Bear watching.. deep in the Slovenian forest
This is an activity you might not have realised was available here in the third most forested country in Europe, but Slovenia is a green, safe and sustainable environment in which to get a rare glimpse of the largest wild animal in the European jungle..
In an area the same size as Wales, but with over 60% forest coverage there are about 1,300 brown bears, so you will very unlikely just wander into the forest and spot one!
Going bear watching with reputable local experts should teach you, as it taught us, that bears have absolutely no desire to meet you and they can hear and smell hundreds of times better than us. So unless you go on one of these organised watching tours, you will not see one of these huge, beautiful animals at all in the wild.
What you need to know to decide before you do go bear watching:
Firstly, you need to be sensible about how much time you have made avalaible for your adventures in Slovenia as bear watching takes up the end of an afternoon and can go into the evening.. Bears normally show up to snack towards dusk, but you have to be hidden away in place well before then, so as not to scare them away!
You can be sitting for hours in a tiny treehouse up high or a hunters hide in the middle of a stunningly quiet forest until you see the bear AND don't forget the bear might not show up to the party at all!
Definitely book well ahead for this activity.. Do not just expect to turn up, wave a magic wand and go bear watching the next day.
It is essential the bears do not detect you as they will not come back again to your secret spot and will run off at the slightest sign of danger, so then you will also not get to see them.. so do not wear perfume or bring any food whatsoever.. stuff like that.
So it is a good idea to have a big late lunch before your bear watching starts so you don't go hungry and also consider by the time your bear watching is over and you get back.. the restaurants might have closed!
You cannot put a price tag on doing something in green nature here that you very probably cannot do in your own country, but you do need to pay for the organisation, infrastructure, travel and especially the hunters' time.. so in our opinion, the prices for bear watching are very reasonable helping you to achieve a once in a lifetime experience.
Finally, the most important and unexpected thing to know about bear watching..
Whether you see a bear or not, the whole experience will be something so special that it should have a huge positive effect on your wellbeing, it might even be life changing.. How many times in your busy city lives do you sit quietly in the middle of a forest, maybe for hours, all your senses heightened, completely tuned into green nature.. listening for any crack of a twig, breathing slowly & deeply, staring endlessly through the leaves for a sight of the huge wild animal that wanders freely around here?
In our humble opinion, a few other things to consider before you book..
Bears are wild animals so if anyone tells you they can 100% guarantee you will see a bear, they are running a zoo, not an ethical bear watching operation..
You will have a really, really good chance to see a bear here, but 100% would be a warning sign..
Please try to go only with people who respect and help to conserve bears, NOT with the people who are sadly trying to get as much money out of you as they can!
If you are advised to bring a book or allowed to use a mobile phone during that magical time when you should be tuning into green nature and the forest floor, then better go to the cinema instead..
The hunter or forest staff should ALWAYS be with you anywhere in the kingdom of the bears and bear watching should take place in very, very SMALL groups. Green Slovenia will always be just one idiotic accident away from spoiling bear watching for everyone, please make sure that will not be you!
Unless you have the most angelic kids in the world, bear watching is NOT for the younger ones at all.. (if you want a number, let's go for 14).. Teenagers will be fine as they will not speak to their parents anyway, but they need to clearly understand they may ONLY use their phone for photos and the flash gets turned off.
If you get the feeling you are being wrapped up and packaged like a hamburger when booking your bear watching, then you will probably be wrapped up like a hamburger and packaged when you go bear watching..
Finally, be honest with yourself, if your only motivation for seeing bears is to take a photo and then go, please just go visit a zoo at home and also get a photo of a giraffe or buy a postcard with a picture of a bear on it!
Unfortunately, there are selfish people like this around who will only succeed in damaging Green Slovenia's amazing reputation as a truly green, bear watching paradise.
There are LOTS of dedicated, expert Bear Watchers in Green Slovenia..
We have been lucky enough to go bear watching 3 times now and saw bears on two occasions. It is really a unique experience open to you here in modern times.
We are not going to recommend anyone cos there are a lot of wonderful local people out there who want you to have a great bear watching experience, but we are gonna tell you about our bear experiences, in case it might help you know a little more what to expect..
Last year many of our guests had really great bear experiences with a new company called BEaroundme, run by Jernej and his team of devoted, professional and dedicated local hunters.
