Walking the Alpe Adria – Take Two

Seeing Double?

If you have seen these photos and stories before, it is probably true.
I posted them in my newsletter as I was hiking in Europe. I've now posted them in my blog so they are available as an archive.
My apologies for the repeat, but if you wanted to look through the images and stories again, please be my guest.
For new subscribers, I hope you enjoy my descriptionof my journey as much as I enjoyed the experience.
Happy Hiking,

Hiking the
Alpe Adria Trail

Called the Garden of Eden or, for German speakers, Garten Eden, the Alpe Adria Trail is 750 kilometres long. It begins in Austria at the base of that country’s highest Alp (or Alpe) crosses into Slovenia (formerly part of Yugoslavia) and then enters and leaves and enters Italy before arriving at the Adriatic Sea (or Adria) near Trieste.

And guess what?

I’m currently looking at the church in the photo above. Tomorrow morning, at 9am, I’ll be catching a bus to take me nearer to Austria’s highest mountain peak — the Grossglockner. I’ll hike the 13 kilometres down to Heiligenblat back to that church and be one day into my journey to Trieste. In about six weeks, on October 1st if all goes well, I’ll be celebrating with some fine Italian wine.

This is a hotel to hotel hike so between mountain views, cascading waterfalls and some daunting climbs, I’ll enjoy a hot shower, a comfortable bed and the best the regional cuisine has to offer.

I’m mostly hiking on on my own so I could use your company. My plan is to post one or more photos each day on my new instagram account: NicolaDustyTravels. If you would like to follow my journey through the Garten Eden then visit my instagram show at instagram.com/nicoladustytravels

And so you know, the Alpe Adria Trail organization is covering about 50 percent of my food and accommodations. They have no editorial control over what I write.

Happy Hiking
PS I have more exciting news which I’ll be able to share soon.


Them is Mountains

I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t like carrying a heavy backpack. I admit it; it’s true. The thought of carrying what already almost fills my 35 litre pack PLUS a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and food is unimaginable. Or, more precisely, it’s the quickest way to ruin a good hike. So instead of grimacing under a burdensome pack, the photo above tells it all.

Consequently, my long distance hiking options close to home are limited. Europe has the type of hiking I prefer so despite the climate consequences (which I offset) that is where I am.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m hiking the 750 km Alpe-Adria Trail through Austria, Slovenia and Italy. I’ve completed the first 10 of 37 stages. More than a quarter done. That’s hard to compute.

My overall comment is that it’s both harder and more beautiful than I thought. They have big hills here in Austria and I’ve climbed portions of many an Alp over the last two weeks. I invite you to enjoy some of photos below. If you are following me on instagram (nicoladustytravels), you will have seen them. But for those who prefer this newsletter, here are some images that I’ll recall for a long time.

from Gmund, Austria


Stage 1 – Grossglockner – My adventure begins

The Alpe-Adria Trail (AAT) begins near the base of Austria’s highest Alp (Glossglockner at almost 3800 mm). There is nowhere to stay at this 2400 m staging point called Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe, so the AAT’s Trail Angels arranged transport from Heiligenblut, the nearest town. 

I was joined by a German couple from near Lake Constance who would become dear hiking friends in no time. (Olav and Katia, I miss you!)

This was a downhill day. We descended about 1200 m from above the tree line down through a gorgeous larch forest and 13.6 km later, back to Heiligenblut. It was a healthy start.

There are ibex, wolves and lovable marmots, though I didn’t see any of them. 


Stage 2 – Definitely Austria

I hiked under clear blue skies in a heat wave. The daytime highs for the first week were in the upper 20s. Perfect for heat-seeking me, but unusual for northern alpine Austria.

I couldn’t believe how much the landscape reminded me of Maria skipping through an alpine meadow in The Sound of Music. I was surprised to learn that my German friends had never heard of the classic. A fellow hiker German Claudia thought I was referring to Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence. 

The landscape was perfect. Green fields looked like velvet amid the evergreens. Surely I passed by some edelweiss. On that note, I was surprised by how many of the wildflowers I recognized as they’ve naturalized in Ontario.


Stage 3 – The Devil’s Pulpit times Ten

Stage three was my first test. Rated “moderate,” it was 18.5 km long, which didn’t bother me; it was the near 1000 m, as in a kilometre, change in elevation that gave me the jitters. Normally when I record elevation gain on my GPS, it gives me a cumulative climb such that each time I go up a little gully it adds the metre or two to my total. On the Bruce Trail my greatest cumulative climb was about 1200 m (in Dufferin Hi-Lands I think). This was different. This was the difference between the lowest point and the highest. In covering those 18.5 km I might cumulatively climb two or three times that total of 1000 m!

I took my time and actually the steepest section was the most fun. There were helpful cables like those that help hikers up the Devil’s Pulpit in the Forks of the Credit, but the AAT’s scramble went on a lot longer. I was drenched in sweat by the top and very ready for a good Austrian beer – or better yet, a radler.


Kneipp Koffee Anyone

If you wonder why I look as though I’m impersonating a giraffe, let me explain. Sebastian Kneipp was a German priest who some consider to be the father of naturopathic medicine. At my German hikers’s bidding I adopted the practice of having a Kneipp Koffee at every water trough we came upon – and there were lots.

Olav is a GP and Katia is a holistic nurse and they assured me that immersing both my forearms (your feet work too) in cold water, would dramatically reduce my body temperature and give me a little energy kick — like coffee (or Koffee). I’m glad I believed them. In reality however, I often soak my feet in cold water when hiking. Something – hint hint – that you’ll discover when my new book comes out in the spring.


