Crossing borders on forest trails - Schwanberg, Austria to Maribor, Slovenia
When you travel to Europe, or even to Iceland, the Schengen Agreement makes it easy to travel across many borders. It's easy because this agreement between the member countries means that once you get your visa stamp in the country you enter, there are no more border control points where you need to show your passport. When planning running trips it's also possible to run across borders within the Schengen countries. I took advantage of these open borders on a recent run from Schwanberg, Austria to Maribor, Slovenia.
I knew I wanted to travel to Slovenia so started by trying to find flights that worked for a weekend trip from Berlin, Germany. I first looked to fly into Ljubljana, the capital, but couldn’t find good flights for a weekend trip. I then looked into Zagreb, Croatia since it would be a short drive into Slovenia and there are typically direct flights to Zagreb. However, as I researched the country more, the area in the north around the city of Maribor, Slovenia looked to be the best for trail running, and that was too long a drive from Zagreb.
I then started to plan a trip around running in Maribor and found that the city of Graz, Austria was the closest city with good flights. From Graz, I worked out the following trip:
Fly into Graz, Austria on Friday night, arriving late
Walk from the Airport to the Gasthof zum Flughafen hotel (10 minutes)
Saturday morning, take a car service transfer from the hotel to Schwanberg, Austria
Note that for breakfast, the only place to get food early is at the market in the airport!
Run from Schwanberg run to Maribor!
Sunday morning, tour Maribor and the surrounding trails
Sunday afternoon, take a taxi back to Graz, about 1.5 hour drive
Sunday night, fly back to Berlin!
The trail itself was one of the harder ones to plan since I had to piece so many trails together such as:
Pot čez Kozjak
From Schwanberg I started out on the Mariazelleerweg 502 trail. It is a paved trail for a short while, then branches off into trails crossing farms and through forests. The trail traversed rolling hills, some with wineries, made up of frequent vistas. I felt like I was making good time, so stopped at a restaurant, Panoramaschenke Tertinek, in the town of Oberhaag perched on the side of a hill overlooking the hills and valleys of Austria. From there I headed north only a few miles and began to run along the border of Austria and Slovenia. The main things to mark the border are white stone markers and a few small signs. However, a little later, crossing a road I came across an old border checkpoint with the EU sign.
The trail crosses the border many times, so when I came across a cool observation tower, the Aussichtswarte Schlossberg, it was still in Austria. It has commanding views of Austria and Slovenia, and I had it all to myself. The top of the tower was a great place to have a mid-day snack.
I continued my run and crossed more wineries nestled in the valleys, and also past the first hops farms I’ve seen (Slovenia is apparently famous for hops). Once fully in Slovenia the trail became more remote with fewer houses. It was getting later in the day, but the route I had drawn was keeping to roads in this section and I wanted to do more trail. Seeing a trail on my Gaia GPS map, I detoured off the road and into the forest. This turned out to be one of the toughest sections so cost me a lot of time.
I got past this difficult section, then kept moving towards my goal of Maribor. Problem was, the trail I’d mapped out came across a private road marked as “Neighbor’s Only” (thanks google translate). I first thought it might be OK to run down this road since it was a wide dirt road, but just a few minutes into the road, it narrowed down and started to wind around a bend then didn’t feel comfortable to be on. I retraced my steps and studied the map to find an alternate route that connected up with one of the main trails. I found a way, but I’d still need to cross an area that looked strange on the map, as it looked more like a maze. I suspect this is a hunting area with groomed paths for the animals to follow, but it was super weird to traverse so got through as fast as I could.
Back onto a main trail I ascended the last major mountain, Žavcarjev vrh, while it began to rain a hard, cold rain. I had originally planned a 31 mile (50k) run, but I was just getting to 31 miles (50k), and still had about 12 miles (20k) to get to my hotel in central Maribor. I came across a covered park bench outside of a mountain tavern so stopped and let the rain pass and changed into dry clothes and put on my rain jacket and pants. This is exactly why I always bring my rain/wind/cold gear because you never know what will happen weather wise, especially in a mountainous area.
The last couple hours of running were in the dark, especially when in the forest, but a full moon lit the sky once I got onto the main road that followed the Drava River into Maribor. The trail was wide and easy to navigate by a flashlight, so never felt unsafe (except for one section with lots of barking dogs).
There wasn’t anything open when I arrived so late into Maribor, so I had some chips and a couple beers from the mini-bar in my hotel room. My small dinner was still a nice end to an epic 44 mile (70k) run across two countries. On Sunday morning I did a recovery walk on a beautiful sunny day through town and also into the trails and parks just north of the city. It was a perfect wrap-up to an ultrarunning destination weekend. I hope you can find time to plan a trip to Slovenia, It’s a beautiful country with many well marked long distance trails. If you like wine, also be sure to research their wine trails that are a popular destination for bicycle riders.
Start: Schwanberg, Austria
Finish : Maribor, Slovenia
Distance : 44 miles / 70k
Elevation Gain : 6331 feet / 1930m