Conveniently, I’d forgotten my glasses. Which meant it wouldn’t be me driving over the precipitous Vršič Pass and it’s 50 switchbacks in the Triglav National Park. I was of course devastated and not at all secretly relieved that Hubbie would have to do all the hard work today. He was not amused.
I’d like to say we set off early from our night staying in a tree house at Garden Village Bled, but who am I trying to kid. Between me not wanting to get out of bed and Hubbie making the most of breakfast we didn’t drive away until 9.30am.
Still, the sun was shining, and the Julian Alps were beckoning.
Triglav National Park
Slovenia only has one National Park, but when it’s as spectacular as Triglav, the country doesn’t need any more! Named after the highest peak in the country (which looms over the valleys at 2864m), Triglav National Park makes for a spectacular road trip from Bled. You can do it in a day like we did, or stop overnight en-route if you have longer.
READ MORE: How to hike the Vintgar Gorge near Bled
First up was the beautiful alpine Lake Jasna, which kinda appeared out of nowhere just before the road begins to wind up the Vršič Pass. The lake is guarded by a statue of Zlatorog, a mythical golden horned chamois who roamed the slopes of Mount Triglav guarding his treasure.
Legendary or not, it’s a gorgeous place for a picnic and a swim!
The main event of the day was negotiating the famously precarious hairpins of Slovenia’s highest mountain pass. This is the bit I was ‘gutted’ not to be driving! Honest. The Vršič Pass begins down in the town of Kranjska Gora and snakes it’s way over the mountains and down to Trenta on the other side. It’s only open for about seven months of the year thanks to a rather impressive amount of snow during winter.
As with the rest of the country, the pass is very neat and well organised. Each bend has a number, so you can track your progress, and there are several parking spots to stop and admire the view.
The road over the Vršič Pass isn’t actually all that bad to drive.
It doesn’t really feel precipitous, and the road is well maintained. The only frustrating part was getting stuck behind all the cyclists. We’d follow them for several bends before an overtake opportunity presented itself, only to stop for photos moments later and have to repeat the process again and again.
This is what you’ll see on the way up the Vršič Pass…
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Ruska Cesta (Russian Road)
During the First World War this area was the scene of one of the bloodiest battle fronts in the conflict. When Italy declared war on Austria in 1915, it was vital for the Austrian military to have direct links to the front line at the River Soca. So between 1915-16 they engaged over 10,000 Russian prisoners of war to build a strategic military road between Kranjska Gora (just a few miles from Bled), and Trenta, over the other side of the Mojstrovka (Vršič) mountain pass.
In March 1916 over 300 prisoners and some Austrian guards died in an avalanche on the pass, and in 1917 their surviving comrades built this magnificent wooden chapel as a memorial to the fallen. It’s located at hairpin number 8 and is a beautifully peaceful spot, perfect for a few moments of reflection and remembrance.
Our favourite views were those about a third of the way up the pass. Beautiful Alpine meadows just begging for a rendition of the Sound of Music. I don’t do singing in public, so we opted instead for a spot of lunch.
From this point (near hairpin 16) you can see the famous Pagan Girl in the mountains looming across the valley. The face like shape is said to be a legendary giant who helped people though the mountains in times of bad weather. She was also a Fate Deity, who angered the other Fates with a prophecy of a hunter killing the golden horned chamois, and they cursed her. Thus she turned to stone. It was too hazy for photos, but to be honest, you’d need a good imagination anyway to be able to see her. A bit like all those crazy people who declare Bob Marley or Jesus Christ has appeared on their piece of toast.
A little further up the pass is another great place to stop for photos. Or to pile up rocks, as seems to be the ‘in’ thing at the moment all over the world. It was too hot to have the patience for that today.
If you have more time, there are lots of hiking trails in this area, passing old bunkers and tunnels from World War I, which seem a bit incongruous with the beauty of the Vršič Pass today.
Reaching the top of the pass there’s a tiny cafe and plenty of parking for hikers, bikers and leg stretchers. Or rock posers.
Continuing down the other side of the Vršič Pass the terrain seems a little wilder, and somehow more remote. The forested slopes reminded me somewhat of the view from the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, minus the bears.
No wait, there are bears in Slovenia too!
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Safely down the Vršič Pass, the valley widens and a beautiful low Alpine drive unfolds, following the emerald waters of the Soča River. One of the best places to admire it from is the bridge in Soča itself, a few miles after Trenta.
