When traveling in Slovenia, it is easy to take for granted the natural wonders that abound in this country. The stats are known to most who come here. Around two-thirds of the country is covered in forests. Some 60 municipalities are green certified. And, everywhere you look, the landscape seems to remain as it has for centuries: crisscrossed by natural lakes, rivers, and hilltop villages sitting next to expanses of trees.
Having said all that, there is green, and then there is green. The spiritual center and calibration point for what really defines nature in Slovenia, and arguably in this area of Europe, is the country’s Kočevsko Region, 60 kilometers south of the capital Ljubljana. All the percentages and superlatives related to nature dramatically rise here. More than 90 percent of the region is forested and there are six virgin forests — one, the 75-hectare Krokar Virgin Forest, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, it is easier than ever to get to the country’s natural capital. The train from Ljubljana is back and running to the region’s main city, Kočevje, for the first time in two decades. Once here, the four-stage, 141-kilometer Slovenia Green Kočevsko Cycling Loop is a perfect way to enjoy the area’s greatest hits. Cyclists will have access to the virgin forests, guided wildlife observation, the beautiful River Kolpa, fresh food in every town along the way, and some of the most peaceful bike riding in Europe.
Slovenia Green routes are recommended itineraries for your green travel in Slovenia.
Why are they special?
Slovenia Green routes connect exclusively destinations that have been awarded the Slovenia Green certificate by committing to a green future and developing their tourism in a sustainable manner.
The ride starts in the region’s welcoming administrative center, Kočevje, where restaurants, shops, and accommodations can be found across the charming town center. After stopping in at the MTB Trail Center Kočevje on the outskirts of town for information, to warm up on one of the trails, and catch some air, point your bike onto the Slovenia Green Kočevsko Cycling Loop and let the real discovery begin.
Heading southwest, riding towards the Reško jezero (or Lake), there is an embarrassment of natural riches. The lake itself is an important habitat for fish, wildlife, and birds, such as the area’s famous white-tailed eagle with its treetop nest as big as a car. A perfect trophy for bird watchers. This is also a prime area of the loop to book a guided wildlife observation tour. The tours often include an education in tracking forest creatures such as wolves, bears, red deer, and foxes. The tours end in specially outfitted and elevated stands so visitors can safely watch the movement of these beautiful creatures.
Be aware that the 75-hectare Krokar Virgin Forest, which was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017, is further south of the loop. Regardless, walking along the edge of this protected area is priceless. This stretch of perfection surrounds visitors with a beech tree forest untouched since the Ice Age.
On the way to the town of Osilnica — which is cradled by the Kolpa River and has a museum, art gallery, and a spa and wellness center — road cyclists will likely feel obligated to tackle the famous Strma Reber climb. This eight-kilometer serpentine asphalt ascent climbs at more than an 8% gradient, with nearly a third of the 19 switchbacks clocking in at over 10%. On top of being a great workout, riders are also rewarded with incredible views of the entire area, which is loaded with hiking trails. If descending is your preference, you’re in luck. The loop’s route can be pointed downhill as well.
For a next-level adventure test — and after you get off your bike for the night — head over to the Peter Klepec Adrenaline Park to climb, scramble across a ropes course, and zip-line. After a day in the saddle, a shot of adrenaline, and a great meal, a good night of sleep will be appreciated… and guaranteed.
The next day the loop heads east along the River Kolpa, which forms the boundary with Croatia. One of the cleanest rivers and peaceful stretches in all of Slovenia, it is brimming with history and dense culture, but it is also one of the best places in the country to enjoy activities on the water: swimming, diving, boating, fishing, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking.
Within an hour, cyclists will come upon the Mirtovički potok. This relaxing stream used to drive mills and a sawmill. It is famous for its unique diversity of flora and fauna. Rare and endangered species, which have disappeared elsewhere, are commonplace in the valley and by this brook. It’s a perfect place to reflect on the setting you’ve discovered.
The simple truth is that cyclists who find this unheralded Kočevsko Region are rare. They earn their relaxation and deserve the chance to travel, at human speed, in one of the last protected and relatively untouched places in Europe. Taking a moment to understand the power of this stretch of the country, which is the center of Slovenia’s natural heart and a model for its sustainable tourism strategy, has great value in a world often spinning out of control.
Approximately two-thirds into the journey, cyclists come upon the municipality of Kostel. This is the location of the beautiful Nežica Waterfall, numerous walking routes, karst caves, and one of the region’s (and Slovenia’s) most important sites: the Kostel Castle, which is the second largest castle complex in the country. A short detour — and short but steep climb — to the top of the castle hill provides access to the 13th century grounds, the settlement, and Gothic church. Cyclists are also rewarded with beautiful views of the area and the Kolpa river valley.
Those who are ready to take a load off, rest, and check out the local attractions can stop here for the night and relax in Kostel. If the conditions are right and you’re ready to keep moving, cycle on to the Dol area, where the loop heads north away from the River Kolpa.
The third stage turns north at Dol. Though the loop leaves the Kolpa River here, it is worth taking some time to really enjoy this section, where gentle rapids provide the entertainment for the settlement. For those who spend the night, there are several accommodations and riverside camps.
Riding is a pleasure here. There is some climbing with rolling hills and forests everywhere the eye can see. As you pedal through the endless green, you’ll cycle at the edge of the Rajhenavski Rog virgin forest, which spreads over 51 hectares in the heart of Kočevski Rog (forest). There are also hiking trails that lead along the virgin forest’s boundary. More than just beautiful though, this was the first sustainably managed forest in Slovenia. Starting in 1892, this early green thinking has allowed this masterpiece to remain as it has for millennia.
As if to make the definitive point about the power of these virgin beech and fir expanses, the famous Queen of Rog, known as Debela Jelka, stands 51 metres and rises above the surrounding Kočevski Rog plateau. Completing the circle of forest life here, Žaga Rog, the steam sawmill, which operated between 1895 and 1932, still stands as a museum piece to a time when it was the center of the wood industry in Slovenia.
The final stage — and the completion of the loop — begins as the crisp, fresh forest air meets you with your first cup of coffee. Temperatures are always pleasant here on this stretch between Rajhenav to Kočevje, even in the summer, and a couple degrees lower than in other sections of the route. This is also a chance to take your victory lap and celebrate a successful, responsible cycle tourism expedition. This green section rolls through the dense stands of trees with more gentle descent than ascent.
As you come closer to your starting point, Kočevje, you’ll pass the Prelesnik Collapse Valley, which is an enormous, ancient cave with a collapsed ceiling. After, between the villages of Željne and Šalka vas, east of Kočevje, there is a chance to put your spelunking skills to work in a horizontal cave system, known as the Caves of Željne, that stretches some 1,600 metres in length and has more than ten entrances.
The end of this 36-kilometer stage is a good time to grab a great lunch in Kočevje, book your accommodation for the night, and then book one of several activities. Truly unique experiences here include a survival skills course, wildlife tracking, bear watching, and photo safaris. Communicating with the helpful people in one of the region’s Tourism Information Centers is free, will inspire new ideas, and is a great way to find the right activities for you and your style of travel.