This northwestern corner of Slovenia — within yodeling distance of both Austria and Italy — is crowned by the Julian Alps.
[45,] Exploring the Slovenian countryside you get the feeling things work. Valleys that just a generation ago were industrial wastelands are green and getting greener. Villages gather around baroque bell towers amid rich farmland. The unique roofed hayrack is recognized as part of the national heritage. In this unpredictable climate, hay is hung on the rack to stay dry.
 These Alps, with their craggy limestone ridges, bring to mind Italy's Dolomites just over the border. Like the more famous Alps of Austria and Switzerland — the Julian Alps are busy with nature lovers both winter and summer. In the center of this region is Mount Triglav, Slovenia's symbol and tallest mountain. Locals claim that you're not a true Slovene until you've climbed Triglav.
 Vrsic Pass, which comes with 50 hairpin turns, was originally a military road. It was built during WWI by 10,000 Russian prisoners of war. In 1916, an avalanche thundered down the mountainside, killing hundreds of these workers.
 This little Russian chapel, built where the final victim was found, offers today's visitors a chance to pay their respects to those who made this scenic drive possible.
 At the crest of the 5,000-foot-high pass there's snow even in late May — and a commanding view.
[50,] The road switch-backs down into the valley of the Soča River. Springy suspension bridges offer a memorable roadside stop. The Soča continues to cut its way deeper and deeper into this gorge. Tiny bits of limestone — the geological equivalent of sawdust around here — reflecting under the brilliant blue skies, gives the river its rich turquoise color.
While the valley is a favorite for nature lovers today, it has its dark side. It was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of World War I. With over a million casualties, it was nicknamed the Valley of the Cemeteries.
 This peaceful river valley was known as the Soča Front — or the Isonzo Front in Italian.
 Before independence, before Yugoslavia, Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1915, neighboring Italy declared war on the empire. They quickly took this valley driving Austro-Hungarian troops high into these mountains from where the Austro-Hungarians fended off ten bloody and uphill Italian offensives.
 The Kluze Fort keeps vigil over the narrowest part of the valley which leads from Italy, through Slovenia, toward Austria. The Austro-Hungarians knew if their enemies could break through this front it was a straight shot to their capital Vienna.
[55,] But the Soca front was sixty miles wide and many of the defenses were more crude and remote. Every ridge was strategic. And much of the fighting was actually done high way up on the frigid mountain cliffs.
[55a]The defenses included a web of tunnels that went all the way to the tops of the mountains
 A museum in the town of Kobarid tells the story of the Soca Front and humanizes the suffering of this horrific but almost forgotten corner of WWI. This was unimaginably difficult warfare — waged in the harshest of conditions. Trenches were carved into ice and rock instead of mud, and many ill-equipped conscripts froze to death. During one winter alone, some 60,000 soldiers were killed by avalanches.
 Just above town, a somber memorial to the Italian attackers was built in the stern Fascist style under Mussolini. It memorializes 7,000 Italian soldiers — victims of just one battle. The poignant reality; costly battles eventually fade into the history books – like the Soca front.
 A short drive south takes us into a totally different landscape: Slovenia's Karst region — a high, fertile, and windblown plateau. In this land of stout hill towns and rugged farmers, grapes for the full-bodied local red wine thrive in the iron-rich soil.
 Since the limestone upon which everything around here sits is easily dissolved by water, the Karst is honeycombed with a vast network of caves and underground rivers.
 The most dramatic cave to tour is Škocjan. Visitors begin by seeing a multitude of formations in a series of large caverns. Guides tell the story as, drip by drip, stalactites grow from spaghetti-thin strands to mighty sequoia-like stone pillars.
 In the grand cavern, the sound of a mighty river crashes through the mist. Chiseled into the wall, the scant remains of century-old trails evoke the early days of tourism here. It's a world where a thousand evil Wizard of Oz monkeys could comfortably fly in formation. Crossing a breathtaking footbridge 150 feet above the torrent gives you faith in Slovenian engineering. The cave finally widens, sunlight pours in, and visitors emerge — like lost creatures seeking daylight — into a lush canyon.
[62,] Nearby, wedged into another Karst-region cave, is Predjama — one of Europe's most photogenic castles. There's been a castle here for nearly a thousand years. The mouth of the cave provided a strategic place for some feudal lord to stick his fortified manor house. This version dates from the 16th century.
 While there's little reason to go inside, the castle makes an ideal spot for a scenic drink — and a great capper for our visit to the Karst region.
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