Disregarding the Curtain Neupoštevanje Zavesa
In 1948, Tito removed Yugoslavia from the communist alliance Cominform, effectively severing links with the Soviet Union. He opted to start his own Socialist program that contributed to the peace in the Balkan region until his death in 1991.
Thus, Slovenia (the most northern of the countries making up Yugoslavia) never actually sat behind the Iron Curtain. But with an abundance of 20th Century history, the ‘Alps of the East’ was still high on our agenda.
Bordering Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia; Slovenia is a country of only around 2 million people. The last remnants of the Alps can be found here in the form of the Julian Alps, offering a taste of the alpine cycling of France with the flavour of Eastern Europe.
We are guided by Ales Fevzer, a photographer based in nearby capital Ljubljana. He starts the day by showing us the areas around Bled and Kropa. Beautiful rural landscapes with rolling hills and small hamlets, but our focus is fixed on what awaits us later.
While the mountain peak Triglav is the highest point in Slovenia at 2,864m as well as the symbol of the Slovene nation, it was the area to the west that stole our attention.
The Cobbles to Vršič Vsak kamen na Vršič
The road leading up to the Vršič Pass was built by Russian prisoners of war during the First World War at the order of the Austro-Hungarian authorities. The road is now known as Ruska cesta or Russian Road to honor the POWs that gave their life making it.
Approximately 400 casualties resulted in it’s construction, from overworking and and poor living conditions to avalanches in the harshest of winters. To commemorate them, the remaining prisoners built a small chapel at the location of their camp.
The Chapel still stands today, nestled in the trees halfway up the road north of the pass. The small timber structure is surrounded by prisoners’ graves as well as a memorial baring the Cyrillic inscription ‘To the sons of Russia’.
But, what makes this climb interesting is not only the 24 bends from Kranjska Gora to the pass, but the fact that they are mostly cobbled.
A Valley of History Dolina z zgodovine
Having navigated down through the winding switchbacks on the descent from the Vršič Pass, we head through the valley towards our next big target of the day.
The road through the valley winds its way along the Soča river, an eye-catching shade of turquoise due to the minerals from the mountains.
The valley is also marked in history for its part in the ‘twelve battles of the Isonzo’ during World War I where over 300,000 Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers lost their lives.
Heading towards Bovec, the remnants from the conflicts here are plain to see. We find ourselves distracted by the fortress’ where some of the hardest mountain fighting in history took place. In reality we are only delaying the inevitable conclusion to our day and so we set off towards Log pod Mangartom.
To the heights of Slovenia Z višin Slovenije
There is only one road up and one road down the Mangart, with the upper section to the Mangart Saddle, the highest road in Slovenia. At 11.9km long and boasting 980m elevation gain to climb up to the highest point at 2,072m; it is a fearsome climb.
Built by the Italian army with the help of local men at an astonishing speed between spring and autumn of the same year in 1938.
Rising from wooded lower sections to a barren landscape at the top we pass through five tunnels carved from the rock face that would make descending back down less enticing.
The scenery is breathtaking and we hit the climb with perfect timing, reaching the saddle just as localised clouds engulf the top bringing cold temperatures with them.
Snowball fights ensue before retreating back to the warmth of the van as we make our way back down. There is only one theme shared between us on the way home; when will we return?