The Skocjan Caves are the greatest underground Canyon in Europe and second greatest in the world. Enlisted in UNESCO because of its outstanding universal value.
That is a strong character to start with, but there is more:
- it is UNESCO and RAMSAR (international convention of wetlands) heritage, acknowledged as one of the natural treasures of planet Earth;
- has about 130.000 visitors each year;
- its 6 km long, 200 deep and has 26 waterfalls inside;
- it is 3 million years old and counting.
Location of the caves:
in the Skocjanske Regional Park in Slovenia, 60 km from Postojna and 113 km from Ljubljana, in the Matavun village.
How I discovered the caves:
I was driving on Slovenian roads from Lipica to Postojna when I saw a sign pointing to the Skocjan Caves. The UNESCO sign made me turn the car in the direction of the caves.
Arriving little before closing time, I have missed the last guided tour of the caves which started at 17.00, so I decided to spend the rest of the evening and night in the area. My first contact with the majestic world of the Caves was the panorama point, which was a 5 min walk from the parking place. Yes, my jaw dropped about 150 meters into the abyss of the waters flooding the doline, when I saw this…
Then I saw the small village, Skocjan which is a settlement over the huge cave..so its practically a village on the roof of a cave with 223 m hollow underground world under it. There are 3 villages (Matavun, Skocjan and Betanja) a hundred meters apart, which is so specific to Slovenia country side. The villages are small, with 3–6 houses and one church, a graveyard. No police station, doctor or pharmacy. Probably, these institutions are not much of a use here. Everywhere you turn your head, there is the sound of the falling water of the Reka river, also because the wall rocks here are all limestone.
The river Reka:
The river Reka, the highlight of this carstic land, flows on the surface for 50 km. Then, boom disappears underground into the Skocjan Caves. Imagine 4 m3 /s of water disappearing and then, re-appearing. Reka has a 34 km route inside the cave, and finally surfaces near Monfalcone in Italy. This river shares the same destiny with another famous river of Slovenia. Called the “princess of the mountain” the Soca river also surfaces in Monfalcone. Read my story of its amazing journey, here.
Reka cuts into limestone bedrock one of the world’s largest known underground river canyons, that was cut into the limestone bedrock by the Reka River. Along its course, the river suddenly disappears into the karst underground, before passing through a vast and picturesque channel of up to 150 meters in height and more than 120 meters in width
The Reka which means THE River has aroused admiration, fear and spirituality. The ancient Greeks believed that the river Reka that was so mysteriously disappearing under the ground was one of the portal to Hades- the land of the dead. For that reason, they were throwing their offerings into its waters. The locals’ relation to the river was always one of love and respect. The later because Reka is capable to grow 132 meters in height in 10 hours, as in 1826 and 2014.
Taking the first steps trough the cave, I landed in a forest of dripstone formations some 15 m high, beautifully and discretely lightened. Water drops were falling from the ceiling so imagine the soundtrack of the place. At some point, Eva, our guide, switched the lights off so we found ourselves in pitch darkness… and she said: ” This is what the first explorers of the cave heard and saw. This is what it felt like.” That minute, was amazing.
The caves were never visited without a guide, because of the dangers implied. The first guides to show the caves to those interested , were the locals.
There is a specific gas inside the caves which inhaled occasionally is beneficial to health, but more it is not. For this reason, the cave guides are not allowed to take more than 2 tours (1,5 hours each) per day.
It takes 10–15 years for a stalagmite to grow 1 mm, so the ones I have had the joy to pass by today, took 225,000 years to grow. A blink of an eye…
Feel like staying a little longer in this carstic paradise?
There are not many accommodation facilities in the area, as it is small in its self, but I had a very good experience with the Betanci Guesthouse. I have paid 25 euros for a room, had dinner with local dishes and beer for less than 10. The kitchen is authentic Slovenian – no International dishes and the dessert I have got on the house, called Struklji, leaves my mouth watering to this day.
Strong flavors come in small bottles:
Slovenia, with a population of 2 million people, has 11.000 discovered caves, 3 UNESCO sites and 6 other on the waiting list. 13% of the land surface is a natural reserve and its the birth land of the word „dolina“ used ever since.
Useful links: Regional Park
Note: All photos are the courtesy and property of author – Borut Lozej and source – Archive Park Skocjanske jame, which were so kind to give me full resolution photos (as it is strictly prohibited to take pictures inside the caves).