The agate water of the rushing Soča provides relief from the summer sun. Kayaks dodge the river’s treacherous rocks and hikers scramble up the mountains surrounding the deep valley the river has cut. With pristine nature and remarkably cheap prices, the Soča valley is an outdoor-lover’s paradise.
In an act of total selfishness, I once claimed I would never tell anybody about Bovec, Slovenia. This small town nestled in the Soča valley, somewhere between Trieste and Ljubljana is surrounded by unspoiled mountains, rivers, forests, and canyons. Despite towering mountains, verdant forests, and natural swimming pools, Bovec is a peaceful place. There are no packed tour groups, no chain hotels, no English-pub knockoffs. There are few such hidden gems left in Europe. Bovec has the beauty and sporting potential of Boulder or Interlaken, but without the exorbitant cost.
And cheap it is. A five-minute stroll from my €11 per night accommodation brought me to the centre of a small but thriving town. You are spoilt for choice with gelaterias, cafés and bars. I would usually settle on what is possibly Europe’s finest kebap, followed gianduia (that’s white-chocolate and hazelnut) ice-cream before walking to the river to admire the panorama. Standing on the banks of the river Soča, you could imagine that the earth in a time before man. This might not be the garden of Eden, I remember thinking to myself, but you could be forgiven for thinking so.
But this isn’t a time before man; Bovec’s history is a grim reminder of that. The Soča valley was the site of the 12 Battles of the Isonzo, a particularly bloody and futile campaign fought between Italy and Austria-Hungary during the First World War. It is the campaign which hosted the romantic and hot-headed Lieutentant Frederic Henry in Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece A Farewell to Arms. The relics of these battles still litter the hills, with ruined barracks and fortresses now representing poignant rest-stops along various hiking and biking trails.
Beauty, ice cream aside, and history aside, outdoor sports is Bovec’s biggest pull. The Soča meanders as a serene beginner’s run, before rushing through the turbulent and barrelling out the torrential. With such a variety, the Soča provides options for kayakers or rafters of all abilities.
Hiking too, can vary from a jaunt which can be made without breaking a sweat to serious mountaineering. It would be a shame to visit Bovec without taking a day to summit Svinjak, the mountain which looms protectively over the town, and admire the view from its peak.
Mountain biking can be undertaken on smooth, new roads or over dirt-tracks and fallen trees. Visitors can crawl through caves, or don harnesses before scrambling up cliff faces. There are canyons to be crossed and ziplines to be ridden. Bovec offers experiences and challenges perfect to suit anyone with the slightest interested in the adventure sports.
I recorded my visit to Bovec in a battered Moleskine notebook. I flicked through it when researching this article. This is the final entry:
Lunch today was possibly the happiest I have ever been. We had been kayaking all morning and it was insane amounts of fun, the sun was shining, I had a delicious mint and gianduja ice cream and I was content. I so rarely feel that degree of contented happiness that I simply burst out laughing. For a little while, all seemed well with the world and I was loving every minute, every blessed second of it.
If beauty, history, the great outdoors, and a student friendly budge make you happy, there is no finer destination than Bovec.