Traditional Slovenian Hayracks

The Soča Valley

Journeys » The Soča Valley

July 26, 2023: Our scenic route from Bled to Ljubljana rose in the Julian Alps over the dramatic Vršič Pass and back down the emerald Soča Valley.

If the Soca river in Slovenia isn’t the most beautiful river on this planet, it is most certainly in the running.

DL Cade, Huffington Post

Our route road led north from Bled and rose in Triglav National Park. At 9400′, Mount Triglav (“Three Heads”) is the highest mountain in Slovenia.  The peaks represent air, earth and water and proudly adorn the Slovene flag.

We wound our way through 24 hair-pin brick turns to Vršič Pass, then descended through 26 more along the emerald Soča river as we edged close to Italy.  Over 50% of Slovenia is forest, and this corner is the most stunning.

Triglav National Park
Triglav National Park

Vršič Pass

As we entered the park, beautiful meadows and jagged peaks framed our photos of traditional Slovenian hayracks.  Soon we started climbing the 24 hairpin curves.  These are bricked – supposedly for traction, but we suspect it is to slow the motorcycles. 

Colorful farms entering Vršič Pass
Colorful farms entering Vršič Pass
Brick Switchback #1 of 24 up Vršič Pass
The first of 24 Switchbacks up Vršič Pass

At hairpin #8 we stopped by the Russian Chapel.  During WWI, Russian PoWs suffered and died in horrific conditions building this road for their captors.  The chapel was built as a quiet memorial to their hardship and loss.

Russian Chapel Vršič Pass
Russian Chapel at Switchback #8

Ajda’s Curse

At turn #22 we pulled out for a mountain vista.  If you look carefully at the cliff face, you can see the doomed face of Ajda.  A poor village girl, she was cursed for predicting the death of the Zlatorog (Golden Horn), a mythical beast, and is forever frozen on the cliff face.

Julian Alps view from Switchback #22
Julian Alps view from Switchback #22
Ajda's sad face on the wall
Ajda’s sad face on the wall

We soon reached the crowded peak at #24, and after a brief delay for a tree fallen across the only road, began our descent to the Soča River Valley.

The Valley of Cemeteries

Slovenia’s Julian Alps are shaded with bright beauty and dark history.  The Soča dances down the valley to the Agean Sea.  It carries microscopic karst (stone flecks) in its snowmelt, making it both clear and brilliant aquamarine at the same time.  Numerous footbridges cross the waters, connecting a lacework of hiking trails worth revisiting.

Footbridge over the Soča River
Footbridge over the Soča River near Trenta

But just over 100 years ago, the natural beauty was shattered by WWI artillery.  This was the WWI Soča front (Isonzo in Italian).  With 1.7 million casualties, it earned the nickname “The Valley of Cemeteries.”  An 18-year-old Ernest Hemingway was stationed here as a Red Cross ambulance driver for the Italian (Allied) armies.  Ten years later, he wrote “A Farewell to Arms”, about war and lost love, based on his experience here.

Kluže Fort

This area was strategically important long before WWI.  In the 1400s, Venetians defended against the Ottoman empire in these narrow valleys.  Just over 300 years later Napoleon fought his way through to claim the Illyrian Provinces.  And then WWI, and WWII.  The region was Venetian, Austrian, Italian, Yugoslavian, and finally, part of independent Slovenia in 1991. 

We visited Kluže Fort that defended the narrowest gap in the valley.  Standing on the ramparts, we saw mountain thundershower racing up the path.  We made it to our car just as the rain began to pelt, so did not get to hike any of the Walk of Peace that memorializes those lost to senseless wars here.

Kluže Fort above the "Valley of Cemeterys"
Kluže Fort above the “Valley of Cemeterys”
Kluže Fort guarding the pass to Italy
Kluže Fort guarding the pass to Italy

St. Joseph’s Church and Yugoslav Patriotism

The showers had stopped when we reached the town of Soča and the small St. Joseph Church.  During WWII, an unnamed artist hiding in the hills decorated this church with Yugoslav patriotism, a dangerous undertaking.  On the ceiling, Michael the Archangel, robed in Yugoslav colors, has the Axis Wolf (Italy), Eagle (Germany) and Serpent (Japan) underfoot. 

St. Michael
St. Michael with the Axis powers at his feet

The Stations of the Cross are even bolder.  At #5, Mussolini, rather than Harrod, passes judgement. 

Jesus judged by Mussolini
Jesus is judged…
Jesus judged by Mussolini
… by Mussolini

At #11, Hitler in lederhosen hangs Jesus on the cross.

Jesus on the Cross
Jesus nailed to the cross…
Jesus nailed by Hitler
… by Hitler himself
St. Joseph's Chapel in Soča
Defiant St. Joseph’s Chapel in Soča

Napoleon’s Bridge

The rain started again, so we only snapped a roadside photo of Napoleon’s Bridge.  His army built this bridge – as they did roads and bridges – throughout the Balkans.  He took Slovenia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1809 and made Slovene Ljubljana the capital of this region.  For the first time, the Slovene language was taught in schools, and their culture blossomed.  They have a fondness for the French to this day.

Napoleon's Soča Bridge
Napoleon’s Soča Bridge

From the bridge, we continued our scenic drive to our next Central Europe Trip destination – Slovenia’s lovely capital, Ljubljana.

On to Ljubljana
On to Ljubljana

More Bytes from The Central Europe Trip

The Dragon Cave

Centuries ago, monks carved the fantastical Dragon Cave reliefs high above the sea as they hid in from pirates and invading Turks.

Summer in Bol

We have seen some beautiful places in our travels, but we come back to summer in Bol again and again. It remains our second favorite place!

Baška Voda

Baška Voda is stunning, with hyper-saturated blue skies and water, and the Biokovo Massif looming overhead.  Do we maybe have a new second favorite place?


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One thought on “The Soča Valley

  1. So many magnificent places to enjoy courtesy of your outstanding commentary and photographs! Thanks for letting us travel vicariously with you!

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