Alpe-Adria Trail

In 2016, when on a family visit to Austria, I spotted a way-marker for the Alpe-Adria Trail, near the church in Himmelberg, Carinthia . I knew then that I wanted to walk some of it.

The entire Alpe-Adria Trail (AAT) stretches 750km, from the Grossglockner, through the mountains of Carinthia, Slovenia and northern Italy, to the Adriatic Coast. It came into being 2011-2012, as part of a central european unity project.

Forward to September 2018, four of us boarded the Euro-star, en-route to a week long walking adventure. 8 hours later and one change of train brought us to Munich, where we had a pleasant over-night stop, including a visit to a bier keller, at the start of Ocktoberfest. There was certainly a very lively atmosphere. A Sunday morning stroll around the beautiful city centre, pre- pared us for further sitting and 2 more trains, down to Tarvisio, a town on the Austro-Italian border. We had opted to do a week-long circular route, taking in the delights of all 3 countries through which the trail runs.

Tarvisio Boscoverde Station makes its Ore counterpart seem positively lively. Sunday evening and it was dead. The bus time-table was only rele- vant during the ski season, and the 2 taxi numbers proved no use. After several calls to the hotel, the chef, Yes, checked trousers and white tunic, was despatched to collect us. Our pack of ‘maps’ and route description awaited us at the hotel, provided by the local tourist information.

Day 1 of The Trail was to be from Tarvisio to a mountain refuge near the Slovenian border. Could we even get out of Tarvisio? A combination of un-named streets, haphazard way-marking, vague instructions, even in the Bradt guide-book. A sign to Parcio Cervi, led us to a derelict –looking building and sports complex on the edge of a forest. Not an AAT way-marker in sight. Our rescue came in the form of a man, maybe a caretaker, who emerged from the derelict building. He spoke only Italian, which none of us did, but by pointing at where we wanted to be on the map, he knew where we were meant to be heading, and escorted us round some tennis-courts pointing us up the hill-side and through the autumnal forest. We were on the AAT at last.

No trail markers at path junctions made way-finding difficult. The provided maps were just print-offs from the Internet and lacked details of what was on the ground. This was a recurrent theme through-out the week, and the most challenging part of the walk. I did have one ‘proper’ map which covered some of the later days and managed to purchase a Slovenian map with the trail marked on it. None of these compared to dear detailed Ordinance Survey .We are so spoiled in the U.K. with our mapping.

We passed the beautiful Fusine Lakes, green and glacial in colour. Then up, following AAT markers to the rifugio, following a very long steep ridge up through forest, a brief cabled section into the most stunning mountain amphitheatre of the Mangart Group of the Karawanken. Dusk was approaching as we descended to Rifugio Zacchi, beers, dinner and bed. We’d survived our 1st day.

Day 2 took us back down below the previous day’s ridge, to the Fusine Lakes and into Slovenia. The walking was very straight forward, much of it along an old railway line, now the Ljubljana to Pontebba cycle track. We were heading to Kranjska Gora, of Ski Sunday fame. The surrounding mountain scenery was just awe-inspiring. Our accommodation for that night, a hotel in Kranjska Gora, was hosting a basket-ball training camp and populated by teams of very tall people who headed back for endless 2nd helpings of the buffet. It also boasted a swimming pool, which made for a pleasant end to the day.

Day 3. Slovenia to Carinthia. The long day. It started with a long hot walk uphill through forest. Bear warning signs. Most excit- ing. We met a young lady hiker, who was doing the whole route, who said she’d got lost and spent the previous night in the forest. No sign of bears! After several hours we emerged high up, near the border ridge and were walking just below the summits. We passed a few walkers going the other way. The path led us down a grassy gully, populated by marmots. It was the wrong way. So many mountain tops together, no AAT markers, nor anything else indicative, plus we were having to follow the guide book description backwards. After much studying of the map, compass bearings and, most helpfully, a battery-guzzling App, it was proved that a very scanty path along a cliff top would take us to the AAT. A long traverse of the border ridge path took us to our crossing point into Austria, the Jepca-Sattel. What a relief. Dusk was fast approaching. Downhill through steep forests, more bear warnings, path closed and no access to Jepca-Sattel, signs (Glad we didn’t know about that earlier), and we arrived at the Baumgartnerhof, our accommodation. Views over the valley with castles and lakes, reviving beer and schnapps, ended the day in a much needed fashion.

Day 4. The accident. A fairly easy day beckoned. Downhill past castle ruins at Alt Finkenstein, to Faak am See, which was a bit like an Austrian Cooden. Something in a tree caught Karen’s attention, leading to a twisted ankle. This was nice flat terrain as well. Our hardy comrade marched on, all the way to Warmbad Villach, a very quiet spa-resort, originally founded by the Ro- mans. The barman at our overnight accommodation, supplied generous bags of ice, for the now, very swollen painful limb. Sug- gestions of continuing the journey by bus/train were strenuously rejected.

Day 5. We followed the old Roman Road out of Wbd. Villach. The road was remarkably preserved, including cart ruts. The trail then went through the Schutt, a huge rock fall from adjacent mountain, the Dobratsch, which occurred during the Middle Ages, flattening a village, and killing several thousand people. A storm was threatening, so we dared not linger anywhere, until we reached our accommodation, the Alte Post, an old coaching inn at Feistritz. This place had plenty of atmosphere and a much praised traditional bakery.

The Inn was hosting a choir practice, which continued in the bar, but only once we’d headed upstairs. There was some beautiful singing, accompanied by claps of thunder from outside.

Day 6. 1st action was to find the bakery. We did. They were shut for a week’s holiday. 4 hours up a steep forested track to the Feistritzer Alm, where at 1,711 m, horses, cows, 4x4s and lots of people having a jolly time at the café. Inside the café were plenty photos of large bears, presumably taken by camera-traps. The surrounding panorama and scenery, was again, amazing, as we descended via Achomitzer Alm , down a relentless steep track to Valbruna in Italy. Valbruna is in the Val Saisera, surrounded by rocky spires of the Julian Alps, and is apparently one of the most beautiful spots on the AAT. The Val- bruna Inn, felt a bit like a luxurious alpine hut, and had a whole li- brary of mountain literature. However, unfortunately, we were too busy eating, drinking and enjoying the sauna to have time to read.

Final Day. This was the ascent of Monte Lussari, 1789 m. Again, another hot ascent, but once at our mountain-top, we could not move for people. It came as a bit of a shock after several days of barely populated paths. The sanctuary of Monte Lussari is a place of pilgrimage and also popular with tourists. We found a spot on a hotel terrace, for a drink, and a quick rendez-vous with a cousin & husband who’d come up on the cable car to meet us.