Active Traveller: Conquering the rapids of Slovenia's Soca Valley

Rafting in Slovenia is cold, wet – and exhilarating

I've never been a speed freak, and the older I get, the more my fear of heights edges towards a fully fledged phobia. But I do love the great outdoors, and watersports have started to satisfy my yearning for adventure - especially the adrenalin-filled hit that is white-water rafting.

Over the last 30 years, Bovec - a small town poised in Slovenia's Soca Valley, a little over 10km from the Italian border - has built a reputation as the country's adventure sports capital. Here the Julian Alps offer the chance to climb, cave and ski, while also producing the thermals that make the area such a draw for paragliders. And then there's the Soca river itself, at times calm and alluring, at others alive and kicking, its clear, turquoise waters frothing with anger.

Bovec is a pristine place, rebuilt many times over the last century due to war and a trio of earthquakes that struck the region, the most recent in 2004. There's half-a-dozen sporting specialists clustered around the main square, all offering the chance to take on the fast-flowing, freezing waters of the Soca.

White-water rafting first came to Bovec in the mid-1980s. Now, when the Alpine snow melts and swells the flow of the Soca, the river becomes a watery playground from March through to the end of October.

"Whatever is possible on the river, we try to offer it," says Primoz Zorc, director of Sportmix. "But this is not flat water, this is not a playground," he warns. "You must respect the water."

The Soca Valley offers some of the most technical white water in Europe, and safety is paramount. At most entry points to the river, signs warn: "Don't underestimate the water and overestimate yourself." Our three-hour trip throws us straight into a fast-flowing section of the river, followed by a calmer stretch and then a final assault on a fearsome set of rapids.

My partner Julie and I are joined by a group of young, friendly Croats, here on a weekend trip. Four join our boat, which is piloted by Betty - a slight, athletic Hungarian who's been coming back to Bovec for the rafting season for the last eight years, while spending the winter as a ski instructor in Austria.

Having hauled the inflatables down to the water's edge, we're given a quick lesson in the art of rafting. Betty explains how we need to listen to her instructions and act quickly, how to avoid crowning each other with our paddles and, importantly, how to drag someone out of the water using the straps of their life jackets.

To acclimatise to the water, we start our journey by edging out across a rickety wooden bridge before throwing ourselves into the swirling river below. The water is icy, and despite the wetsuit, the shock sucks the air out of your lungs.

We swim to our raft, clamber in and Betty is soon putting our paddling skills to the test, veering us towards a huge rock before screaming for the right side to paddle backwards, to see if we have the skills to correct our course. We manage to avoid the boulder and then there's a surge of adrenalin as we slam into another big rock before sliding down into the eddy on the other side.

Two more huge boulders loom above us and Betty deftly steers the raft into the bubbling torrent surging between them. She shouts for more effort as we dig deep, trying to keep a rhythm. A wave of water crashes over the bow. At times, I can't help but feel I'm just there for the ride, with the water in complete control of my destiny.

"Does the paddling really make any difference?" I venture, as we exit the rapids. "Of course," says Betty. "Without the paddling I would have no control - we would tip over." There's a murmur of agreement from a couple of the Croats in the boat, veterans of previous rafting expeditions. I redouble my efforts.

As we bob along the easy stretch, gazing up at the beautiful wooded slopes of the Soca Valley, it's hard to imagine the brutal fighting that took place here during the First World War. The area became a mountainous version of the Somme as Italian troops tried to wrest the strategically important valley from Austro-Hungary. Eventually there were over one million casualties. Many of the trenches, forts and gun emplacements that were dug out of the craggy mountainside remain as outdoor museums, linked together by a waymarked trail called the Walk of Peace.

Betty breaks our reverie. To test our balance, she orders us to stand on the bulbous rim of the boat, hands on each others' shoulders. As we wobble and teeter, the other boat slams into our side, sending half the crew into the freezing water - including, much to her annoyance, Betty. Like the rest of us mere mortals, she now has to be unceremoniously hauled back into the boat, a scowl on her face.

And then to the final stretch. With great skill, Betty steers us through the rapids, although at times, with a mischievous whoop, you can tell she's deliberately taking the most difficult course, testing her own ability while at the same time giving us the thrills we crave.

The boat dips violently into a swirling pool, the water bellowing over the front of the boat. And then we shoot out the other side, hearts pounding. We're wet but unscathed and jubilantly high five each other with our paddles.

"Bovec is just the best for adrenalin sports," says Betty, smiling. "Whether it's the river or the mountains, there's something for everyone here."


Getting there

Wizz Air (0906-959 0002; flies from Luton to Ljubljana; easyJet (0843-104 5000; flies from Stansted.

Staying there

Pension Boka, Zaga 156a, 5224 Srpenica, Bovec (00 386 5384 5512; Doubles start from €35, including breakfast. Hotel Kanin, Ledina 6, 5230 Bovec (00 386 5389 6880; Doubles start from €86, including breakfast.

Rafting there

Sportmix Bovec (00 386 5389 6160; offers rafting trips starting from €37 for 90 minutes.

More information

Slovenian Tourist Board

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam