Crossing the Border Just for a Cave
We drove down to Italy to meet up with some friends for a long weekend. We went to Bologna, Venice, and Ravenna visiting world heritage sites and eating pasta. At some point, as we often do, we looked at the map and discovered how close to the Slovenian border we were and that a world heritage site, the Škocjan Caves were well within our reach. Guess where we went?
Venice is a beautiful city at night, but luckily we didn’t stay out too late and were able to get up and finish breakfast by about 8:30 so we could hit the road. We found the entrance to the caves, bought our tickets, and since it was summer we didn’t even get a discount. We chose the Underground Canyon tour, which is the first and shortest option since we were hauling a baby in a backpack and a toddler. We had to wait; I think it was about 45 minutes to an hour before our tour time. We were a little surprised because there weren’t too many people hanging around and waiting like we were. However, as it turned out the tour buses had reserved, and there ended up being quite a crowd. At the meeting point, there was suddenly a lot of people from all over, and we were met by a group of guides that walked us down the hill to the cave entrance. Even this part of the trail was a little rough, but just a precursor of what was to come. We split into two large groups, which were further broken down after entering, one was a multilingual tour guide who spoke English and we entered the cave first.
The Underground Cave Tour
The Skocjan Cave tour began with an overview of the geological history, human history, and the inscription onto the UNESCO World Heritage list, largely due to the fact that it is the largest cave in the world. All the visitors, us included, were pretty anxious to get started, so our groups split up and we English speakers headed to this tiny door. The crowd surged, and I started to get nervous. My claustrophobia, as you might have read in my Egyptian pyramid story, was kicking in. The small door opened into a very narrow tunnel, descending into the darkness. The guide almost didn’t let me enter, saying if I’m really claustrophobic I should bail, because once I committed to the going I had to go the whole route. It’s one way only. He did add that it’s narrowest at the very beginning and eventually opens up.
I am more claustrophobic when there is a crowd, with so many people I always get this feeling I’ll be pushed against the wall and not be able to move or something. However, Jim shot me some really steely looks and told me to get my tail in gear, so I pushed through and walked down the middle of the entryway still breathing a little bit heavily. As promised, it did open up to a very wide space and never got so narrow again that I panicked, so I was okay and happy that I did it.
We followed our guide who stopped and talked about the various karst formations, especially the huge stalagmites and stalactites that filled the whole space, floor to ceiling. He also told us the fact that the Škocjan Caves have been inhabited since megalithic times, and even showed us how it was modified and built into for tourists who’ve been coming to see the cave for centuries. One of the best views was a huge overlook, over a hundred feet above the cave floor, where you could see people walking out of a huge hole leading to the river and forest.
The Škocjan Caves tour lasted at least an hour and a half and we only walked about three kilometers, but there was a lot of stairs giving us views of gorgeous and humongous chambers. We climbed some, but most were descending and the total altitude change was 144 meters. Since we were there in summer, it was such nice respite from the heat. Exiting the cave, the lush greenery was warm and welcoming, and we walked a little, admiring the Reka river as we hiked along, no longer in our group. To get up the mountain, we took a short funicular ride and then hiked back to the car.
The best way to get there is by car. From Ljubljana it’s about an hour and a quarter, two hours from Venice, and only one short hour from Rijeka, Croatia. There’s plenty to do in the area.
- Remember that Slovenia is a country where you have to buy a Vignette to drive your car.
- When buying tickets, they often offer a discount in winter.
- All the children on our tour had a great time, but it was getting tiring for some because it is a lot of walking and stairs. Carrying them on the back seemed to work well. Don’t even think about bringing a stroller.
- Wear layered clothing, because the temperature is much different than outside and wear very sturdy walking shoes as well.
- There is a small cafe and restrooms near the ticket office, but we didn’t see much else. We ate lunch in the first town we came to and it was delicious (like most food in Croatia), but it wasn’t that close.
You can find out more about your visit at the Škocjan Caves website.