Bike Trip Report

Exploring Slovenia

Written by: Erik Mus
July 2021

A country that's only half the size of the Netherlands and yet an enormous amount of variation in the landscape... from sloping winefields, beautiful lakes, to steep rock walls with the Alpine cols in between: Slovenia has it all. About two years ago, Bikepacking.com's 420km long “Slovenia West Loop” route caught my eye. The plan was to already ride this route last summer but due to bad weather forecasts I went to the Dolomites instead. This year there was another window of oppertunity so I could finally give it a go. I went together with my girlfriend Anne-Marie and we enjoyed every second of it! Here's our story.

Day 1: Vrhpolje - Ljubljana 

99km - 1710 altimeters

We started our trip in Vrhpolje. This very small village with little more than a church, pizzeria and some wineries, of which one has a small campsite. We parked the car here and started to enjoy the local wines on our return. Based on the route I found online I made my own version via Komoot, which followed the existing route as much as possible. So to a certain extent I knew what to expect. The day immediately started with a nice, easy sealed climb that turned into gravel for the last part. A beautiful wide road brought us to the 12th century Predjama Castle which is built against a cave.

While the weather forecast promised that it would remain dry, it rained all day. We continued our ride on the beautiful wide gravel roads through the Krajinski Park with many caves and rock bridges along the way. At the end of this park is a gigantic lake which can be seen on the Komoot map but not on Google Maps. This is because this lake is only there in Winter and Spring. The route ended in the capital of the country, Ljubljana, where we had booked a hostel. After a long day in the rain we left the city for what it was.

Day 2: Ljubljana - Bled

99km - 1710 altimeters

On the morning of the second day the sun smiled at us so we had perfect conditions to check out the city. Ljubljana has many beautiful buildings and bridges. After a local delicacy and coffee at the market we continued our journey.

Just outside the city we passed the ski jump where Primoz Roglic became Junior World Champion during his previous career. This is also where the climbing on the bike started again. What we didn't know at that moment is that this would be the toughest stage of the trip. With a length of “only” 77km, there was barely a meter of flatness. There were mainly a lot of steep climbs with parts up to 24% so we had to "hike-a-bike" regularly. Each mountain top had an even more idyllic church on top than the one before it, so you can turn the photos of this ride into a complete collection of postcards. In front of the few houses we encountered along the way mostly older people sat on a bench in the shade. In many cases they didn't seem to understand what we were doing there but everyone greeted me cheerfully.

When entering Bled you see a beautiful blue lake with a small island in the middle with such a beautiful characteristic Slovenian church. As if we hadn't seen enough beauty already. After a hard day, this was not a long evening either. Quick to the hostel and decided to take a rest day the next day. A real touristic day in Bled on the edge of the lake, which is normally overrun by tourists.

Day 3: Bled - Bovec

87km - 1600 altimeters

After a relaxing day in Bled it is time to ride further into the Julian Alps, with the Vrsic pass on the program today. This is the highest pass in Slovenia with an average gradient of 8.2% over a length of 9.2 km.

It is of course quite a tough climb but in comparison with the steep unpaved climbs it is not that bad. The climb is located in the beautiful Triglav National Park where you can also enjoy nice hiking trails. The mountains here are clearly higher with some snowfields on the rocky peaks.

From the top of the Vrsic pass we descend along the Soca river. We regularly cross the river via beautiful suspension bridges, until the moment that a bridge is suddenly inaccessible for cyclists. Then through the river. We end the ride at a campsite near Bovec. It is full of canoeists and rafters here. A really lovely place to spend the night with a beer by the campfire.

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Day 4: Bovec - Livek

65km - 1990 altimeters

After a gentle descent along the Soca river we arrive at the bottom of the Stol mountain pass. The climb I was most looking forward to. 12 km at 7.5% of which mostly unpaved uphill, followed by an 11 km unpaved descent with the most beautiful views over the many hairpin bends. While a mountain bike would be more suitable here it was still amazing.

The descent takes you to Kobarid. Just outside this village is a beautiful bridge from the time of Napoleon, which we unfortunately missed, because we drove through quickly. From here we only had one climb to Livek. 7km at 10%. Well that was hard, but was richly rewarded.

We spent the night at a farmer who also rents out some tents and rooms. A simple but delicious 5-course dinner was prepared from his own vegetable garden accompanied by cold beers, wine and good coffee. If there's one place you can't miss, this is it. What a great sense of hospitality! You can look over Italy from here and the residents can tell you everything about the area.

Day 5: Livek - Vrhpolje

97km - 1800 altimeters

The last day already. After our great overnight stay there was only one stage to go with a large 2500m descent. After starting with a climb from Livek to the top it gradually descends for 30km. The mountains get lower again and we roll into the wine region that even took us a few kilometers through Italy where you can clearly feel the warm sea breeze.

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After a long day we roll back into Vrhpolje between the vineyards. Less than 5 minutes after arrival the sky closes completely and it starts to rain like hell. Lucky that we were just toasting under a roof with a cold glass of wine and a fresh pizza. There we also meet the first person who takes the same route as we just did. He is now halfway through his journey and hopes to complete the total in two weeks. What is ideal will be different for everyone. We had a great time, but the route in 5 days means long days on the bike and sometimes a lot of suffering.

All in all it's a route that I  can recommend to anyone with a gravel bike (with tires of at least 40mm wide) or mountain bike. It was great! If you have any questions about the route, you can of course ask them via my Instagram.

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