Pale light gleams off the white stone church, waking us at 4:30 am. Stars are softly penciled in around the sky. This may be our second day of walking, but it’s our first true morning on the track and we each lie still a while.
No-one has turfed us off during the night despite Callum’s fears. Nonetheless, we pack up quickly, and wander down to see Predjamski grad properly. It’s been plastered into the cave like a cake, with thick icing spread along the base to stop crumbs falling out. It reminds me the infamous Woman’s Weekly birthday cake book we have back home; a truly wonderful, ridiculous creation.
In these early hours, it seems surreal that we’ll be walking here for the next three months; it’s too long to contemplate; too long to even be intimidated by. I expected to be panicking, at least a little, but instead I feel almost peaceful.
For the first two hours we walk along quiet roads through small towns, with fields of yellow and purple wildflowers to either side. As the day warms and brightens, the path swings off to the left and it quickly becomes clear that we’re about to leave the idyllic villages and climb a very large hill. Conversation peters out as we climb steadily, save for my occasional yell of “Snail!” as I try to save the local wildlife from Callum’s boots. Just below the summit, the undergrowth becomes a meadow of sweet-smelling white flowers. We flop around in the sunshine for a few minutes, happy to be making good progress.
We amble off the hill to reach a small church, and resupply with water from the roof, metallic like a lick of blood. The day is truly hot now, and very humid. Thunder occasionally erupts from the clouds, but we seem to be safe from rain.
Further along, we follow the backbone of a ridge which is knobbly with white limestone and covered in peppermint and butterflies. A para-glider is spiraling to our right, lazy as a dandelion seed. The smell of the peppermint plants reminds me of the walk into Rocky Creek canyon, back home in Australia. It’s a beautiful smell that makes me think of the bush.
Once off the ridge, we re-enter the woods and head towards a church, Sveti Marija. On the way, we pass a sign in Slovenian with a picture of a bear on it. Hmm. Google translate claims it says, “Beware! Area bear. Hunter’s family.” I’m not quite sure how to interpret this (a family of hunting bears? A family of local bear hunters?!) but we walk the other way just in case.
Heading off the hills at last, we descend a steep, gravelly path towards Planina. Planina is a small town, just large enough to have a food shop and a bar. The food shop we had planned to visit is closed, but the bar is open (yippee!) so embracing the European joie de vivre, we settle down for an hour with our books and a glass of wine. Satisfyingly, it starts raining just as we get comfortable. Lovely.
When the rain slows to a drizzle, we head off again for the final few kilometres to camp. We pass by Haasberg grad, a ruined castle slowly being swallowed by vines, and enter an old forest. Although wild camping is technically (okay, very) illegal here, we quietly hope our small, dark green tent and little old us won’t cause too much bother, and plant ourselves just off the track in some leaf litter.
Some deer bark as the light fades. We dig into our broccoli and cheese pasta, and call it a day.
Slovenia, Stage 1
Start and end points: Predjama to a patch of state forest just past Haasberg grad
Approximate distance: 25.5 km
Villages: Predjama – Bukovje – Gorenje – Planina
Features: Predjamski grad (Predjama castle) – Sveti Lovrenc (Lovrenc church) – Lovska koča na Planinski gori (Lovska mountain hut) – Sveti Marija (Marija church) – Market in Planina (Mercator) – Bar/cafe in Planina (Demšar, next to market) – Haasberg grad (Haasberg castle)