Mountain bike exploring in Slovenia by Julia Hobson
we have asked our ambassador Julia Hobson, who is a mountain bike guide, founder of Endless Trails MTB and overall inspirational woman, to tell us about her trip to Slovenia past autumn. It had been a few years since Julia last visited Slovenia, and a lot has changed since then. If you are looking for more inspiration for adventurous places to take your bike, you’ve come to the right place. Grab a brew, sit back and enjoy…
Mountains to Sea, Slovenian MTB Adventure by Julia Hobson
I first visited Slovenia back in 2006, on a backpacking trip with my sister, working our way through Hungary and Croatia, before reaching the small but perfectly formed country of Slovenia. After the beaches and Islands of Croatia, it was a welcome relief for someone who is most at home in the mountains, to lay eyes on all that this amazing little country had to offer. It was beautiful, quiet, and felt relatively undiscovered. There was no mountain biking that trip though, and I wasn’t into riding enough to even really take notice of the potential for future visits with a bike. If I’m honest, I don’t really remember seeing many (or any?) riders in the hills that we hiked through, it certainly didn’t feel like Slovenia was big on the mountain bike scene back then!
Twelve years later, ready for some epic trails
Fast forward 12 years, and whilst I’d been lucky to travel and work all over Europe riding bikes in that time, Slovenia was somewhere I hadn’t returned to, despite being aware that it had become a place where there were some great mountain biking opportunities. So when my good friend Rachael asked if I fancied a trip to visit a friend Jonny who runs a guiding operation out there, it felt like the right time to go and see what the country had to offer!
In 2012, Rachael’s friend Jonny launched Ride Slovenia. With a vast amount of knowledge from several years of exploring the varied terrain that the country had to offer, Jonny started guiding in the trails surrounding his base in the village of Luce, a sleepy village around 10 miles from the border of Austria. This quickly developed into a long-term idea of piecing together the steep and technical trails near the border of Austria, through to the roaming terrain surrounding the capital city, Ljubljana, and then on to the loose and rocky hills in the southern Mediterranean coastal area of Slovenia, bordering Croatia and Italy.
It is possible to drive from the north of the country to the south in just a few hours. Jonny’s thoughts were, If you can drive it, why not ride it?! Hence, the Ride Slovenia Mountains to Sea trip was born.
In October 2018, we headed out to experience this epic Trans-Slovenian journey for ourselves, and to make a film of our trip for Juliana Bicycles.
Day 1: Steep, raw, technical – Alpine descents at it’s best
Day 1 started in the Koroska, in the Savinja Valley region of Slovenia just next to the Austrian border. This region was host to the Enduro World Series in Summer 2018, and as one of the higher, more alpine regions of Slovenia, it offers steep, technical trails in the dense pine forests. This area is also famous for mining and has countless numbers of mining paths which are hundreds of years old, and also conveniently now make great mountain biking trails!
We were shuttled to just over 1500m in height, from where expansive views opened up before us – peak after peak in one direction, thick forests showing their incredible autumnal colours in the other.
The ground was littered with brightly coloured leaves, to the point that the trail was barely distinguishable. It began as a smooth, flowy trail then turned into a walkers path and soon steepened. Tricky switchbacks full of off-camber roots required full focus to stay on the bike before the terrain changed again, and we found ourselves in a high-speed gully with fun drop-offs and natural wall rides to pop off along the way.
That first trail left us exhilarated and wide-eyed with endorphins. The diversity we had experienced in just one trail would be something we would come to see throughout our journey. It constantly staggered us how such a small place could contain so many different kinds of trail and terrain. We ended that first day riding a dramatic ridge-line trail at sunset. Dropping over 1000m of vertical descent and offering views of layer upon layer of distant mountains as far as the eye could see. It was a mind-blowing start to the trip!
Day 2: Sunrise over Ljubljana & homemade pizza
Day 2 took us south, out of the alpine region and into the open mountains above the capital city, Ljubljana. Setting off at sunrise, we saw the first light of the day hit the high mountains behind us, before following a rollercoaster trail across the high plateau of Velika Planina and it’s unique high shepherd’s huts. We spent the day on similarly rocky trails crossing open plains before finally heading down through steep loamy woods into the sleepy village of Luce, our home for the night.
This is where Ride Slovenia is based and where Jonny has converted an old building into the perfect Mountain Bikers home from home. Comfy beds, spacious rooms, a huge living room with fire, endless bike DVDs and magazines and a beer fridge, bike workshop area, and an underground dining room complete with clay pizza oven. We ate homemade pizza until we couldn’t physically manage anymore and then slept well, dreaming of what delights were in the store the next day!
Day 4, 5 & 6: Through the wild and undiscovered rocky trails to the sea
Over the next three days, our Mountains to Sea journey would lead us gradually through the Karst region of Slovenia and it’s magnificent limestone cliffs, old castles and long rocky trails, and down towards the small coastal town of Izola. Along the way, we were treated to more ridges, more steep woodland trails and more loose fast rocky tracks, all unbelievably fun. We ate delicious local foods, sampled homemade blueberry schnapps, and even saw a traditional Polka band at sunset as we rode down from a high ridge one evening! Many of the trails we rode felt like very few people used them like they were still relatively wild and undiscovered….a treat for those of us used to ride in busy areas.
By the time we reached the sea we were riding through olive groves and citrus fruit orchards, the smell of Mediterranean herbs lingering in the air as we brushed past them on the trails, and the mountain culture we’d experienced in the early days of the trip had been replaced by the feel of a chic Italian seaside resort with gelato and coffee bars.
A quick dip in the sea followed by gelato was the perfect way to finish this iconic trip.
In five days, we covered just under 200km with almost 14,000m of descending. With a van for support to help with logistics and to take the sting out of some of the climbs with uplifts, the trip is a great way to see Slovenia and to experience the fantastic variety of riding on offer here. I can’t wait to get back and see even more of this beautiful little country!
Follow Julia for more adventures @Julialikesbikes.
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