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In our one-week tour: the Mysteries of the Karst – Slovenia Nature Tour, we explore the mysterious limestone-hills in Southern Slovenia. Long ago, dinosaurs roamed here, now we find a landscape of unexpected beauty, filled with Caves, Intermittent Lakes, Sinkholes, Cliffs and incredible mountain views. We experience how people live here, we ride on a traditional horse-cart and learn about the arts of salt-making and the use of medicinal herbs. This region is home to a rich flora and fauna, including rare and endemic species. During the tour, we may also encounter the master of the forest, the Brown Bear.
In 2019 we have two dates for this tour:
Please note that we can also organise the Mysteries of the Karst – Slovenia Nature Tour as a private tour for your group or as a custom-made tour for your tour-agency. Contact us for information about the price and availability.
In southern Slovenia, we see whitish rocks all around us. These are limestone rocks, which originate as deposits of lime-sceletons of algae from the time of the dinosaurs. This limestone is water soluble and over time, rainwater creates a network of underground channels and chambers. Here, in the Slovenian karst, rivers and streams flow underground. Above ground, the landscape is largely dry, except in the lowest valleys, where the rivers and streams resurface. Everywhere we go, there are caves beneath our feet, altogether over 11.000 have been registered in Slovenia and new caves are regularly discovered. During our nature tour, we discover the karst (limestone) features in this landscape and we will see where the water appears, and where it disappears again in a most spectacular way …
Slovenia is a land of forests, which you will quickly notice when you drive through the countryside! Almost two-thirds of the country is covered with forests, which makes Slovenia the third most forested country in Europe, after Sweden and Finland! Slovenian forests are very beautiful with a natural undergrowth where you can find many flowers and even forest-butterflies. Some small parts of the Slovenian forests are even more special: these are the primaeval forests, where no tree has ever been cut. During our nature tour, we visit one of these primaeval forests. In this impressive forest-reserve, we get an impression of how the world would look without humans.
The extensive Slovenian forests are home to many animals. Without a doubt, the most impressive of all is the brown bear! Compared to brown bears in the rest of the world, Slovenian bears are relatively small. But, with an adult body weight of 80-100 kg (females) up to over 350 kg (the biggest males), they are by no means small animals! During our nature tour, we will try to see them in their natural habitat. To do this, we will wait for them in a hide in the forest. We have to be very still because only then we have a chance. And while we are at it, we will for sure see many forest birds and have a wonderful evening in the Slovenian forest!
We arrive in Ljubljana, 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.
Intermittent Lakes are a typical feature of Karst (limestone) landscapes. The water level fluctuates, one day they are full of water. A few days later, they may be dry. Always, they are full of life!
Lake Cerknica is the largest intermittent lake in Europe. In fact, it is also the largest lake in Slovenia and the only Slovenian lake with an inhabited island and an eldorado for water birds. That is when there is water in the lake. At other times, the lake-bed changes into a vast expanse of flower-rich meadows.
Our day starts with an incredible view over the whole lake Cerknica. We then go to see some of the most spectacular places from close-by, but what we see highly depends on the water level. We may see a crater-like landscape with deep sinkholes, into which the water disappears. Or, we may see a vast expanse of water, which reflects the surrounding hills like a mirror.
At the lake, a traditional horse-wagon, a so-called Lojtrnik, waits for us. This wagon takes us to a farmhouse in a nearby village, for our lunch.
In the afternoon, we take a 4-km hike at the most remote part of Lake Cerknica. Sometimes, forest animals come to drink here and we may see their footprints along the springs.
The limestone underground in Southern Slovenia is like an Emmenthaler cheese: full of holes. In fact, over 13.000 caves have been found until now and new caves are regularly discovered. Long ago, one of these caves has grown so large that the ceiling became unstable and eventually collapsed. In this place, we now find a lovely small valley called Rakov Škocjan. Today we visit this valley and witness the ongoing processes which lead to the formation of caves and the eventual collapse of the cave-ceiling!
In the Slovenian forests, bear, Wolf and Lynx are still at home. Of these animals, Bears are most numerous. Occasionally Slovenian 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.
We walk along a kilometres long canyon, over a path which has been chiselled out of the cliff-face. On the way, we cross the canyon over a narrow bridge, with a view to a ten-meter high waterfall. And all of this is underground, in one of the most spectacular caves in the world: Škocjanske jame. This Unesco world heritage site is a true must-see for all nature-lovers who visit Slovenia for the first time …
In the afternoon, we again find ourselves at a cliff, but now in the bright sunlight on the edge of a Karst plateau. Besides the impressive view, this is one of the best places for butterflies in Slovenia. And, in front of the cliff, we can frequently observe birds of prey, including kestrel, buzzard, golden eagle and peregrine falcon.
