Day 44-46: Quality testing in the Italian lakes…

Leaving “Magaluf”, our next country was in our sights. It was only a short trip up the motorway to Italy, but not before we headed slightly south to the little coastal town of Piran. We had heard that it was very pretty and worth a visit, so 45 minutes after setting off we arrived and attempted the task of parking! This can be a little challenging in the BFG at times and sadly this was one of those times! The park-and-ride would not allow campervans, we nearly got stuck in a small car park and the only other spaces were ‘permit only’, so slightly dejected, Italy beckoned.

Apparently the roads in Italy are not the smoothest and after only a few miles it seemed to be true! A brief stop at a tiny (and slightly scruffy) looking motorway cafe to check that we still had all four wheels attached and for what may be the strongest, but smallest, espresso to date we continued along yet more bumpy and unfortunately ugly motorway in search of the beautiful country that we hoped we would find.

Turning off the motorway although the roads didn’t improve much the scenery certainly did, with pretty fields and towns in sight and hills starting to rise towards us. Another stop for a quick bite to eat, this time at a little bar on the roadside, reminded us that our Italian language skills needed some improvement as we tried to order sandwiches and coffee. We got the coffee bit right, but what we hoped would be a nice parma ham and mozzarella ciabatta came out as a toasted ham roll……..some work to be done there then!

Further pretty, twisting and hilly roads lead us to our stop for the next few days on the shores of Lake Caldonazzo. Having settled into our stop it was time to explore! After checking out what the site had to offer and a short walk by the lakeside whilst savouring an ice cream, we arrived back to the site to see that they were showing the MotoGP race on the TV at the bar – much to my delight! A beer and very exciting race later, it was time for food and to plan our next couple of days.

Waking to our now default of blue skies, we fueled up for a walk to a little hamlet at the other end of the lake. After following the flat cycle path to start with the first climb in the heat was a bit of a shock to the system, but lead us through pretty lanes lined with fruit trees and a massive cherry tree plantation offering great views of the lake. We climbed on stumbling upon a small-holding owned by a friendly local who insisted that we pick as many cherries as we could carry as he has too many, before showing us all the other produce that he was growing, from tomatoes to beetroot and even fennel and figs!

Bags heavier with the sweetest cherries that we’ve ever tasted we eventually made it to our highest and halfway point in a tiny hamlet and sat in the welcome shade of a pretty church to eat sandwiches and……cherries!

DSC_1065

The decent back to the lakeside was through pretty woodland, with little history lessons along the way about the long history of mining in the area, complete with drawings of old miners that made them look like extras from the Hobbit! This kept us entertained for some time! Hot but pleased with our day of exploring, we returned to the site ready to replenish our energy in the form of pizza and wine – purely to check the authenticity compared to pizza back home of course!

Yet another hot morning greeted us and I decided to explore more of the local hills by mountain bike, leaving Blaise to make sure that the swimming pool was up to standard! Map in-hand, I headed off on a ride that was to take me around both Lake Caldonazzo, but also its smaller neighbour Lecco. What appeared on the map to be a nice, viewpacked and mostly off-road ride turned out to be nearly 100% on-road and not quite as viewpacked a ride as I’d hoped! Back to the BFG for lunch and a water fill-up, an afternoon route was planned whilst Blaise confirmed that the pool was of a good standard so she would spend the afternoon testing the effectiveness of factor 30 suncream!

For the second ride of the day I’d devised a route, combining part of the previous days walk, plus a few more hills – or as it turned out, a lot more steep hills!

A few hours later I returned, happy with my exploring and finding some great off-road trails, but annoyed with myself that I’d tested the limits of hire-bike grip on the last descent of the day. Fortunately the only damage was a few minor scrapes and a knock to my pride! Blaise in the meantime was happy to report that factor 30 suncream does work very well!

The remainder of the day was spent fetching a couple of beers to help my wounds heal (well that was my excuse anyway!), and planning our next move north to the mountains…

Advertisements

Day 42-43: We’re going deeper underground…

After the recent news it was time to hide in a cave for a bit, so we did. In the Skocjan caves to be precise.

