Trekking in the Soca Valley – Part 1

In May, Anya and I went trekking in the mountains in the north-west of Slovenia – and in particular in the upper reaches of the Soca (pronounced ‘socher’) valley. We based ourselves in the towns of Tolmin, Bovec and Korabid. The photos in this blog were taken during this time. I’ve included a few entries from my diary……

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May 19/’016

Today heavy rain which prevented us from ascending high into the mountains. We walked through the lower areas, densely covered in tall trees and undergrowth. On this side of the mountains – we are close to the Austrian border – there are no pine forests – very different to the Tirol, in Austria, which is very close to this part of Slovenia. Here the mountains are covered in wilderness forest, a tight-knit tapestry of broad-leaved trees, big and small, and often, dense undergrowth, sometimes akin to rain forest. So the country here is very lush, very green. I asked about the reasons for the difference here with the Tirol and he told me that on this side of the mountains, it faces the Mediterranean and is generally speaking warmer than in Austria. Well I don’t know about that; the mountain tops and ridges are heavy with snow and I can imagine it getting pretty cold here in winter.

In any case, because of the difference in vegetation, there are a lot of birds here. And for some reason, they love rain. I’ve never heard so much birdsong as in this country, especially after a downpour!

Sometimes the forests here are almost like a tropical rain forest

And it’s not just birds which love the rain but also these colourful lizards which seem almost amphibian.

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May 20/016

There was a mixture of rain and sun today. Tomorrow is supposed to be better. We are planning a trek high into the mountains. Today we focused on finding a trail leading out of Bovec in preparation to starting the ascent tomorrow. Afterwards we followed a large river for a few hours. The water was perfectly clear and fast flowing. More tourists are appearing now, mainly Germans. Many of them are into kayaking. We were crossing the river on a suspension bridge when we looked down and saw four kayakers floating on the water in a deep side pool. Beneath them, we could see trout languidly swimming. On the other side of the bridge was a long narrow canyon. The river funnelled into the canyon with a tremendous force. One by one, the kayakers paddled out and then shot down the canyon at an amazing speed. Watching them, I could understand why people got into kayaking!

Tonight I read that during the First World War, 1 million men died in this valley. The Germans and Austrians on one side, the Italians on the other.

Hard to comprehend!!

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May 22/’016

Yesterday was a long day – 11 hours. The weather was perfect for ascending a mountain. This took 4 hours, The trail was well-marked. Most of the way it was under a canopy of trees with dappling sunlight on a bed of leaves. At one point, near the top, we came to a rusted iron shell from the First World War placed on a rock. Mountain peaks, symbols of serenity and timelessness, once reverberated to the sounds artillery shells and machine guns. There was a charnel house in one the most beautiful places on the planet: a grim realisation of Joseph Conrads’s richly prophetic novel, ‘Heart of Darkness’.

The descent from the mountain top took 7 hours. We hadn’t reckoned on that. We arrived in a small town from where we planned to get the bus back to Bovec. But the bus didn’t leave until 9pm.

We were exhausted. I have one lasting image from the town however: swallows darting around a medieval church tower after sunset, in the background, a line of snow-clad peaks.

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May 23/’016

This morning we left Bovec and took the bus to Korabid, about 30 kilometres away but quite a different place. It’s a small town backed by mountains, with a well-preserved baroque centre and a few backstreets lined with renovated communist era apartment blocks.

A dramatic change in our accommodation. In Bovec we were in a new, modern apartment, quite large – here we are in a small apartment in a renovated communist era hotel. Our front window looks out on. the square – a statue, an old town hall, a church steeple, and tonight , low-lying clouds moving across the forests on the mountain side and in places, catching in the tops of the trees, like fairly floss.

After arriving in Korabid and dumping our rucksacks at the hotel where we were booked to stay 2 nights, we set off on a walk. Outside the town, where the last of the houses gave way to fields of grass dotted with spring flowers, we followed the mountains until we came to a trail. The trail was well-marked. It zig zagged back forth through the trees. After 4 hours of steep ascent, we reached the top of the mountain. It began to rain. We put our ponchos.

There were a few desultory looking walls consisting of stones piled on top of one another. Nearby was an unsealed road gently descending into the trees on our right. These were the remains of a look-out built on top of the mountain during the First World War by the Italians. If you went further down the Soca valley, passed Bovec, there were the remains of mountain roads built by the Germans.

In the course of 100 years, many of the old military roads and look outs were overgrown. But they were still there, a grim reminder of the carnage which was unleashed in this beautiful valley.

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This morning we took a wrong turn in our attempt to start a trail ascending the mountains directly behind our hotel. Instead of taking the right road to get us out of town, we followed the one next to it – which ended at a church and a shrine about a kilometre up the hill.

Walking up the road – it was quite steep – a constant stream of cars drove passed us, all of them bearing the ‘I’ which designated Italy. For Italians to come to Slovenia was a simple matter; all they had to do was drive over the border.

But why so many Italians in a small place like Korabid?

Rounding a corner, we soon found out why. There was a large crowd of Italians attending a ceremony commemorating the Italian dead from the conflict in the Socha valley – over a half of million men fell. The Italian media was there. There were rows of Italian soldiers. It was identical to an Anzac ceremony in Australia.

We watched as officers laid a wreath at the base of a shrine and then quietly made our way back down the road. Back in town we realised where we had gone wrong, took the correct road, and within minutes began an ascent through something akin to a rainforest.

Later we asked about the service at the memorial and were told that on May 24, the Italians commemorate their nation’s entry into the First World War some 100 years ago.

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See also: ‘Trekking in the Soca Valley, part 2’:

https://serioustravelimages.com/2016/06/11/trekking-in-the-soca-valley-part-2/

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