Cycling in the Julian Alps

Ever since four brave men climbed to the top of Mount Triglav in 1178 and laid out a trail of stones to mark the route, Slovenians have been setting out paths for local people and visitors to explore safely and without causing damage to the environment.

Being outdoors and sporty is very Slovenian. When it snows, they ski; when there’s no snow, they climb, hike and cycle. Outside of winter local ski instructors will also teach mountain biking or take hiking or white water rafting tours. They have employment all year round. This is a country that’s 60 percent forest, and the Julian Alps – 60km northwest of Ljubljana – exudes outdoor adventures around the country’s tallest mountain, Mount Triglav (2,863m).

Triglav National Park is fast becoming one of Europe’s top outdoor activity locations. Mountain bikes, road bikes and e-bikes are a great means of not only covering greater distances but also minimising your environmental impact. Bikes also let you visit traditional communities without damaging the alpine ambience as often happens with large tourist coaches.
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Alpine villages, like Kranjska Gora, near Triglav National Park, make an ideal base because they’re surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of marked paths and trails that are suitable for cycling. Sticking to these routes and not making up your own off-road tracks is essential so that you leave the Julian Alps exactly as you found them. The local vacation company that we work with in the Julian Alps, Label, helps to keep the trails around Kranjska Gora maintained to protect them and keep cyclists safe.

Vida works for our Julian Alps e-bike tour specialists Label. She tells us more about the impact of tourism in the area: “It’s getting hard to control tourism in the Julian Alps, but there are many alpine clubs and mountain associations that aim to do so. We’ve been working as an activity company for many years and although tourism is our business we also recognise that it needs to be done in the right way where it benefits the local people as well as on a national level.”

Where to cycle in the Julian Alps

Many of the cycle routes that you’ll find in the Julian Alps take you over single track, dusty gravel surfaces or on secondary paved back roads with few (if any) cars. Often, you’ll be cycling through shaded spruce forests or through wooded valleys where rivers lead to lakes and waterfalls. The monument to the four first men who climbed Mount Triglav can be found close to the Church of St John on Lake Bohinj. It makes for a good point to pause and soak up the surrounding scenery before or after taking a dip.

Although you can’t necessarily cycle to the summit of every mountain, you can tackle some of the high-altitude mountain passes by bike. The 24km road that takes you over Vrsic Pass (1,661m), for instance, is well worth a day’s pedal. The tarmac road surface is very well-maintained and no less than 50 bends help to connect Kranjska Gora with Trenta in the Upper Soca River Valley. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the Russian Chapel that was built in memory of the World War I Russian prisoners of war who were killed by an avalanche whilst helping to construct the road in 1915.

Another place to pedal is Pokljuka Plateau, which provides access to a spider’s web of gravel trails that lead you through edelweiss and wild orchid-dotted mountain pastures and vibrant green mossy, ferny, spruce forests. When the snow falls from December to March, the hiking and cycling routes around Pokljuka become Biathlon World Championships cross country ski trails – which seems slightly surreal in spring.

How to cycle in the Julian Alps

If you’re thinking about cycling in the Julian Alps, below are five top tips to help you experience the alpine areas in the right way.

Go with a guide

Exploring the trails of Triglav National Park in the company of a local guide is always the best way to ensure that you’re sticking to the right route. They’ll not only point out all the best places to pause, but they’ll also advise on when and where you can fill up your water bottle in a mountain spring, as well as allowing you to enjoy the ride rather than worrying about whether you’re heading the right way.

Keep energy levels up

If you’re not used to cycling, then it can be a bit of a slog. Put in some practise rides before you go or consider an e-bike as a great way to give yourself an extra push. Try not to see it as a race to the top, and more of an opportunity to enjoy the experience both on and off the saddle. Keep hydrated with a filled water bottle and take regular breaks for fruit, nuts and strudel snaffled at breakfast.

Join a small group

Sometimes cycling in a group (4-15 cyclists) adds an extra element to a solitary experience and turns it into something much more sociable. The pace is often conversational, rather than head down, bum up, and in the evenings you can sit outdoors or around an open fire, or head for a well-deserved rest in readiness for the next day’s ride. Solo cyclists may also get the chance to have their own room, for an additional supplement, or share a twin room with another cyclist of the same sex.

When to go

Springtime in the Julian Alps usually falls at the end of April, and although there will be one or two showers and colder evenings, cycling at this time of year also promises rushing rivers, wildflower-filled valleys and often empty mountain paths. Autumn, too, is another great time to cycle in the Julian Alps. The contrasts of evergreen and deciduous treetops, mist-shrouded lakes and mountains, and smoke spiralling from cottage chimneys, make a great backdrop to uncrowded trails.

Stay with local people

Although Lake Bled is beautiful, in recent years it has seen more than a few hotels going up around its shores. Stay in a small guest house in an alpine village like Kranjska Gora and you’ll have a much more authentic experience as well as enabling local people to benefit economically and socially from tourism. Stay a little longer and find out what the local folk recommend as well as getting your fair share of home-cooked meals with ingredients sourced from neighbouring farms or village bakeries.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: cpandmd] [Intro: Domagoj Smoljanovic] [Where to cycle in the Julian Alps: Domagoj Smoljanovic] [Go with a guide: Domagoj Smoljanovic] [Avoid summer: Domagoj Smoljanovic]