The Soča Valley

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Cut my heart open at present, and part of the Soča river would flow from it. It was an all-too-short love affair, but the Soča Valley and it’s mighty river is top of the list along with Vancouver as my favourite place in the world. This gem is tucked away between the alps dividing Italy and Slovenia (literally, ski over a mountain in Slovenia and you are in an Italian ski resort). The Soča River snakes its way in a brilliant aqua blue path over pristine white rocks as it makes a trail through the valley. Dotted along the way are small farming towns, and jovial locals who are pleased to welcome you to the banks of the Soča. They look like they have something to be proud of, and after three short days, I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Our departure from Bohinj was via the car train, which is a railway through the depths of the alps, emerging in the valley. As it was torrential weather, we opted for this safer option, as driving a mountain pass in blinding rain was not considered an idea that was good for our marriage. I am a bit of a skittish passenger in the best of conditions. At the end of the railway, I knew it had been a hit, as Joel had dubbed himself ‘Indiana Jones’ and couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. Sometimes I wonder if boys ever truly grow into men…

We took refuge in a small cafe in Tolmin and watched church and called the family. We always treasure these moments. Normality is a great gift you jump at when on the road. The Soča River was spilling at the sides and clearly not in the mood for some rafting action. Instead we took the opportunity to become cultured travelers and to educate ourselves on a sampling of history from the area. The Soča valley was one of the pivitol regions of both WW1 and WW2, home of the Isonzo Font between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians. Many of the battle sites and trenches still exist today and have become open air museums. We visited the indoor war museum in Kobarid and it was an astonishing collection of artifacts and photographs. We were the youngest patrons by about 50 years, but found it to be a worthwhile experience. Joel spent the majority of the time at the gun cabinets whilst I tried to understand the finer details. Whilst driving through the Soča Valley, you cannot help but become besieged by history, as most everything had something to do with the war. You can see walking paths and switchbacks on the mountains that the soldiers used in battle, and you marvel at how anyone survived fighting in such extreme conditions.

We spent the night in the picturesque town of Bovec and pondered how to buy our ‘next’ holiday home in the vicinity. The following day we hiked to an open air museum and it was very sobering to tread the ground that had claimed so many lives. There were spectacular views over Bovec and I thought to myself that if any land was worth fighting over, this would be it. The whole area is just stunningly beautiful. Then we were off to Camp Adrenaline to get our teeth sunk into some action sports! The camp ground is nestled in between two mountain ranges that stand as sentries over it’s precious river. The guys that ran the campsite were Slovenian but spoke excellent English, and they were so cruisy that we instantly felt like the world had stopped in time. The river runs through the camp, and is the local refrigerator (at 8 degrees, “perfect for chilling a beer in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette”).

We hit the river running with our guide ‘Ali’ (his name is more complex than that in Slovenian, but we had to exercise our Aussie skills at nicknames, so Ali he had become). Ali was nuts. He has been kayaking all his life and you could tell. White water rafting with him had a permanent pleased smile plastered across Joel’s face, which had me in stitches the whole 10km. Within five minutes Ali had pushed us out of the raft into the river, and I got instant hypothermia (not really, but I did get a brain freeze!). Never have I been more fond of a wetsuit. I’m undecided if I enjoyed the scenery or the rapids more, to me they were both equally appealing. I felt like I was having an outer-body experience because I was unsure how anything was permitted to be so beautiful, it was quite overwhelming. I was deeply thankful, and grateful to be able to feel the full force of appreciation that was stirring around on the inside of me. I am not sure if that makes sense, but I don’t care, it was a sacred moment.

Back to camp life it was, and we cherished every second as we both adore camping and would have spent a great deal of our trip doing so if only we had the gear. The highlight was the arrival of ‘the Germans’ and ‘the Texans’ (love how Texas is just a state, but it’s also a definition!). A night by the campfire, a combination of cultures, and a delicious moussaka cooked by Sebastian were all a welcome melody to our travel experience. The news that our German friends Till & Suzanna decided to join us for our morning canyoning trip was the perfect end to the night. It was agreed that we would leave at ‘a quarter past’ the next morning. Purposely ‘quarter past’ was not allocated a number, in true camp adrenaline chilled out style! “Quarter past what?” was the question that alluded an answer.

Canyoning. Oh my! Those two hours were probably two of the most enjoyable hours of our whole trip. It was a riot! Slipping and sliding down waterfalls, hurling ourselves down rock slides and jumping into freezing pools was a bag of laughs a minute, and Till & Suzanna were amazing company. In our 5mm wetsuits we were completely insulated, and personally I felt like an invincible walking gumby. I jumped over a jutting ledge down 10m which was as far as the nerves would take me. We all opted out of the 12m vertical rock slide at the end after being given a lengthy lecture from Sebastian about people who have broken bones and damaged backs and necks etc on that slide!! No thanks!

We whiled away the afternoons lazing by the crystal blue river, Joel playing guitar, and myself…well…staring in awe at the Soča the majority of the time. That, or imagining I was Susan from Narnia-Prince Caspian (which was filmed by the Soča river to give it that magical colour in the film). I was a mighty warrior, a skilled archer of the river! I still stand by this!

When it was time for us to depart we were all disappointed. We could easily have stayed a few more nights but we had accommodation booked in Bled. The perils of planning ahead! The guys from camp decided to jump off their van roof from the bridge into the river, and with those frivolities over, we were off. We drove up the mountain pass silent, we had both really connected with this place and had enjoyed the company. The enchanting scenery had cast a spell on us and we vowed to bring anyone who cared to make the voyage to Europe to this hidden oasis!

All our love….

J&L xxx

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