Dense forest trails, high-alpine tours, and ocean views await.

Summit plateau of the Nanos


By Gerhard Czerner

Photos by Martin Bissig

Slovenia is a small country with an incredible amount of diversity: affectionately set trail parks in dense forests, high-alpine tours and trails with views of the ocean [actually, the Adriatic Sea]. It offers everything to make a biker’s heart beat faster. If that’s not enough, you can continue beneath the earth, along the Black Hole Trail, through an abandoned mine—an unforgettable adventure!

At the Jungle Trail in Jamnica Trail Park, we experience a bridge crossing that’s both scenic and exhilarating.



“The ladder here was the only part of the trail you couldn’t bike—until Elliot Heap showed up. This crazy guy just rode down it,” Anej laughs at us. He and his headlamp outshine each other. “I’ll give you a rope that you’ll then tie around your seatpost. I’ll climb down first, and you can lower the bikes down.” Anej turns around and disappears into the ground. We try to follow him with the light of our headlamps while we stand in the narrow mining shaft. The hole has a diameter of about two meters. A ladder leans to the right of it. An almost vertical rock ramp lines the left. We can’t discern where exactly it ends or if it has a run-out. “Yeah, okay, really, someone rode down that?” I take a step back, deeply impressed. Franziska slowly lowers her bike into the depth of the mine.

We are in the middle of what is known as Slovenian Carinthia, an area called Koroška, in northern Slovenia. It’s one of the smaller regions of the country with about 1000 square kilometers (386 square miles) of large, forested areas. The green, hilly landscape in the valleys away from the urban settlement areas is a picturesque idyll where time seems to have stopped. Age-old farms with vast real estate lie strewn far apart from each other. The first mountain bike hotel of Slovenia is located on one of those estates—the Eco-Hotel Koroš. The family-run accommodation is blessed with a spectacular view, thanks to its location atop one of the countless hills. The panorama reaches far across the lush green countryside all the way to Austria, letting visitors gaze towards the towering peak of a mountain called Petzen. The nature- and bike-enthusiastic family from Dixi Strucl moved here in 2008. They established a fine trail park together with their son, Anej, and the help of the bike community here around the farming estate. The Jamnica Trail Park currently offers 24 kilometers (15 miles) of singletrack trails.

We already get to experience the primeval state of the area upon our arrival with our camper. The paved road ends abruptly. The signposts lead us to an unpaved path through the forest, and the going gets rougher. Roadwork has left deep marks. Soon, we can spot a newly tiled roof glowing above us in the evening sun. We pass the hotel’s own vegetable garden after a few sharp curves and enter the courtyard. Anej comes down the wooden steps even before we can make it out of the vehicle. It’s a heartfelt welcome: “Great to see you. I’ll show you the spot for your luxury liner.”

Anej smiles with a look towards our camper. The jet-black van with its high roof and the huge mountain landscape sticker does seem quite mighty, I have to admit. The Swiss company Paroz converted it into a dream come true for bikers together with Kurbeldreher AG, a bike shop also located in Switzerland. Our bikes travel business class in the huge garage with a rear extension, a fully equipped workshop and a compressor inside. There’s even a battery-powered, high-pressure washer on board.

Biking takes a serene turn as we cross the sparkling emerald-green waters of the Soca River over a bridge initially made for hikers.



We park on a mixed orchard between ancient, gnarled trees. There are already some vans there, and tents that have been pitched and strewn around the compound. “Wow, the view is amazing,” says Franziska, looking excitedly towards the Petzen.

“They have a 10-kilometer-long flow trail. It’s really well built,” I report, knowing from my last visit here. After we got all our things in order, we walked past some clucking chickens to dinner.

Practically all the delicious food—from the vegetables to the meat all the way to the grains—are from the hotel’s own garden or surrounding farms. The finest locally, organically grown food you can imagine! After Anej finishes clearing the table, we make a quick plan for the next day. We want to get a few trails in the on-site park under our wheels.