The remainder of our route circumnavigated the Triglav National Park, following the River Soča and passing through Bovec, Kobarid and Most na Soči before arriving back in Bled courtesy of a rather cool car train.
If you’re into bee tourism (which is a huge thing in Slovenia) you should stop at Maya’s Bee Farm in Bovec. As well as guided visits to the bee house and the chance to learn about bee keeping, you can try out the bee aromatherapy and have a honey massage! We loved visiting the bee farm in Bela Krajina, and tasting the honey produced by the very bees we’d come to see.
It’s worth stopping at Slap Boka (Boka Waterfall). We scrambled up a dry river bed for a few minutes to take this photo, but if you have time it’s about 1.5 hours return walk to the foot of the falls, and there are several parking spaces just before the bridge.
There’s also a hike up to Slap Kozjak (Kozjak Waterfall) which is 45 minutes hike from the centre of Kobarid. We didn’t have time, but the scenery is stunning and you have great views of the amazing blue waters of the river. Fellow blogger Miriam has written about this hike if you fancy giving it a go.
READ MORE: Sleeping in a Tree House in Bled
Most na Soči
This is a good stop for more impossibly blue waters at the confluence of the rivers Soča and Idrijca. It’s a bit of a holiday spot, with boats for hire, cafes and walkways around the lake.
Locals enjoy throwing themselves off the bridge into the mineral rich waters below, and for once it seemed to be for their own pleasure rather than to make a few Euros from the tourists.
Bohinjska Road Train
Although the scenery on this road trip was nothing short of stunning, by the time we’d reached Podbrdo Hubbie was ready to drive straight through the mountain rather than having to drive over yet another narrow winding pass. As luck would have it, that’s exactly what you can do on the car train to Bohinjska Bistrica. I’d wanted to give it a go as soon as I first heard about it, but lacking information it was a case of turning up and hoping for the best.
The station was deserted.
Tumbleweed wouldn’t have been out of place, and I half expected a gun toting cowboy (a girl can dream) to come swaggering down the tracks. I bravely went to investigate. There was indeed a rusty looking vehicle train, and a faded timetable suggesting a departure in 20 minutes. Yet no-one to sell us tickets.
Or to drive the train for that matter!
Assuming that the station was no longer in operation we sighed and headed back to the car, not relishing the tortuous journey ahead to Bled. Luckily, just as we were driving off, salvation appeared in the form of a platform attendant, and finally we were able to purchase tickets (€10.38 for a car and 2 passengers) and Hubbie drove the car onto the train. Never done that before! I stayed and chatted about the weather to the attendant who was really lovely and wished us a great holiday.
He was probably happy to have a customer.
You can check out the car train timetable and fares here. The journey only takes 10 minutes, and has to be one of the more unusual shortcuts we’ve ever taken.
If you’re interested in seeing what driving the Vršič Pass and taking the train is really like, take a look at Hubbie’s latest video…
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We had planned to do some short hikes up to viewpoints on the Vršič Pass, and to the waterfalls, but on the day itself were worried we wouldn’t have enough time. As a result the trip felt rather pressured and we wished we had an extra day so we could overnight in Bovec or Kobarid and spend longer on the route.
As it was, the whole road trip (with multiple photo stops) took just over 6 hours. Thanks to the road train we were back in Bled for 4.30pm and realised we could actually have relaxed the pace a bit. Still, you live and learn as they say. I’d suggest aiming for the 18.59 train from Podbrdo (the only one after our 15.40 train) which still leaves you plenty of time for an evening in Bled.
The scenery was nothing short of spectacular, and if you’re heading to Slovenia, I’d put this at the top of the list!
- It’s a long drive if you do it in a single day. Consider sharing the driving (and don’t forget your glasses!).
- We really recommend hiring a car in Slovenia – it’s the best way to explore more remote areas like this.
- Take a picnic lunch. There were very few places to stop to buy food.
- Some of the laybys in the Soča Valley have portable toilets, which is handy since there’s nowhere else to go!
- Vršič Pass is pronounced ‘ver-sheech’
Where to Stay for a Vršič Pass Day Trip
If you have lots of time, we suggest spending a few days and doing this route at a leisurely pace, but if not, the best place to stay is in Bled. There are lots of great hotels and guest houses here, including some rather unique options. We spent the night in a tree house at Garden Village Bled (complete with an amazing restaurant with grass-topped tables), and also stayed at Old Parish House which is a cute little guest house overlooking a beautiful square next to a church with fabulous views.
