Situated on the crossroads of important European cultural and trade routes, Slovenia is a small but lively Central European nation.
In spite of its small size – at just 20,273 square kilometers, it is the forty-fourth smallest country on earth – Slovenia is packed full of natural diversity and is a truly excellent spot for any mountain biking adventure.
“While it is not the biggest country in Europe, it has a rich diversity,” Jure Culiberg, a local and certified mountain biking guide, tells Explore & Share.
“It is considered to be one of the most wooded countries in Europe. Sixty percent of the country is forest area,” he adds. “It is also an alpine country and has access to the Adriatic Sea.”
Jure has been mountain biking in Slovenia his whole life and in 2013 he and his wife, Martina, left their corporate jobs behind to open up their own mountain bike park in the northern mountain town of Kranjska Gora.
Recently, Jure took some time out of his busy schedule to tell Explore & Share exactly why Slovenia, and specifically Kranjska Gora, is an ideal spot for mountain biking enthusiasts of all levels.
Well, for starters the possibility of riding through incredibly beautiful mountain trails. Here’s a video of Jure’s signature trip: Kranjska Gora to Piran, a biking adventure that crosses the country from mountain to sea. Enjoy!
When asked why mountain bikers should opt for a trip to Slovenia instead of one of Central Europe’s other myriad of forested alpine countries, Jure emphasizes the advantage of exploring such a small country.
“As the country is small, the distances are short and you can experience a big variety of landscapes even when traveling on a mountain bike,” Jure says.
Mountains, forests, and lakes, each of which Slovenia has in abundance, provide incredible backdrops to any outdoor adventure and are easy to reach via mountain bike trails.
“The mixture is very unique and makes Slovenia a top MTB destination,” Jure says.
And while a single day can take you up mountain slopes, through evergreen forests and past these turquoise-blue lakes, a week-long adventure gets you across the entire country.
Starting from Slovenia’s northern border with Austria, you can cycle through the Alps and down into the plains before finally arriving at the coastline of the Adriatic Sea.
For people who are new to mountain biking, heading to Kranjska Gora is the perfect place to experience the sport for the first time as well as to learn new and useful mountain biking skills.
“It is easily accessible, has a good accommodation infrastructure and a lot of services for the visitors,” Jure says.
“For mountain bikers, it is a paradise with single trails, old military ways, sights to be seen, switchbacks to overcome as well as endurance and technical skills to be tested.”
However, for beginners, Jure recommends heading out to the mountain bike parks in the town first, in order to get your bearing before making your way out onto the trails.
“A lot can be learned in a half day,” he says.
But experiencing the scenery is half the fun of mountain biking, as Jure well knows. After warming up in the mountain bike park, he recommends heading up a well-worn trail to the border between Italy and Slovenia.
“The best starting tour, in my opinion, is heading to Rifugio Zacchi, a hut in Italy with a nice view of Julian Alps.”
One of the many perks of mountain biking in the northwestern corner of Slovenia is the ability to make pretty simple rides all along the border, getting some great views out over a more remote part of the Alps than you’ll find in Switzerland, France or Italy.
For more advanced riders, there are even more options for amazing mountain biking experiences.
Jure describes one of his favorites, in which bikers make a 25-kilometer ride up along an old mule path through the Alps, finishing up at a stunningly scenic mountain pass, which provides spectacular views out over some of the highest peaks in the Julian Alps.
“For more experienced riders a tour to Vršič pass is the most scenic,” he says. “And it’s best done with a guide who can show you all of the sweetest trails.”
Jure also recommends about a half-dozen other mountain biking circuits based in Kranjska Gora, ranging from shorter 15-kilometer routes to much longer 50-kilometer ones. Several of these will require minimal elevation gain, heading to places such as the Sava Dolinka River or the Krnica Valley.
Others may include climbs of more than 1.000 vertical meters and take you up onto the slopes of the surrounding mountains. Heading up to Blek’s Mountain is one of the toughest of these climbs, but provides sublime views as a reward for your efforts.
Coming back to its small size, Slovenia is also the perfect place for a reasonable cross country cycling adventure.
Jure highly recommends this week-long odyssey through the country’s mountains, valleys forests and coastal plains, which leaves cyclers at the seashore.
“This is our star product,” he says. “It is a multi-day tour and you experience Slovenia as only a few do.”
“On the tour, we climb the highlands of the Julian Alps and Karavanke and visit the romantic valley of the beautiful turquoise-colored Soča River,” he adds. “We’ll also visit the wine-growing region of Goriška Brda and descend into a karst region, all on our way to the sunny Adriatic coast.”
The tour gives visitors the perfect snapshot of Slovenia, taking them past World War I military outposts in the mountains as well as to the vineyards and olive groves of the Istra peninsula.
Split into seven stages, each day is designed to maximize enjoyment, taking cyclers through varied terrains, up to scenic vistas and providing an opportunity for visitors to experience the country’s rich culture too.
Top that off with stops in Austria and Italy as well and you have the makings of an unforgettable experience that could never be done by car, train, on foot or with skis.
While this kind of trip does require a good level of physical fitness – Jure recommends participants to be at about a three on a scale of one to five – for those who fear they may not be able to keep up, e-bike options are also available.
The best time of year to head out on a mountain biking adventure in Slovenia is from March to November. Closer to the Adriatic Sea, biking can be done year-round.
The peak season for mountain biking is in July and August, generally when temperatures are the warmest and when rain is the least likely, but it is also when many people are on summer holidays and therefore, the trails tend to be a bit more crowded.
In the autumn and spring, however, you can still expect daily temperatures to be between 5 ºC and 15 ºC, depending on your altitude. Rain is also more frequent in the autumn and spring, but there are still plenty of clear and sunny days to enjoy.
So what are you waiting for? The stunning scenery and incredible trails of Slovenia are beckoning! Book your sublime mountain biking adventure today.
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