Fog mystically wafts across the landscape outside of the van in the morning. We start off on a narrow trail, basically right behind the breakfast buffet. The grass is still heavy with morning dew. The forest swallows us shortly after our departure. We zigzag on soft forest ground through the trees. Anej knows every turn and corner and speeds along. He suddenly yells, “Stop!” from far ahead. I take a look into our group of bikers, and all I see are broadly grinning faces.

“Well, that’s just sweet,” says Franziska beaming. “You can see more trails over here. There’s one coming down from there. We can turn left or right further down. If you turn around, you can see two more back there.”

Anej points us to the many possibilities. “That’s awesome—and in your own backyard!” I just can’t hide my enthusiasm. We decide to take the left junction. The Bomb Trail takes us past a crater that was caused by an aircraft bomb during World War II. We continue along a root-packed ridge. The trail spits us out onto a road two steep ledges further on.

We high-five; our spirits are up. It’s about 500 meters (1640 feet) in altitude gain back to our front door. We don’t have to pedal this distance along the boring road, though; two kilometers of uphill trail await us. Riding uphill has rarely been this fun for me as it was along these meters in altitude gain. We pedal our way back to the farm along pleasant curves that are never really steep but gratifyingly varied. Each and every trail has its own character, even though the trail system lies within close proximity. We ecstatically make it past the Golden Gate Bridge of Jamnica and follow the densely overgrown Jungle Trail along a small creek. We get to cross it at one point by balancing across wobbly tree stumps. We end our day in the late afternoon, comfortably sitting in the backyard, thrilled by the multifarious possibilities in direct vicinity of our accommodation. We clink glasses with a Lasko, a Slovenian beer, and a Cockta, a non-alcoholic beverage made from rose hip: “Na zdravje—cheers—to the affectionately built trails.”

Nestled on Slovenia’s border with Italy, the quaint town of Robidisce beckons us. As we explore its streets, the blend of cultures and histories enrich our ride.



At least as much love was put into the highlight that awaits us the next day. The region has been well known for centuries because of its mining industry. Anej created an unmatched bike experience in an abandoned lead and zinc mine. The mine drifts were deserted for 25 years. Then came Anej and a couple of visionary bikers, and they began to dig and blow a challenging trail within the catacombs and tunnels—the Black Hole Trail. We step into the underground through an iron gate after checking our gear. Knee pads, a backpack, a back protector, as well as a head lamp, are mandatory aside from a helmet, of course. The ride below the earth starts leisurely along old tracks. They were used to transport the rocks out of the mine with lorries. Some of these vehicles are still where they were left. Our eyes slowly get accustomed to the limited field of vision that the light of our headlamps provides. Anej stops: “The first big cave is right around the corner.” We make our way on foot to explore the section of the trail. It vanishes steeply behind an S-curve in the dark.

Franziska looks at me: “Oh, I wasn’t expecting this. This doesn’t look easy to ride at all.” We have to get used to the slippery ground, as well as the narrow space, we have to ride first.

The ambiance isn’t comparable to anything I’ve ever experienced before. We ride the first steep meters in teams of two. Nobody wants to slip or fall down here. Once we reach the bottom, Anej asks: “Everything all right?” We nod impressed. “That’s just the beginning!”This really is no adventure for beginners. Sometimes the tunnels are so narrow that we have to tuck in our heads. We keep stopping to inspect the next few meters, and everyone decides for themselves if he or she wants to ride the passage or walk. Sometimes what we can get a glimpse of in the pipes is so bizarre that it seems unbelievable that it’s actually possible to ride your bike there. Nonetheless, it usually works out quite well. Orange safety nets secure one or the other hole at the side of the path. We all get off our bikes at one point and make our way down a rope. We hand our bikes down from one to another.

A few sequences down the path we reach the infamous ladder that was, until recently, the only part of the tunnel system you couldn’t ride. But, this passage was cracked by Elliot Heap, a pro enduro rider. We, on the other hand, are busy lowering our bikes down the aluminum steps via a ladder. “The mountain is completely perforated with holes,” Anej tells us. We ride on five levels, deeper and deeper into the earth. It’s only about 150 meters (nearly 500 feet) in altitude drop. It feels like so much more. We spend close to four hours in the depths of Slovenia. We’ve also lost complete track of time in the dark. It could have well been eight hours, too. We are totally carried away from this world by the time we reach the light at the end of the tunnel. A new chapter in our book of experiences has been added to our lives. Never have we ever biked in more unique surroundings.

