Connor McGovern gets lost in the Vintgar Gorge in Slovenia
Taking Andraž’s hurriedly scrawled directions with us, we head north from Bled by foot, the pavement-less roads snaking off into the countryside. There’s no obvious way to this place, it seems; just a landscape of hilly crop fields streaked with quiet pathways that wind their way through silent clusters of houses and cows chewing mindlessly on the sun-bleached grass.
My brother and I arrive — heated and with damp brows — at Vintgar Gorge, greeted by the persistent babbling of water and birdsong. Not even a breeze rustles the trees. We follow the gorge at the water’s edge, spectacularly beautiful as it ripples and swirls along, the colour of malachite. Bursts of vivid wildflowers — pinks, whites and blues — decorate the scene as they cling to the rock faces. I peer into the water, full of trout basking in the dappled sunlight, and realise that nature rarely puts on such perfect displays of beauty. As the gorge tumbles to a stunning waterfall finish and meanders into the distance, we follow the sign pointing left, uphill through a dense forest, thick with humidity. Heady with the smell of wild garlic, the forest eventually gives way to tarmac, to driveways, to houses in the distance.
And so, it turns out that what I thought was the Slovene word for ‘exit’ is actually the name of a nearby village.
The village, whatever it’s called, is almost as silent as Vintgar, down the hill — there’s nobody here, the distance sound of a cockerel the only noise. We follow the lane downhill, passing quiet and shut-up houses, with red geraniums in their window boxes and washing hanging out to dry. A church bell tolls. I suggest following the lane to the church tower; churches always seem to be at the heart of the action, if ‘action’ even happens in places like this.
The place slowly comes to life. A car passes. There’s even a post office. In fact, there are even two small people coming towards us.
“Dan!” says one of the two smiling schoolboys, with big brown eyes and Adidas T-shirt.
My knowledge of Slovene is near non-existent, but I know this means ‘hi’ and is not an attempt to guess my name. “Dan,” I reply, after hesitating for a moment, wondering if either of them might know a smattering of English to help these lost fools get back to civilisation. I let them carry on walking, jabbering away to each other.
A bus station.
I have no clue if there is a bus anywhere near, or where they even go, as the only information here seems to be tourist information about local wildlife, and even that’s in Slovene. The sun is far hotter now, the sky devoid of any clouds to offer respite from the heat.
My brother suggests retracing our steps back towards the gorge. It’s not a bad idea; staying here is hardly going to be much use. We cut through a field of long grass, framed by the dark Julian Alps in the distance, back to the garlicky forest sloping down to the gorge.
“Look,” he says, pointing to the spot where we’d decided to turn left at less than an hour ago. I look, my eyes trying to find something helpful. And there, nailed to a tree, is a hand-painted sign reading ‘BLED’.
With an arrow to the right.