On the ropes

Years of cold beach holidays in Cornwall made me long for something more adventurous this year and with growing children the thought of a sports holiday appealed. It was only when my vague promise of a repeat visit to the south-west was met with howls of derision from my two children (‘It’s so cold’. ‘It’s really boring just sitting on the sand.’) that I decided to act.

After ruling out a number of options, including Italy (too expensive), the USA (too far for a short break), and France (been there many times) we settled on Slovenia.

Being of the generation that didn’t have to study geography up to O level, I admit to having had to consult an atlas to find out exactly where we were heading. Was this going to be a trip into the bowels of Eastern Europe, with catering to match?

I needn’t have worried. Slovenia is just a short, cheap flight away on Ryanair and an hour-long drive across the Italian border. Past conflicts mean that large chunks of what was once Slovenia are now part of Italy, including Trieste where we landed.

And the Italian influence in Slovenia, which was part of the former Yugoslavia until the early 1990s, remains strong.

Tolmin, our home for the week, is a small town in the Upper Soca Valley, close to the Trivlav National Park and scenery to die for – a magical expanse of mountains, ravines, forests, waterfalls and crystal clear river water.

The drive from the border is exhilarating, mile after mile of riverside views with the turquoise water competing with the clear blue sky for our attention.

After a hearty welcome from the manager of the town’s single hotel and fortified by a compulsory large glass of blackberry schnapps, we set off for the offices of our guides, Maya Sport Tourism.

Maya offer an unrivalled selection of activities from paragliding, white water kayaking, riding, hydrospeed, diving and caving. We opted, to loud protests, for the options we felt most suitable for children – rafting, mountain biking, canyoning and high ropes.

Paragliding, thankfully, is not an option for under 12s. But, appreciating the fact that our kids clearly had a greater appetite for adrenaline sports than we did, Maya’s fully qualified instructors gave the children every opportunity to push themselves to the limit and compete with their parents.

There’s no cause for concern, safety remains paramount, however hard it may be to agree with this when you’re hanging on the end of a rope over a 27m waterfall and being told to jump.

But all the safety equipment in the world can’t compensate for a lack of moral fibre. This, in due course, led to the week’s great embarrassment – how I bottled it completely on the high ropes and refused to follow my nine-year-old daughter up a 10m rope ladder to begin the afternoon’s climbing activities.

For anyone in search of a bit of fun and adventure, Slovenia really has it all. There’s every activity under the sun and more besides – Tolmin even hosts the World Paragliding Championships and World Canoe Slalom competitions.

Food is plentiful and cheap, the shops have everything you need in case Ryanair lose your luggage, as they did mine, and even the language proved no barrier since Italian, English and German are widely spoken.

Thankfully, the country is unlikely to be overrun by ghastly Brits or Germans on the hunt for cheap beer and accommodation – though Tolmin has both in abundance.

This is not because Slovenia isn’t a brilliant destination – which it is – but because the country’s tourist authorities have instituted tough planning restrictions to prevent the over-development that has blighted so many other European holiday destinations.

Tolmin’s efforts to put itself on the tourist map have certainly been helped by the advent of the budget airlines, both Easyjet and Ryanair fly to nearby airports.

And this has seen some unwelcome British visitors turn up in the town, not least the occasional stag party (‘Never again’, according to the mayor) and unruly schoolkids.

But overall Slovenia will prove a big hit for the discerning family who want something a bit different. And the kids’ determination to return means I am set to endure a year’s worth of holiday-related nagging until I agree to go back.

Our verdict

Canyoning A four-hour body surf down rapids and waterfalls with wetsuits and protective helmets, the highlight was a 27 metre rope-assisted drop into a 10-metre deep pool. The Verdict: Exhilarating (Me). Wow (Emily, 9), Can I go again? (Henry, 11)

Rafting A morning’s worth of paddling on rapids and fast-flowing river. Learning control techniques and capzise drill on a six-mile rafting excursion on the River Soca, the highlights of which were tipping in the instructor (‘Stop, that’s my best T-shirt’) and diving into the rapids from a 4 metre rocky outcrop; The Verdict: Fantastic (Me). Great Fun (Emily), Most excellent (Henry), Please, no more (Instructor)

Mountain biking Free bike hire was included and we took advantage to explore the area, including a visit to the famed national park. The relative lack of traffic makes cycling an ideal way to get about. The Verdict: I’m exhausted (Me). It’s too hilly (Emily), Yee-hah (Henry).

High Ropes A platform 10 metres high in a dense forest is the first challenge for intrepid climbers, followed by a death slide, a high-ropes obstacle course and enough of a challenge for even the bravest. Verdict: Sorry, I’m not going up there (Me). Look at me! (Emily). Dad’s a big chicken (Henry).

Travel facts Guy Dresser travelled with Activities Abroad (www.activitiesabroad.com). A 7-day holiday costs from £430 (no activities) to £655 (which includes cost of all seven activities). Price also includes full-board accommodation, transfers and all tuition. Flights are not included.

This article first appeared in the Daily Mail on 29 July 2005.

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