Winding our way out of the mountains on route to our next stop in Nova Gorica, the landscape changed becoming much more mediterranean with vineyards lining the road. We spent the night in a pretty – if not quite finished – campsite run by a lovely family who were very friendly, even teasing us about brexit! The next morning we set off early to the caves and managed to get reduced price tickets from vouchers the campsite owners in Nova Gorica had given us. We decided to do both parts of the cave tour; part one was an hour and a half guided tour through the cave system and part two was a self-guided route through caves, gorges and alongside the river.

The caves were truly stunning, with a scale that’s hard to describe. Think the biggest cathedral you’ve been in and add…a lot! With multicoloured stalagmites and stalactites, calcium formations that looked like curtains and a fast flowing river hundreds of feet below us cutting right through the middle it was breathtaking. You could also still see the original paths and bridges used by the first explorers hundreds of years ago, those guys had balls!!

Having made our way through the guarded part – whilst trying to ignore the obnoxious tourists who were flaunting the ‘no photography’ rule – we started part two. The path we took followed the side of a collapsed cave, now a magnificent gorge bathed in sunlight, and took us into another cave system that would not be out of place in a Bond film. We half expected to see Blofeld around the corner.

Back in daylight we wandered back towards the car park, but not before stopping for an ice cream to quench our thirst in the 30 plus degree heat!

From the caves we heading towards the coast and our last Slovenian stop, Koper. This was to be our biggest campsite in weeks and sadly had a touch of Magaluf about it – not the pretty town we were hoping for, but with only 30 miles of coastline in Slovenia it’s not surprising it was so busy!!

Day 40-41: Three Slovenian Slaps*!

Heading south we were very relieved to find the roads were fortunately wider and far less steep than our first taste of Slovenian motoring – which meant the blood could return to my hands as I didn’t need to grip hold of the side of the passenger seat in panic! On our way to our next stop of Kobarid we stopped by the pretty town of Bovec, which looked like it had a lot to offer – especially if you’re into mountain sports.

Back on the road we stumbled across Slovenia’s highest waterfall – Boka – and decided to pull over and take the short (if steep) walk up to the viewpoint. As you can see it’s quite an impressive sight…

DSC_0956

On arriving at our campsite we headed into the centre of Kobarid to pick up some information and maps, ready to plan our next few days. The town was sleepier than Bovec, but still had a lovely feel to it – nicely untouristy, but very welcoming.

The next day we woke early to try to avoid the scorching temperatures and began our walk to Slap Kozjak – yet another Slovenian waterfall, but this time with some history thrown in as our route followed part of the Peace Path through WWI trenches. The trenches were fascinating, serving as a somber reminder of past events.

DSC_0964

As we walked further the sun began to break through the trees and we heard the sound of rushing water; scrambling down a bank we came across a small, but perfectly formed waterfall. With the beautiful light it was magical, easily as pretty as any we’d seen before, and we hadn’t even reached Slap Kozjak yet!

Clambering back out of our oasis we carried on up the path in anticipation of what we might see and after more scrambling (and some rather sketchy looking paths) we emerged to find the main event! The stunning, fast-flowing and super noisey waterfall that is Slap Kozjak!

Having snapped away we continued on the Historical Kobarid Trail, going steeply uphill to reach Tonocor Grad – where we interrupted a mountain goat quietly having its breakfast! We spent a while looking around this ancient settlement, finding it hard to believe that the walls we were walking around were thousands of years old.

DSC_0993

After admiring the views over the valley below it was time to go downhill finally, to our last stop of St Anton. An impressive monument to Italy’s 7,000 plus WWI victims, it stands proud on the hillside surrounding the existing 16th century church.

DSC_1000

Arriving back in the village Rob was on a mission to find out about climbing and mountain biking opportunities in the area. First stop was the Prana climbing shop, where the owner Nat gave us loads of advice and  offered to go bouldering with Rob if he could get out of work on time! Next we headed to Positive Sport – who specialise in mountain biking – to find out about hire and guiding. Again they were super helpful and friendly, even volunteering workshop space so Rob could try to fix his poorly bike! It was very clear that our short stay in the area would not be long enough to even scratch the surface of what is around here – if Rob ever goes AWOL you’ll likely find him somewhere in the Soca Valley 🙂

Knackered after our early morning adventures we headed back to the campsite for super-strong, super-cheap macciattos, ice-cream and our first BBQ of the trip!

