Hills and mountains have in the past been predominantly visited by hikers, climbers, perhaps the odd paraglider. More recently though, the trend of bike touring has been growing in popularity and the top brass over at the Alpine Association of Slovenia came up with the idea of a bike route that stretched the length and breadth of the country.
So a couple of years ago a group of mountain biking specialists got together and they set to work on what was a massive project indeed. The aim was to lay down a bike trail that would visit pretty much every attractive cycling region in Slovenia. Just last year they succeeded and the trail was officially opened. From the hilly vineyards around Maribor the route crosses Pohorje and continues into the equally hilly region of Koroška. Then it turns down towards Ljubljana and after that you’re in for some serious climbing in the Alps. You’ll find yourself in the beautiful scenery of the Triglav National Park, then turn towards the coast and some warmer climate. Still more vineyards (and wine cellars) await you along the way south. Catch some beautiful Adriatic sunshine, have some ice cream on the beach, then head east again along the Croatian border and into the dark forests around Kočevje. You’re well on your way here, almost but not quite home yet. Just a few hills lie on the way back to where you started out in the region of Štajerska.
It reads like a nice day out, but unfortunately Slovenia isn’t as small as that. In fact the route is around 1800 kilometers long and features about 50.000 vertical meters of ascent, so you’ll have quite a bit of uphill pedalling to do. It is divided into 41 stages and is meant to be taken over a longer period of time, step by step. It was designed to incorporate local hospitality providers and other attractions, so that cyclists can get to know the area they’re in. This also provides revenue for the local communities along the way, while cyclists don’t have to worry about getting stranded with mechanical difficulties or sleep under the stars on a cold night.
Along the way you might visit the world’s oldest vine that grows in Maribor, learn about the lives of coal miners in Velenje, drink coffee on the busy squares of Ljubljana, or have a glass of Teran, red wine that is native to the karstic regions just inland from the Adriatic coast. The trail can be taken up pretty much anywhere along the way, there is no official beginning or end. Accommodations in alpine huts, private rooms, camps and other lodgings are available throughout, so you can get a good night’s rest after a hard day of cycling. You’ll be well supplied with internet connectivity and other modern amenities as well.
They designed the route so that it runs along quiet roads, away from traffic. Mostly it sticks to unpaved roads and forest tracks, so it’s nice to have a bike that can handle a bit of rough terrain. A hybrid should be able to do the job, but a full fledged mountain bike would be ideal to handle everything along the way. You don’t need any special off road riding skills, as the route was designed with a broad audience in mind. Do keep in mind all the safety precautions before you go though – keep your bike in good working order, choose stages according to your physical ability, wear protective equipment and care about your surroundings. Don’t litter and give way to hikers if you want to avoid nasty looks.
Follow these simple steps and your heart, and you should find a range of experiences along the way that will keep you coming back for more. You can plan your trips using the official STKP website. There you’ll find more info on different aspects of the route, as well as a list of 109 control points where you can stamp your route diary. These are usually cottages or restaurants that provide a warm welcome, a refuge from the elements and probably a cold beer as well.
A couple of snaps from the field. Credits go to PZS and Jože Rovan, president of the Slovene mountain bike touring commission.
So if you’re looking to spend this year’s summer holidays a bit differently, or perhaps a new epic project, the STKP is sure to provide a worthy challenge. Be sure to click through the provided links and enjoy your time out on the bike.