was to protect fort Kluže in case of a direct attack.
Both forts played an important role in the first world war. The top fort protected the valley with artillery, while the second one served as a garrison for the troops. Fort Hermann was a target of heavy bombarding and sustained heavy damage. Kluže, however, remained almost intact.
The fort today
Today, the fort Kluže has a new image. It is used as a venue for weddings and other formal events. A part of the compound is also reserved for exhibitions and other history-related things. The fort is open for visitors, but some sections of it might be off-limits if some event is being held at the time. You can also visit fort Hermann, but that one is not being maintained and is a bit harder to get to. After the war, it was never restored, and in the following years, locals scavenged the site for resources, which only sped up the deterioration.
Muzej na prostem Ravelnik (Open-air museum Ravelnik)
This museum is another reminder of the impact the first world war had on this region. It is not your typical museum, but rather a path, that takes you along the front line from the first world war. The route takes you through trenches, bunkers and renovated shacks. It is a unique place, that shows you a true glimpse into the past.
To reach the museum, head towards the Kluže fort. After about 1.5km from Bovec, you’ll see an information board, which marks the starting point. From there, you can continue along the path, which will take you to the trenches and shacks. Ravelnik is a circular route, which takes about an hour. Museum Ravelnik also offers guided tours, but you need to book them beforehand because there’s no staff regularly posted at the site. In order to book a tour, call +386 56890166 or +386 56890167. The tour is available in several different languages, one of which is of course English.
Slap boka (Boka waterfall)
At the south-west end of the town, there is a bridge, and from that bridge, you can see the waterfall called Boka. It is over 100 meters high, which doesn’t make it Slovenia’s largest waterfall, but it is definitely the most magnificent. In spring, when the snow from the surrounding mountains is melting, the water flow greatly increases, making the waterfall borderline intimidating. In the summer heat, however, the water level drops, changing the gushing waterfall into steady strands of water. While this takes some of the power from the waterfall, it allows you to get closer to the river bed and admire this amazing nature’s creation from closer.
Though you can see the entire waterfall from the main street, I would advise you to walk right to it. There is a parking next to the bridge, where you can leave your car, or start your way in Bovec. The hike from the main road to the first viewing point takes about 45 minutes and is fairly undemanding. And if you still have energy after this hike, you can continue your way upwards. The path leads higher, above the waterfall, but the hike quickly gets much more demanding. If you do decide to take this route, make sure you’re wearing appropriate apparel.
Slap virje (Virye waterfall)
This waterfall is a prime example of what a hidden gem of Soča valley looks like. It is not known by its grandeur, but by pristine beauty and peaceful atmosphere. The waterfall starts off as a single stream, that splits into strands and creates a graceful curtain-like waterfall. The waterfall is surrounded by small pools and mossy stones, making the spot even more enchanting.
Waterfall Virje is located at the foot of the mountain Kanin, about an hour walk from Bovec. Start by going past the Bovec church towards the village Plužine. At the village, continue straight, and look for a waypoint, that marks the footpath leading to the waterfall. You can also extend your hike and see the source of Gljun – the stream, that runs over a certain edge, where it turns into the waterfall Virje.
High above the town lies the Slovenia’s highest ski resort, Kanin, nested under the 2587m high peak. It is connected to Bovec by a cable car, that takes you to over 2200 meters above sea. Because it lies so high, there’s always plenty of natural snow. The altitude also helps extend the skiing season, which sometimes lasts up until May. Kanin is also connected to the Italian ski resort Sella Nevea, which lies on the north side of the same mountain. The ski resorts used to be separated, but now you can access both with only one ski pass. And because both countries are in the Schengen area, you can cross the border without any worries.
The mountain also attracts tourists in the summer season. Soon after the skiing season ends, the hiking season starts. During the summer months, the cable car also operates, bringing hikers and adventure seekers closer to Kanin’s peak. Besides hiking, there are several other activities you can partake during the warmer months, like paragliding and zip line. Just a side note – the cable car does not operate throughout the whole year, it gets shot down between the seasons. To check whether the cable car is running, or how much snow is there on the slopes, visit their website: https://www.kanin.si/en/activities/.
About half an hour drive from Bovec, downstream along Soča, lies the town Kobarid. The road takes you through the narrow valley and past some small villages. There aren’t any major landmarks along the way, but there are many spots you can stop and bather in the river. After a half an hour drive, the valley again widens into a basin, where the town is situated. Much like Bovec, Kobarid is a small town underneath the mighty Alpine peaks, that attracts tourists for the beautiful nature that surrounds it.
Slap Kozjak (Kozyak waterfall)
By now, you might have read about enough waterfalls already, but Slap Kozjak is definitely worth mentioning and visiting. This mysterious waterfall is deemed to be one of the most beautiful in the entire Slovenia. It falls into a narrow gorge, that widens toward the bottom, which makes it look like it’s trapped in a huge hall.
