The newest long-distance hiking route in Europe today, the “Alpe Adria trail ” or the AAT starts at the foot of Grossglockner, runs into Slovenia, and ends in Italy near the Adriatic Coast. Not for the faint of heart, the diverse 750-kilometer voyage of exploration, discovery, and challenges crosses borders and through various cultures.
If you love trekking and would love to commune with nature while unwinding at the same time, the Alpe-Adria trail is something which you must experience at least once in your life. The legendary trail consists of 43 impressive stages of 17 kilometers each for some truly memorable hiking memories that take a month to complete.
You will have a mild climate that promises hours of pleasant temperature and plenty of sunshine until you get to your destination which is Muggia, located on the south of the old Austro-Hungarian post city of Trieste. The trail begins at the perpetual ice of the Grossglockner and passes waterfalls, lakes, and rivers all the way to the Adriatic Sea.
People who may not be fit enough to trudge the entire trail can opt to take their favorite stages in what many people refer to as the “Garden of Eden”.
A joint project of the Austrian, Italian, and Slovenian tourist boards, the trial was created to encourage walking tourism in the regions and it is meant for leisure hikers. However, it is not unusual to see people cycling the Alpe Adria trail mountain bike route. The AAT is a marriage between culture and scenery and primarily follows the gorgeous Soča River Valley, sometimes called the Soča trail. In Italy, hikers will pass by vineyards, coastal trails and open-air museums where they can learn more about the battlefields of the First World War.
In Austria, the trail goes through small villages, valley meadows, tourist sites, ski resorts, and forested slopes. There are plenty of old churches dotting the landscape and if you love exploring them, you will be glad to know that some of them are left unlocked. The vast majority of the trail is on forest tracks and dirt farms but there are also other parts on paved roads.
The AAT is not an alpine route because its highest point is only 2400 meters. You will not see technical rock sections or glaciers. It also does not go into mountains and only crosses a few first class, as well as easy 2nd class peaks. People who want a truly alpine adventure might be a little disappointed with the Alpa Adria trail mtb but conversely, those who want a diverse, long, and straightforward walk through spectacular vistas and mountains will be pleased by it.
The AAT is laid out in such a way that each of the stages ends in an area where lodging and food can be obtained easily. This also allows the trail to be hiked without any camping necessary.
Timing and Walking Direction
The AAT is mapped and waymarked to be walked southbound and hiking in September is the best time because it helps you avoid the early season snowfall in mountains. June to August are the busiest months and the Alpa Adria region is mobbed by hikers and tourists. However, access to the mountains tends to be really easy because there are numerous ski lifts which carry people to roads where the roads don’t go.
Alpe Adria trail camping is very popular among hikers. It is usually quieter, reasonable, more scenic and allows hikers to walk as far as they like without being tied to room reservations. However, there are very few basic public campgrounds. Private campgrounds tend to be more expensive and are often highly developed with amenities such as spas, swimming pools, and game rooms which is not entirely bad but not the experience you would like if you truly want to be one with nature.
Camping gives you the freedom to spend the night near riverbanks, meadows, woods, old churches, and other areas. It is generally safe and you won’t have problems finding public campsites.
Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe – Heiligenblut, Austria
The trail’s official starting point has an altitude of 2,396 meters but it’s pretty easy to navigate. It is mostly a downhill trek that buds adieu to snow-capped mountains and leads to rolling hills with pine forests and waterfalls.
There is a little refuge hut down the valley which is an excellent pit stop for hikers. While you’re there, don’t forget to order a slice of their bestselling hot apple strudel with whipped cream. Once you have satisfied your hunger and are ready to continue your journey, you will walk through meadows with flowers and butterflies, as well as gushing waterfalls. Do not miss the amazing Faak See Lake where you can also take a dip if you are feeling like it.
Obervellach – Danielsberg
Obervellach is where you will be treated to the sights of a castle that is straight out of a fairytale, and the spectacular Tauernbahn Railway. If you are a lover of cultural history, this region is for you. Nestled above the village of Gratschach is a beautiful relic that looks like it belongs in the past. The castle is actually not older than the railway and was only opened in 1909 by Emperor Franz Josef himself. Danielsberg, a cone-shaped mountain which is in the middle of the valley, is also something to see. Thanks to the rock’s hardness, the mountain was not eroded by the ice-age glaciers.
Seeboden – Millstatter Alpe
On this stage, hikers can look forward to the Nockberge Mountains, as well as enjoy unique views of a gorgeous landscape. After your relaxed pilgrimage to Seeboden, the trail will lead back to the mountains. You will hike through villages towards the Richlhutte mountain lodge and through the lush, green forests. The route follows trails past the ‘Stone Table’, or what some people refer to as the most beautiful place on earth.
