To escape today’s fast-paced world, I find peace in the Alpe-Adria trail. The luscious greenery, rushing river sounds, and homemade meals accompanied with a local glass of wine—it’s where beauty meets pleasure.
The greatest thing about the Alpe-Adria trail is the way it’s designed—it is meant to be enjoyed at a slow pace allowing one to get lost in the simple pleasures of nature and culture. One day I’m 2,000 meters up hiking in the Eden-like Julian Alps and the next I’m in a valley swimming in an emerald green river which spills from the mountains. That’s the allure of the 750 km (466 miles) trail that hikes through Slovenia, Italy and Austria.
Of course I appreciate the terrain, from the highest mountain in Austria, the Grossglockner, the lake regions in Carinthia, and the expansive Soča Valley, but what ties this all together is the food and history. The Alpe-Adria has plenty of both with highlights including sites from the First World War, the vineyards that make you feel like you’re hiking the trails of Cinque Terre, and the UNESCO city of Cividale del Friuli.
Whatever your pace, must see sights, or favorite food, this is a journey that won’t disappoint. Just remember to savor each step of the way.
Pros and Cons of Hiking the Alpe Adria Trail
From Italy to Ethiopia and back to Slovenia
Me and my hiking partner (and husband), were born in Trieste, Italy close to the Slovenian border. Growing up in a culturally diverse area—the city is a mix of Italian and Slovenian influences—we have always kept close ties to our history and environment. The Alpe-Adria trail is in many ways a metaphor for what we have experienced our whole lives: a constantly changing and intertwining story.
Ethiopia is where our adventures began. For our final project at university, we wanted to study the social and economic impact of tourism on local communities and chose this amazing country in the Horn of Africa.
There we found ourselves hiking on the weekends, helping to create new trails, and working with local guides. We experienced nature away from the everyday chaos of mass tourism, able to slow down, listen to the surroundings, and enjoy the journey at our own pace. When we came back home to Slovenia we wanted to keep that feeling alive. And that’s what we’ve done with our guiding company, MaroWays.
The Alpe-Adria Trail. Never heard of it? You should!
Of the many “best” hiking destinations in the world, I believe Slovenia is a hikers paradise. The country is unbelievably green and the rivers are refreshing like a cold cup of water after a run on a hot day. More importantly, the country’s attention to detail carries over to the Alpe-Adria Trail—it is extremely well organized.
One of Europe’s newest long-distance hiking routes, the project was designed for pleasure and convenience from the get-go. That means there are only slight differences in altitude between sections, the route is well defined, and each stage has great culinary options and accommodations.
Today, there are 43 sections, and at about 20 km (12.5 miles) per day of hiking takes roughly 6 hours to complete. You can move between mountain passes and charming villages during the daylight hours and finish off the evening at a wine tasting, a museum, or relishing fresh gelato. Speaking of which, the food never disappoints. The stereotype about Balkan grandmothers who cook well and always think you need more holds true. On the Alpe-Adria Trail, you will never be hungry!
Compared to other long-range treks in Europe, the cultural experience of the Alpe-Adria trail is the most similar to hiking the Tour Du Mont Blanc, and it requires much less physical preparation than Corsica’s GR20, one of Europe’s toughest hiking trails, but it is less diverse than the famous Laugavegur Trail.
Want the best of the Alpe-Adria Trail? This is my favorite itinerary:
Hiking the entirety of the Alpe-Adria Trail would require a month and a half. Most average people, like myself, don’t have the ability to be away for that long, so we turn to hiking in sections. A week here, a week there, and soon enough you will have the whole route under your belt!
My favorite part of the Alpe-Adria route (and the one I recommend to everyone for their first time) is the seven days it takes to get from Kranjska Gora in Slovenia to Cividale del Friuli, Italy.
Day 1: Your adventure begins in Kranjska Gora
This part of the trail starts in Slovenia, in an area called Kranjska Gora. I spend my winter skiing here at the world-famous resort located right in the heart of the Julian Alps. It’s a classic mountain community not unlike the ones you can find when hiking in the Dolomites. It’s got views that will blow your mind, year-round outdoor activities, farmers markets on odd days in the week, and lots of locals. A must eat here is the Kranjska Klobasa made from fine pork and bacon, seasoned with garlic and pepper, and held together by a wooden skewer. It’s a Slovenian culinary specialty that will prepare you for the days ahead.
Day 2: Up and through Vršič Pass, the highest saddle in the Julian Alps
This is the first day on the trail and is all about natural attractions. You’ll visit Jasna Lakes, two mirror-like bodies of crystal-clear water that sit comfortably within a mountain pass. The sight is something out of a fairy tale. Next, the trail goes through alpine pastures and forests until you reach the small Russian Chapel at Vršič and a viewpoint from which you can see the legendary “face of the Heathen Maiden” on the northern side of Mount Prisojnik. For me, these are two of the Alpe-Adria’s most fascinating attractions. I always take a few extra minutes to admire the chapel because it was constructed out of wood in 1917 by Russian prisoners of war.
On this part of the route we take an old mule track through Vršič Pass, the highest mountain pass in the Julian Alps. When you come down the other side, you get to the source of the Soča River, and your main attraction for Day 3.