* Rather unfortunately the Slovenian word for waterfall is ‘slap’! Still it could be worse, it could be the Croatian word for whipped cream…

Day 39: The long walk to…Trenta!

Waking up to perfect blue skies and the serenity of our campsite, we thought that it would be a good idea to take a little stroll in the countryside to see what Slovenia had to offer.

20160621_093442

We looked at some of the info we’d collected from reception and had spotted a trail that followed the Soca river upstream, via some points of interest, to a town called Trenta. Having spoken with the owner of the site – and being assured that it was an easy walk – we set off, map in hand and ready for a days walking.

Immediately we could see that we were in for some stunning scenery with the river showing off its amazing milky-turquoise colour as it rushed by. After following the trail for a short while, we started to think that maybe the local idea of an ‘easy’ trail was not like anywhere else as we clambered along a very narrow path which would not have been out of place in a Indiana Jones film! Some time later we emerged (sadly without the Lost Ark) from our jungle experience, only to find that the ‘real’ trail had been just above us, but out of site the whole time. Vowing not to make the same mistake again, we pressed on to our goal of Trenta. We won’t bore you with a full description of the whole walk (the photos should give you a good idea!), but it included stunning views, very bouncy bridges and another small detour!

After about 4 hours we arrived at Trenta expecting a large village, only to find a very small hamlet with a tiny tourist information office, a guest house, a restaurant and one shop! Sandwiches devoured, ice cream enjoyed and water topped up, we began the return journey, this time following the path properly!

To start with the way back felt much easier and faster, as we retraced our steps back down-stream. On the way up we had been past a farm that sold local speciality cheeses – we felt it would be very rude not to stop and least try some, so stop we did! All of the cheese was from sheep milk and very, very tasty so a small purchase of soft sheeps cheese preserved in olive oil was made, ready for dinner!

It was at this point that the distance covered started to make itself known in our legs, but knowing that we had done the hardest bit, we pressed on, admiring the differed views and briefly stopping at the prettiest small farmhouse that I think we have ever seen (the photos just don’t do it justice!).

20160621_175027

Finally after 7 hours and about 16 miles we made it back to base, hot and tired, but having had a great day and now being totally in love with the amazing Slovenian countryside.

The only way that it’s possible to recover after a full day out like this, is with the tried and tested method of beer and food, in this case large pizzas all round!

 

 

 

Day 36-38: 44 hours in no man’s land!!

After an amazing visit to the ice caves we started the slow decent down the mountain and onto the motorway towards Slovenia. We took the steep, hairpin road slowly as whilst the BFG looks tough she’s getting on a bit and is well loaded with everything from surfboards, bikes, food, wine, books, clothes and toiletries! We were both relieved to get to the bottom with only a few squeaks from the brakes, however once we’d got onto the motorway she let us know how hard that had been as she started playing up. With things not feeling right we decided to pull over at the next services; unsure of what the problem was and deciding another few hours drive to Slovenia was a bad idea we found the nearest IVECO garage and headed in that direction. As it was a Saturday afternoon the garage was closed, so we have no choice but to hang around until it opened again on Monday morning.

Cue 40 plus hours in a little campsite nearby, in the Austrian village of St Johann im Pongau. It was a nice little town, with plenty of shops, restaurants and walking route to follow but as it did not stop raining for the whole time we were there we spent a lot of time blogging and catching up on life in the special TV/internet room. To call it special was an understatement; this room was home to two stuffed beavers, wonky paintings, framed embroidery, weird christmasequse decorations and a musky smell as it was located in the basement. It will be forever known as the ‘beaver room’.

On Monday we woke early and headed to the garage, where luckily they spoke perfect english. The friendly mechanic checked over the brakes and wheel bearings, however he couldn’t find anything wrong and put it down to the steep decent from the ice caves. Feeling mainly relieved – and now even more cautious of mountain passes – we headed back to the campsite ready to head off and were soon whizzing along the motorway towards Slovenia.

Unlucky for us to final road into the Soca valley is via a very windy (and sometime steep) mountain pass, so we took it as slowly as we could and made it in one piece to an idyllic campsite where we were the only ones in our field and overlooking beautiful, snow-capped mountains. It was the perfect setting and made all the better as the sun started peeking out after several days of grey clouds and rain!