May 21, 2018
Where is it?
Bovec is in the north-east of Slovenia, not far from the Italian border, although be careful when looking at the map and thinking as the crow flows, as the terrain here can make journeys longer than expected.
However, this is still a small country, and you can get there from Ljubljana in less than two hours by car, and just over four by bus or train. Although this means day trips are possible if you have your own transport, most visitors from the capital will stay overnight, so they can fully enjoy all the area has to offer without being too tired for the drive home.
Why go there?
There are two main reasons to go to Bovec, the landscape and the activities it affords, with the history of area – in terms of the bloody Battles of the Isonzo – coming in a close third. If none of those appeal then you’re best not making the trip, although in terms of the sporting activities be assured that despite some of the publicity you’ll see Bovec isn’t just for adrenaline junkies, as there’s plenty to do that’ll leave your heartbeat at a steady pace.
Still, you’d have to be a cool customer indeed not to feel your pulse quickening as you realize the scale and general majesty of the scenes unfolding in all directions, with the mind-bending topography and, on days when the weather allows, small dots that are people, hanging below paragliding wings and soaring high above the ground to obtain a different perspective, tempting you to join them, the experience available to anyone who can go into an agency and make a booking. Bovec is a town for adventures.
The person leading this tandem paraglide is Zep, from Avantura. He’s a pilot with over the thirty years’ experience and, as he told me over a beer at the Thirsty River Hostel & Brewery, “never even a broken finger, not for me or my clients”. You can read my interview with this master of the skies here.
The scenery in and around Bovec is both stunning and awesome, in the truest sense of both words, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty, size and shape of the hills and mountains arrayed around the town, with the pointed peak of Svinjak or the massif of Rombon dwarfing all human interventions in the space. The following pictures – from the KATA agency, home of Katja Rogelj, and showing people having fun in nature – are all very nice, but still only capture a fraction of the magic and wonder to be felt in real life.
Svinjak. KATA Adventures
A salamander seen while river walking. KATA Adventures
What to do in Bovec
Given the above, most visitors will want to get out and move in the landscape, and to this end the town offers everything you can imagine in terms of adventure and milder pursuits. We’re talking hiking (perhaps along the Alpe-Adria trail), biking, kayaking, canyoning, rafting, river walking, fly fishing, snorkelling, tandem paragliding and parachuting, zip-lining and even zorbing (which is rolling around inside a translucent ball).
There are many agencies around town to help with these activities, offering complete tours with guides and equipment, and you can also rent anything you need, while there are several very well-stocked stores selling most of what you’d want to enjoy the outdoors in all its forms, or just to carry out a little vacation spending on a gadget or hi-tech piece of clothing. And if you need a massage after your exertions, then such therapy is available from several providers.
Booking organised activities in advance is obviously recommended in the high season, the long summer months, although the town’s infrastructure and personal networks do allow for a certain fluidity among the guides and agencies, so you may just have to wait until a free kayak or person has been located. Also note that certain activities, such as paragliding, depend heavily on the weather, so check ahead if only making a short trip and be open to other options.
Photo: JL Flanner
If you need more information, or want to buy a license for fishing, kayaking and so on, then be sure to visit the Tourist Information Centre in the main square, where you can also pick up brochures about many local attractions, along with maps of the area showing paths and hiking trails, as well as ask questions of the well-informed and English-speaking staff.
Photo: JL Flanner
Where to stay
Bovec has plenty of hostels and apartments – with apartma signs seemingly attached to one house in ten – and a few small hotels, although nothing four- or five-star. Don’t worry too much about the location, as the place is small enough to walk from one end to the other in around 10 minutes.
What to eat
Food isn’t the big draw in Bovec, although nearby Kobarid is a destination in that regard, boasting two restaurants from “best female chef in the world” Ana Roš and her husband Valter Kramar, the high-end Hiša Franko and more down-to-earth Hiša Polonka, both of which are unlikely to have a table if you just turn up on the day, or even if you call a few in advance. While Bovec has nothing of that calibre there are still are a number of places to eat, ranging from pizza and burgers to local specialties, although note that these get very busy at the peak times of day, when filled with diners hungry from their activities, and tend to be priced for a tourist town.
