Our Nature Tour combines the most diverse areas in southern Slovenia: the meeting point of the major biogeographical zones of Central Europe. From the mysterious dark world of a cave to a sunny mountaintop, from extensive forests to a lake which disappears in the ground: we discover new landscapes every day. Here, we find rich flora and fauna, and every day we encounter species which are rare in other parts of Europe.
On several days we invite local specialists to join our tour, including a butterfly and a brown bear expert and a local guide in the primaeval forest. Every day, we will be walking on quiet trails as well as off-road, but this is not a hiking tour as we often stop to admire and photograph flowers and animals and walk only a few kilometre on a single hike.
In 2018 we have two departure dates for this tour. From the 2nd-9th June 2018, we organise our Nature Tour in cooperation with the British travel agency Greentours.The language of this tour is English. 14th-21st June 2018, the tour is organised in cooperation with the Dutch travel agency Inezia Tours. The language of this tour is mainly Dutch, except for some local guides, who speak English. Please check their websites for other tour information and booking.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for Inezia Tours
London Gatwick or Heathrow for Greentours
2 Hours Before Flight Time
175 € per person
Please note that taking any plants or animals from nature is not permitted during this tour. We may catch some animals for identification purposes and then release them back to nature where they were caught.
We fly to either Ljubljana or Venice, where our local guide Paul Veenvliet is waiting for the group. With a small van, we drive to the accommodation. Depending on our arrival time we make stopovers on the way in one or more nature areas where we get a first impression of the rich nature of Slovenia.
Almost half of Slovenia geologically belongs to Karst, a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone and dolomite. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves – many of these phenomena we will see during our tour.
The forest which starts in Southern Slovenia continues uninterrupted all the way to the south Balkan. This morning we experience part of the extensiveness of the woods while we drive over unpaved roads to our first destination. The forest is dominated by Beech, Spruce and Silver Fir, but includes small clearing where we find forest butterflies.
After the rain, Red deer, Brown bear and occasionally Wolf and Lynx leave footprints in muddy pools at the roadside. After a while we leave the van to hike up to our first destination: a mountaintop of a little more than 1000 meter asl, crowned by a deserted church. In the past, cows and sheep kept this area open with grazing, but nowadays nature is taking over which results in an explosion of flowers! From the top, we have wide views to all directions. Around this mountain, we find flat valleys, the so-called »poljes«, which transform into small lakes after heavy rainfall.
After a short drive, we visit an interactive exhibition, revealing the secrets of Karst.
Southern Slovenia is dominated by limestone which originates from oceanic sediment, created at the time of the dinosaurs. When the African and European continents collided, the limestone got uplifted, forming the Alps and many other parts of Slovenia. Rainwater partially dissolved the limestone and created an »emmentaler cheese with holes« under our feet in the form of caves and underground rivers. Many of the underground holes are small, but there are also spectacular, kilometres long caves. In fact, well over 11.000 caves have been registered in Slovenia until now, and each year new caves are discovered.
We visit one of the most beautiful and natural show caves in the surroundings. At the entrance, the cave guide provides us with rubber boots and special cave-lights which work on an accumulator. Armed with these, we enter the darkness like real explorers. On the way, we encounter the remains of Cave bears which hibernated and sometimes died here in the Ice ages. Also nowadays there are animals living in the cave, but most of them are minute because there is very little food here. If we are lucky, we find troglobiotic millipedes, beetles and woodlice, which have various adaptations to living in complete darkness. At the end of the cave, we find an enchanting small underground lake.
Also nowadays we can encounter bears here, the Slovenian forests are home to a healthy population of several hundreds of Brown bears. Occasionally these bears enter the villages at night, in search of fruit from the orchards and other edibles. They are wary of people and not easily seen. Our best chance is to wait at dusk in special hides at feeding places in the forest. If we are lucky, we can then observe them in their natural habitat. The feeding places attract other species as well, and we may see fox, badger, roe deer and several species of birds.
Most of the Slovenian forests have a very natural appearance, with a species-rich undergrowth and a mysterious, vast expansiveness. You don’t meet many people: Slovenians go to the forest in search of mushrooms, to hunt or to collect wood. The human impact on the forest is subtle, but visible to the trained eye.
On this day we visit a forest reserve where there is no human interference for centuries. The regime is so strict that we are not allowed to walk through the reserve, but only on edge. Still, we do get a good impression of the forest where nature is let run its course. The unspoilt, primaeval forest often gives a disorganised impression: we encounter dead trees between the healthy growing ones and may have to make detours around mighty trunks and rocks. Small trees grow slowly underneath the canopy of the forest giants: they may have to wait for decades until an old tree dies and it is their turn to reach for the sky. The Slovenian primaeval forest reserves are an important reference area for natural forest management. In 2017 two forest reserves were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.
