Triglav from Lake Cerknica
Triglav from Lake Cerknica

Slovenia’s Lake Cerknica: A Circle Tour Around Europe’s Largest Intermittent Lake

I posted about a dozen photos from Slovenia’s Lake Cerknica, Europe’s largest intermittent lake, after a visit last February on a mild winter day. These were taken about two weeks ago following nearly a dozen straight days of late summer rains that inundated the country last month. It was wet but also for the first time in over a week, relatively clear. Clear enough to see, for the first from one of the lake’s shores, Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain, and its adjoining Julian Alps range, about 75 kilometers to the northwest.

As I wrote in that previous post, I was a kid when I first heard about this mysterious disappearing lake, an animated tale I listened to during a summer visit to Yugoslavia, told by the oldest man I had ever seen. His face was round and nearly as red as the wine that filled the glass he was holding, his delivery deliberate with every third or fourth syllable pronounced with a delicate urgency, like a clasped fist gently pounding a table.

“Then one day you’ll wake up to find all the water gone,” he said, “and see fish jumping and dancing in that crisp morning air — hundreds of them, thousands! There for the taking! We wouldn’t go to school! What a feast we’d have!”

I’m still chasing that scene. There was nothing remotely close during the afternoon bike ride around the lake illustrated below, an easy but entertaining circuit of about 35 kilometers.

Lake Cerknica flooding, September 2017
Lake Cerknica flooding, September 2017
Lake Cernica, facing northwest
Lake Cerknica, facing northwest

When full, the lake can reach up to 38 square kilometers (15sq mi). More typically, a sprawl of about 30 square kilometers is considered a period of ‘high water’; in ‘normal’ periods, it covers about 20, and during especially dry times, it’s nearly non-existent.

Here it was peaking near 40 square kilometers, at least according to a farmer I spoke with briefly, one firmly confident in his guestimate. When I asked him who in the immediate area I could confirm that figure with, someone more official, he seemed offended by the question.

“I just know,” he said. “I’ve been looking at that lake all my life. I just know.” File that where you will.

I don’t visit Lake Cerknica too often, but can say that this was by far the highest I’ve ever seen the water. No surprise; indeed, September was wet. Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana, about 45km north of Cerknica, and its immediate central region, received 344mm (13.54in) of rain over the month, nearly three times the 149mm (5.86in) September average measured in the thirty year period of 1981-2010.

In case you missed it, a primer from a previous Lake Cernica post:

Lake Cerknica is a major attraction for birds, with 276 species –half of all European species– observed in the area. Some numbers via the Notranjska Regional Park website, a protected area in which the lake sits:

– Number of bird species observed at Lake Cerknica: 276
– Number of bird species nesting at Lake Cerknica: 100+
– Number of migratory bird species: 150+
– Number of qualifying bird species to designate Lake Cerknica as a Natura 2000 site: 33

It’s also home to 45 mammal species, again half of all European species (including the brown bear Ursus arctos); 125 species of butterflies, about a third of those in Europe; and nearly a third of the continent’s amphibians. If your luck is running exceeding high, you’ll spot a Eurasian Lynx, Grey Wolf or Ural Owl in nearby forests.

I didn’t spend much time birding, but did chase this Eurasian Buzzard (Buteo buteo) briefly after it so rudely interrupted my photo session with the Weaver beetle (Lamia Textor) below.

Eurasian buzzard, buteo buteo
Eurasian buzzard (buteo buteo)
Weaver beetle, Lamia Textor at Lake Cerknica, Slovenia
Weaver beetle (Lamia Textor) at Lake Cerknica, Slovenia
Weaver beetle, Lamia Textor, Lake Cerknica, Slovenia
Weaver beetle. Come on, smile.


More on the bike ride?

The route below, the most standard for bicyclists, largely hugs shore lines, so is generally quite easy, although there is one sharp incline in the southernmost portion that rises into a pleasant beech forest. A break for a quick hike through the woodlands is highly recommended.

Early autumn, Lake Cerknica Slovenia
Early autumn, Lake Cerknica Slovenia
Green forests
Green forests
Shaggy mane, Coprinus comatus at Lake Cerknica, Slovenia
Shaggy mane, Coprinus comatus at Lake Cerknica, Slovenia

From Cerknica, the first village you’ll pass is Dolenje Jezero, home to a small but informative Cerknica Lake historical museum. Just beyond the village is a recently opened info point and café for the Notranjski Regional Park.

A long stretch with lake shores on both sides of the road follows. For the circuit route, follow signs for Otok, a village whose name translates to island. In high water, the name fits. There are several hiking paths along this stretch, but not accessible in high water. Trails I hiked last winter were now half a meter or more under the surface.

From Otok the road rises as mentioned above before descending to the village of Laze pri Gorenjem Jezeru which sits just above lake level.

Near Laze pri Gorenjem Jezeru
Near Laze pri Gorenjem Jezeru

On the eastern end, the route passes quietly through the villages of Gorenje Jezero and Lipsenj before heading further away through Zerovnica before connecting to the much busier highway 212 at Grahovo where it turns west towards Martinjak and back to Cerknica. In periods of lower water, the main road between Grahovo and Martinjak can be bypassed by using access roads through farmlands and meadows. That wasn’t possible here, showing how truly alive and ever-changing the landscapes around Cerknica Lake, and other intermittent bodies of water, can be.

From Ljubljana, there are plenty of bike options but none that I’m aware of that would come in at under 100 kilometers round trip. I got a late start so hopped on a train to Rakek, the nearest stop to Cerknica, as the route map indicates. (€5.00-7.00 one-way; 3.40 for your bike, valid for unlimited transits over a 24-hour period.)


Marginally related: Slovenia also witnessed record cloud cover in September. Ljubljana saw only 99.7 hours of sunshine over the month, the lowest recorded since measuring began in 1951. The situation was similar in most parts of the country, thus the heavy cloud cover in the photos and videos here. My next visit really needs to coincide with some sunshine.

The rest of the gallery:

First, a pair of short videos shot with my phone: the top one (40sec) shows of a few scenes of the flooding in western parts of the Ljubljana Moors, or Barje, and the second (70sec) various spots along the Lake Cerknica circle tour.

Below, seven more images.

Julian Alps from Lake Cerknica
Julian Alps from Lake Cerknica
Can anyone help identify these bugs?
Can anyone help identify these little bronze bugs?
Lake Cerknica, near Otok
Lake Cerknica, near Otok
Triglav from Lake Cerknica
Triglav from Lake Cerknica

Lake Cerknica


Questions or experiences to share? Drop them in the comments here on my Facebook page below.



Lake Cerknica - A Circle Tour Around Europe's Largest Intermittent Lake from Piran Cafe
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