They also work as wardens protecting and monitoring the forest and know about so much more forest stuff like reintroducing Lynx into parts of the Slovenian forest.. You could also go for a longer "pre walk" in the forest with BEaroundme for a few hours earlier in the afternoon before you go bear watching.. This prolongs and expands a unique Slovenian forest experience and you also get a local forest snack too!
These guys are really local to the Lodge, patrolling the thick forests you can even see from here on the mountains above Postojna and they can pick you up in an old Slovenian army military vehicle that you have to have big muscles to wind the window down!
We were also invited by our friends at the Tourist Info Centre in the stunning Loz valley, (Loska Dolina), home of the Green Heart walk and just 40 mins from the Lodge, to go bear watching in spring.. it was an unforgettable and unique experience.
For us, the time we spent in nature was absolutely amazing. You arrive at the local TIC, (tourist info centre) at about 5-6pm to get a briefing, some info about brown bears in Slovenia and to meet the hunter. He takes you into the forest and from the moment he turns off the engine of his 4x4 you MUST remain silent. You are now an honorary hunter.
You shouldn't wear any perfumes or bring food as what you have to do now is basically sneak into the forest and climb up the ladder into the hunters cabin, which usually has space only for 2-4 people. Then you sit there in silence waiting for dusk. The simple plan is to be within 30 metres or so of where bears regularly come to feed and to not give them a sniff or whiff of human danger to put them off coming.
As the minutes turn to hours and actually fly by, it's amazing how you can tune into nature as you peer out of the glass window. We saw a fox.. he knew we were there and we also jumped later, (twice) when we heard a sudden, loud scratching on the cabin roof. Very noisy local dormice!
BUT, we didn't see a bear. The disappointment on the hunters face was painful. We waited until dark, but no bear came. These guys are honest people, out here close to the oldest forests in Europe.. around this more remote spot, they usually don't speak much English, but you feel 100% safe with them and you really get the feeling that they want you to see this amazing creature.
So we drove home in the pitch black, still buzzing from the experience but with the feeling that we hadn't caught a fish..
Luckily, we live here, so within a few days we went again, with 2 Lodge guests to a different cabin and just as the light was fading.. the hunter whispered sharply, we got the binoculars out and saw a bear!
Our bear was a young male and was surprisingly big. We were also surprised at how nervous he was, taking short mouthfuls and then looking around carefully. He was with us for about 10 minutes and then some noise must have startled him and with the acceleration of a formula one car, he was gone.
Wow, wow wow, we suddenly felt even more connected with the forest here and were totally blown away that something so big and shy can be living in Slovenia's green forests.
So be prepared that you might not see a bear the first time.. you probably will, but take advice from the people who know best. The bear watching provider might offer a free or reduced second trip if you don't see a bear the first time, but nobody can offer any guarantee when it comes to mother nature! The bigger issue might be that your schedule will not allow a second trip.
From our experiences, the amazing connection with nature and time spent with a local person in the heart of the forest would have been enough for us, but we had the luxury of a second bite at the cherry.
We do strongly advise you to please research your provider and make sure they are local people, professional and dedicated to preserving nature and safeguarding this amazing creature.
And one final tale of joy..
We have lived here 10 years and have been in LOTS of different forests all over the place, but never had a sniff of a bear.. maybe a bear had a whiff of us, but that is a different story!
Then one day, completely unexpected, we were actually a little lost in our car on a forest road, somewhere near the second best castle in Green Slovenia called Sneznik, (Snow Mountain castle) in the middle of the forest .. and were heading back along a stone track to the main road, when we saw a flash of movement about 20 metres away to our left in a forest clearing.
In that flash I thought it was some dogs running, which did seem wierd, but the movement was playful and the three dark shapes were bouncing along. We stopped and saw immediately it was THREE BABY BEARS.. bigger than dogs and this is just so rare.. we didn't grab our phones, we just watched on as they frolicked behind the trees and were gone in maybe 10 seconds.
But those 10 seconds will stay with me for the rest of my life, it was so incredibly beautiful and joyful. We were guests in the forest at that moment and had a duty to stay in the car and move on.. there was also the question of where Mummy bear was, of course, probably ahead of the cubs in this case, but getting between a Mum and her cubs is the number 1 worst thing you can do, if, in very rare cases, you are lucky enough to stumble upon this miracle of nature.. wow, still get goosebumps thinking about it!