The journey is the goal
The geographical destination at the end of the Alpe-Adria Trail is Muggia, a little to the south of the old Austro-Hungarian port city of Trieste. The trail follows water in a variety of forms, starting from the perpetual ice of the Grossglockner before passing by waterfalls, rivers and lakes all the way to the Adriatic Sea. The paths have always existed, but they have now been mapped in their entirety for the first time. Those who don’t wish to attempt the entire length of the trail can opt to explore their favourite stages in this ‘Garden of Eden’, all of which have these things in common: heavenly views, beautiful natural wonders, shimmering bathing lakes, majestic mountain peaks, and finally, the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea.
The first stages
The first eight stages are situated in Carinthia and lead through the sunny, idyllic Mölltal Valley with its unique panoramic views of the spectacular alpine world amidst the mighty three-thousanders. It all begins in the heart of Hohe Tauern National Park at the foot of the Pasterze, the largest glacier in Austria. The trail then leads on to Heiligenblut and then Grosskirchheim. Hikers pass the Apriacher Stockmühlen (‘stock mills’) here, which tell of the deprivation suffered by the inhabitants of the mountains from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Gmünd, an artist’s village with medieval roots, is also situated on the route.
Some of the most beautiful hiking regions in Carinthia are in the Millstätter Alpe Mountains. This is because of their gentle curves and the amazing view of Lake Millstätter See below, which is the second largest bathing lake in Carinthia. The route also takes hikers into the heart of the gentle landscape of the Nockberge Biosphere Park, with its famous spa town of Bad Kleinkirchheim, through which stages 15 and 16 lead. Arriach is the geographical centre of Carinthia. It is also the starting point of the stage that leads to Gerlitzen Alpe Mountain. After admiring Lake Ossiacher See, the final stage, which leads to the Carinthian border, leads from Velden am Wörthersee to the Baumgartner Höhe, not far from Lake Faaker See. Shortly before the destination, hikers arrive at the ruins of Finkenstein castle, now a theatre and concert arena which impresses visitors with its magnificent views and impressive sunsets.
Encounters in Slovenia
On the next stages of the Alpe-Adria Trail, hikers leave Austria and proceed into Slovenian territory, soon reaching the Alpine Ski World Cup site of Kranjska Gora. The route here largely follows the Soča River, which becomes the Isonzo once it reaches Italy. The river runs through Triglav National Park, the only national park in Slovenia, amidst the mysterious Julian Alps. With a little luck, hikers will get to see some alpine wildlife here, such as ibex, chamois, red deer and wood grouse. The trail continues over the highest mountain pass in Slovenia, the Vršič, and on to the popular water sports centre of Bovec, which is also the highest skiing region in Slovenia. Hikers can enjoy the unspoilt nature of Sočatal here, which was honoured with the EDEN Award 2008 and is also a part of the park; it is a true natural jewel with numerous natural sights such as waterfalls, caves and secluded river valleys. Finally, the trail reaches Kobarid, whose cultural heritage is steeped in the history of World War I, and Tolmin. Above all else, the valley owes its beauty to the turquoise water of the wild river, whose source is a karst spring near Trenta in north-west Slovenia. It is a spectacular region for white-water sport enthusiasts and anglers, who can pull many marble trout (a freshwater fish of the Salmonidae family) from the cool water. The further south along the Soča you go, the more beautiful the landscape becomes.
In the westernmost part of Slovenia, the trail traverses the Goriška Brda region, where centuries of wine-growing tradition continue to this day. The unique location of the hill country has produced many internationally-acclaimed wines. At the end of the trail, in a wild part of the Karst region, the cultural monument east of Trieste, which is famous throughout Europe and the world, is worth a visit: The stud farm and equestrian sport centre of Lipica, which was founded in 1580 by Archduke Karl II.
The light of the Adriatic
The route crosses the border into Italy at Collio, where hikers can be certain of feeling the southern cheer; from there, it makes its way westward to the historic city of Cividale del Friuli. Originally a Celtic settlement, it was made a city by Julius Caesar. Since June 2011, the capital city of the first Lombard Duchy in Italy has been a UNESCO World Heritage cultural site. A trip here is a chance to enjoy Italian culture, and anyone taking this stage of the trail should plan a visit to one of the numerous top restaurants and to the vintner of Collio. They are known for wines of excellent quality that have been rigorously tested and guaranteed for over 40 years. The key place in this enchanting hill country is Cormòns, a beautiful little Hapsburg-style town. Its sights not only include its churches, but also its numerous wine cellars. The next destination is the Karst, a plateau that rose out of the sea 30 million years ago, where the powerful bora wind blows. It is a rugged and fascinating landscape. The route reaches the sea in Duino, where Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his famous Duino Elegies. Just a few kilometres beyond that, hikers finally reach the target destination of Muggia.
Here, hikers are greeted by an idyllic harbour town characterised by the influences of Venetian culture. You can listen to the clatter of the ships’ masts, catch the aromatic scent of the Adriatic Sea breeze, and follow the marvellous aroma of ocean fish to one of the excellent ristorante in which you can enjoy unbelievable views of the picturesque Gulf of Trieste, which is gilded by the sun’s rays. The heart of this important harbour city, which until 1918 was the only seaport in Austria, is the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia (Unity of Italy Square). This rectangular plaza is situated right on the sea and bordered on three sides by magnificent neo-classical-style buildings.
Short versions of the trail: The Three-Country Round Trip
If the whole trail is too long for you but you would still like to discover three countries on a hike, a short version of the Alpe-Adria Trail is also available: The Three-Country Round Trip features seven day-long stages stretching over 130 km through Carinthia, Friuli-Venezia-Guilia and Slovenia. It starts in Carinthia at the Baumgartner Höhe, near Lake Faaker See, and continues to Warmbad Villach, through Dobratsch Nature Park, Nötsch and Feistritz before reaching Italy via the Kanaltal Valley, proceeding towards Valbruna and the shopping city of Tarvisio.
After the famous pilgrimage site of Monte Santo di Lussari and the Laghi die Fusine, and passing foothills of one of the highest mountains of the Julian Alps, the Mangart, hikers reach Slovenia at the international winter sports location of Kranjska Gora before returning to the starting point in Carinthia.