Planning a road trip to Slovenia? Looking for spectacular driving roads? Here's how to drive the Vršič Pass in the Julian Alps, whether you're in a car, motorbike, camper or motorhome.
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When we planned our motorhome trip to Slovenia, we did it with one purpose in mind- to drive over the Vršič Pass.
Sure, we wanted to see other places too, like Lake Bled and the Vintgar Gorge, but driving the Vršič Pass was the main highlight we wanted to do.
And we did it! We drove the Vršič Pass in our motorhome and in this post we're going to share tips and information the trip to help you do the same.
What is the Vršič Pass?
The Vršič Pass is the highest mountain pass in Slovenia- you cross at the top at 1611m above sea level. It's a driveable, paved road, suitable for cars, motorbikes, campervans, motorhomes and even buses.
There are 50 (yep, FIFTY) hairpin bends on the road (half going up, half going down) and in some places the drop-offs are STEEP, so it's not for nervous or new drivers.
However, the views of the Julian Alps are SPECTACULAR and it's well worth terrifying yourself in order to get up there.
The Vrsic Pass is also known as the ‘Russian Road' and is famous for its WW1 history- large sections of the road were built by Russian prisoners of war in horrendous conditions. The Russian Orthodox chapel they built whilst held in captivity still stands today (more on that below).
Vrsic Pass Road Trip facts
Length of road: 24km for actual pass; 46km from Kranjska Gora to Bovec
Estimated time to drive: According to Google Maps, 1h and 15 minutes. But that's optimistic, especially if it's busy. I'd allow at least 2 hours- and that's without stopping at Lake Jasna, any of the cafes or at the top.
It's about 38km from Lake Bled to Kranjska Gora and the drive takes just over half an hour.
Highest point: 1611m
Number of bends: Many, but 49 are categorised (and numbered). Numbering starts on the Kranjska Gora side (with number 24 being the last before the top), then continue on the way down. They seem to have added #50 on later- it's quite a way after the bottom of the pass going towards Bovec!
Suitable for: all vehicles (except ones which don't like high mountain passes!), including motorhomes, buses, motorbikes, cars and campervans. It's not recommended for caravans or vehicles with trailers due to the sharp bends.
Ok for inexperienced/ nervous drivers? I'd recommend going very early in the morning, before the traffic starts. Read our tips below for how to manage your vehicle and brakes.
Open all year? No. The Vrsic Pass closes in winter, usually around November and reopens when the snow has cleared (March/ April) You can check if it's open here
Where is the Vršič Pass?
The Vrsic Pass is in the north-west corner of Slovenia, really near the Italian border. It's so near the Dolomites that you'll see some definite similarities between the Dolomites and the Julian Alps.
It's called route 206 on Google Maps.
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Map of the Vršič Pass
Here's the map of the Vršič Pass and the route we took. See the squiggles in the middle? Yep, those are the 50 hairpin bends!
You can also see just how close it is to the Italian and Austrian borders.
How to get to the Vršič Pass
The Vršič Pass is fairly easy to find. Just enter Kranjska Gora into Google Maps and you'll see route 206. Then just plan a route.
READ MORE: How to plan a road trip using Google Maps
Best direction for driving the Vršič Pass
You can drive up the Vršič Pass from either direction. In our opinion, you should drive the pass how we did- from Kranjska Gora to Soca- the views will be better, especially on the descent.
Driving the Vršič Pass- video
If you'd like to see the video of us driving the Vršič Pass in our motorhome, click below.
(If you enjoyed the video and would like to see more motorhome travel tips and adventures, you can subscribe to our Youtube channel here)
Tips for driving the Vršič Pass
Ok, some things you need to know about the Vršič Pass:
- Go Early. This is our #1 tip, especially in summer. Sunrise is perfect. You can be up, over and down before the crowds start and you'll have a much better trip. Having said that, we went over at lunchtime, but it was October.
- Take your time. This is not a time to try out your racing skills.
- Be aware of other road users- not everyone may be as confident or competent as you. Expect the unexpected! Also, keep your eyes on the road- not the view!
- Beware of cyclists and motorbikes. They also do crazy things (especially the cyclists!)
- Not all bends are numbered- only the hairpins. Numbering starts on the K side- #24 is the last one before the top, even though it's quite a way from the top.
- Every hairpin has cobbles on the corner, for extra grip (and to make sure you're paying attention!)
- Each hairpin number shows your elevation in metres above sea level.