The large Vipava valley is bordered by impressive limestone cliffs. We approach these from the backside: we drive up around the cliffs and hike through a hilly landscape towards the edge. When the weather is clear, we can see all the way to the Adriatic sea from up here. Sun and wind, during winter also snow and frost, limit the growth of threes here. Even though we are not much higher than 1000 meter, we find Alpine plants flowering between the rocks.
Butterflies fly upwards along the cliffs and concentrate along the highest peaks. Especially Swallowtail and Scarce Swallowtail stand out because of their size and because of their elegant »sailing« flight. They are not alone: depending on the season it is possible to observe over 50 butterfly species here in a single day! On this day, a Slovenian butterfly specialist (researcher) joins our group and together we identify Blues, Frittilaries and Ringlets. With some patience, we can photograph many of these species from close by.
Our accommodation is located at the edge of the Cerknica valley. Characteristic for this valley is the highly variable water level: after heavy rain and when the snow melts in spring, the valley becomes flooded. For some time, Slovenia’s largest lake is formed with a surface up to 30 square kilometres! During much of the summer, the lake bed is dry, and water is limited to slowly meandering streams. A special feature of the lake is that the water appears and disappears underground.
Along the edge of the valley, we find many springs while there are large holes in the underground at other places, the so-called »sinkholes«, through which the water flows away in underground rivers. The lake appears because the capacity of the springs is larger than that of the sinkholes: water flows faster into the valley than it can flow out. As a consequence of the fluctuating water level, we find here an extensive wetland with a rich flora and fauna.
We start the day with a hike to the mysterious intermittent springs in the forest edge. In summer, forest animals often come to drink here, and we may well encounter their tracks. We pass flower-rich meadows with Wild Gladiolus, Cottongrass and Summer Snowflakes. From small willow trees, we hear Yellow Wagtail, Reed Warbler and Whinchat while Corncrakes call from between high sedges. In the Cerknica valley, some 125 species of butterflies have been observed, but their density is not particularly high. Still, we may find rare marshland species like Enzian Blue and Large Copper.
The water which disappears underground at Lake Cerknica reappears a few kilometre further in the springs at the small valley of Rakov Škocjan. This valley originated in the form of an underground river, which over time has created a large cave until the ceiling became very thin and eventually collapsed. The water has since then taken away the rocks of the former cave ceiling, and a lovely small valley now meanders through the forest.
At both ends of this valley, the process of its formation continues nowadays, which results in spectacular rock formations where the above-ground and underground worlds meet. Here is a cool and moist microclimate in which mosses and ferns thrive. This is also the habitat of the rare Horvath’s Rock Lizard, which is active for only a few hours each day. We can see Grey Wagtails and have a good chance to observe Dippers and Kingfishers as well.
Today we go to the south, where a series of inland cliffs mark a sharp border between the central European and Submediterranean climate. The cliffs have a rick animal life, including Blue Rock Thrush, Red-rumped Swallow and Rock Pigeon as well as Green Lizard, Dalmatian Algyroides and Karst Lizard. The forest is dominated by warmth-loving trees like Downy Oak, Manna Ash and Black Pine, between which Nettle tree butterflies dwell.
In the afternoon we move even more to the south, to the small river Dragonja at the Slovenian-Croatian border. Here, we encounter abundant birdlife including Bee-eater, Oriole, Nightingale, Red-backed Shrike and Turtle Dove.
Depending on our flight time, we will visit one or more nature areas on the way to the airport.
Moderately difficult. During the tour, we will walk slowly and stop many times, but terrain can be difficult, rocky and occasionally steep, without real climbing. Please make sure that you have good hiking shoes and sturdy trousers!
We will be out all day in sunny weather with temperatures up to, and above 30 oC. Please take a sun-hat and suncream.
During the tour, we will be staying at a countryside hotel or agritourism. This way, we are at an optimal driving distance from the areas which we intend to visit.
Participants should arrange the transport to Ljubljana airport or train station. Depending on arrival times, we may be able to arrange a common transfer from the airport to the accommodation on the arrival day. If there is no suitable flight to Ljubljana airport, you may also check connections to Trieste Airport (Italy) (1,5-hour travel to the accommodation) or Venice Marco Polo Airport (Italy) (2,5 hours travel time to the accommodation), but in this case you should arrange a shuttle transport from the airport to Unec (Gostilna in Pizzeria Portus, Unec), which you can book online through service Go Opti. We will give you more detailed instructions at the time of booking.
During this tour, we will use a van which has eight seats for participants and one for the driver. The tour guide will also be the driver of the van. This gives us a maximum of flexibility: how long we like to stay at each place, is up to us.