We’re about to do this pass in our motorhome….!!!!! Thanks for all the photos 🙂 If we survive we’ll try and video it for YouTube (and proof that we actually made it!!)
Hi! Thank you for your info. I want to do the car train option like you did. I don’t quite understand where you take it from and where it ends. You said 10 minutes but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Please advise if you can. Thanks!
Hi Brenda, if you do the drive like we did, you get on the train at Podbrdo train station (you can’t miss it, there’s not much there), and the train journey itself through the tunnel etc takes 10 mins. It’s only a short ride to get through the mountain. You then get off at Bohinjska Bistrica.
I am also cyclist on Vršič ( Russina) road. 6-8 times aproximately per year. It is very popular road for us Slovenian cyclists . Every first Saturday in September there is a “Bike Assault On Vrsic”.
Wellcome all nature lovers.
Just for information for cyclist. There is super circle trip by good prepared cyclist.
From Kranjska gora over Vršič pass-Trenta valley-Log pod Mangartom-Predel pass-Tarvisio ( Italy) and back to Kranjska gora. Aproximately 90km
Hi Bojan, we were so in awe of the cyclists on Vrsic, such an impressive route to ‘conquer’ whilst we’re sitting comfortably in our cars. 🙂 You certainly have a lovely countryside to cycle out there!
We drove over the Vršič Pass (in an Audi A4 from Hertz), from Kranjska Gora to Trenta, on May 18, 2017, and found it to be just spectacular (and for the WWI history buff, quite interesting). We encountered quite a few stalwart cyclists and some heavy road repairs (just above the Russian Chapel). Once we got down into the Soča Valley, we had to stop twice to spend some time along that gorgeous emerald river. What a drive! 41 hairpin turns, too!
BTW I think the stacks of rocks up in the pull-off near the top of the pass have grown bigger since your trip!
Hi Joe, thanks for your comment, sounds like you had a great time driving the pass and counting the hairpins! It’s been a year since our trip so I guess people have been adding to the stacks, we should’ve done ourselves. Did you? Hope you enjoyed the rest of your Slovenia visit!
Slovenia has always been a place that intrigues me. I don’t know a lot about it but the photos always drag me in. I think you have convinced me to head to the other side of the world to check this place out!
It was a place we knew nothing about either, but now we’ve been it’s like ‘why haven’t we been before’! Hope you get to go someday!
Such stunning scenery – makes Slovenia just look more and more appealing every time I see it. I only spent a small amount of time in Slovenia and know from articles like this that I will need to return. You did well in that little car….I’ve only ever driven in Europe in big motorhomes. How amazing are those cyclists as well. I feel sometimes as though vehicles won’t get up the mountains and then you see the cyclists doing it all by themselves !! Beautiful shots Heather!
Looks stunning! I love the colour of that water. And I’m impressed by the cyclists, there’s no way I could make it up there on a bicycle.
I’m really digging reading about your Slovenia travels. I’d love to see this park and since I get car sick pretty easy I’d want to do it the slow way with a overnight stop to rebalance. 🙂
Thanks, it’s a beautiful place! It was actually a lot less windy than we’d expected. I sometimes get car sick too but felt fine on this, plus there are so many photo stops it was quite relaxed.
The photos in this post are fabulous! Slovenia really is such a beautiful country. I’ve never seen a car-train before, what a unique way to get about 🙂
We hadn’t seen one either, so it had to be done 🙂
Really enjoyed the detailed post, I’m actually going to link it to my Slovenia guide.
I love these kinds of drives and have recently done a few in South Africa and on Mt. Biokovo in Croatia. When you see the roads you wonder about the men who made (and died) building them. I’m sure many people would wonder how that Russian church came to be.
The geography looks gorgeous. I’d like to spend more time in Slovenia in the future, we’ve been to Piran and Lljubljana but have yet to see the interior parts.
Thanks Frank! It was one of the questions we asked before we went, just what was the drive over the pass like? I can’t imagine the hardship and effort involved in building such a precipitous route through these mountains, like you say it would be satisfying to know more about the individuals behind it.
We didn’t have time for either Piran or Ljubljana, but they both sound worth returning for.