The Black Hole Trail offers a unique underground biking adventure.



We say goodbye to Anej and Dixi the next morning after packing up our “Kurblibus,” as we lovingly call our vehicle. We want to visit the emerald green river Soca. The route leads through three countries—Slovenia, Austria, and Italy—along 180 kilometers. The romantic road snakes itself past Lago del Predil up to a pass with the same name back across the border into Slovenia. The ruins of the fortress Predel, a relic from the First World War, lie right next to the road. Dense clouds build up in front of us. The weather forecast is terrific. We still want to try our luck and maybe ride at least one of the many alpine tours around the Soca Valley. We drive along the trails of the former French emperor across the stone-built Napoleon Bridge to Kamp Koren near Kobarid. The spacious camping ground offers small ecologically built wooden cabins—this you would call “glamping”—aside from spots for tents and camper vans, as well as a sauna area and a small restaurant.

The rain keeps pounding on the roof of our van while we try to find our camping spot in the dark. It keeps raining during breakfast the next morning. A few rays of sunshine are forecast for around noon, then more thunderstorms. So, we enjoy a second cup of coffee. Our plans for big tours in the mountains are squashed. So, instead, we decide to start off with an easy ride and go for a spin around the valley along the Soca. The clear water looks almost unnaturally green. The area is nature’s paradise with gushing waterfalls dizzying hanging bridges. The region is especially popular with kayakers. Aside from that, the wild countryside offers countless possibilities for hiking, canyoning, climbing and, of course, swimming. We roll into Kobarid to get some tips from the locals. The small town welcomes us with a beautiful style of Mediterranean and alpine details. Old weaponry by the side of the road reminds us of the atrocious conflicts during the so-called Isonzo Battles. “Isonzo” is Italian for “Soca.” Over a million soldiers lost their lives. Our place to be is the bike shop of Blaz. He runs an outdoor agency aside from the store and also offers bike tours. He strongly advises us against going up into the mountains the next day.

The trails in the surrounding mountains are challenging for the most part, and they get slippery during the rain and some of them even become unrideable when wet. In addition, his weather app predicts recurring thunderstorms for the entire next day. “We go to Robidisce to bike when the weather is like this. They built five different trails there during the past five years. None of them has more than 300 meters [984 feet] of altitude gain, but they’re really nicely built. It’s enough for half a day at least,” Blaz recommends. This sounds like a good alternative for us.

Behind Hotel Koros, we are greeted with trails that offer stunning views of Austria’s Petzen mountain, which stands 6,975 feet tall and boasts one of the best bike parks in the area.


Before we make our way to Robidisce in the rain, we pay a visit to the Italian Ossuary above Kobarid. The impressive, octagonally built monument was erected in three concentric circles around the church of Saint Anton. The remains of over 7,000 soldiers lie buried here. They serve as a reminder of the terrible events of past wars. The emerald green of the creeks in the valley has turned into a light brown, thanks to the heavy rainfall. We follow along the river Nadiza, which is considered to be one of the warmest rivers in the Alps. Its water is supposed to have healing powers according to old lore.

It’s no surprise that this place is very busy during the summer months, as we can see from the spacious parking lots. We reach the western-most village of Slovenia after a 30-minute car ride: the tiny mountain village of Robidisce. It lies almost right on the border of Italy. Some of the stone houses there are over 300 years old, with rotting wooden window shutters, and they radiate an ethnic, alpine charm. The entrance to the trails is marked with obvious signs just a short distance before the few houses begin. “Fat Hans,” “Logyeah” and “Fit Helga” start directly at the village’s entrance. “Should we start with Fat Hans or Fit Helga?”