Stage 5 – Lunch with a View

This was the first “difficult” hike so I prepared myself mentally. It was over 20 km with over a 1000 m difference in elevation. I was pretty nervous to be honest. But how tough could it be? Up and up I climbed until, as luck would have it, I ran into Olav and Katia again. We kept each other going.

Nearing our highest height, we came into flatter terrain. In the morning sunshine, I did my Maria impression sans the derndl dress as I crossed alpine meadows where I could hear the distant tinkle of cow bells. We had an amazing lunch at the Goldberghutt (pictured above) up high in the mountains and then followed a former “railway” where horses pulled the cars filled with rocks containing copper.

On the way back down into the Moll Valley, we failed to beat the drizzling rain and pounding thunder. We’d been joined by Claudia who, like me, planned to walk all the way to Trieste. Also German, she had her dog Baloo along for company. He was terrified of the thunder on our descent and pulled Claudia into every bush he walked by. He was desperate to hide. 

Eventually she had to stop until the thunder let up. We continued on to Innerfragant where the AAT’s Trail Angels had sent transport to take me to the next town where I had a day off.


Stage 6 – A knodel to you too

After a much appreciated day off complete with an herbal sauna or two, I returned to where I’d bid Olav and Katia goodbye in Innerfragant and walked on on my own feeling a bit lonely. But just as the going got tough — did I mention this was a second “difficult” hike at 23 km and another kilometre in elevation gain? — I ran into three German men. Together we scrambled up a steep climb through a thick coniferous forest. When we stopped for a break I ducked out early. We’d lost the sun and the heat and I didn’t want to get a chill sitting down.

As it turned out, Martin, yet another German, caught up to me as I peaked. Together we climbed down to yet another high alpine restaurant. The three men I hiked with earlier caught up and we enjoyed a celebratory lunch with me trying the Carinthian specialty called knodel. They come in various shapes but I’d heard a story about these ones that looked more like empanadas. As the legend goes, a woman’s skill at braiding a knodel was highly regarded. Mine was filled with cheese and tomato, whereas the most traditional contain a local bacon. It was the only braided knodel I had. Afterwards they looked more like an oversized motsa ball. They are dumpling like and served everywhere in Corinthia.

Stage 7 – Flooding Rain

I woke up to a misty morning. While it was beautiful, the weather deteriorated quickly. It poured. It teamed. It pelted down. I had good gear but after the first hour or so when I arrived in the town of Mallnitz, I took a break, treating myself to an Austrian pastry. Did I mention that a key reason why I hike is that it allows me to eat pretty much what I want and not gain weight?

I contemplated calling the AAT Trail Angels and getting a lift to the next town, but less sane heads prevailed. I walked on. There were a pair of gorges on the route and I really wanted to walk through them. I guess the power of mountain streams was not familiar to me. When I arrived in the drenching rain at the entrance to the first gorge, the trail was barred with wooden barriers nailed to the fence. “Trail closed” was written in four languages and when I looked down the trail into the gorge I could see why. Muddy water pounded downstream, overflowing the river’s banks.
Now what?

Then was no alternate route given so I tried a couple of my own variations none of which did anything but add to my soggyness. Finally I gave up. I made my way to the main road and caught a bus to the next town.

But all was not lost. At dinner that night I joined Martin, Olav and Katia though it would be our last time together as they were returning home.


Stage 8 – Hills & Castles

I don’t quite understand how the AAT rates its trails but it feels as though the “easy” ones are about the hardest. Maybe it’s psychological. Because the guide says it’s easy you aren’t prepared for a climb. Then again, this route involved two climbs. The first one took me almost an hour and a half and the second one took 45 minutes! But I was getting my hiking legs under me so I felt pretty good. I covered the 17 km with a change in elevation of 752 m with relative ease.

The highlight was the castle. It wasn’t open when I passed by, but it was pretty neat. There were also a lot of cyclists out. It turns out there is an AAT route for cyclists too. It starts in Salzburg and also ends near Trieste. Unlike the hiking route, the cycling one stays more in the valleys — or so I’m told. Watching the bikes go by, my understanding that e-bikes have taken over Europe was supported. Almost everyone had some e-assistance


Stage 9 – Barbarossa and a Gorgeous Gorge

I got my gorge on Stage 9. It was stunning. After a 5 km saunter along the Moll River, it was up once again. But the entertainment on the climb made it seem effortless. Austrian tourism knows how to do it. The trail took me up a steep-sided gorge with foaming white water crashing down through the rocky canyon. It was spectacular. It was also the route followed by Barbarossa as he returned from the Crusades. En route he entered this gorge where he spent the night only to be visited by the Devil. I don’t quite know the whole story as it was written in German, albeit on exquisite metal oversized panels, but he slept on the “table” shown here covered in innukshuks (which is an odd blending of cultures). I understand he never was able to leave the cave with its table. The devil it seems works in clever ways.

The trail became less steep until near the end where there was another heart-pounding climb. But I made it to the top where I stayed in a simple hotel, had home-hunted venison and knodel, which was made quintessentially Austrian when a marvellous accordion player entertained us.


Stage 10 – All about the Dragon

The Dragon Suspension Bridge that is.

