The Adventurer's Guide
Hiking the Walk of Peace: Slovenia’s Beautiful and Bloody Trail
The Walk of Peace, which stretches from the Alps to the Adriatic, is not quite what you’d expect from the network of trails that bears its name. Sharing this landscape you’ll find the Soča River, its clear blue waters weaving through rugged mountain terrain bordering Slovenia and Italy (where it’s known as the Isonzo). While its natural beauty might be enough to take your breath away, the region hasn’t always been so peaceful. Despite what its name suggests, these trails once played host to some of the bloodiest battles fought in WWI.
As part of a secret deal to rapidly expand their territory, the Kingdom of Italy entered the first World War in 1915. The promised lands belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and made up most of Central and Eastern Europe (modern-day Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, and Hungary to name a few). The Italians believed that their eastern-most border was the most strategic place to initiate their attack. These battles were not fought in the fields — but in the high mountains and along the Isonzo River.
The high ground held by the Austro-Hungarian soldiers was not enough to deter the Italian forces. Trenches were dug, mountains were scaled, and rivers were crossed — though not always successfully. Given the setting, soldiers were forced to revert to a more brutal form of combat, “clubs, knuckle-dusters and daggers as rifles and bayonets were unwieldy in such close, rugged conditions.”
Twelve battles fought over the span of two years decimated the Italian army, leaving 700,000 Italian casualties in the wake of the fighting. In fact, half of the casualties experienced by the Italians in WWI came from these battles. In their final face-off, Italian troops were forced to retreat when Austro-Hungarian soldiers, with the support of the Germans, advanced on them in the Battle of Caporetto. While it wasn’t to be the last encounter between Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies, the skirmishes that took place along the Soča River were certainly some of the bloodiest ever fought during the Great War.
Fast-forward a little over a decade after the end of the war. Ernest Hemingway pens his experiences at the Italian front in his famous novel entitled, A Farewell to Arms. The book is a romantic tale set during WWI, and devotes a significant portion of the story to the events surrounding the Battle of Caporetto. Hemingway, quotable as ever, wrote, “Perhaps wars weren’t won anymore. Maybe they went on forever. Maybe it was another Hundred Years’ War.” His story, like the war he wrote about, may not have had the happiest ending; however, neither story is one we’re likely to forget. And while the war didn’t last 100 years (or else it’d still be raging today), you’re not likely to forget what happened as you explore the site of the bloody battles of the Isonzo.
The Walk of Peace is a tribute to the region’s history and the events that took place there. Spanning 320 km, the trails take you through a number of monuments, churches, museums, caves, battlegrounds, and even trenches. The main trail crosses the Soča River a number of times and takes you through the gorgeous Slovenian landscape and across the Italian border where the troops ultimately retreated.
If you start at Log Pod, where the trail officially begins, you’ll soon reach the town of Kobarid, where you’ll find a museum that details the events of the many great battles fought on the Isonzo Front. You’ll also walk through the streets where the actual Battle of Caporetto took place. If you plan on doing the whole trail, allow yourself about two weeks. Be sure to pack accordingly (this means hiking gear, maps, provisions, and anything else you can think of). Camping might not be feasible, so look into booking your accommodations beforehand.
The Walk of Peace Foundation was created not only to educate but to accommodate those looking to take a trip back in time. Venture to the mountainous region along the Slovenian-Italian border, where the Soča meets the Adriatic, and where 100 years ago, the Kingdom of Italy descended on the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a land bid that was to become the site of some of the bloodiest battles of WW1 — it will surely be the trip of a lifetime.