Just over a year ago while working in Slovenia, I made the most of a small window of opportunity to hire a road bike to make my way around Lake Bled, and into the surrounding hills. A short teaser of what it might it be like to journey through the breathtaking Soča Valley and Triglav National Park on two wheels.
Donning only hiking shoes, swim shorts and a trucker cap, I was unprepared in not only my attire, but also for the Cheshire Cat grin that stuck to my face while grinding up the forest climb away from the famous and beautiful body of water.
This trip cemented the stunning country in my mind and offered a riding experience like no other.
Not without its challenges, this route from Budapest to Venice takes in all manner of terrain and vistas. Sloppy paths amidst acres of corn fields, perfectly smooth tarmac stretches and crispy singletrack that cut effortlessly through towering trees deep in the mountains, there was a bit of everything!
This Collection will cater to all tastes and riders, whether you are seeking a solid week of relentless climbing with rewarding views or a stretched out fortnight of natural swimming and hiking opportunities on those all-important rest days.
Quickly leaving the beautiful architecture and buzz of central Budapest, the route inches up over the hills of Buda, west towards Lake Balaton.
With crunchy gravel slowly morphing into cake-like mud alongside crops of corn, it can be slow going if the area has recently had rain; but not long after a bit of criss-crossing over the main trunk roads in and out of Budapest the tarmac starts again.
With long, well-paved cycle paths, incredible lakeside views the rest of the journey west is easy going and if timed right, an incredible sunset might be in store for you on arriving to the massive body of water.
Hugging the perimeter of the beautiful Lake Balaton the first 50 or so kilometres, I linked together the small resorts along the south of the lake, before veering south into a beautiful national park.
Littered with great gravel trails, surrounded by what seems like endless swampland and cattle reserves; this is a really superb section for feeling thoroughly immersed in wildlife.
The end drops you just a stone's throw from both the Croatian and Slovenian border.
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The third day held minimal elevation gain, and took in farmer's fields and quiet singletrack that ran alongside treelines.
There were a few great spots along the way to start appreciating some Slovenian culture and rural history.
The day finally ended in Maribor, where the fields glow yellow and the mountains begin to show their presence.
This was the first day with some real elevation and challenging climbs, and for me one of my favourite sections.
Dense forests and roads wound up mountains offering spectacular views, and even greater descents. But with one or two being made of loose rocks, be careful.
With so many opportunities for wild swims along route, this can be broken up into two days or perhaps longer if so desired.
Starting out on the plains that sit at the bottom of the Triglav National Park and the Julian Alps, the mountains eventually reveal themselves, barren shards of stone that bridge the gap between horizon and sky.
The tough road climb at 25km in offers a pit stop at its crest, for ice cream, beer or even a cuppa.
On the other side, don't expect any fast rolling tarmac, the descent is choppy, loose and very steep. There is a road option for those without a suitable bike.
This descent then joins back onto a main road that hugs the river and sees the elevation smooth out just outside Lake Bled and the River Sava.
There's some great camping spots alongside the river, be sure to use the Camp icons on the map layers to find them out.
This day was a long, winding route that doesn't make much sense on paper, but is well worth the round trip to take in both of Slovenia's most famous Lakes.
Bled and Bohinj; these wonderful bodies of water are linked by incredible cycling infrastructure in the form paved and gravel routes which cut along the valley and the river.
Why not stop and try the local ice cream and even some Bled cake?
It's also good idea to take some snacks to reward yourself with after the climb at 60km, which features plenty of hairpins and steep turns, but of course the views more than make up for the gradient.
The descent is a fast, winding stretch of tarmac that snakes down for 15km! If you like the wind in your hair, you'll be smiling all the way.
After arriving back along the banks of the River Sava, the route continues west towards Kranjska Gora, ending up in Mojstrana.
Despite what the first 4 kilometres suggests, it's probably best to avoid a river crossing here. With five or six attempts to cross at various points and with the singletrack turning to soggy pudding, we made the call to turn back and join the official cycle route on the north side of the river.
This saw us more quickly arrive at Kranjska Gora to make the long climb up and over the misty piste and cobbled switchbacks of Vrsic.
If there is cloud at the summit, hopefully like us on the way down the mountain you emerge from under the grey blanket to witness what in my opinion is one of the most stunning valleys in Europe.
The road continues to drop on its way to Tolmin via the quiet roads which meander through the beautiful Soca Valley.
This is another part of the route where a stop off for a swim or hike would certainly be worth it.
With a cycle route firmly divided from the busy road traffic by the aqua blue river below and lined with steep, verdant hills, Slovenia quickly becomes Italy and the landscape changes dramatically.
On a 180 glance in the distance, the hazy mountains are but a ghost on the horizon now and the mediterranean temperatures make themselves known.
You'll find gravel paths and some busier roads lead you down to the coast and the wonderfully warm seas.
Be careful here to choose the right campsite or a decent spot for a cheeky wild camp, as some resorts aren't exactly low key!
The last day was a gentle pootle from beach life on the coast to a jewel of architecture and culture in Venice.
This 56 km Tour was pan flat with some great espresso stops, little-to-no shade and some excellent singletrack.
This short route to Venice takes you to the ferry port Punta Sabbioni where you have to get two ferries; first to Lido an then onto Tronchetto.
The second leg provides an incredible slow-moving reveal of the city and the waterways which lead in and out of Venice.
With no bikes allowed in old Venice, there is a secure bike storage (which is really good by the way) and relatively good value for money; should you wish to see the city itself.