I was a little daunted by having to cross a long suspension bridge on this hike. I had experienced them before in Argentina and had a couple of white-knuckle crossings. In Argentina about three of four boards were missing so I had to walk on the wire. My partner Alex had no problem, but it spooked me.

The sun had returned and this was a downhill day rated, scarily, as “easy.” I’d become a bit suspect of that e-word. It was a gorgeous walk in the morning. I’d left the Moll River Valley for the first time and was following the Drau. It was a different, more treed landscape. Beautiful and a nice change.

I’d read something about walking along the Fairy Tale Mile and when the number of nomes multiplied (Austrians love their lawn decorations), I figured the fairy tale had begun. There was little red riding hood and a gingerbread cottage containing a very scary woman and lots of nomes — well I think they were nomes. I came around a corner and as I walked down a slope I could hear squealing children — as you may have guessed by now, this was becoming a very urban hike. And there was the Dragon Suspension Bridge. It was long, no doubt about it, but in good Austrian style there were no missing wooden planks. 

It was an easy crossing but that bouncy feel was a bit scary. What I wasn’t prepared for was having to walk through the dragon at the end of the bridge. As I exited his mouth he roared at me. 

In the sunshine I continued a long climb down into the artist town of Gmund where I would have a second rest day. Yahoo!!


Them is Steep Mountains

It’s a good thing I’m not carrying a heavier pack. If I were I’d still be on that mountain somewhere between Larchenhutte and Bad Kleinkirchheim. How can it take 8 hours or more to cover 15 or 16 km? And it’s not just me. The four others I’ve walked parts of the last six sections with are finding it hard too — beautiful and satisfying, but not easy.

Two of my hiking mates are pictured above enjoying a Kneipp Koffee. Pretty aye! 

I invite you to read on for a few more tales from the trails.

from Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria



Stage 11/Sept. 2 – Gmund to Seeboden

Finally a bit of Jordan. This was an easy 18 km. Mostly flat — by Austrian standards anyway — and I walked it with Lori Butterfield, who lives near North Bay. Small world. A great hiker and not allergic to a heavy pack, Lori was carrying a tent, sleeping bag etc in her 13 kg pack. Hats off to Lori.

We chatted about our past adventures and basically enjoyed the freedom and good health we were so lucky to share.

When we arrived in the lakeside town of Seeboden at about 1pm, we had a beer before heading our separate ways. I stayed at the lovely Hotel Moserhof. It had the most spectacular breakfast buffet.



Stage 12 / September 3: Seeboden to Millstatterhutte – The first test

At over 22 km long and more than 1600 m to climb, I had to prepare myself for what felt like a big challenge (little did I know). It was an overcast day, a bit grim but it was cool. Great for hiking. 

I ran into young, 31 year old Luisa from near Frankfurt who, like Lori and me, hoped to make it to Trieste. We leapfrogged all the way up, which was great as company helps on a six-hour-long climb. The first half was a grind up a dirt road that endlessly wound its way up hill. Most hikers know the sort. Then after we stopped at the second of two alpine restaurants, it got steep.

Up and up we climbed with Luisa pulling ahead. When I made it up past the tree line, the wind began to howl. I wouldn’t want to be exposed up there on a miserable day. It was stark and stunning — and long. But I made it to our “hutte” in good time. I didn’t see Luisa but decided to have a celebratory beer at the outdoor restaurant that had some view.

But something felt wrong. No Luisa. No Lori. Hmm. I asked the server, Is this the Millstatterhutte? She’d been asked it before. She smiled sympathetically and told me No, this is Alexanderhutte. You have to walk for another 30 minutes to Millstatterhutte. 


Millstatterhutte is the only real mountain hut I’ll stay in. It serves many other alpine trails. There were 11 of us, including, of course, a VERY loud snorer — one who held his breathe between snores making me wonder if he was going to release that breath — and a lovely but smelly dog crammed into a small room. Not the best, but the great food, fabulous staff and our group of seven female solo hikers who shared dinner made it a memorable night — a memorable short night that is. We struggled to stay up past 8pm.



Stage 13 / Sept. 4 / Millstatterhutte to Dobriach

Today would be almost all downhill back to the other end of the lake. How hard could it be? You guessed it; it was a brute. I walked on my own, or tried to in the morning. I like the peace and quiet of my own company early in the day. The trail meandered across the open rocky landscape. It was typical of the high alpine. Cow bells tinkled and although there was a cold stiff north wind, an early steep climb through the rocky terrain was almost textbook. It felt as though I might see Heathcliff striding past me.

Then the down began. It continued. And on it went. At first it was along mountain trails, then dirt roads but eventually, sometime after I’d hooked up with Lori, her Dutch mate Ingrid and Luisa, the asphalt began. Down and down and down on the hard surface. The AAT is great but, as others agreed, there is too much pavement some days.

When we arrived back down at “see” level, Luisa and I had another two kilometres to our hotel. They were long. But the Hotel Zür Post was lovely, had an amazing buffet dinner and put us two kilometres ahead for the next day. 


Stage 14 / Dobrich to Eriacherhaus / Sept. 5

Today’s hike put me to the test. I use the AAT’s app to find my way. It’s indispensable. Mostly the trail is marked at intersections or turns but not always. The app, despite the woman’s irritating voice, has saved me from going off course many times. But today it had an error and I could not sort it out. After going back and forth, up and down, I called the AAT’s Trail Angels for help.

