Kranjska Gora (Day-Walks)

The Zelenci Pools (10.5 km - 80m ascent - 80m descent)

Kranjska Gora is the gateway to the Julian Alps and, as we discovered on our arrival after travelling by bus from Bled, it is a lovely village in a spectacular setting. From the balcony of our little studio apartment we could look across to the jagged limestone peaks of the Alps - it was just nice to sit there and take it all in. However, the afternoon was slipping by and we needed to stretch our legs - a short walk up the valley to the Zelenci Lakes seemed a good idea.

Sava Valley and the Julian Alps

Our "penzion" in Kranjska Gora

Village Square - Kranjska Gora

Pastel houses of Kranjska Gora

We wandered down past the town centre with its baroque chapel and pastel coloured buildings and then headed out along the cycle path, passing the winter ski runs, now lush green meadows. We soon reached the picturesque little village of Podkoren, passing the now-defunct Podkoren railway station (which betrayed the origins of the smooth asphalt cycleway).

The Camino in Slovenia

The old railway station at Podkoren

A familiar shell-shaped sign on the side of the path caught our eye. Having walked sections of the Camino de Santiago in Spain and France, we recognised its symbol. It is astonishing how far the tentacles of the Camino spread - Santiago would be well over 2000 km from here, yet pilgrims in centuries past would have walked by here on their way, crossing the Italian border a few kilometres up the valley, then on to France and Spain. It felt good to be back on the camino in another country, even if just for a kilometre or two.

Farmers were busy mowing and spreading hay out on narrow racks, and horses gambolled in the fields as we passed - Alps on our left and the lower forest clad slopes of the Karavanke Range on our right. Under an increasingly grey sky, we reached our destination, a marshy wetland that filtered the Sava Dolinka River as its meandered through the reeds.

Looking across the fields to Podkoren village

Reed beds of the Sava Dolinka River

Reflections in the Zelenci Pool

A little further into the marsh lay the Zelenci Pools, a connected set of springs where water bubbled up to form a turquoise mirror that reflected the surrounding hills and the distant rocky peaks of the Julian Alps. It was hard to reconcile that the wide brown river we saw flowing through Belgrade a few days ago was the same one that begins its life in these beautiful clear pools, with their curious "blue eyes" where the water rose up through the sandy bed. Zelenci was indeed a spectacular and peaceful spot ..... until the busload of tourists arrived. We left to rejoin the cycle path and retraced our steps to return to our studio.

The tranquil setting of the Zelenci Pools

The best part of staying here was the opportunity to buy and cook our own food, sit on the balcony or just make a cup of coffee when we felt like one - eating in restaurants or cafes day after day was becoming a bit tiring. We were starting to like Kranjska Gora more and more.

Srednji Vrh and the Martuljek Gorge (18 km - 630m ascent - 630m descent)

It was a beautiful sunny morning, with just the right amount of cooling breeze, when we set out to familiarise ourselves more with these alpine landscapes. Today would be a day-walk and an exploration of the local valley before we set off to cross the Julian Alps.

We headed out from our penzion, crossed a meadow, the road and the Sava Dolinka River in rapid succession to pick up a gravel vehicle track. The track headed steadily up the forested flank of the Karavanke Range, switching back a couple of times to bring us out at Gostisce Smjak, a small mountain cafe in a grassy clearing - it was too tempting not to sit down in a deckchair and enjoy the views up the valley and into Italy, even at 3 euros a glass of softdrink.

Looking back over the Sava Valley

Kranjska Gora backed by the summits of Razor and Prisank

Time for a break at Gostisce Smjak

Refreshed and with the climb virtually over, we headed back through a patch of forest to emerge a few minutes later in a sunlit meadow - lush grass mingled with wildflowers in shades of yellow, white, blue, purple and pink. As we crossed the meadow, we passed small farmhouses and shepherds' huts, which provided the foreground to the superb views across the valley of the rocky peaks framing the Velika Piŝnica Valley behind Kranjska Gora.

