I’m hiking stage 24 of the Alpe Adria Trail, a new 467-mile route that spans Austria, Italy and Slovenia. I set off with my group from Trenta, a glacial valley town in Slovenia’s Triglav National Park.
A cobbled route takes me to the green River Soča, where marble trout slip through shimmering waters. The river glows like the emerald castle in The Wizard of Oz, and surrounding me are bottle-green forests that rise to meet saw-toothed peaks.
“In wintertime, we’re only 90 locals here,” Edwin tells me, gazing up at the craggy cliffs. “There’s no sun for over two months.” Each year, the valley sinks into shadows — the surrounding 8,000ft-plus mountain walls let little light in.
The route takes me through karst terrain, with pretty pastures and wooden-shuttered huts. Historical relics also litter the landscape: memorials, old roads and defunct forts. Only a century ago, this area saw some of the First World War’s bloodiest battles.
Many lives were lost here, Edwin tells me. Today, however, it’s the landscape that’s in the firing line, as the snowpack decreases with each passing year. As we stroll alongside a stream, Edwin illustrates the importance of respecting nature by recounting the Slovenian legend of Zlatorog, a chamois buck whose golden horns were key to a treasure hidden in the mountain. In the town of Trenta, a young hunter, had fallen in love with a beautiful local girl. He thought he’d won her affections until a wealthy merchant from Venice brought her gold jewellery.
Determined to prove his worth to the girl, the jealous hunter took to the snowy slopes to find the treasure of Zlatorog. A skilled huntsman, he quickly tracked and shot the animal. The wounded chamois attempted to escape, leaving a trail of blood, from which blossomed small, pink flowers: the Triglav rose.
As we dip into pine forest dotted with moss-covered rocks, Edwin tells me the dying creature ate the flower’s petals, and was instantly healed. In anger, it sprang away as roses emerged from beneath its hooves. The hunter climbed after it, and blinded by the sun reflecting off the chamois’ golden horns, lost his footing and plunged into the gorge below. The River Soča carried his body home, where he was found clutching the Triglav rose.
The trail takes me across a wooden suspension bridge. I bounce high above a dizzying gorge that snakes through the valley. The rushing river intensifies as the path opens up into a languid wildflower meadow, where a weather-beaten man is tending to his garden.
“Oh! I forgot to tell you the outcome,” Edwin recalls as I catch up with him. “The penalty for the hunter was that the area is karst and rocks only — it’s no longer paradise.”
But as I take in the tangle of tree-topped slopes, the lively emerald river and alpine peaks, it seems that paradise is not lost.