If you’re on a budget, and especially if staying a hostel or apartment with a kitchen, then you’ll be pleased to know there’s a well-stocked Mercator at one end of the town, open from 07:00–19:00, except on Sundays, when it starts an hour later and closes at noon. There’s also a farmers’ supermarket just by the main square, as well as a fruit stall that seems to be open all day and a few bakeries, where you can get pizza, burek and kebabs. You can thus stock up on relatively cheap food for your hikes, excursions and so on, and then come back at the end of the day and feast on further supplies.
Štruklji, krafi and frika have all made it on stamps. Pošta Slovenije
If you’re the kind of person who likes to try the local specialities then look out for frika, a cheese, egg and potato dish that comes in several varieties. Menus will also offer čompe, or potatoes, with the town even having an annual potato festival, and these are usually served with skuta (cottage cheese). The River Soča means fish is also on the menu, often in the form of postrvi, or trout. Another thing you’ll see advertised are krafi, which are like dumplings that are often filled with pear or apple
Marko and his cheese. Photo: JL Flanner
Something to take home is Bovec cheese (bovški sir), which is a hard sheep’s cheese available in the stores, or perhaps direct from a local producer like Marko from the Ekološka kmetija Škander, or the Škander Ecological Farm, just up the hill, turning left at the church, at Klanc 43. You can also find the man himself selling his cheese in Domžale every Saturday, while his wife is selling it in Ljubljana Central Market at the same time.
The inside of the church is rather nice. Photo: JL Flanner
With regard to nightlife, there’s not much, but there are several cafés and the hostels offer their own scenes. Two places to look out for are Črna Ovca and the Thirsty River Hostel. The former – to be found at Mala vas, but just look for the signs around town – is a sports club, bar and grill, and one of the few spots that could be called a “weekend party place”. In fact, the only competition could be the latter. Thirsty River’s USP is the brewery in the basement and café pub on the ground floor, serving whatever Chad has been cooking up down below. Most of the beers are only served on tap at this location - right in the main square - but some can also be taken away in bottles.
Some of the beers on offer at Thirsty River. Photo: JL Flanner
How to get there from Ljubljana
The fastest way is by car, with one option being to go over Vrsič Pass. If that’s something you choose to do – and note that in the winter the road is closed – then be sure you have the vehicle and skills needed to cope with steep hills and many hairpin bends. It’s a spectacular drive but not a great one for a breakdown, of either the car or the driver. However, there are easier routes, and from the capital you can take the A2/E61 heading to west Vrhnika, then Logatec, and then north to Idrija, Tolmin, Kobarid and Bovec. An alternative is to head straight north on the A2/E61 and go via Kranj, Bled and Jesenice.
You can get a train from Ljubljana as far as Most na Soči, and then a bus onto Tolmin, Kobarid, or Bovec. Travelling from LJ you’ll need to change trains at Jesenice. This is a simple procedure, as it’s a very small station – just two tracks, from what I recall – and the other train exists to make the connection. While the first part of the ride is beautiful enough, it’s the second that’s really stunning. There are bathrooms on the longer part of the journey, but not the shorter, and no tables or power outlets on any of the trains (in case you were planning on working). The trains vary with the time of year, and the website is here.
There’s also a direct bus from Ljubljana, which takes just over four hours and leaves from in front of the train station, although note there’s no bathroom on this and you’ll have to wait until Tolmin if you need one. The road has some pleasant views, but is also very windy in places, and so less comfortable than the train as you slide from side to side of the seat. But there are no changes to worry about, and when your bags are onboard you can sit back and (try to) relax. (Note: in addition to the direct bus there are also some with connections, and one that goes over Vrsič.) The bus arrives at and leaves from the car park behind the Mercator. Buses can also take you to and from Idrija and Nova Gorica, and the website is here.