Vršič Pass

Driving the Russian Road to Vršič Pass in the Julian Alps

Vršič Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 1.632m (5,354ft) above the sea level, located on the boundary between Upper Carniola and Gorizia regions of western Slovenia. It is one of the highest roads of the country.

How long is Vršič Pass?

The pass is 43.4 km (26.96 miles) long, running from Bovec to Trenta. The road is totally paved, with some cobblestone sections. It’s called 206 Road, known as Ruska cesta ("Russian Road"), renamed in July 2006 to honor the Russian prisoners of war that were forced to build it. Just off the main road, on the north side of the pass, at an elevation of around 1,200 m, there is a Russian Orthodox chapel, built by the Russian POWs to commemorate their comrades dead during the road construction. The road hasn’t much traffic, because people who want to travel to Kranjska Gora, prefer to use the Austrian way, in a wider toll road. At the beginning of the road, starting by the Italian side, there’s a blue plaque with the number 50 and information about the altitude. There are the same blue signals, marking the sharpest, steepest and most challenging corners on the route.

Is Vršič Pass dangerous?

Surrounded by the peaks of the Julian Alps near the mountains and glacial lakes of Triglav National Park, the road is plenty wide enough to pass and in remarkably good condition. It is well maintained. There are several parking spots to stop and admire the views. If you are an experienced driver with decent situational awareness, it's very doable so don't miss out on the experience. But it shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. Expect high traffic in high season. The drive features 50 hairpin bends, 24 on the Kraniska Gora side and 26 on the Trenta side of the pass. Each turn is numbered. This trip doesn’t allow any moment of distraction and there’s no room for overtaking. It is not a difficult route, though not recommended if you are towing a caravan. Despite the very well-maintained roads, Vrsic Pass is inevitably a bit of a hair-raising drive. Starting from Trenta, the ascent is 11.82 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 993 meters. The average percentage is 8.4 %.

How long does it take to drive Vršič Pass?

Plan 1.5 hours to complete the drive without any stop. If you like scenic drives and want to see a beautiful part of the country, this Slovenian road trip is a wonderful day trip idea. The pass links Upper Carniola with the Trenta Valley in the Slovene Littoral. The road is an exhilarating and spectacular drive, climbing and descending 50 hairpin bends, each one numbered and with height recorded, taking you across the spine of the Julian Alps.

Is the Vršič Pass open?

The road is open an average of seven months per year. Winter comes early at high elevations, and lingers late. In winter, it is usually closed to all traffic. Extreme weather is common. The upper elevations of the road are rendered impassable by heavy snowfall during much of winter.

When was the road to Vršič Pass built?

The road over Vršič was built by Russian prisoners in 1915. The Austro-Hungarian authorities decided early in 1915 that they needed a road to supply their forces who were preparing to defend their border with Italy (to become known as the Isonzo Front). Building, using Russian prisoners-of-war as forced labour, was begun in March 1915 and, unbelievably, was completed by the end of that year. The pass needed to be kept open all year so prisoners were stationed in camps to shovel the snow off the road during the winter months. In March 1916 an avalanche buried one of these camps killing around 400 prisoners and 10 of their guards. There is a small Russian cemetery near hairpin 4. To commemorate this disaster and in remembrance of their comrades, other Russian prisoners built a beautiful Russian Orthodox Chapel on the site of the camp and this can be seen by stopping at hairpin 8. To honour the Russian prisoners the road was renamed in July 2006, as the Ruska cesta (“Russian Road”). Up there, you will also find the remnants of WWI bunkers and a telpher cable-car line. The Slovene common noun vršič literally means 'little peak', a diminutive form of the word vrh 'peak'.

 

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