Now I’m a Bruce Trail Trail Angel, which almost entirely involves giving hikers lifts from their parked car to the trailhead, so I know about trail angels. But this is entirely different. They are on the job during working hours and will do anything for people like me who booked my hike through them. They will find transportation for you, book accommodation, suggest routes and, in this case, help you get un-lost. I sent my contact, who like all of them, spoke English, my coordinates via What’s App — he explained how to do that — and he put me back on the trail!!!

But then the hiking got tough and I was in my own and my easy hike was becoming harder than I thought and I got the “wobblies.” For me there are two types of wobblies: the kind where you ask yourself if you are capable of doing what’s ahead of you. Those wobblies can be tough but I can mostly deal with them. The more pernicious wobblies are the ones where I ask myself if I really want to be doing what I’m doing. Did I really want to be out there all by myself pounding up some trail in the middle of who knows where?

I got through it and when I finally arrived at the lovely alpine Eriacherhaus hut, there were Lori and Luisa sitting in the sunshine having a beer. I joined in.


Stage 15 / Sept. 6 / Langalmtal to Larchenhutte

 I took this photo early in the day as I walked in my own peace and quiet. It’s almost cliche; it’s such a perfect mountain shot. So perfect I attempted to sketch it. I’ve been taking lessons from C.J. Shelton at the Alton Mill and I’ve learned a lot. But this landscape was a challenge — and not only to draw.

I climbed steeply up through very rocky tricky terrain and in a round about way made it up and around the back side of these spectacular rocky cliffs. Who knew I could climb that high? But that was just the beginning. After a top-of-world experience looking out over the tannin and lignin blue haze of Slovenia’s mountains, it was up again.

Like a good Girl Scout that I never was, I followed the AAT’s signs up an enormous whaleback. Three quarters of the way up Elka passed me coming down. All she said was “EFI.” Only then did I realize this was an optional climb. I’m not sure I’d have done it had I known. But I was glad I did. Turns out there’s top of the world and then top of the world plus ten.

It was down and up to another up and down (to Mallnock) by mistake and then the long completion to what I thought was my end point. But no. From my end point it was straight up a rocky path for a kilometre to Larchenhutte. 

But sitting in the sunshine were Lori, Olaf, Elke, the snorer (Martin) and his girlfriend Rebecca. It was a very tough but gorgeous alpine day. But, I wondered, if it took me eight hours to go 17 km in these conditions how would I make it before dark on tomorrow’s 19 km route?


Stage 16 / Sept. 7 / Larchenhutte to Bad Kleinkirchheim

Did I make it for 19 km? Didn’t have to! Our amazing host at Larchenhutte, Heidi, makes all the bread, salami, jams, etc. Even the pine tree schnapps came from her kitchen. But Heidi doesn’t hide behind an apron. She’s loud and brash and loves a drink and well I just loved her. She told us to follow the AAT’s old route. It’s shorter, takes you up top of Falkerscharte (+2000m) and doesn’t drag you all the way down into the valley and back up again. Heidi was aware the AAT likely did this to include the restaurants in the valley on the route, and I respect that idea, but I wasn’t sure I could walk for 19 km in these hiking conditions and finish before dark.

Heidi was right. It was spectacular. That’s Falkerscharte in the photo. I was up there. Can’t believe it myself. Then it was flat until the relentless, knee busting downhill. But we made it though not until 4:30 and we’d only walked 15.7 km. I’m getting a bit nervous about some of the upcoming longer hikes. It’s not a question of whether I’m fit enough or strong enough, it’s whether there are enough hours of light in the day as we tip toward the fall equinox.

But as Scarlett said, Tomorrow is another day. And in my case it’s a rest day.


Is a Gondola Cheating?

If you could replace a 3-hour, 1000m climb up a ski hill with a 20 Euro, 25 minute gondola ride would you take it?

Well I did! I’ve talked about EFI (Every F__king Inch) before. Guess on this trip I’m not following that rule.

It was great to have a relatively easy day. I loved it and would take the easy way up again!

from Gerlitzen Alpe, Austria


Stage 17/Day 21- Bad Kleinkirchheim to Arriach

After 25 minutes on the gondola we stepped out into more sunshine in a treeless environment. We climbed to the top of the whaleback in the photo and it seemed like a breeze. I guess that after 3 weeks on the trail I am getting stronger.

Afterwards it was pretty much all downhill. It felt a bit like a walk in the park with the warm sunshine. We arrived in Arriach where I was booked into a lovely small inn with a highly regarded restaurant. Dinner lived up to its billing. How wonderful to have this treat awaiting me right on the trail. Canada needs some inn to inn hiking!


Stage 18 / September 11 Arriach to Gerlitzen Alpe

People ask me what my accommodations are like. This is the lovely inn in Arriach with a very good restaurant. It’s the Alte Point. Dinner was excellent, the room adequate with a nice view behind the inn onto a recently cut hayfield. I fell asleep to the sweet smell of alfalfa.

The buffet breakfast the next morning was equally as delicious and beautifully set out. The chef delivered us our coffee and was officious until I asked to interview him. He refused claiming he only spoke German and then became a bit fearsome. We cowered, afraid to ask him anything.

Nonetheless it was a gorgeous hike through lush forest where we came upon some of the beautiful dark palomino horses with very pale manes. The end of the hike was fearsome like the chef. About 2 hours zig zagging across an open ski hill in the hot sun. But the view from the top made us all forget about the climb.


