Via Alpina Red- Week 1: Muggia to Petrovo Brdo

This page is taken from the main Crossing the Alps with Ease’ Blog and put into chronological order.

This blog started as a GR5 blog describing our trek from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean. But before we finished that, we began to wonder if this 450 mile walk couldn’t be part of an even longer walk. And so we discovered the Via Alpina, which would take us from Trieste in an enormous arc of the Alps, crossing national borders 44 times, and eventually joining with what we have already walked in France.
On the map below we plan to more or less follow the red route. I’m not sure how far it is, but it looks like a long way, and I suspect it is quite hilly. Taken a little at a time it is going to take many summer holidays (edit: since writing that sentence it occurred to me that I could probably look up how far it is: 1561 miles and 765877 feet of ascent apparently- the imperial measurement is strange to me, but it doesn’t matter because right now that is an unimaginable amount.)

Via Alpina - Wikipedia

Or there is an interactive map to play with here: https://hiiker.app/trails/italy/muggia/via-alpina-red-trail/map

We originally thought we would finish the GR5 walk to the Mediterranean before starting in Trieste, but our attempts to get to do the final section of that walk have been frustrated by COVID travel restrictions. As we now plan to set off at the end of September, it is too late in the year for us to do the final French section, with closed refuges and the threat of snow. So we will do one section in Slovenia, which is at a lower altitude, before going back to France when we have the opportunity.

Muggia– September 23rd 2021

Our walk starts at the ancient small town of Muggia which is a little to the south of Trieste across a bay. Although it feels Venetian, Muggia has only been part of Italy since 1954.

Looking across at Trieste

It has been a long journey today and it seems like a long time ago that our alarm went at 1.30 this morning. But everything has gone smoothly, with various different modes of transport, involving, among other things, remembering how the initially opaque system for getting on an Italian bus works (you buy a ticket at a tobacconist). We were able to leave a bag at a place near Venice, so we can spend a couple of days there with different clothes after we have finished walking.

Muggia to Val Rossandra– September 24th 2021

Just to make sure that we go the the whole way to wherever it is we are ultimately going it was necessary to ceremonially dip a toe in the sea.

The Via Alpina site says that the route starts in the main square of Muggia and climbs to the castle and continues from there. The map seemed to suggest this was the wrong direction, but we went to the castle to see if things made sense once we were there. They didn’t so we returned to the centre of the town and started again.

That wasn’t the only error on the published information: it said that our day should have 136 m of ascent, but according to my gps it was nearer 1000m (a Scafell Pike as we call it).

Muggia is south of Trieste so most the day involved walking in a large arc around he city, taking the line of most resistance over hills and though a lot of forest, with some very fragrant sections through vineyards and olive groves.

At one stage there was a sign describing the local wildlife: deer, foxes, snakes, lynx, and apparently at least one bear.

Could this be where the bear lives?

Because we were mainly in trees, mostly we couldn’t see that far, but occasionally we would get a view of Trieste.

Shortly after taking this photo there was a moment of great controversy. It was discovered that Judith’s pack was heavier than mine. This was very quickly corrected!

In the picture above you can see where Muggia is on the far peninsula. It felt that we had come quite a long way and we thought we had nearly finished. We finished our water (although cloudy the weather was warm and quite humid) and set off for the final little bit, which went up much further than expected and was steep and loose. And then back down again…

I could see from the map that the trees were going to stop for a while and I had imagined open pasture and gentle slopes. This turned out not to be the case…

We made it down to the little B and B we are staying in. It doesn’t do evening meals, but there is an Italian Alpine Club Rifugio ( by some way the one with the lowest altitude) round the corner and they will give us some supper.

One distressing thing today has been the amount of rubbish on the route. Strange piles of old clothes and bags and blankets. We don’t know for certain, but it seems to us quite likely that this route isn’t just used for leisure, but also by refugees trying to travel away from roads and away from sight. A badly broken shoe just before a long section of scree was sobering.