Crossing the meadows of the lower Karavanke Range

The birds sang, the crickets chirped and the odd tinkle of a distant cowbell floated across the meadow - it was classic European Alps. In fact, the fair Nello commented on the uniformity of the Alps architecture and ambience, whether in Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany or France. Life seemed good.

Looking across the meadows to the summit of Prisank

Farmhouse in the meadow

The Julian Alps rise above the flower-speckled meadow

Beech grove on the Karavanke slopes

Looking across to the Martuljek Cirque

The alpine panorama slowly changed as we traverse the meadow, slowly descending, before a signpost directed us to a footpath that headed into the forest and directly up the slope. We needed to climb to get around a series of deep gullies, traversing once again higher up across the steep slopes of the Karavanke Range, densely covered with pine and spruce and the occasional grove of beech.

Eventually we crossed the Jurezev Graben on a wooden bridge below a small waterfall, and a few minutes later left the forest to pass by some farm buildings and more meadows. The views across the valley were now of the jagged ridges of the neighbouring Martuljek Cirque, backed by fluffy white clouds.

The farm track morphed into a narrow and quiet asphalt road - we had reached the village of Srednji Vrh, its scattered houses spread out on the steep slopes high above the valley floor. The asphalt road was our route down, first winding through the village meadows, then edging steeply down the side of the rocky cliffs below it. At the last hairpin corner, we noticed a footpath descending more steeply into the forest, a much more pleasant route than the road. It brought us out into the village of Gozd Martuljek, where we quickly crossed the Sava River and followed the main road eastwards for a few hundred metres to reach the route to the Martuljek Falls.

On the road down from Srednji Vrh

The majestic Julian Alps

There are two Martuljek Falls, an upper and lower one formed by the water of the Martuljek Stream tumbling down from the heights of the cirque and creating a deep and narrow gorge in the process. We only had time to visit the lower falls, and it was a short but spectacular walk to reach them. Arriving at the stream, we wandered down onto its broad stony bed backed by the impressive peaks of the cirque, to cross on a wooden plank.

Log bridge across the Martuljek Stream

The jagged profile of the Martuljek Cirque

Heading upstream, we reached the entry to the gorge. Here a sign warned us (if my Slovenian is correct) that rocks may fall on our heads and we should only proceed if we had rocks in our head. However, as the only words of Slovenian we know for sure are "dober dan", we headed on. The path wound tightly alongside the sheer gorge walls, each bend giving a more spectacular view of the narrow gorge than the last. Criss-crossing the stream, we eventually climbed up to cross the gorge at mid-level on a wooden bridge and see the 30m drop of the Lower Martuljek Falls thundering down to the gorge floor.

Entry to Martuljek Gorge

In the heart of the gorge

The falls at the end of the gorge

Steep forested slope above the gorge

It was a good place to spend a bit of time, before continuing the climb to the top of the upper gorge, its steep sides covered with conifers. Once at the top we made a 15 minute detour to reach the small grassy clearing at Jasenje Planina, a spot to sit in the shade and take in the close-up views of the rocky spires of the Martuljek Cirque.

Road down from Jasenje Planina

The forest of Martuljek

Brunarica pri Ingotu (the refuge at Jasenje Planina)

Houses of Gozd Martuljek beneath the Karavanke Range

Nell chats with one of the locals

Evening light on 2472m Ŝpik

Then it was homeward bound, down through the dense shady forest, past an old charcoal burning pit, across a grassy clearing and on to the rail-trail cycle path that would lead us back up the Sava Valley to Kranjska Gora.

The Sava Valley cycle path

It seemed a long and somewhat tedious 40 minute stroll along the flat asphalt surface of the cycle path and was a bit of an anti-climax to a great day walk that included forest and meadow, valleys, slopes, gorges and waterfalls, all framed by the superb skyline of the Julian Alps. As the fair Nello said, "we should have caught the bus".