Kilometre after kilometre, the forest seems endless in hills of Southern Slovenia. In fact, it stretches all the way to the south Balkans and together, this is the largest forest in Central Europe. Today we explore the Beech-Silver Fir forest in the limestone hills. Here, we encounter few people, most only come to work. This forest has a major economic importance for forestry, Bee-keeping, mushroom-collecting and hunting. Sometimes, local people hike to one of the tops of the hills, but in spite of the beauty of the area, we encounter few foreign visitors.
Because of the vastness of the area, we drive over forest roads and make many stopovers on the way to explore the forest and features of the limestone karst. At one place, we have a longer stopover and hike to a low mountaintop. This place is a botanical reserve where we find a rich flora and numerous butterflies.
The Bloščica stream quietly meanders over the Bloke plateau. It is surrounded by low bog and peatland meadows, in an idyllic atmosphere. Among Slovenian naturalists, it is known as one of the best places for dragonflies and it is also a good place for butterflies and birdwatching. If we are lucky, we may even find otter tracks along the shores of the stream!
Only ten minutes driving from Bloščica, there is a totally different stream. Iška cascades through a steep valley and gives a true Alpine feel with rocky shores and fresh, cool air. Large parts of this stream are entirely natural, and we follow a narrow trail which is used by animals and the occasional human visitor alike.
The Art of Salt-making shaped the Slovenian coast when the shallow water was transformed into salt-pans. Today, there is a renewed interest in the natural sea salt from Slovenia, which is preferred for cooking by the famous chef Jamie Oliver! Only a part of the salt pan is still in use nowadays, over half of its surface is a bird reserve of international importance!
In the afternoon, we go inland to the Dragonja valley. Here, the tiny stream flows over white rocks. We get a true taste of the Mediterranean with colourful Bee-eaters, Orioles, Hoopoes and Shrikes, while Nightingales sing in the background. We rest in the pleasant shade at a local house, where the owners show how to extract rich scented oils from medicinal herbs.
Depending on our flight time, we will visit one or more nature areas on the way to the airport.
The price of our custom tours is 1,295 € per person.
Please note that external providers may add the price of an airplane ticket, as well as their expenses.
This price includes 7 nights accommodation, meals, transport in Slovenia, guiding, entrance fees, bear-watching, transfer between Ljubljana airport and the accommodation.
The price does not include: airplane tickets, travel insurance, any private expenses, alcoholic drinks
There is a single-room supplement of 175 € per person.
Your principal guides will be Paul or Jana (both for larger groups), who are licensed local guides and naturalists, living in southern Slovenia. They speak English, Slovenian and Dutch. Sometimes, they are joined by other specialized guides. For instance, in caves, there will be a specialist cave/guide.
Transfer to and from Ljubljana (Brnik) airport is included in this tour. Please tell us when you arrive at another location or by other transport means so we can help you arrange transport to the meeting point at the accommodation.
For groups, we cooperate with several local accommodations which are comparable with Agritourism or a countryside hotel.
For families and groups of friends of up to 4 people, we can include staying in our authentic Slovenian farmhouse called the Dormouse house, see the tab “Holiday House” on this website.
1 – 3 participants: a personal car, the guide is also the driver
4 – 8 participants: a minibus, the guide is also the driver
We think that tasty, high-quality meals are a very important part of any tour! Where possible we prefer it when we can eat local dishes, based on locally produced ecological products. Often, we include seasonal fruits and other farm products.
Breakfasts often include home-made bread with pršut (Slovenian wind-dried ham), cheese and eggs from local farms, as well as home-made marmalade and Slovenian honey.
Lunch during our tours is often a tasty picnic, which we enjoy in a beautiful, natural area. Such a picknick consists of delicious home-baked bread and a variety of local products depending on the seasons together with home-made juice and Slovenian tea.
Dinner is usually served at the accommodation, but in case you stay at our farmhouse “the Dormouse house” we may drive with you to a local farmhouse and eat there. Have you every tried Slovenian štruklji, which are a delicious kind of dumplings, or ajdove zganci, a buckweed-based food – a Slovene staple from the old times?
We can provide vegetarian meals and of course take any requirements into account which you may have, like allergies and based on religious beliefs. We will ask you about this sometime before the start of the tour. Sometimes, it means that we will have to buy ingredients which are not available locally.
This tour is moderately difficult. During the tour, we will hike up to 5 km in a morning or afternoon. We follow unpaved roads and small trails. While we walk slowly and stop many times, the terrain can be difficult, rocky and occasionally steep. However, we will leave the real climbing to others. 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. In the cave, it is cool, only around 12 oC. We hope for sunny weather, but it is wise to be prepared for rain as well.
Waterproof hiking shoes
Tick- and mosquito repellent
Refillable water bottle