Predil Fortress & Lake
This is a really great combo for a fantastic day out.. Drive to the Upper Soca valley, alongside the most beautiful river in Europe, go over a mountain pass onto the Italian side of the Julian Alps to a stunning lake for chillin and swimming and then on your way back into Slovenia explore a ruined fortress conquered by none other than Naoplean and his army.. Bingo, what a day!
So this is how You do it..
The 2 main destinations in your agenda are both called Predil.. lake and Fortress. There are numerous other fantastic little wonders of Green nature to stop off at on the way, but we will tell you about what we did in just one day. The really wonderful thing about this trip is that for most of it you will be surrounded by mountains, forest and next to water for most of the day.
We have a favourite usual coffee / gelato stop when we go this direction at the lovely Rafaelos cafe in a picturesque little village of Kanal, exactly one hour's drive from the Lodge. There is a stunning bridge over the Soca river here to admire from the cafe terrace next to the river.. fab.
From here it is not long before you see the towering Alpine mountains and scoot past the mini Alpine towns of Tolmin, Kobarid and then Bovec in the Upper Soca valley. On this particular adventure, Bovec is another lovely little town to stop off at, maybe to get supplies or eat.
We stocked up with some drinks and jumped back in the car to go up to Predil. From Bovec you can either follow the Soca river to the Soca gorge, the Lepana Water Gardens the source of the soca river and then up to another monster pass, called Vrsic.. or you can go towards the Predil Pass and Mangart mountain, (the peak is 2,679m and it has the highest road in Slovenia).
There are a few little restaurants along the way and several WW1 cemetaries as you start going up and up and get into "hairpin bend mode"! But seriously, don't worry about the heights here, look forward to them, as the bendy roads are very good, wide enough and you will get to the fortress before you know it! Not long before the top there is a long bridge and a turn off to the Mangart mountain, (Slovenia's third highest peak), so stay on the main road and then it is not far to the fortress.. You could easily drive past without realising as there is a thick high wall on your right as the road narrows and the fortress is above this.
We decided to go to the lake first, so we drove straight over the Slovene / Italian border where there are often no checks at all, but a lot of lovely flowers instead of border guards, (.. think on). Up here the views are absolutely spectacular with powerful green forests everywhere and moutain peaks popping up wherever you look.
For some reason the trip down the mountain into Italy seems to take no time at all and at the bottom you get to go left or right to Tarvisio.. go left towards the huge Predil lago.. we kept driving for a few km to the end of the lake, cos we wanted to explore.
The main road skirts the edge of the lake on one side with mountains on the other. There are several places where you can park and go explore, OR now we know, having been here, you could just park immediately at the chalet / restaurant at the start of the lake and walk along the track along the side of the lake to find your own secret spot.
However you do it, please get to the end of the lake.. we found a spot to park and then had a near vertical walk down into the trees along a tight path to the lake side where we had to take our shoes off, wade into the ice cold water to cross a little channel and arrive onto the most amazing white stone sandy beach and a really huge wide open river bed that feeds the lake. If we knew this before then THIS IS THE PLACE TO CHILL OUT AT..
Wow, it is just so stunning here, with all shapes of mountain surrounding this white expanse with the crystal clear blueish water forming the lake.. for us it was deja vue for some South American memories.. it was that beautiful!
We walked to the lake's edge in bare feet and named a mountain in front of us with 5 thin domed peaks as our own "Wizards mountain"! (Fingers mountain was rejected). There were a few families here, but a lot of white space.. of course the whole beach could be covered in water at times of the year, but we think it is a safe bet to aim to spend most of your time at the lake exactly here.. It was pretty much a paradise.
We explored back up the lake and stopped at a few mini parking spots, there is also a watersports "bar" kinda place, probably to avoid, so we did and we had planned to eat something Italian in Italy, so we stopped off back at the start of the lake at the foot of the Predil pass to try out the chalet.. we didnt eat there.. it was full of people and bikers and we probably had one of those lucky escapes as we gave up waiting at a table cos the service was so slow. Not our cup of tea.. maybe ok for some people, but we felt this is a shame as the view from here up the lake to the mountains is absolutley beautiful.
