After Hisa Franko‘s glorious breakfast, we hit the road on a very windy and damp day to go north through the Julian Alps mountain pass towards picturesque Lake Bled. We decided to take the Vrsic Pass to pass by the tallest mountain in Slovenian, Triglav, which stood at around 5,200 feet. Not too high as Colorado mountains go, but the sheerness of it was a sight to behold.
Mulling over the plan while at Hisa Franko, an alternate plan started to emerge – to actually cross the border in to Austria and spend an hour or two in the border town Villach so that Brendan could get another country in. Since I had already been to Austria, this was a great strategy to help him close the gap in countries (even though it wasn’t a competition, it was kind of a competition). We would then hit up Lake Bled on the way back from Villach, retracing our steps from Slovenia through the Julian Alps, spending a few hours at Bled, and then making our way to our AirBnB in Ljubljana for two additional nights.
As we left Hisa Franko, we saw the Julian Alps looming high ahead, snow capped and treacherous in the distance. We never thought that in mid-May it actually would be. Although it was unseasonably cold that day, we assumed the roads would be passable. At the top of the Julian Alps sat Triglav, a “bucket list” climb for every Slovenian to become a “true” Slovenian. Today we would face off with the mountain by car rather than by foot.
We started off towards the Julian Alps in the wind and a little bit of rain (I was driving), and we noticed some of the clearest aquamarine waters we had ever seen in the Triglav National Park in the idyllic Soča Valley. This was a nature lover’s wet dream.
About an hour in, we passed Trenta n our route and started the climb of hair-pin turns over the Julian Alps through the Vrsic Pass. As we climbed higher and higher, we noticed the temperate continue to drop towards zero with the rain continuing on. We made it through the turns and we felt like we were nearly at the home stretch…and then….
The snow began to fall.
We continued to climb.
A car coming the other direction flashed his brights on us. Did we not have our daytime running lights on per Slovenian law? Did we accidentally have our brights on? Was there something up ahead he or she was trying to warn us about? We were not able to figure out the other driver’s signal.
A little further ahead, still on the climb, we came to an impassable section of the road with several inches of snow already on it, and clear tracks where the the previous driver had turned back. I gulped, inhaled, yet pressed forward. We were used to mountains after all.
100 meters in, the car said “nope”. Remember, this was our car.
I lost traction and the car started to skid. I knew we couldn’t go further without all wheel drive, snow tires, chains, or one of our heavier Denver cars. It was a sad moment, and we hated to admit defeat since victory was near and even turning around could have been deadly, with very little usable roadway and no guardrail.
Reluctantly, we allowed for the possibility that the mountain had won. It was no longer safe to continue.
So we slowly reversed out, rapidly losing traction as we did so, and slowly retraced our steps down the mountain, down the hairpin turns, until sadly Triglav was back in view and we were once again in Trenta towards the base of the Julian Alps on the Slovenian side for the second time.
On our climb, we think we got to about here:
With our tail between our legs, we reached Bovec where we executed an alternate plan – cross in to Austria from Italy. Still do Villach and Lake Bled, but have less time at each. The weather was so bad after all, we weren’t sure how much we would actually enjoy the beauty of Bled. Here was our new plan:
We had already wasted a lot of time (2 hours), and were not even sure this new plan would be any more passable, but we had to try. Luckily, the drive was so beautiful, it was hard to be too upset if it didn’t work out (although we really did want to get to Lake Bled, the fabled storybook city on a lake with an island in the middle).
Passing back through the Soča Valley, we had many opportunities to stop and use the port-o-potties along the way and stretch our legs. Slovenia was so civilized!
As we began to climb again through the mountains in to Italy, we held our breath again as we watched the temperature drop while the rain did not stop. 6 Centigrade, 5, 4, 3….and then it bottomed out just after we crossed the Italian border (which was a piece of cake as it wasn’t monitored at all).
The Italy portion looked pretty much the same landscape-wise, but with buildings and structures that were slightly less taken care of. You could also see the architectural differences and of course the Italian language replaced Slovene in the towns and on the roads. The roads were slightly worse as well.
We easily crossed the Austrian border and Villach was within reach. In Austria the roads were better and it felt more American and suburban as we approached Villach. We decided to avoid the toll roads so we did not take the main highway; however the approach was still quite easy.
Feeling better about salvaging an otherwise crummy day, we made it to the Villach city-center and found parking in a paid lot. We gave ourselves an hour to explore, making sure we saved some time for Lake Bled. If nothing else, we hit three countries in one day – which neither Brendan nor I had ever done before.