Stage 19 / September 11 Gerlitzen Alpe to Ossiach

A big down day. Downhill that is. We were at a lofty height atop the ski hill and we were heading down to a resort town on a gorgeous lake under yet another cloudless sky. Were we ever being treated well by the weather gods. 

When we finally made it down to lake level without too much knee damage, we were on the wrong side of the water and had another 7 km to go. What the heck we thought. We stopped at an outdoor cafe where we had Austria’s popular apple juice mixed with sparkling water. So refreshing especially when accompanied by ice cream! It’s so good to be expending so much effort that you can eat ice cream without any guilt.

Then it was through a wetland around the lake where mosquitoes made an unexpected appearance. But the small village was welcoming and we all shared a small outdoor table in the summer’s warmth. For how much longer would this weather hold?

This was our last night with Olaf and Elka. High fives all around.


Stage 20 / September 12 Ossiach to Velden

There was no fooling around on this hike. It was straight uphill from the start. A long set of switchbacks. But that was it for climbing. Afterwards it was mostly level with a down at the end through a pretty gorge into Velden. But I was beat when I reached my lovely but very out-of-the-way hotel where I was to meet Kati. A Hungarian who has lived in Vienna, Helsinki and Bilbao, Spain, Kati is the mother of Alex’s son-in-law Daniel. She’s a keen hiker and lots of fun. She was joining me for a week or so.

As I walked along in the morning I passed this white (albino?) donkey. I couldn’t resist her earnest gaze and her tufted forelock. Cute, aye!


Stage 21 / September 13: Velden to Baumgartnerhohe

The beauty of this hike was at the very end where we had about a 500m climb past the Finkenstein Castle – or what remains of it. It was a real fall afternoon, dark and gloomy. Drizzling rain. Leaves were falling. Halloween was in the air. It was the perfect atmosphere to see a castle. It was also my last day in Austria. We’d be climbing up into Slovenia the following day.

Our hotel was perched high on a hillside above a herd of gorgeous roe deer, some of which Kati had for dinner! Our passage into Slovenia had begun.


The Julian Alps & the Soca River

I’ve long wanted to visit Slovenia with its Julian Alps (named after Julius Caesar I’m told) and its emerald green Soca River. Well, Slovenia has lived up to its billing. My two most memorable hikes are described below. And as I’d been told, Slovenians are crazy about hiking, biking, kayaking, the outdoors in general.

You might want to get here soon as I met more foreign tourists here than in Austria — Americans, Australians, South Africans…

from Cividale del Fruili, Italy

PS I’ve been asked to suggest portions of the Alpe Adria Trail for those who don’t want to do the entire route. I will do that when I’m done. Meanwhile, the triplet of hikes mentioned in this newsletter were a high highlight. As you’ll read, the first one isn’t easy, but if you are up for a challenge and a breathtaking experience these three are amazing.


Stage 22 / Day 25: Baumgartnerhohe, Austria to Kranjska Gora, Slovenia

This was undoubtedly the most challenging, most eye-popping, most exhilarating and exhausting hike of the AAT — and perhaps of my life.

Part way up, drenched in sweat despite an overcast sky and cool temperatures, we crossed into Slovenia. There was an attention sign as opposed to a welcome one. We (Kati from Hungary/Finland, Lori from Canada, Luisa from Germany and Elisa from Spain) hauled ourselves up past the tree line on a white rocky trail that occasionally dropped off into a seemingly bottomless nothingness. It crested a peak, followed a ridge and then dropped into a depression. Then we did it all over again, and again, and…

Up and up we progressed slowly on a precipitous trail. The leaden sky added to our sense that we were alone in the world. This trail would never end. It was Slovenia’s trick. 

Luisa and Elisa pulled ahead and we came around a blind turn only to see their tiny figures at the top of yet another climb. Up we battled. When we caught up to them, we had lunch sitting on a bench in Jesus’s shadow on a peak inches deep in sheep poo. Why sheep would congregate on a treeless peak may be a mystery I’ll never solve.

From our resting spot, we spied a white trail snaking its way up the next peak heading toward yet another Catholic cross. We can’t have to climb that, we hoped. But down we scrambled only to have to climb back up again, though the distant cross was beyond our route.

Then finally, nearly spent, we began our descent. Balanced against our hiking poles and occasionally having to use our backsides as an extra appendage, we picked our way slowly through boulders, doing our best to find purchase on the loose rocks. Down and down through these chalky white rocks that looked so charming from a distance.

Hours later we were still descending. Would we ever reach Kranjska Gora, Slovenia’s Banff? When we did, it was nothing like I’d expected of this former part of Yugoslavia. I thought third world. But no. It’s a sophisticated European town, almost sterile in its cleanliness and orderliness. But like Banff, it’s set in a bowl surrounded by peaks. Tall rocky dwarfing mammoths.


Stage 23 / Day 26: Kranjska Gora to Trenta

The mystery of this stage is why was it so easy. On paper it was the same length, had the same amount of up and down as the day before, but Kati and I were at the top before we knew it. I’m still baffled.

On our way up, we visited this precious chapel. It marks the spot where dozens of Russian POWs were buried. Our route took us over the Vrsic pass and the switch back road that made this route so easy to hike (and cycle) was built by these POWS. In 1916, an avalanche killed over 200 POWS and soldiers. This chapel memorializes them.

It was a beautiful hike with a well placed restaurant at the top of the pass.


Stage 24: Trenta to Bovec, Slovenia

Slovenia’s Soca River has to be seen to be believed. No river could possibly be that turquoise green for so long. No river could be that clear, that invisible that kayaks seem to be suspended in mid-air. It almost gave me vertigo.