The path towards the waterfall starts just a few kilometers outside Kobarid, next to Camp Koren. The walk to the waterfall takes about half an hour. The route is not difficult – it would be sooner classified as a stroll than a hike. The path runs along Soča at first and then branches inwards and uphill. A section of the path also runs through the remains of the 1st world war defense line. Towards the end, the part enters the gorge and transfers to wooden platforms, from where you can enjoy the spectacular view.
If you’ll pay attention along the way, you’ll also spot Kozjak’s little brother. Near the end, you’ll cross a stone bridge, and underneath that bridge is hiding Mali Kozjak. It is not as spectacular as its bigger brother, but it still deserves some recognition.
As I’ve mentioned before, the first world war had a huge impact on this entire valley. There are many remnants of the war scattered around the valley, but some of you might want more than just a lone monument. If you are one of those people, then the museum of Kobarid is the right place for you. You can read more about it at https://www.kobariski-muzej.si/en/.
Nadiža (Nadizha river)
Another mountain river, that peacefully flows through the valleys. However, Nadiža is not a tributary to Soča. It just flows in the roughly same area, and then makes away from Soča and into Italy. To reach it, drive west from Kobarid, and take a left turn in the village Borjana.
In this area, you won’t find spectacular landmarks or breathtaking sights. Instead, you will find peacefulness and serenity. You can simply pick a spot somewhere along the river and relax. You can also bathe in it, but because Nadiža is mostly shallow, you’ll need to find a large enough pool.
Saint Anthony’s Church
Christianity is Slovenia’s main religion, which means no shortage of churches around the country. As a Slovenian proverb says, a village is not a real village unless it has a church. You’ll see plenty of curches around, but some of them stand out among the others. A good example of that is Saint Anthony’s church in Kobarid.
To be exact, it is the church’s foundation that makes it unique. It is built on an ossuary, which pays tribute to the fallen 1st world war soldiers. The ossuary is built in three concentric, octagon-shaped stories. Each platform is made of arches, where names and ranks of the fallen soldiers are inscribed. The church we see today was built in 1939 under the direction of Italian sculptor Giannino Castiglioni and architect Giovanni Greppi. However, it is not the first church to be built on this spot. The first curch above Kobarid was built centuries ago and was consecrated in the year 1669.
The town Tolmin acts as a sort of capital for this region. It is the largest town around, but at just over 3000 population, it’s still not particularly big. It isn’t exactly a tourist hub, it’s more of a municipal center. The town has plenty of supermarkets, though, unlike other smaller towns, making it the perfect choice to replenish your supplies. Still, Tolmin shouldn’t be completely discredited as a tourist attraction. The town itself has its own charm and just the perfect size to take a stroll around and not get lost. Besides that, it is also home to Troughs of Tolmin, an amazing creation of nature you simply can not miss.
Tolminska korita (Troughs of Tolmin)
Tolminska korita is a formation, similar to the one Soča carved all the way up in the Trenta valley. Except these troughs were carved inside a deep and narrow gorge by the river Tolminka. A footpath leads into the canyon, allowing you to admire this beautiful nature’s creation. The 2 kilometers long path will take you through this enchanting landmark and past all the spots of interest there.
The entrance to the canyon lies about 1 km outside Tolmin, on the north end. You’ll find a large parking lot with a shuttle driving to the entrance. There’s also a smaller parking lot right next to the entrance, but that one’s usually full. The entrance fee is 5€ in the low season (March, April, October, November), 6€ in the mid season (May, June, September) and 8€ in the high season (July, August). Children up to 14 years pay only half the price.
You can also skip the touristic route and take the local road towards the village Zalaz. This road will take you through the canyon, but above the footpath. It is, of course, not as idyllic as the stroll down near the river, but it makes for a scenic drive nonetheless. You will slowly rise along one side of the canyon, and then cross it over the Devil’s bridge. The bridge got its name for the way it is built. It fills the gap between the slopes at 60 meters high and is chiseled into the sheer rock face. It truly is a sight to behold, and an experience to cross.
Most na Soči
Most a Soči is located about a ten-minute drive downstream from Tolmin. It is a small, peaceful town, situated at the very edge of the Tolmin basin. Most visitors, of course, come for the nature around it, but there is one specific attraction this town has to offer. Just a bit farther from the town, a dam blocks Soča’s natural path, which has created a lake, that stretches past the town. And on this lake runs the old-school paddlewheel boat called Lucija. It’s nothing mindblowing, but still a unique experience you won’t find very often. For more information, visit their website: http://ladja-lucija.si/en/home/ .
What about the rest of the valley?
After Most na Soči, Soča continues its journey through the valley and towards the sea. But beyond this point, it gets much less interesting. This is the route that brings most of the tourists to Tolmin and the beauties beyond it. In this section, you’ll mostly find villages with a factory or a dam here and there – nothing a typical tourist is usually after. However, if you continue far enough through the valley, you’ll eventually reach the point, where mountains turn into flatlands. There, you’ll find the town Nova Gorica – but I’ll cover that in some other guide.