Val Rosandra to Lokev– September 25th 2021

I’ve never really got the hang of eating out in Italy- definitely need more practice. I’m never sure how the courses work and how many you are meant to have. The problem was compounded last night at the rifugio Premuda by the fact there wasn’t a menu, or rather there wasn’t a written menu; instead we were treated to a very long list and it seemed to us that the main thing was to order a quantity of food which wasn’t wildly inappropriate. I’m pleased to report that we were successful and as an added bonus, it was delicious. And, furthermore, they provided a sandwich for today.

The day started with a climb up Val Rosandra, it’s vast vertical sides giving a thrillingly claustrophobic atmosphere.

Unfortunately we underestimated the complexity of the valley and somewhere we took a wrong branch- following red and white markers doesn’t really work if all the paths have red and white markers. By the time we realised our mistake, we were at the point of perfect ambiguity about whether it was best to retrace our steps or carry on and rejoin the route later. We chose the latter as psychologically preferable.

While I stared with incredulity at the gps map and worried about how close together the contours were on our new route, Judith happily took pictures of beetles.

…and flowers

Our extra excursion added considerable ascent and descent- and time to our day. Our walk today was going to end up being about 17 miles, and after a couple of hours our pace was averaging at rather less than one mile an hour.

Thankfully the going got easier and we sped up a bit. After a last look at the coast…

…we crossed the border into Slovenia, where we have not one word of the language.

After some nice flat walking on a disused railway line, and some minor roads, we picked up a track through forest which gained height with relative ease…

At the top of the hill there was a cafe, where we had a drink before continuing down

Once in the valley we were near Lipica where the famous Lipizzaner are bred.

Finally we followed a faint path for a long way…

…to eventually arrive at the large village/ small town of Lokev where confusingly all the streets are called Lokev.

Lokev to Senozece– September 26th 2021

The walk today was a bit shorter and a lot flatter then yesterday’s. And from time to time the walk was in a straight line. Indeed, we walked 2 miles absolutely straight right at the beginning of the day, although this was in a south easterly direction and we are generally going north, but you can’t have everything.

A shorter day gave us some time to visit the Skocjan Caves. This is a world heritage site and a popular tourist destination (most people drive there rather than arrive on foot). Unfortunately the tour involved a 2 mile walk and a lot of steps down and back up, which in many ways is an odd thing to do while taking a break from walking. But it was worth it because the caves were astonishing and we didn’t have to carry our packs because there were lockers. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the caves so here are a couple from the internet.

They don’t really do it justice though.

The caves were in an area of cliffs…

These cliffs are really a huge hole in the ground, in otherwise rolling countryside. Several million years ago the underground river caused the whole hill to collapse.

Beyond the caves were another 10 miles or so of forest…

And occasional more open bits…

One moment of mild anxiety was when we crossed an airfield, the path crossing right at the end of the runway. Numerous signs said that you weren’t allowed to go that way. The map said otherwise. Either the owners of the airfield are in dispute with whoever is responsible for this section of path or the signs were only intended for vehicles (I now think this is most likely as the signs were only placed in the direction that vehicles could come from). Anyway, with no obvious alternative route we crossed that section. We were observed but not shouted at. A small plane did take off soon after we had passed.

Senozece, where we have ended up was obviously once very prosperous, but now a lot of the grandest buildings are empty or ruined. According to the guidebook to the Slovene Mountain Trail, this is because first the railway and then the motorway passed it by. We have a good place to stay though on the edge of town.

Senozece to Predjama– September 27th 2021

The hotel we were staying in was to be closed today, so we were served breakfast by the cleaning lady. Not only was she able to give us an early breakfast which suits us, it was also by some way the best breakfast of the trip so far. Normally we just seem to get bread and jam and coffee but this morning she made us omelette and bacon and egg.

