The Walk of Peace: Europe’s Alps-to-Adriatic hiking trail – BBC News

The Walk of Peace: Europe’s Alps-to-Adriatic hiking trail – BBC News

Tucked in a valley high above the Tolminka River and surrounded by the steep peaks of the Rdeči rob and Tolmin mountain chains, the solitary wooden church honours the 2,564 Austro-Hungarian soldiers who lost their lives in 1916 on the nearby Tolmin battlefield as part of the Isonzo Front in World War One. The 90km-long front ran from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea along the Isonzo River near the historical border that once separated Italy and Austria. It had been formed a year earlier when Italy joined the Allies and declared war on Austria-Hungary. Two and a half years of positional warfare followed, and in all, the Isonzo represented one of the bloodiest frontlines in WWI, with more than 1.5 million soldiers killed, wounded or captured in the 12 battles that took place here between 1915 and 1917. 

Today, most of the valley belongs to Slovenia, the Isonzo River is now known as the Soča, and the slopes around the church are overgrown with dense forest. But 100 years ago, the area was completely bare because locals used it as pasture for livestock. 

“In winter, when the peaks were covered with up to 6m [of] thick snow, avalanches [killed] many soldiers on the Austro-Hungarian side. Desperate due to mass losses and an impossible situation they were in, the surviving soldiers decided to erect a monument to the fallen comrades-in-arms,” explained Rovšček. The shrine was constructed by soldiers while resting after prolonged battles, and as Rovšček led us inside, we saw that the men had burnt the names of their 2,564 fallen brothers into oak panels – a poignant reminder of the horrors that took place in this now picture-perfect setting. 

Today, the lone church stands as a “memorial of reconciliation”, and is one of 230 WWI monuments, trenches, caverns, cemeteries and forts in the Soča Valley that make up the Walk of Peace hiking trail: a living museum that reminds travellers of this valley’s importance in the war, while also revealing how the unique rural culture of its residents has endured.