We were still in "explore mode" and so we drove along the river towards Tarvisio with that dream Italian lunch in mind, but we didn't get it.. The drive and the river were very beautiful with big brown and white rocks, but we have to tell you that Tarvisio was disappointing.. a long, long busy road through the centre with "discounty" looking shopping places for Alpine tourists.. we didnt like it, that wasn't our Italian dream meal location either, so we didnt compromise and we didn't stay!
So if we were doing this day adventure next time, we would do more of a walk around Predil lake and plant ourselves at the far end of the lake to have a picnic. We decided to get back to the Slovenian side for a meal later and so we headed back up the Predil pass to the fortress.
There cannot be many more remote or beautiful places for a fortress in all Europe.. Not long after the border crossing we stopped on a bend to admire the fortress, standing alone in the distance, absolutely surrounded and dominated by mountain peaks.
There are only a couple of roadside parking spaces at the fortress, so be on your lookout to park BEFORE you get to the fortress as it is tricky to turn around if you drive past it.
The fortress is deceptively large and you can walk up a side stone track to get to it and have a good walk around. The thing that will really strike you here is how alone and remote you are here.. terrifying for a small garrison of Austrian troops at the start of the 1800's, but holiday paradise for a tourist nowadays.
Most of the castle walls are intact, so you can have a really good climb around, also make time to walk down along the road a bit to see the magnificent lion statue tribute at the foot of the castle. This commemorates the bravery of the Austrian soldiers who tried to stop Napolean's powerful army coming through and failed. There is a tomb for those soldiers covered by the sleeping lion and it is a very impressive and poignant site. It should remind you that Slovenia is at the centre of Europe and the centre of European history too.. to build your empire, you needed to go across Slovenia!
Just so you know, there is actually a quicker way home to the Lodge from Tarvisio in Italy, just half an hour across to Kranska Gora in Slovenia and then via the motorway to home.. if you did this route, then stop off at Predil castle on the way up of course.. but really.. when you know how stunningly beautiful the Upper and Lower Soca valleys are and then the Vipava wine valley on the longer route.. for us this was the only way to go home and perfectly possible in a daytrip.
Just before Bovec at the foot of the Predil pass road there is another impressive fortress, Kluze. This was used by the Austrians in WW1 until the Italian canons got longer range and could destroy it, but it has been rebuilt and is also worth 30 mins of your time with fantastic views and a chande to learn a bit about the tragic Isonzo Front, which killed over one million soldiers in WW1. Be sure to park here at the fortress and walk along the high bridge to look over and see the clear blue icy water of the Koritnica gorge far below.. stunning.
And look across from there at the cliff and you can see the Hermann cliff fortess peeping out of the rock, completely impregnable.. there is a sweeping path that takes you from the car park into the cliffside to get there.. be careful.
So in the space of a few km you can see 3 amazing castles from 2 different European wars..
But we had another secret place to find on the way home, so we stopped off instead to explore the path up to Slovenias largest waterfall, Boka.. the Big One, just on the other side of Bovec.. this forest path to the Falls viewpoint doesn't take long, fitted perfectly into our day and is one of the most beautiful and rewarding mini hikes in Green Slovenia.
We had the Jazbec (Badger) restaurant in mind after our slight disappointment with Italy earliar in the day. It is in a little village called Idrsko just outside Kobarid, (Tolmin direction side) doing local, local food (not badger as far as we know) and with a terrace view of the Alps and Mt Krn, (2,244m, which is one of Slovenian's favourite peaks to climb). We were so lucky to wait until here to eat during our day, it was fantastic.
Wow, what a day.. mountains, rivers, forest, waterfall, fortresses, even a gorge and fab food.. just another typical amazing adventure on your Green Slovenian holiday!