The walk began by going back into trees and heading toward Razdrto along twisty paths and tracks (twisty both left and right and up and down).

In front of us now was a huge whale of a mountain called Nanos, and our route was to take us onward via the summit. But even the casual glance at the map revealed that by walking in a straight line along minor roads you could miss out Nanos altogether, making the day at least 3 hours shorter. As the mountain was enveloped in thick black cloud, this seemed to me to be at least an option. But Judith informed me that ‘we are not those people’. I was just wondering whether I might be that person, but apparently not yet. Nanos it was.

The route up involved an enormous zig zag, something like a 2 mile zig followed by a similar zag. The angle was mainly easy but the steeper rocky sections were incredibly slippery.

Getting above the trees was a relief, partly because the feeling of space was good, but mainly because without the wet leaves it was a lot less slippery.

The view from the top wasn’t quite as magnificent as we had been promised…

But after descending a bit, we were able to have lunch with a view.

It was a good path down, and for some reason the rocks were no longer slippery. The various theories about this included subtly different rock, different trees, different atmospheric conditions, and divine intervention. Whatever the reason it was a great relief.

Once off the mountain, we had a few more miles to go. The weather had improved considerably and it was now a very pleasant afternoon.

Setting off on the last section. The mountain behind is Nanos.

Our bed for the night is very close to the spectacular Predjama castle. I think we arrived in time to explore the castle but our legs and feet were having none of that.

Apparently it has never been used as the baddy lair in a James Bond film, but surely it must have been.

Predjama to Idrija-September 28th 2021

It was another good breakfast this morning. The restaurant at Predjama castle has a few attic rooms people can stay in, and the hostess was very kind and made breakfast for us an hour earlier than they would do normally, because we had a long walk ahead of us.

That is the main thing- it felt a long way. The Via Alpina guide suggests going from Predjama to Idrija in 2 days, but the 2nd suggested day was very short, so with blatant disregard for the ‘with ease’ part of the project, we decided to do it in one day and then have a day off. It seemed like a good idea when this was planned, but as we were already weary from the previous days, this morning we were not so sure.

So our walk today was getting on for 22 miles and involved 3400 feet of ascent and rather more descent.

It started with a long climb to the summit of Javornik. The going was relentlessly easy on a wide track.

Rising above the mist
The view from somewhere near the top.

The descent was a bit steeper, and it was exciting to get our first glimpse of the Julian Alps ahead.

Not sure if you can see the mountains in the background.

Eventually we came down to the attractive village of Crni Vrh, which surely has some vowels missing (in fact lots of Slovenian place names look like bad Scrabble hands to my ignorant eyes). We had our sandwiches in the village square in Crni Vrh.

The rest of the walk to Idrija started off flat for a few miles, and hot in the afternoon sun.

The final descent to Idrija was long and steep and slippery, but eventually landed us on the valley floor. We crossed a surprisingly wobbly bridge high above the river, before we hobbled into the town, looking forward to a day off tomorrow.

Idrija– September 29th 2021

A day off in Idrija. We are enjoying not wearing boots and not walking very far. I have mentioned before how pleasurable an activity ‘not walking’ is on a walking holiday.

Idrija is a small town in a deep valley. It’s history is one of mercury mining. At one stage 13% of the world’s mercury was mined here. This is also a tragic human history, because we now know, of course, how poisonous mercury is. When a young man started working here he would be having nightmares within a week. And if he was working with smelting, he’d be dead within 5 years, or if working as a miner he might live up to 10 years.

The town also has a tradition of lace making. All those widows had to make a living somehow.

Now the electronics industry has replaced mercury mining, and from our observations people seem to live to a ripe old age.

Idrija to Cerkno– September 30th 2021

Some churches in Idrija are easier to get to than others.

Unless we were going walk up the narrow valley on the main road, the only way out of Idrija was up the steep forested side of the valley.