I laugh towards Franziska. “Fat Hans sounds chill.” Franziska, motivated, steps into her pedals into the forest full of fog. The muddy ground is slippery. The built berms catch us pretty well, though, even when the tires start to slip. The small bumps, jumps and wooden bridges are really fun. Just like that, the bad weather is forgotten, and broad smiles make their way into muddy faces. We have no clue if we’re on Hans, or already on Helga, or somewhere else completely. The trails often cross each other, and we let the flow lead our way. The fun ends on the road that we drove up with the van at some point. “Let’s go for another round!” We high-five each other and don’t hesitate for even a second. Saddles up, and on we go back to the top. The ascent warms us up. The longest trail is Napoleon with its two kilometers (1.24 miles) and 300 meters (984 feet) in altitude descent. It’s not the alpine experiences we had hoped for, but the muddy battles on the well-built paths sure are tons of fun.

After round five, it’s time for Gloria, our battery-powered high-pressure cleaner, to do its duty. Our bikes get to go back into their luxury garage, freshly cleaned. We want to escape the rainy weather and pedal a few dry kilometers. Anej and Blaz both enthusiastically swooned about trails with views of the ocean, rocky karst landscapes, picturesque towns with Mediterranean flair, and culinary delicacies. You can find all of this in the Vipava Valley according to them. We take a look online, and the internet helps our decision-making process: the weather forecast is good, with the drive only 1.5 hours. In addition, none of us have been to the region prized as the “hidden jewel in the heart of Europe” by the travel guide publisher Lonely Planet yet. We quickly agree, start the van and off we go south in our “Kurblibus.”

In northern Slovenia, the forested trails offer a mesmerizing blend of beauty and challenge.



We follow the Soca down river, pass Nova Gorica, the city of roses, and end up on Vipava. A mighty ruin whose origin was a castle from the 12th century towers above the second largest city in the valley. The sun shines through the countless grapevines. They feel very comfortable here, judging by the looks of them.

The region isn’t considered to be one of the best wine-growing districts in Slovenia for nothing. The karstic high plateau of Trnovo builds a barrier towards the north. This lets the Mediterranean climate of the south take effect, keeping the annual average temperature at 54 degrees (12 degrees Celsius)—perfect conditions for biking the whole year! Although the Bora wind, called Burja here, can somewhat dim the joy. The wind blasts that make their way from the mountains to the heartland can easily reach 200 kilometers (125 miles) per hour and more. They blow away everything that’s not nailed or screwed down. It’s no surprise that the tiles of the old roofs are weighed down with stones. The entrances of the houses lie on the wind-averted side. Even driving is affected during adverse conditions. Driving with a trailer is even forbidden. We, on the other hand, are lucky. There’s only a slight breeze. “Our escape plan from Soca Valley seems to be working,” Martin says happily.

As dark clouds gather over Nanos, we push our pace, turning our ride into a thrilling chase against the thunderstorm.


The trails in the valley mostly huddle against the steeply dropping hillsides of the Trnovo high plateau along Ajdovscina and the highest point of the 4308-foot-high Nanos further to the east. The 170-foot-high broadcast transmission equipment of the Slovenian broadcasting service is perched atop it and can be seen from a far distance. The tour up Nanos is not one of the trail highlights. It mostly leads along forest roads. But, it’s definitely a highlight regarding the view. The monumental Hieronymus Church from the late 16th century, which is perched atop an impressive spot on one of the side peaks that offer wonderful views, is worth a visit.

The view reaches far across the copious valley all the way to Trieste and the Adriatic Sea. A visit to the Italian coast of the Adriatic Sea is a mere 30-minute car ride away. We get torn out of our daydreams of cappuccinos and the beach by a loud rumbling noise. Franziska turns her head inland and says impressed, “That doesn’t look good. We should get out of here and see to it that we get to the car.” Deep black thunderstorm clouds roll in our direction. We can already see and smell the precipitation far away. The rays of the sun still let the grass and the light karst rock sparkle in the sun, making it look almost kitschy in front of the dark background.

The Otliško Okno invites not just hikers but bikers, too.


