On the other, less touristy side of the mountains from Bohinj, the brilliantly turquoise River Soča streaks through the western spur of the Julian Alps, running parallel with the Italian border. During World War I, the Soča marked the front line between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies; now memorial chapels and abandoned fortifications nestle incongruously amid awesome Alpine scenery. The valley is a major centre for activity-based tourism, with the river providing ideal rafting and kayaking conditions throughout the spring and summer, and the mountain slopes perfect for skiing and snowboarding in winter. The main tourist centres are Kobarid and Bovec, both small towns boasting a range of walking possibilities. The GZS 1:50,000 Zgornje Posočje map covers trails in the region.
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It was at the little Alpine town of Kobarid that German and Austrian troops finally broke through Italian lines in 1917, almost knocking Italy out of World War I in the process. The Kobarid Museum, Gregorčičeva 10, presents a thoughtful account of the 29 months of fighting in the region through a collection of photographs, maps and mementoes. It’s also the starting point for the superb Kobarid Historical Trail, a steep 5km loop where remote woodland paths are punctuated by forgotten wartime landmarks. From the town’s main square you climb up to a striking three-tiered Italian War Memorial, opened by Benito Mussolini in 1938, before hiking further into the hills to see surviving military fortifications. At the trail’s farthest point from town bubbles the Kozjak waterfall, less impressive for its height than for the cavern-like space that it has carved out of the surrounding rock. Maps of the trail are available from the museum and the tourist office on Trg Svobode 16.
25km up the valley from Kobarid, the village of Bovec straggles between imperious mountain ridges. Thanks to its status as a winter ski resort, it has a greater range of accommodation options and sporting agencies than Kobarid, and as a result, a more vibrant atmosphere. The quickest route into the mountains from here is provided by the gondola that departs on the hour 1km south of the village, which ascends to the pasture-cloaked Mount Kanin over to the west.