The via Alpina leaving the valley has been rerouted from the route marked on our map, confusing us for a while until we worked out where we were going. The new route looked on the map to be less steep than the old one. But it was still incredibly steep. And slippery. And a long way. And wet. When I count my blessings I can add to the list that I never have to walk that ‘path’ again.

Electricity cables allow a rare view through the trees.

We did see this fella though on the path…

And this one…

Later we saw deer and ospreys and a fox.

What wilderness was waiting for us when we finally reached the ridge?

It turned out that there were some high alpine pastures, little hamlets and lots of churches. We spent the next few hours walking through this beautiful Slovene scenery, sometimes on minor roads, sometimes on tracks, and sometimes on faint paths, with the weather gradually improving.

There was plenty of up and down (something like 4800 feet of ascent today), and some tricky navigation through farm land. One farmer in particular seemed unsympathetic to walkers, having laid flat a finger post and put electric fences up over all the possible paths (Judith can testify that the fences were live, having accidentally touched one). We tried to go a different way only to find more barriers. We managed in the end though.

Everything now feels very Alpine and not at all maritime, which means we have definitely made a lot of progress, even if we are walking to the Alps rather than crossing them, and we are not really doing so ‘with ease’.

The Via Alpina doesn’t go to Cerkno but because of our itinerary and because some places we might stay are now closed, it made sense for us to descend to Cerkno and rejoin the route tomorrow. Thankfully the descent was much easier than the ascent from Idryja this morning, and was actually very pleasant…

…but having been on the go for more than 9 hours, maybe we didn’t appreciate it as much as we might have.

Cerkno to Petrovo Brdo- October 1st 2021

Today was our last day walking, as we have now reached the high mountains, where the refuges have closed for the winter.

It was a day of pleasing simplicity. From Cerkno we walked up a mountain called Porezen, and then we walked down the other side. On the way up, there were no unnecessary descents, and on the way down, it was down all the way. About half way up we rejoined the official Via Alpina route.

It was quite a long way up and down- the top of Porezen is 4500 ft above Cerkno, which our legs certainly noticed, but our spirits were lifted by the views all around, a fitting climax to this leg of the trip.

Porezen
Leaving the valley mist behind
Looking down to Cerkno
Clearing the trees on the way up. About an hour to the top

And on the other side of the mountain all that we could see was…

The highest peak is Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia and a kind of national symbol. On the high point of the ridge on the foreground is the refuge where we will spend the night after the first day when we eventually return to carry on.
Coming back into trees on the way down

We are staying the night at a small mountain lodge, run by a delightful man who has opened specially for us. He took our picture…

Final Blog Entry for 2021– October 2nd 2021

After saying goodbye to (and exchanging blessings with) the exceptionally nice man who looked after us for the night, and promising to be back in two years to continue the walk (next year we plan to finish the French section to the Mediterranean), we walked to the railway station at Podbrdo.

It was about an hour’s walk and included a steep slippery descent through forest, just for old time’s sake. It was a good thing it wasn’t a long walk because this has happened to my boot…

Podbrbo station feels quite remote (and Trainline.com doesn’t believe it exists.

Now we are on our way to Venice, where we can stay for a bit before heading home.

Even though, with the benefit of hindsight some of the walking days were a bit too long for us, it feels good to have completed a very obvious stage of the Via Alpina- going from the coast to the Alps.

The blue dot on the map is where we got to.

In 7 days of walking we covered 115 miles. It was quite hilly- our walk included 7600m (25000 feet) of ascent. There were also a lot of trees- something like 3/4 of the Slovenian landscape is dominated by forest. And some very friendly, hospitable and generous people.

September seems like quite a good time to do this section of the walk. It was cooler than high summer and we had excellent weather. Occasionally, though, fallen leaves made steep paths very slippery and hard going.

We hardly met anybody else walking-once away from any town or village, the paths were more or less deserted.

So, I think that’s it for this year…