This hike, among my top five if not my top three, was pure joy. It followed the river downstream for 21 km and we found a place mid-hike where we had lattes and ice cream. Oh, the joy of it.


Into the Hills & on to the Adriatic

Change was in the air as Kati and I left Bovec. We would follow the Soca again, but under an overcast sky it lost some of its dazzle. But we had this last peek at it under a bridge said to have been built by Caesar. (Not sure where he found concrete!) 

The tallest mountains were behind us. We were into green hills. We were coming down from the alpine high, both literally and as John Denver meant it in his song about the Rocky Mountain high.

But new experiences awaited us and old acquaintances turned up at just the right moment.

from Breg, Slovenia

PS Check out info below about Renee Holden’s Body & Soul Yoga Retreat at the Lodge at Pine Cove in October. I’ll be there and will be giving a talk about the Alpe Adria Trail.


Stage 25: Bovek to Dreznica

The second half of this stage was closed due to construction on the trail. There had been some nasty weather and even a tornado earlier. We witnessed some of the damage: dozens of uprooted trees. Part of the first half had also been rerouted for the same reason.

I’d say the quality of this hike wasn’t top notch but it would be hard to compete with what we’d just completed. We had to catch a taxi or walk the last 15 km along a steep winding paved road. Put it this way, Kati and I split the 35 euros fare. 

Up and up we drove to Dreznica, a pretty village high on a hilltop best known for its church, pictured here. We were dropped off in front of a dear inn and who were sitting outside enjoying a beer but Claudia and her thunder fearing dog Baloo. I last saw them on Stage 5 with Baloo hiding under a bush, the rain coming down and thunder booming.

The Alpe Adria Trail shares this meet-up-again feature with the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It doesn’t happen as much as on that celebrated route as it has hundreds of pilgrims a day making their way to St. James’s burial site. Meanwhile I don’t think there are more than half a dozen hikers a day on the AAT, maybe fewer. Anyone worried about crowded trails in Europe might think again.


Stage 26: Dreznica to Tolmin

Part of this stage was so enjoyable that I considered giving it a five-boot award. Then there was the endless road walking so I couldn’t do it. 

Kati and I actually followed stage 12 of the Julian trail, a circular route that stays out of the high alpine areas. Another reroute due this time to a bridge being out added an extra 1.5 hours to the 7 hour 30 minute route. So the AAT gave the Julian Trail option. I was pleased to learn more about this trail, happy to save my strength given I’d mistakenly not booked a rest day so had 12 consecutive hikes ( too many in a row!!) and I adored the section pictured above of a rock lined path.

I ran into a delightful couple from South Africa and we hiked most of the way with a young German couple so we were entertained along the duller sections!


Stage 27: Tolmin, Slovenia to Tribil Di Supra, Italy

I really had to mentally prepare myself for this hike and it’s a good thing I did because it was a brute. Fortunately, the overnight rain let up as I left Tolmin all by myself. Kati was on her way back to Hungary and I was a day ahead of my other companions. In the end, I saw no other hikers on the trail all day.

Typically, I left town on a paved road that became a smaller paved road and began switch backing up a pretty steep incline. It was muggy after the rain, the kind of day, mosquitoes adore! In no time I was drenched in sweat trudging uphill. An hour or more into the 1000m climb, the route left the road on to a greasy rocky narrow trail that went straight up through a dense forest. There were no views to reward me.

The sun did poke through the foliage, but mostly it was gloomy and steep. As my fellow hiker asked me later: what happened to the switch backs. They forgot about them!

It took a good three hours of sweat-in-your-eyes climbing but there was a reward at the top. Described as an outdoor museum, it was the site of an extensive and well preserved network of trenches left over from WWI. It was an an amazing site made more real because I was reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which is set in these exact hills during WWI.

It was a long downhill into Tribil di Supra, my first stop in Italy where I collapsed into bed. One more hike until a rest day.



Harvest Time

The figs had already been harvested, the persimmons are still green. We’ve seen mostly green olives, but some black ones too. It’s really about the grapes, however. They rule the landscape in arrow-straight rows forming a tiered terrace around white buildings capped with red tile roofs. Several stately cypress trees stand erect beside the vineyards. Repeated repeatedly, this scene is so Italian it’s a visual cliche — except that it’s in Slovenia! Well it’s in Italy too as our route weaves back and forth across the border.

I miss being at home at this rich time of year, but it’s pretty nice here too. My only complaint is that I’ve been unable to find some nice oily olives to accompany a glass of wine.

from Duino, Italy


Stage 28: Tribil Di Supra, Italy to Cividale del Fruili, Italy

This hike made me contemplate the difference between the AAT and the Bruce Trail. It was about 25 km long and had two modest climbs. Otherwise it meandered across open fields and through forests almost entirely on trails (the first 15 km) or what the AAT refers to as 4×4 roads. Well there are no castles like this one named Castelmonte on the Bruce Trail I suppose. As I walked the Bruce Trail last summer, this hike would have been a snap, done before I noticed. But Stage 28 was a killer — and not just for me. When Lori, Luisa and Eliza came in the following day, they were beat too.

