Rateče is a village in the north-western corner of the Slovenian Alps. Just two hours from Ljubliana, we step off the bus straight into a postcard. Surrounded by mountains, lakes and trees, the air feels fresh in our city lungs. We walk around the Alpine village and excitedly point at the view every few seconds.
There are two restaurants in the village. We try both and pick one that we go on to eat at every single night. It’s called Mojmir and I highly recommend the local goulash.
Rateče lies on the triple border, or “Tromeja”, with Italy and Austria. We hike for two hours up a steep hill to the Tromeja. The hike is mostly covered as we wiggle through a forest. Suddenly we reach a clearing and Austria opens out in front of us. It’s a magnificent sight. We sit on an Austrian bench and eat cheese sandwiches.
We continue walking through Austria and loop back down. No one is up here but us. The closed ski centres and chairlifts are an eerie sight as they wait silently for the snow to fall.
A Norwegian man in Ljubliana insists we visit Lake Jasna. He showed us a photo and we were sold. We arrive, swimming kit at the ready. The water is incredibly clear and incredibly cold so our swimming kit sees no action. The sun is hot and the view is perfect for our cheese sandwich lunch.
We’ve developed a lake addiction. We walk fifteen minutes to a different section of the Italian border and cross into Italy. I’d seen on the map there were two Alpine lakes nearby. We walk for an hour longer until we reach Lake Inferiore. I’d assumed the name meant “inferior” but it actually means “lower”. The lake is one of the most beautiful colours I have ever seen. Turquoise and clear, surrounded by mountains with orange leaves scattered across the surface.
We walk twenty minutes through forest to Lake Superiore, or Upper Lake. I nearly tread on a bright green snake.
Lake Superiore is beautiful but doesn’t hold the same magic as the first lake. We eat cheese sandwiches and head back to the first. I buy an Italian juice at the pretty lakeside cafe which is delicious. A wasp agrees and turns it into a bath. We head home.
Rain is on the menu so we decide not to walk far today. There’s a famous ski jump nearby. We both hate skiing but maybe watching skiing is ok? We start walking and come across a gang of sheep. One sheep walks up to me and starts stomping his foot. I take a quick photo and run away.
When we arrive, we are utterly unprepared for the sheer scale of the multiple jumps and stare at the skiers/maniacs with gaping mouths. It’s more accurate to say they fly, rather than jump. We morbidly wonder aloud whether anyone has died here. Minutes later, a skier crashes to the ground and cries out in agony. He’s not dead but he’s badly hurt his arm. One injury in less than ten minutes doesn’t seem like a great hit-rate to us. We both make firm decisions not to enter the Winter Olympics.
Lake Bled is our final lake of the trip. The sky is grey. We climb to the top of the iconic castle and stare out across the lake. Perhaps the last few days have spoilt us as initially I am irritated by the hotels, tourists and gift shops disrupting the natural beauty. We explore the castle and the (free) audio guide tells us that the oldest grapevine in the world is here. 400-years-old! For reasons I can’t articulate, this makes the whole castle worthwhile. The lake shimmers silver as boats move quietly across. As we climb down and walk the 6km around the water’s edge, I realise that Lake Bled has a hundred different faces. From the old residence of the Yugoslovian leader to the medieval castle, a stormy history surrounds this lake. Tourists mill about but the lake is still.