- Parking at the top is almost impossible, especially for a larger vehicle. Once you've passed #24, there are several parking areas. I recommend you park here and walk to the top- it's only about a 10 minute walk and not too steep. If you keep driving, you'll reach the top, but there is almost nowhere to park on the other side- you go immediately into the hairpins. So park as soon as you can.
- If unsure, stop at least once on the descent to let your brakes cool down. Better to sit for 10 minutes then have them burn out!
Driving the Vršič Pass with a motorhome/ camper
There's not a lot of difference between driving the Vršič Pass in a motorhome or camper and driving it in a car. You need to be very aware of cars and bikes trying to overtake, and also not understanding the swinging room needed for a large vehicle to get around the hairpin bends.
It's definitely doable in a large vehicle. If you have an automatic motorhome, I would make sure you set it to manual mode to help with the engine braking and gear selection- some parts are steep!
Also, be aware of the brakes on the descent and stop frequently to let them cool down. We learnt our lesson about that in the Swiss Alps when the brakes failed on our motorhome. (Not fun!)
If you are driving in heavy rain or snow, be very very careful- if it were me, I wouldn't want to do that drive in bad weather. You could always change your plans and drive the Vršič Pass another day if possible.
Vršič Pass drive- highlights & things to see
Normally on a mountain pass, there's not a lot to see besides the incredible views (although, we seem to have a knack for driving them in bad weather- we went up both the Col du Tourmalet in France and Tre Cime in the Dolomites in thick cloud!)
But on the Vršič Pass, there are plenty of things to see along the way.
The first thing you come to is Lake Jasna- and this beautiful lake is well worth a stop (if you can find a space!)
The colour of the water really is incredible- you can even swim in the lake if the weather is warm enough.
There's a beach and a small cafe, although there's no food served. Expect it to be busy later in the day, so arrive early if you want photos without the crowds. You can easily see it all in an hour, but there is a hotel right on the lake if you'd like to extend your stay, or get an early start on the Vrsic pass in the morning.
The lake has a bronze statue of an Ibex called Zlatorog (GoldHorn). You'll see depictions and statues of Ibexes (Ibexi?) all over Slovenia- they're part of Slovenia's heritage and folklore.
The Russian Chapel
The Vrsic Pass was built by the Austrians in their fight against Italy in WW1. Between 1915 and 1916, the Austrian used over 10,000 Russian prisoners of war (who were allied to Italy) to build this road. In 1916, over 100 prisoners were killed by an avalanche.
The surviving prisoners built this Russian Orthodox chapel as a memorial to them and everyone else who died in the building of this road (which totalled in the thousands, many from exposure, inadequate clothing and lack of food.
You can park up for the Russian chapel just after bend #8 and then walk up to the Chapel itself.
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Hiking and Viewpoints up the Vršič Pass
There are many hiking routes and viewpoints along the Vršič Pass and you'll see cars parked and people walking all over the place- especially on a nice day.
One of the most famous is Prednje okno (front window) which is a natural hole though the mountain across the valley and is the largest natural window in the Julian Alps, measuring 80m high and 40m wide.
Another is the face of the woman in the rocks (Ajdovska Deklica). You can see this by parking in the large lot near the top of the pass and following the signs.
Top of Vršič Pass
At the top of the pass, you'll find a lot of parking- and if you're unlucky (like us) it will be crazy crowded! That's why it's better to stop before the top if you can.
We drove the Vršič Pass in October, and both the souvenir hut and the restaurant were shut, which was a shame as we wanted a pass sticker for our motorhome!
Although the views at the top are good, you are hemmed in by mountains on both sides, so don't actually get to see much of the rest of the Julian Alps. You'll find better photo ops on the drive on either side.
At the bottom of the Vršič Pass, you'll find yourself in Soca valley. You might think the best part of the day is done, but wait until you see the colour of Soca Gorge. If I were you, I'd find a campsite or hotel somewhere near Soca, and spend the next day or two exploring this incredible valley.
Where to stay when driving the Vrsic Pass?
After we'd driven the pass, we stayed at Soca Campsite for a couple of nights. Right by the gorge, it was a wonderful place to explore the river and surrounding countryside.
How scary is driving the Vršič Pass?
It certainly had its moments if you're driving the Vrsic pass with a motorhome- although mainly when a car or bike decided to try to cut inside us as we were turning into a hairpin bend! Trying to avoid them and stay on the road just added to the fun.
But it was no worse than some of the other incredible roads we've driven, like Trollstigen in Norway or the Verdon Gorge in France. If you're a confident mountain road driver, you'll be absolutely fine.
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