Well, that is quite a start! Großglockner, Austria’s highest mountain, spirals almost 3,800 metres high into a flawless morning sky. And we are standing at its base, on the viewpoint Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, the start of the Alpe-Adria Trail. The marked, rugged trail leads down many steps in serpentines just below the panorama platform. Down in the direction of where, out of the depths, the biggest Glockner glacier shines upwards – the mighty Pasterze. The trail goes further downhill along its icy edge and under the spell of white powdered alpine peaks, following the run of meltwater which gathers further down in Sander Lake. There, we soon walk carefully across a rope bridge, the water from the lake is roaring below and draining the glacier floodwater into the tight gorge of Möllschlucht.
What a spectacle right at the beginning of the long distance trail which connects the glacier world with the Mediterranean: from the Großglockner area through Kärnten across Slovenia and the Italian region of Friauli-Julisch Venetien all the way to the bay of Trieste.
This is not an alpine high-level route for extreme freaks but a tour offering wonderful contrasts to please every ones tastes. Possible as a multi-week trekking project or in daily stages, in both directions and with many variations. It is a roller-coaster ride, up and down, garnished with rivers and lakes, with hills and coastline. It is a mix of energy-sapping ascents and lovely strolls. And with all sorts of “magical places”. With savoury egg noodles with cheese (called Kasnudeln) in quality mountain huts, or a neat cappuccino in a harbour setting and sea breeze.
It is a three-country project with a great infrastructure and many followers – even amongst the smartphone generation. It is a long-distance trek which can be made logistically easier if required thanks to mountain buses, cable cars and luggage transport facilities. But it can also be a remote natural experience and with sporty challenges as part of the deal. Just as you wish.
In retrospect, the many stages of the trail turn into colourful snippets of memory: waterfalls shooting out of rocks, cows grazing on Alpine meadows, Alpine roses in full blossom, churches galore and neat timber-frame buildings not to mention farms “welcoming tired hikers”. From the soft curves of the Nock Mountains in Kärnten, a delightful panorama opens up across flower meadows down to the elongated Millstätter Lake bustling with sailing boats. One of the stage destinations could be the Alexander Hut. Cheese is sold there in the Alpine dairy and you can also enjoy a Swiss pine sauna at an altitude of 1,800 metres. After that, in Bad Kleinkirchheim, hikers can even take a break and set body and feet free at the Roman thermal baths. Or even later, there’s the Faaker Lake, smooth as a mirror and with its rustling reed: At night, boats glide solitary across the water, illuminated with burning wax torches – a very special romantic tour.
Slovenia begins beyond the Jepzasattel, the Karawanks Forests spread themselves out, and the Triglav National Park and the remote landscape of the Soca Valley lie in wait. Especially the River Soca is a dream. Emerald green in colour and framed by white rocks either side, whitewater rapids make it a dream destination for paddlers. On the stage from Trenta to Bovec, the trail follows the river, crosses suspension bridges and leads through larch forests to reveal eerily beautiful views down into narrow gorges before the Soca then roars down waterfalls and into the valley below.
Where soon the path then leads through what were trenches of the First World War, at the summit ridge of Kolovrat, the Alpe-Adria Trail arrives for the first time at the boarder in Italy on the way to Friaul. And then, the landscapes becomes softer, the route passes lonely mountain villages and homesteads, meadows and broadleaf forest. Soon cherries, apricots and olives will be flourishing. And cypress trees will be growing in alleys – and of course, the wine. We roam through Italy’s Collio, a region within Friaul, where hillside vineyards dominate the picture and castles and churches sit enthroned on hilltops. Many might begin to think of Tuscany. Winemakers offer their wines – such as in Cormòns, a picturesque spot in Habsburg style.
Where Rilke trod
Before the ocean, there is the Karst, a rough, bush-covered high limestone plateau, where the powerful Bora wind blows and where the air is scented with herbs. Then, at last, in front of us we glimpse the shimmering Adriatic Sea and the harbour district of Monfalcone comes into view. And the Alpe-Adria Trail gathers speed one last time: The ochre-coloured walls of the most beautiful castle of Duino rise directly from the sea. And to the east of that, the path leads across steep towering limestone cliffs directly past the Golf of Trieste; on this stage, it is called the Rilke Trail. The poet wrote his famous Duino Elegies there. On the same day, we can even take a look at the impressive dock of the former k.u.k. metropolis of Trieste which was Austria’s only harbour until 1918. If you like, you can follow the trail around Trieste, crossing the boarder to Slovenia again to reach Lipica. Horse lovers will especially like it, as the now internationally renowned Lipizzans – even now at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna – originally came from the local stud farm there. Behind solid wooden fences, the precious grey horses can be seen grazing in the shade of mighty old oaks. In the neighbouring town Val Rosandra, back in Italy again, a lot of wildlife can be found nestling in the many holes in the rocky walls and lavender sways back and forth in the wind. You can also marvel at remains of a Roman aqueduct which once supplied Trieste with water.
Some people miss out the detour to Lipica preferring instead the nearby Venecian coastal town of Muggia at the southern end of the trail where boats bob up and down in the harbour and behind them, a crazily orange sun sinks into the ocean. We are fanned by a mild breeze as we stare enthralled at the picturesque bay of Trieste, order fresh mussels and cold white wine. Then we become a bit sentimental as we think back to the icy peaks in Kärnten from where we had started our journey. Another world. And what a contrast. Made it!
From Großglockner to the Adriatic Sea
The Alpe-Adria Trail winds its way over 750 kilometres from the Großglockner area through Kärnten across Slovenia to Muggia near Trieste. Officially, it consists of 37 day stages. Stages can be combined as you wish, supplemented with excursions and walked in either direction. For those with little time, a “3 country circuit” combines seven stages into a 130 kilometres short alternative. Every averagely fit hiker can master the trail. Nevertheless, it is important to note that especially in the alpine area, some stages involve more than 1,000 metres of ascent or a walking time of up to eight hours. But they can also be bypassed though. Other stages can easily be completed in half a day and combined with a city stroll or sightseeing. The local infrastructure is good, there are buses for hikers, signposting is clear, there are many possibilities to have a break or sleep the night, which makes the trail a well-calculated adventure.
Organisation / Offers
Support and a variety of different hiking packages are available via the booking centre for the Alpe-Adria Trail (see below) or on the homepage alpe-adria-trail.com. You can also choose routes individually. You can make reservations for accommodation or get your luggage transport organised. Multiple-day packages are themed, focusing on the Hohe Tauern National Park (“Nationalpark Hohe Tauern”, ten days), the autumn seasons (“Goldener Herbst” four days) or in Trieste (“Im Karst um Triest”, five days).
Alpe-Adria Trail booking centre Kärnten, phone: +43 / 48 24 27 00, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also obtain information about the Slovenian and Italian parts of the trail, or get the contact details for the local booking agencies. The booking centre also supplies the official tour guide free of charge.
21. Mai 2014, Text: Wolfgang Gessler | Translation: Cindy Ruch