Bovec – Drežnica, Slovenia
This is where hikers will be treated to the Virje waterfall, which spills down craggy rocks and plunges into a lagoon. It is an excellent spot to take pictures and admire the breathtaking scenery. This part of the trail largely follows the River Soča which comes in a deep shade of blue. You might also come across swimmers and kayakers in the area. Another waterfall in the area that is worth mentioning is the Boka waterfall which is about 18 meters wide and 144 meters tall.
Breg Near Golo Brdo – Šmartno, Slovenia
Considered by many as one of the trail’s highlights, this section winds through the wine region of Slovenia. One of the easiest trains in the trail, hikers will be able to feast their eyes on fruit trees, fields of olive trees and vineyards that stretch for miles. Treat yourself to some wine tasting in one of the vineyards for a truly unique experience.
You may also stumble across the historic Dobrovo Castle which was built in the 1600s. Aside from admiring the architecture and learning more about its history, you may also treat your palate to some cherry pie.
Duino – Pruisseco, Italy
On this section, hikers will be treated to views that go out to the sea, overlooking the spectacular Duino Castle. This part of the trail is famous for the unspoiled coastal wildlife because it is a natural reserve. As you traverse the trail, you will be treated to panoramic views, coastal winds, and wonderful wildlife.
Tips for the Alpe-Adria Trail
Although hiking the Alpe-Adria trail is considered easy and it is designed for pleasure hikers, there are still preparations that need to be made in order to have a safe and fairly comfortable hike along the route that is considered by many as paradise.
It is understood that most people who go on the Alpe-Adria trail are not seasoned hikers. Most of them just want to discover the beauty of the world-renowned trail, take a few photos, and make memories which will last them forever. The excitement to set off on an adventure can be overwhelming, but it is important to be prepared for the long hike ahead.
Do you need to be fit to hike?
Compared to other trails, Alpe-Adria is not technical. Stages differ considerably in terms of the efforts required to walk them, as well as the length, but it all depends on the walking tour you choose and if you decide to walk the whole route. However, you do need to tackle being able to walk eight hours a day, manage ascents and descents with differences in altitude, and a walking distance of up to 25 kilometers.
Hiking means sweating and it is important to avoid any cloth that is made of cotton. The layer that is next to your skin must be made of synthetic fabric or wool because such types will absorb the moisture from your skin.
It also pays to have outerwear which is waterproof, in case there are rains when you decide to hike during spring or autumn. Choose something light and breathable that will help keep the wind off.
Do not forget your socks and do not use crappy or cheap socks as they can result in blisters and discomfort. Imagine having to hike the entire trail with blisters and wounds on your feet. Again, you should avoid cotton. If possible, invest in fancy merino-wool socks. They are worth every penny.
Of course, there are the hiking boots. Your needs vary from other people, depending on the hiking you are doing. It is best to go to a sports store so that you can have boots fitted properly. It is better to try a million pairs and get the perfect fit to ensure comfort during the entire journey. You wouldn’t want any blister in sight and you certainly want your feet dry.
It is important to pack the necessities and this has to be planned according to how long your hike is going to be. Although there are lodgings in various stages where you can spend the night, you have to be ready for your day to day trail walking. Some of the things you need are the following:
- Basic first aid kit
- A hat
- Lip balm
- Trail snacks
- A camera for those Instagram-worthy pictures
- A fully charged cellphone
- A small backpack where you can put your things
- Spare socks
- Water bottle
- Bug spray
- Pocket knife
- Lots of sunscreen to protect your skin
Where to find places to eat?
There are restaurants and chalets along the route which provide meals and they are all advertised in the detailed descriptions of the different stages.
Can I walk with my dog?
Yes, you certainly can! More and more walkers are actually taking their pooches with them. Do remember that dogs must always be kept on a leash and not all accommodations accept dogs. Remember to bring some food and water for your dog too, if you would like to take him with you.
It is quite a challenge to give a short list of highlights for the long and diverse route. Assuming you are walking the whole route, you will see a myriad of splendid vistas which are unlike any other, but in terms of the mountain scenery, nothing beats the Nockberge Mountains which is in Austria in Stages 12 and 13, as well as Stages 15 and 16.
Other notable highlights are the route through the Grossglockner and Pasterze glacier, the border crossing over the Karavanke Mountains between Slovenia and Austria, and Cividale and Gmund, two beautifully preserved towns.
For people who are unable to walk the whole 750km in one go, the best option is to split it between two or three trips. This will allow you to complete the whole trail within the timeframe of the summer holidays. Do not worry as there are good transport links which can take you in and out from the route and make it easy to pick up where you left off on your previous trip.
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