Carved out over millennia by the broiling Reka River, Škocjan Caves is Slovenia’s most stunning natural travel wonder. This river disappears underground in the little village of Škocjan and emerges some forty kilometres away, having carved its path through the rock over many years.
A large area of south-west Slovenia lies on a limestone plateau. Incredible caves and tunnels have been eroded from the soluble limestone, leaving a fairyland of richly coloured and unusually shaped stalactites (the ones that drop from the roof) and stalacmites (the ones that grow from the floor). Out of all of these, UNESCO-listed Škocjan sits at the very pinnacle of these subterranean treasure troves.
Awkward to get to, easiest is a walk of a few kilometres from Divaca rail station on a pleasant path to the hamlet of Matavun. The area contains some great short walks (especially the Educational Trail) through some local villages and around collapsed cave areas. There is a small museum showcasing the cave’s history which helps pass the time till the guided tour is due.
The cave starts modestly through a longish tunnel and through a number of chambers with a variety of typical cave decorations and formations, the most notable with the typical imaginative names. Early on, the tour traverses Silent Cave, Paradise Cave and the impressive Great Hall and witnesses The Organ (which looks a little like a church’s pipe organ) and the Stone Forest.
As the tour exits the Great Hall a deep-throated rumbling can be heard from below. The Reka River lies around fifty metres below and is dwarfed by the immense Murmuring Cave – 300 metres long and over 100 metres high (which means that the Statue of Liberty or London’s St Paul’s Cathedral would fit inside). It lays claim to being the world’s largest underground canyon. Walking gently along a narrow ledge, the tour comes to the vertigo-inducing Cerkvenik Bridge (lead photo). Defying the considerable degree of edginess and shaky legs and leaning nervously over the bridge, it is beyond comprehension to imagine the raucous river below could have carved this cavern for giants by dissolving minute particles of limestone.
The previous bridge and the remains of the earliest bridge can still be clearly viewed and paths to various other caverns and halls branch off for the professional cavers and scientists.
Moving along, the next section includes a mesmerising formation called The Bowls. A series of a over a hundred natural troughs of water have built up over time, filling and emptying into the bowl below, leaving tiny mineral deposits to construct the walls of these mini-reservoirs.
Soon after the eyes squint as the daylight streams through the natural cave entrance created when the roof of an area collapsed and onto a funicular to save the legs from having stagger back up the hill.
The world contains numerous limestone caves, all fascinating in their own way but Škocjan stands as one of nature’s finest travel wonders – a subterranean wonderland of unimagined scale, breathtaking chambers and magical formations.