This long weekend offers BBC Wildlife Magazine readers a chance to explore Slovenia and its Dinaric Alps region, home to a population of over 400 brown bears and one of Europe’s great wilderness areas.
Our time spent in the Dinaric Alps is based in a charming traditional guesthouse on the edge of a forest in the Notranjska region. Accompanied by expert local guides Miha Mlakar (who developed the network of hides we will use to observe the brown bears) and Domen Stanič, we will have opportunities to observe Ural owls, various species of woodpeckers including the three-toed woodpecker and the region's thriving population of the European brown bear.
Along with its rich wildlife, the Dinaric Alps are also renowned for their limestone karst landscape and offer a plethora of natural wonders to explore and enjoy. On our morning birding excursions we hope to visit Lake Cerknica, one of the largest intermittent lakes in Europe which appears for around eight months a year and is a designated Wetland of International Importance, being home to 276 species of birds, 45 mammal species and 125 butterfly species. We will also visit the intricate cave network of Križna jama to explore its vast caverns and see fossil remains of cave bears from the last ice age.
Day1: Fly to Ljubljana, transfer to Mlakar Guesthouse
Today we fly from London to Slovenia’s charming capital city, Ljubljana, before transferring to the Mlakar Guesthouse located in the heart of the Dinaric Alps. This evening we will enjoy a traditional Slovenian meal with our guide Miha, who will provide us with an overview of our programme for the next few days, as well as hide etiquette.
Over the next two days we will spend our mornings exploring the beauty of the Dinaric Alps region and its rich forests on birding excursions, whilst our afternoons and evenings will be spent observing the main highlight species of our tour, the European brown bear.
The forests near the guesthouse are home to Europe’s highest density of breeding Ural owls making it one of the very best places to view these beautiful birds. The forests also provide ideal nesting conditions for woodpeckers and during our time here we hope to observe the three-toed, black, grey-headed and middle spotted woodpecker. As well as birdwatching in the forests, we will aim to visit Lake Cerknica in search of the common rosefinch, corncrake, barred warbler, white-tailed eagle and black stork.
Using a network of hides which Miha has developed, each in their own setting meaning different bears and landscapes can be observed, we will spend our afternoons and evenings observing the region's brown bears. The population here is thought to number over 400, which are part of the wider Dinaric population. We stay in the hide to observe the bears until darkness fall at around 9pm when we return to the guesthouse for dinner.
Day4: Morning bear viewing, Križna jama Cave excursion & fly back to the UK
Our last morning is spent with a final opportunity to visit the hides for further observation of the brown bears.
Before transferring back to Ljubljana for our return flight to London this evening, we will make a stop at Križna jama to explore the intricate network of caves on foot and by inflatable boat. The vast caverns are full of wonderful galleries with the lakes in the cave being up to six metres deep and it is possible to see specialist endemic cave species, including the fossil remains of cave bears from the last ice age.
Time permitting we will continue with our exploration of the region's phenomenal landscape with a visit to Rakov Škocjan, a stunning gorge type valley famed for its natural bridges and the Rak river which flows through.
You should note: Wildlife is extremely wary around people and patience is an absolute must – you will be spending up to five hours at a time in the hides. When in the hides there will be no access to toilet facilities. A full briefing on hide conduct will be given on your first night of the tour. Due to the various landscapes we visit - which can at times be rocky and uneven underfoot with some hides being accessible by ladder only - a reasonable level of fitness is required for this tour. The exact order of the itinerary may change depending on local conditions.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 4 daysfrom £1,145 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 4 daysfrom £995 pp
Single supplement: From £70
Group size: 9
Included in the price/package:
3 nights traditional guesthouse
Guided activities as per itinerary
Services of dedicated naturalist guides
Growing up on the edge of the forests of Snežnik in southern Slovenia inspired Miha to develop an interest in the wildlife of the region, and in particular the brown bears that he observed over the years.
Whilst leading groups in the Notranjska region, Miha met two photographers and became enthusiastic to learn more about wildlife photography. Over time he has developed a network of photography hides which are not only designed to provide photographic opportunities in ideal conditions, but also have an emphasis on responsible and ethical tourism.
Domen is a graduate conservation biologist with a lifelong passion for nature, having started birding at the tender age of 14.
Since his time at university, Domen has developed a greater passion for botany and ecology and is now expanding his knowledge to include butterflies, insects and other species of wildlife. As well as being a nature guide and sharing his knowledge with others, he currently works as a freelance biodiversity consultant.
Located in southern Slovenia, the Dinaric Alps is a mountain range that stretches from Italy across Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro before ending in Albania. Noted for their rugged karst topography and valleys, they also offer rich forests filled with brown bears.
Where: Southern Slovenia
Ideal for viewing: brown bear, Ural owl, scarlet rosefinch, pine marten, black squirrel
Mlakar Guesthouse is situated on the edge of a forest in the Notranjska region of the Dinaric Alps, providing access to the photography hides located throughout the area. With just five rooms accommodating up to ten guests at a time, the guesthouse offers an intimate stay, with traditional touches.