Nestled in the crook between Italy and Croatia, tiny Slovenia packs a big, bold punch. This under-the-radar Balkan gem stuns visitors with its natural beauty, a patchwork of pebbled beaches, raw-faced mountains, glacial lakes, moody forests and rolling meadows. Life here is steeped in the outdoors, and nowhere more so than in the country’s northwest corner, a pristine pocket of the Julian Alps that begs to be explored by land and water alike.
That’s where the Emerald River Adventure comes in. The signature excursion from 3glav Adventures, an outfitter and guide company based in the resort town of Bled, it’s an intense yet rewarding day of hiking, rafting and sightseeing through the gorgeous Triglav National Park. Bled is a popular hub for adventure sports and there are several outfitters in town, but 3glav — which pioneered the Triglav itinerary — is exceptional across the board. Communication is thorough and timely, activities run like clockwork, and staff are enthusiastic, helpful and engaging. From start to finish, my experience was virtually flawless.
First things first: Get a good night’s rest beforehand! The Emerald River Adventure starts early and takes a full 12 hours door to door. After participants are picked up by van from points around Bled, it’s a relatively short drive to lovely Jasna Lake, a crystalline expanse that reflects the forested foothills and Triglav peaks that surround it. Here also sits a statue of the mountain goat Zlatorog, the region’s mystical mascot, who figures prominently in a local legend that a guide relates as you soak up the scenery. Take a seat on the statue, and it just might bring good luck.
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Chatting with guides and the others in the group en route from point to point is part of the fun. Group sizes range from four to eight people, an ideal ratio for ensuring that everyone gets personal attention during activities. The guides are excellent about helping guests get to know each other and sparking conversation as they point out local sights and landmarks or share tidbits of their country’s history.
Just past Jasna, the hikes begin — three in all, about 30 or 40 minutes each and spaced throughout the day. Each has its own payoff, from a World War I cable car station to a turquoise pool that is the source of the Soca River (the “Emerald River” for which the tour is named). The first and last hikes aren’t difficult, but the middle one is more of a challenge. Steep and rocky, it includes a via ferrata, a system of bolted steel cables to grip for support. Some of the footholds are slim and staggered along a sheer cliff wall, so keep a tight hold on that cable as you inch your way along. Participants who aren’t comfortable doing this part, or any other, are welcome to opt out.
Next, it’s off to lunch in the small town of Bovec, where the group gets a free hour to eat and explore. Be sure and stop by the local bakery to sample Slovenia’s signature burek, a flaky rolled pastry stuffed with savory mixtures like meat and cheese. Delicious!
After lunch comes the star of the show: a 90-minute whitewater rafting trip down the Soca River, led by a team of Bovec-based guides who mix expert skills with cheeky good humor. While rafting is an optional add-on, nearly everyone goes for it — it is the unquestionable highlight of the day. I’ve rafted many times in many places, but never in aqua-green water that’s clear as glass and so pure you can scoop up handfuls to drink. It’s one of the most stunning rivers you are ever likely to see.
Rapids on the Soca are Class II to Class III-plus, depending on the weather and the time of year. They were fairly gentle and easy to navigate on the day I went, just right for giving kids a bit of an adrenaline rush without making parents nervous. Some sections of the river are calm enough that you can jump in and float alongside the raft, but be warned: Even in wet suits, the water is bone-chilling.
The guides incorporate a few surprises along the way, from some well-timed “accidental” bumps into rocks to an empty raft that’s upturned to create a makeshift water slide — quite a hit with our group.
As evening nears, the adventure winds down with a complimentary round of local beers while everyone waits to board the “car train” to Bohinj, home to a peaceful lake that’s the final stop of the tour before the van returns to Bled. Kids will love the car train, which pulls a line of vehicles along a track through green valleys and pitch-dark tunnels. Passengers need to remain seated in their cars for the ride, but it’s incredibly relaxing to roll down the windows, crack open the doors and savor the fresh mountain breezes.
Outside the train’s operating season (roughly late April to late September), guides drive back via a scenic mountain pass instead. Either way, it’s a picture-perfect coda to a truly sensational day.
3glav Adventures has a limited season, operating mid-April through early October. The official minimum age for children to participate in the Emerald River Adventure is 6, but I’d recommend it for slightly older kids. It’s a very active, tiring day that requires stamina, though the guides are great about accommodating guests who can’t or prefer not to do a certain activity. On the flip side, there’s significant downtime in the car, two to three hours in all.
For kids too young to join in the Emerald River Adventure, 3glav has other excursions that offer a taste of Slovenia’s beauty. There’s a shorter, tamer rafting trip near Bled that’s perfect for families, plus horseback riding, rock climbing, hot air ballooning and more. Ciao Bambino’s Family Vacation Advisors can help you choose and book age-appropriate activities as part of our full trip planning service.
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a complimentary Emerald River Adventure in order to review the excursion for families. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick and 3glav Adventures.
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