Why I wondered. I don’t know the answer, maybe it’s carrying a 10 kg pack or being over tired as this, as you’ll recall, was hike number 12 without a break. I also contemplated if the AAT was more difficult for me because it’s not “my” landscape, it’s not the place I’m hefted to having lived most of my life on the Niagara Escarpment. I don’t know but am interested to see how the remaining stages go as they appear to be less difficult and they pass through a landscape that is not mountainous, and more similar to what makes up my DNA. We’ll see.


Stage 29: Cividale to Breg pri Golem Brda

We all stayed at this wonderful hilltop inn called Turisticna kmetija Breg. They operate a farm and most of what we ate was from their land, including the wine and olive oil. Our accommodations were in an old stone building located about 400m from the inn’s restaurant. When the owner sent me off to find it, she said, “You can’t get lost; we only have nine houses in Breg.”

I didn’t get lost, but we sure did get wet walking to dinner. There was a deluge, one of three storms that night. Each was as good an electrical storm as I’ve experienced at home.

The hike to Breg was refreshingly short, peaceful and lovely. I awarded it my five-boot award.

The inn is located 20 metres from the Italian border. I asked the owner, “Do you think of yourself as Slovenian or Italian?” She said she was a bit of both. She went on to tell how it’s changed since Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. “There used to be checkpoints on every little road. We never knew when they would be open, so we walked through the woods and went to visit our friends and family in Italy.” She said, “The police knew we did it but they didn’t do anything about it.”


Stage 30: Breg, Slovenia to Šmartno, Slovenia

After the wild electrical storm overnight, I thought we would be walking in the rain. But the weather gods were with us and we had sunshine. This hike went through some famed wine territory. This was the hike of vineyards — and motor car racing as it turned out.

Much of our walk was accompanied by the farting exhaust systems of boy race cars. It was Saturday and there was some competition going on. We were all thankful to climb over a high ridge into the next valley to escape the echoing noise! To lessen the pain, we found a small cafe that served very good, though expensive, gelato. I had the locally made grape gelato. Thanks to eagle-eyed Luise for spying the ice cream sign.

A long hot hike but with lots to keep our attention.


Stage 31: Šmartno, Slovenia to Cormon, Italy

Šmartno turned out to be very smart. I was expecting a mountain village, which it was, but this one attracted smart tourists. I heard many languages being spoken and had a chat with two American women who were touring the area. Šmartno is a stop on the tourist trail.

Dating back to the 12th century, it had a lovely feel too. It’s fortified and from a distance it looks very medieval perched atop a hill with towers. Its fortification was to protect it from Turkish raids and to battle the Venetians. Somehow this sounded romantic to me when I’m sure it was anything but at the time.

I was unable to visit the oldest house in Šmartno, a tourist attraction, as it was closed. But on Sunday morning before I left I stopped into the church for a peek and recorded the sound of its thunderous bells as they echoed through the narrow streets. You would have a tough time sleeping in!


Stage 32: Cormons, Italy to Gradisca, Italy

We might have been leaving the mountains but we often had views of them. They seemed to be wishing us well on our journey. Oftentimes we could see the higher grey, treeless peaks that were tough to climb but had such amazing views.

I was both sad and extremely happy to have the Alpe part of the Alpe Adria Trail behind me. I’m not a natural climber, growing up and living in rolling countryside. I loved the views from high alpine landscapes but it was hard for me to get up there. I found it much better after I stopped looking at the elevation profiles. Blissful ignorance? I don’t know. I found I was happier taking each climb, up or down, as it came. When it was done it was done. I didn’t spend the hike dreading the big climb at the end of the day that I would have seen on the elevation profile.

We rolled along on this hike down toward the sea. In Gradisca, we had a fabulous dinner at La Ghironda, which, I understand, is a hurdygurdy. All local food and local wine. I had a pasta filled with smoked cheese. The sauce had cinnamon in it. Our waiter, who had the best Italian-accented English — he added an “a” to the end of every English word — told me my pasta was a little sweet-a. And it was.


Stage 33: Cormons, Italy to Gradisca, Italy

We might have been leaving the mountains but we often had views of them. They seemed to be wishing us well on our journey. Oftentimes we could see the higher grey, treeless peaks that were tough to climb but had such amazing views.

I was both sad and extremely happy to have the Alpe part of the Alpe Adria Trail behind me. I’m not a natural climber, growing up and living in rolling countryside. I loved the views from high alpine landscapes but it was hard for me to get up there. I found it much better after I stopped looking at the elevation profiles. Blissful ignorance? I don’t know. I found I was happier taking each climb, up or down, as it came. When it was done it was done. I didn’t spend the hike dreading the big climb at the end of the day that I would have seen on the elevation profile.

We rolled along on this hike down toward the sea. In Gradisca, we had a fabulous dinner at La Ghironda, which, I understand, is a hurdygurdy. All local food and local wine. I had a pasta filled with smoked cheese. The sauce had cinnamon in it. Our waiter, who had the best Italian-accented English — he added an “a” to the end of every English word — told me my pasta was a little sweet-a. And it was.


On Adriatic Time

I finally understand this trail. It seemed odd that we arrived at the Adriatic Sea on Stage 33, five hikes before the end. Then I noticed we were going along the coastline, in and out of view of the sea. We would go behind Trieste and end up in Muggia.

Then it dawned on me: we weren’t going to the Adriatic. It wasn’t our end point like reaching a mountain peak; it was this section of the trail. Just as we travelled through the Alps for days, we would travel beside the Adriatic and get to know that landscape. 

