For me, just thinking the words conjures up a misty mountain valley, carpeted with emerald green meadows and hemmed in by icy gray peaks. White Alpine-style lodges dot the valley floor, adorned with red flowerboxes. Cowbells ring, sheep munch on wildflowers, and newborn goats bleat for attention. The 21st century feels like a half-remembered daydream.
In reality, tour buses are plying an expressway just ten miles from this spot, on their way to Lake Bled, Slovenia’s most popular attraction. Here in the Logar Valley, winding mountain roads keep the crowds to a minimum. On a weekend afternoon, you won’t have the hiking trails to yourself, but you might be the only foreigner in sight.
We arrived in the Logar Valley three hours after we left Ljubljana, driving in a downpour over a mountain pass and through countless Alpine villages. In the time it took to run from our car to the front door of the “tourist farm” where we were staying, sheets of water had fallen and we were drenched. Nothing a little blueberry brandy can’t fix, or so goes the attitude of most Slovenians, from what we could tell. We were welcomed with two syrupy shots, and when I asked about an old picture on the wall, our hostess nonchalantly mentioned that Tito, the president of Yugoslavia, had stopped by for a visit in 1954 and posed with her family on the front doorstep.
As we checked into our room, the rain slowed and the heavy clouds began to lift. It was just enough to reveal jagged gray peaks rising high above our balcony, stern and imposing over the welcoming green meadows of the valley floor. We went for a walk in the woods; constant dripping from the trees above made it sound like the rain was still falling. But by the next morning, the weather was completely clear and perfect for hiking. We gorged ourselves on a traditional Alpine breakfast (heavy on the cured meats and cheese) and headed for the Frischauf hut, an hour’s walk uphill from the end of the Logar Valley. It was a Sunday and the trail was full of people, all Slovenian and very friendly. We said “Dobar dan” more times than I can count, even though we had no idea what it meant and were just parroting the same phrase that everyone said to us (it means “good day”). My favorite part (beyond the stunning views and the opportunity to test out my Julie Andrews impression in an Alpine meadow), was the bar perched on a cliff next to a waterfall. In all my years of hiking in the Rocky Mountains, I had never seen anything like it. We stopped for a coffee and ice cream.
Of course, in a car you can go further and see more. So after our hike, we hit the road, eager to get up high and see more of our surroundings. Luckily, the Solčava Panoramic Road seems built for just this purpose, climbing high into the surrounding Alps, up to the village of Podolseva, one of Slovenia’s highest villages. There is a beautiful baroque church, a cave and hiking trails to explore, but we were happy to snap a few pictures and just enjoy the view. Ben returned the next morning to see the whole panorama at sunrise, an endeavor that involved waking up at 4:15 and driving a narrow, winding mountain road in the dark. I slept in, content to enjoy the resulting pictures.
By the time I woke up, it was a brilliant Monday morning; the other tourists had gone back to work and it felt like we had the valley to ourselves. With so much beauty at our doorstep, we picked a trail at random and started walking. At a walking pace you see, hear, smell and feel so many things you would miss from the car. The innumerable shades of green: the deep forest green of pine needles, the lighter emerald of a leaf with sunlight shining through it, the neon of moss on a white rock. The rush of a waterfall up ahead. The incomparable, indescribable smell of last year’s leaves underfoot, musty but still somehow alive. The way the air warms when you step out of the trees and into a clearing. We stopped often to breathe it in (and to catch our breath, it was a steady uphill walk). Our reward at the end of the trail was a seemingly enchanted meadow full of wildflowers, with a small hut and of all things, a swingset. It was the kind of place where you’re tempted to stay for a long time, where time could pass you by while you’re busy trying to get as high as possible on the swings.
Back on the valley floor (but still a long way from “reality”), we had exhausted our dining options and in fact, most places were closed for lunch. We just barely made it into Solčava, the neighboring town, before its one restaurant closed for the afternoon. The Logar Valley certainly isn’t the place to go if you’re after a cultural whirlwind of museums, restaurants and people watching. But for us, the mountains provided all the entertainment we needed. If we got tired of the view (impossible) we could curl up under our duvet with a book and a cup of tea. That’s how most of our three days progressed: hike, eat, relax, eat. For me, it was an ideal respite from the worries of being on the road full-time.
We could have stayed much longer, but as if it was a sign, the morning we left dawned dark grey and pouring rain, just like when we had arrived. There was much more of Slovenia to see.