Day 3: Entering Triglav National Park’s endless beauty
This stage runs through the Triglav National Park, one of the main reasons that I recommend this trip. The whole time you use the Soča River as your guide, which offers up a continual flow of waterfalls, cascades, rapids, and one can’t miss view of the emerald-green pools in the Great Soča Gorge. After crossing the hanging Brjeka bridge, the section finishes in Bovec, a small town surrounded by the peaks of the surrounding Alps.
In the heat of hiking, I always think of how I am going to take a dip in the Soča River. But once I get to it I remember how incredibly cold it is. After dipping my feet I decide that maybe the rest of my body is better off staying dry. There are a few brave souls who jump in, and if you are one of those, go for it!
Day 4: Hit the Fairy Tale Trails Like Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter
From Bovec, continue along the Soča and hike to the Virje waterfall. This is where my childhood self comes to life because this valley is the setting for part of Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.” A personal recommendation: pack a book or two from the series and see if the image conjured from the tales matches the magical scenery about you.
From here, in my opinion, we get to one of the most awe-inspiring waterfalls in Slovenia—the Boka, which spews from copper-colored rock walls and free-falls for over 100 meters (328 feet)! Let gravity carry you down to the town of Drežnica for the evening.
Day 5: A walk through history
If you are a history fanatic, this day is perfect for you. The region is considered an open-air museum and you’ll follow military tracks past wartime structures from the First World War. You can still see the marks of the past in the alpine pastures. When passing through Krn and Vrsno, two little alpine villages, you will encounter a more traditional way of life. Simon Gregorčič, one of the country’s most popular poets, was born in Vrsno making this area of grassy hillsides a source of great inspiration and pride for Slovenians.
Day 6: From Mt. Kolovrat to the rolling hills of the Natisone Valleys
Today we leave the Soča Valley and head to Mt. Kolovrat. The ascent takes you past old battlegrounds of the First World War, and marks the border today between Italy and Slovenia. There are many hidden tunnels and trenches left over from the war scattered about. This is the most challenging stage of the seven day route, but the views from atop Mt. Kolovrat are well worth it. Take some time up there and listen to the wind rushing through the trenches etched into the side of the mountain.
This is one of the places where every single sense and nerve on my body gets awakened. On one side, there are Julian Alps, and on the other views of the Slavia Veneta and the Friulian plains all the way to the Adriatic. Continue on the path into Italy, slowly descending into the Natisone Valleys and thinking about a perfect cup of espresso.
Day 7: A charming ending to a storied hike
Today the route goes through the Natisone and Judrio Valleys towards the historic Marian Sanctuary of Castelmonte. The origins have been lost to time, but the sanctuary still remains a pilgrimage destination for many Christians. The descent towards Cividale del Friuli marks the end of your hike, and I like to finish in the center of the historic city that received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011. Some other places I recommend visiting include the historic Duomo, the medieval houses, the beautiful Lombard Temple, and finally, a stroll over the Diavolo bridge.
Day 8 and beyond: Much, much more to explore
You’ve made it to the end of this one week trip, but it’s just an appetizer! If you’d like to continue on your hike, simply keep going, and if you’d like to sample other parts of the trail we offer additional week-long highlights. Remember, there are 36 more segments to explore!
My Tips to Prepare for Your Trip
In my opinion, the best time to visit the Alpe-Adria Trail is from April to October. The peak of the season is in the summer months: July and August.
Map and Guidebook
The best guidebook to use is Alpe-Adria Trail: From the Alps to the Adriatic: A Guide to Hiking Through Austria, Slovenia and Italy by Rudolf Abraham. Even if you are skilled enough to hike the Alpe-Adria on your own, I recommend booking a guide so they can help with the logistics. Accommodations can be hard to find in the summer months, and the guide will also help with any language barrier there might be.
To get to Kranjska Gora, which is where this section of the trail starts, there are a few of options. The nearest airport to Kranjska Gora is Klagenfurt (KLU) Airport which is 28 miles (45 km) away. Another nearby option is Ljubljana (LJU), the capital of Slovenia, about 36 miles (58 km) driving. You can also fly to either of the Venice airports (Venice Treviso (TSF) or Venice (VCE)), both about 90 miles (156 km) out.
There are many different types of accommodations on the Alpe-Adria Trail. Everything from mountain huts, to B&Bs, local apartments, and little hotels run by locals.
Kranjska Gora is a hub for all outdoor related activities. If you are in need of any gear before your hike you can stroll into one of the many stores and you will find what you are looking for.
The entirety of the Alpe-Adria Trail is 750 km (466 miles) broken into 43 stages. Each section is roughly 20 km long and takes 6-8 hours to hike. If you were to do the trail in one go, it would take a month and a half to finish, but the beautiful part of the route is that you can choose your own adventure: pick any stage to start on and finish at whichever one you’d like. The duration of your trip can be completely up to you!
The Alpe-Adria Trail is not technically difficult (no mountaineering skills necessary) but it does require a good fitness level. There’s at least six hours of hiking each day, so your endurance should be up to this standard. To prepare, I recommend doing cardio, such as slower, long-distance runs, and going on shorter hikes with your backpack and hiking boots on. To fully enjoy the trip, you should be able to hike between five to eight hours, with your pack, without much huffing and puffing.
Do you like Martina’s seven day Alpe-Adria itinerary? Keen to create your own? Choose which part of the trail you would like to visit and for however long you want with MaroWays!