Hitting the Alpe-Adria trail with Headwater
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Most long distance hiking routes require a
great deal of walking experience and high levels of stamina. The Alpe-Adria
Trail boasts access for everyone, even families, as there are no mountains to
climb and the daily stages are easily manageable. It’s Europe’s newest long
distance hiking route and runs for 750km from the Carinthia, in Austria, through
Slovenia and ends in Italy, near Trieste on the Adriatic coast.
In fact, very few people would attempt all
37 stages in one go, not least because it would take over a month. Rather it’s
better to pick sections - Austria has 22 stages, Slovenia has five and the last
ten mix Slovenia and Italy. There’s also a seven day Circular Route which connects
Austria, Italy and Slovenia. I’ve only eight days so opt for the best bits.
I start at the beginning in Carinthia,
Austria, and the Pasterze Glacier, the longest in the Eastern Alps, gleams in
the morning sunlight. Above me is the 3,798m Grossglockner, Austria’s highest
mountain, and it’s a pleasant 5 hours downhill to the village of Heiligenblut.
I stay in Austria and start from Mallnitz
next day, after a taxi transfer. The trail follows the river through the
Rabischschlucht and the Groppensteinschlucht gorges, in a series of spectacular
waterfalls. I finish by climbing the diminutive Danielsberg, an almost
perfectly conical hill. The attraction
here is the Herkuleshof, originally a
19th century hunting lodge but now a charming inn with excellent
It’s now goodbye Austria and hello Slovenia.
From the town of Kranjska Gora. I’m going to be tackling the Vrsic Pass, at
1611m the highest in the Julian Alps, and the road was built by Russian POW’s
during WW1. Many were killed in an avalanche and there’s an Orthodox Chapel,
halfway up, in their memory. The trail criss-crosses the road before reaching
the summit of the Vrsic at 1688m, still guarded by the remains of gun
From here it’s downhill to the River Soca
and, over two days, I follow it from its source to the town of Bovec. This is
perhaps the most beautiful part of the trail, the emerald blue waters of the
river contrasting with the green forests, lining its banks, framed by
snow-capped mountains. It’s easy walking and, even better, there’s the chance
of a quick dip to cool off. The Hotel Dobra Vila in
Bovec serves modern cuisine with local ingredients and is a just reward for a
long day’s hike.
Slovenia’s wine centre, the Brda region,
hails another change of scenery. I’m now strolling through vineyards,
attractively terraced on gently rolling hills, topped by village church spires.
I stop to sample the wines at the old renaissance castle in Dobrovo, before
reaching the village of Smartno. Its attractive narrow cobbled streets are
enclosed by defensive walls and I stay at the Hotel
San Martin. I’ve heard they offer a tasting menu, with matching local wines,
and I’m not disappointed.
Italy is now just a few kilometres away
and, at the border, there’s no manned checkpoint, just a couple of signs. By
afternoon, I reach the sizeable town of Cormons on the edge of the Fruili
plain. From here the walking is less interesting as it’s relatively flat.
Instead I’m transferred to Sistiana and take the Rilke Path along the coast to
Duino castle. Steep limestone cliffs drop down to the Adriatic and, with the fortress
in the distance, it’s achingly beautiful.
My last leg starts in the village of Draga
Sant'Elia following the course of the old Trieste-Hrpelje narrow gauge railway.
I dip down to a cluster of houses at Botazzo, once home to a number of water
mills, before following the Karst landscape of the Val Rosandra. The stream
here supplied water to Trieste in Roman times and there are the remains of an aqueduct
just before Bagnoli della Rosandra.
I skip the final day of the trail, as it’s
mainly on asphalt, and take a taxi to the port of Muggia. It’s a fitting end to
the journey, with the sun sinking behind the cluster of sail boats in the
harbour, as I tuck into my seafood risotto on the terrace of the Hotel Porto San Rocco. This is
the great attraction of the walk - decent food and accommodation everywhere and
you don’t have to rough it. Even better, you can pick and choose the sections
you want to do.
The Alpe-Adria Trail – Hiking in the Garden of Eden is a comprehensive online resource and you can download a useful App to help you find your way.
the Joy of Living has information about this part of Austria.
Feel Slovenia has information about the country.
Venezia Guilia has information about this part of Italy.
In Austria, Trail Angels can
arrange transfers and baggage collection and this service will be extended to
Slovenia and Italy in 2018.
The Bradt Guide has detailed information about the trail, including accommodation and dining options.
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