We make it to the van in a dry state and decide we can’t pass up a visit to the wine cellar of the Tomazic family. Wine of the best quality has been maturing here for more than a hundred years in the old, vaulted cellars. Rarely does any other region offer as many old, native grape varieties. Some varieties have been described all the way back in 1844. The secrets of the viniculture have been passionately passed on from the parents to their children until this day. At least as many secrets are behind the production of black cheese, which we are offered in the evening.

Blessed with a spectacular clear view like the Nanos is the guesthouse and restaurant “Sinji vrh,” which can be translated as “Skyblue Peak,” up at 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) altitude. Local and organically produced foodstuffs are offered here in age-old buildings, as well as very special types of cheese. The storage space for the cheese plays a particular role in its maturing, as well as the ingredients and special processing. The location is surely unique worldwide and absolutely unusual; the cheese is stored to maturity in absolute darkness, under constantly maintained temperature and humidity, in deserted tunnels of the Italian army. These lay hidden in the ground not far from the guesthouse. The taste is guaranteed to be as unique as where it is stored.

Before plunging onto the Black Hole Trail, the tunnel offers an inviting prelude. We know that our greatest adventures await beyond its shadows.


The next day brings sunshine and pure trail pleasure beneath the Nanos again. The native bikers awoke old paths to new life in the valley and refined them with small banked curves and jumps. None of it seems artificial or overly developed. They’re small but nicely built additions to the natural trails that you can find in great numbers in the woods. The forest ground keeps surprising again and again with technical delicacies, usually in places where the rock can be seen. The infrastructure regarding biking is still in its beginnings. We don’t encounter packed shuttle buses anywhere, and we’re mostly the only ones on the trails. Maybe that’s also owed to the fact that you have to bike to the beginning of the trails yourself. We cover a distance of about 500 and 700 meters in altitude gain on the sparsely used side roads so we can get to enjoy the fun of biking downhill.

Many of the trails can be found on trail forks, or you can just ask in a bike shop. There are only a few signs. You rather have to keep a lookout for colored markings on trees. We end up in the town square of Podnanos after the third round of high-speed downhill singletrack through the forest after taking the trail named after the town. “Now I know why Anej spends his bike holidays here!” I high-five Franziska and Martin, still out of breath. “It’s unbelievable how varied and diverse Slovenia is despite the short distances,” Franziska correctly summarizes the past days here. I can only agree: “I could easily spend a few more days here. The relaxed atmosphere, the good food, the cool trails, the proximity to the ocean—that was such a great suggestion. All kinds of trails still wait here.”

Before making our way back home, we take another look through a hole in some rock. But, this time it isn’t dug by man, nor do you look into the daunting darkness like we did at the beginning of our travels at the Black Hole Trail. The 12-meter (39-foot)-high, tear-shaped rock window Otlisko Okno lies in the forest close to the village of Otlica. It was caused by mighty tectonic shifts. We peer through the hole far out into the frugal, often-wind-beaten Vipava Valley, which has welcomed us so warmly. Looking back, we’re even a little glad about the rainy weather in the Soca Valley. Otherwise, we would have probably never ended up here.



Slovenia is a small country in Europe with an area a little over 20.000 km² and 2.1 million inhabitants. The multitudinous of the landscapes in such little space is magnificent.
Capital: Ljubljana
Language: Slovenian. English is widely spoken.
Currency: Euro
General information:
Biking season: Depending on the region year round. In winter, only in the south. Winter sport activities are offered in mountain regions in winter.
Jamnica Trail Park and Eco Hotel KoroS:
Black Hole Trail only with guide booking:
Bike Park Petzen:
Distances to bike parks around Jamnica:
Bike Park Poreka: 17 km
Bike Park Kope: 43 km
Bike Park Pohorje-Maribor: 84 km
Bike Park Krvavc: 90 km
Bike Park Kranjska Gora: 125 km
Tours, apartments, bike rental, bike shop in Kobarid, Soca Valley:
Campground “Kamp Koren” Soca Valley:
Stylish wooden cabins in unique atmosphere (glamping) in Vipava Valley:
Outdoor activities, bike rental in Vipava Valley:
Wine tasting, local foods:
Black cheese and more:
“Kurbilbus” and other camping vehicles:

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