And what a landscape it is. Dominated by limestone cliffs and karst, it felt very familiar to me. Anyone who has walked the northern parts of the Bruce Trail will know what karst is. This limestone rocky terrain hides many subterranean rivers which sometimes miraculously appear from the porous rock. The trail is often red clay. 

Not surprisingly, I suppose, but as a group, these last few hikes have been my favourite. They don’t have the wow factor of the mountains, and the hike from Baumgartnerhohe, Austria to Kranjska Gora, Slovenia remains my all time favourite, but I feel at peace in this rolling landscape full of limestone cliffs.

from Ljubljana, Slovenia


Stage 34: Duino, Italy to Prosecco, Italy

After a day off I was up early enjoying breakfast at my small hotel, Albergo Aurora. It was a lovely place with a friendly staff and the best breakfast of anywhere I stayed — and it had stiff competition!

The route followed Rilke’s Trail. Although an Austrian poet, he spent time in Duino and they named an amazing trail after him. Passing through craggy limestone that shredded the soles of my sandals, it skirted the Adriatic Sea. Far below me huge freighters looked like tiny toy boats. The water sparkled in the sunshine and I couldn’t think of anywhere I would have preferred to be.

Stopping to take another photo I looked behind me and there was Duino’s castle catching some rays.

The route was long, almost 25 km, but it was what I imagined when I thought about hiking in Italy. I was back into wine country so vineyards filled the hillsides as the trail wound through ancient towns filled mainly by old stone buildings and impressively spired churches. I noted that many of the roofs were made with stone.

I gave this hike a full five boots. I found Jordan.


Stage 35: Prosecco, Italy to Lipica, Slovenia

I was rewarded on this hike by my stickwithitness. I stayed the night in Villa Opcina, 5 km from Prosecco as there are no accommodations in Prosecco. It was tempting to not return to Prosecco (by public bus) and just continue from Opcino as it’s right on the trail. But the EFI hiker in me won the battle and back I went to Prosecco. 

Well, that turned out to be a brilliant idea. The 5 km trail that joins the towns follows what must be an old railway line. In the shadow of high limestone cliffs it is on the edge of the sea — the whole way! It was a spectacular start to the day — again.

It was a shorter hike too, only 18 km, so I sauntered along, stopped to admire the views and didn’t have to worry about big climbs or running out of time. I think it was the first hike of the entire trip where I found real peace. Gorgeous weather, an amazing path mostly between dry stone walls (after I passed through Opcino), rolling hills, old villages,…

Then, if that wasn’t good enough, my hotel was situated right on the famous Lipizzaner horses’ stud farm. In the evening I went down and watched these magnificent long legged horses pass by as they came in from pasture to the stable. The white brood mares were accompanied by playful foals that were still dappled grey. 

What a day! What a hike. Another 5 booter. Talk about saving the best to last.


Stage 36: Lipica, Slovenia to Bagnoli, Italy

Just when I thought I’d figured out this trail it threw me a few curve balls. The first on this hike was a substantial climb, once again devoid of switchbacks, to start the day. Then it was a delightful cafe at the top of that climb. The Slovenians really love climbing up to a restaurant for lunch, or in my case, for a cappuccino. Then it was a long pleasant downhill and just as it was becoming a bit tedious, I came around a corner and turned onto an old railway trail. It had wonderful views of endless green forest and a series of tunnels that added some fun.

But it was only then that the best curveball arrived. The trail took a sharp left hand turn and I reluctantly left the flat rail trail to head down a steep rocky slope. After about 100 m I stopped at a lookout and my view is pictured above. I was climbing down into this spectacular limestone canyon. You can see the trail on the far side. It was an exhilarating end to a wonderful hike. 

The route also backed up my recognition that the Adriatic Sea wasn’t the AAT’s destination, it was a landscape to explore. I was impressed with how both the Slovenians and the Italians from the region celebrated karst. I’m not sure how many people in the world know that karst is this particular kind of limestone, but they do here. I saw restaurants named karst and I could have had karst scrambled eggs for breakfast. They were seasoned with herbs that grow on the karst and served with a dried jerk-like meat from the area. 

We are beginning to do this at home especially local beer producers who, among other things, recognize the Cheltenham badlands.


Stage 37: Bagnoli, Italy to Muggia, Italy (a ferry boat ride from Trieste)

My slightly sour expression is only due to bad timing. I was elated to have completed a journey I wasn’t always sure I could finish. I was also happy to have crossed the finish line with my great hiking pals. From left to right: the devilish fleet-footed Eliza from Spain, the kind German Luise who disliked cheese (how is that possible?), me and Lori from near North Bay, Ontario. She was the trooper as Lori completed the route in the fewest number of days (2 less than me) and carried a much heavier pack for most of the trip as she had a tent and other camping gear. Hats off to them all.

The final route included a lovely walk through the forest. I left my pack for a bit and climbed up to a high lookout and one more view of the white rocky landscape. We eventually came down and down as Muggia is a small city right on the sea. We treated ourselves to an Italian ice cream before going our separate ways for the afternoon. We reconvened for a celebratory dinner sitting outside in the unusually warm evening. By coincidence, we ran into Claudia and her dog Baloo. Claudia and her two friends from Germany joined us for dinner. We saluted each other, wished those who we’d walked parts with — Ingrid from the Netherlands, Olav and Katia from Germany, Olaf and Elka, also from Germany, and Monique and her husband also from the Netherlands — were with us. I recommend completing the AAT.

As I’ve mentioned, the trail was more difficult than I expected which made completing it that much sweeter.