Hitting the Alpe-Adria trail with Headwater

Signpost at Start Most long distance hiking routes require a great deal of walking experience and high levels of stamina. The Alpe-Adria Trail boasts access for everyone, even families, as there are no mountains to climb and the daily stages are easily manageable. It’s Europe’s newest long distance hiking route and runs for 750 km from the Carinthia, in Austria, through Slovenia and ends in Italy, near Trieste on the Adriatic coast.

In fact, very few people would attempt all 37 stages in one go, not least because it would take over a month. Rather it’s better to pick sections – Austria has 22 stages, Slovenia has five and the last ten mix Slovenia and Italy. There’s also a seven-day Circular Route which connects Austria, Italy and Slovenia. I’ve only eight days so opt for the best bits.

Grossglockner and glacier I start at the beginning in Carinthia, Austria, and the Pasterze Glacier, the longest in the Eastern Alps, gleams in the morning sunlight. Above me is the 3,798m Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain, and it’s a pleasant 5 hours downhill to the village of Heiligenblut.

I stay in Austria and start from Mallnitz next day, after a taxi transfer. The trail follows the river through the Rabischschlucht and the Groppensteinschlucht gorges, in a series of spectacular waterfalls. I finish by climbing the diminutive Danielsberg, an almost perfectly conical hill. The attraction here is the Herkuleshof, originally a 19th century hunting lodge but now a charming inn with excellent food.

Herkuleshof It’s now goodbye Austria and hello Slovenia. From the town of Kranjska Gora. I’m going to be tackling the Vrsic Pass, at 1611m the highest in the Julian Alps, and the road was built by Russian POW’s during WW1. Many were killed in an avalanche and there’s an Orthodox Chapel, halfway up, in their memory. The trail criss-crosses the road before reaching the summit of the Vrsic at 1688m, still guarded by the remains of gun emplacements.

From here it’s downhill to the River Soca and, over two days, I follow it from its source to the town of Bovec. This is perhaps the most beautiful part of the trail, the emerald blue waters of the river contrasting with the green forests, lining its banks, framed by snow-capped mountains. It’s easy walking and, even better, there’s the chance of a quick dip to cool off. The Hotel Dobra Vila in Bovec serves modern cuisine with local ingredients and is a just reward for a long day’s hike.

Slovenian vineyards Slovenia’s wine centre, the Brda region, hails another change of scenery. I’m now strolling through vineyards, attractively terraced on gently rolling hills, topped by village church spires. I stop to sample the wines at the old renaissance castle in Dobrovo, before reaching the village of Smartno. Its attractive narrow cobbled streets are enclosed by defensive walls and I stay at the Hotel San Martin. I’ve heard they offer a tasting menu, with matching local wines, and I’m not disappointed.

Italy is now just a few kilometres away and, at the border, there’s no manned checkpoint, just a couple of signs. By afternoon, I reach the sizeable town of Cormons on the edge of the Fruili plain. From here the walking is less interesting as it’s relatively flat. Instead, I’m transferred to Sistiana and take the Rilke Path along the coast to Duino castle. Steep limestone cliffs drop down to the Adriatic and, with the fortress in the distance, it’s achingly beautiful.

Muggia My last leg starts in the village of Draga Sant’Elia following the course of the old Trieste-Hrpelje narrow gauge railway. I dip down to a cluster of houses at Botazzo, once home to a number of water mills, before following the Karst landscape of the Val Rosandra. The stream here supplied water to Trieste in Roman times and there are the remains of an aqueduct just before Bagnoli della Rosandra.

I skip the final day of the trail, as it’s mainly on asphalt, and take a taxi to the port of Muggia. It’s a fitting end to the journey, with the sun sinking behind the cluster of sail boats in the harbour, as I tuck into my seafood risotto on the terrace of the Hotel Porto San Rocco. This is the great attraction of the walk – decent food and accommodation everywhere, and you don’t have to rough it. Even better, you can pick and choose the sections you want to do.

More information


The Alpe-Adria Trail – Hiking in the Garden of Eden
is a comprehensive online resource and you can download a useful App to help you find your way.

Carinthia Vrsic Pass has information about this part of Austria.

I Feel Slovenia has information about the country.

Friuli Venezia Guilia has information about this part of Italy.

In Austria, Trail Angels can arrange transfers and baggage collection and this service will be extended to Slovenia and Italy in 2018.

The Bradt Guide to the Alpe-Adria Trail has detailed information about the trail, including accommodation and dining options. 

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Rupert Parker

Writer, photographer, cameraman & TV producer

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