The Vršič Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 1.611m (5,285ft) above the sea level, located across the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia. The cobbles road to the summit is one of the highest roads in the country.
The road to reach the summit is known as Ruska cesta ("Russian Road"), renamed in July 2006 to honor the Russian prisoners of war that were forced to build it. The mountain road from Kranjska Gora (810m) across Vrisic (1,611m) to Log v Trenti (620m) spans 24 kilometres of 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. After reaching the pass, going to Kranjska Gora, the road is more crowded, guaranteeing scenic alpine views. 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. Just off the main road, on the north side of the pass, at an elevation of around 1,200 m, there is the Russian Orthodox chapel, built by the Russian POWs to commemorate their comrades dead during the road construction. It’s one of the highest roads of the country.
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 %. The road was built in 1915 by Russian prisoners of war on the order of the Austro-Hungarian authorities to facilitate access to Kranjska Gora. During its building, in March 1916, an avalanche buried a prisoner of war camp, killing over 300 prisoners and a Russian Chapel, built in a typical Russian design, was built by the remaining prisoners in memory of those who died.
The road is open an average of seven months per year. In winter, it is usually closed to all traffic. The upper elevations of the road are rendered impassable by heavy snowfall during much of winter. What makes the drive so special, apart from the views and scenery, is the history behind its very existence. Vršič Pass is situated in the 206 Road, a road that connects Italy to Kranjska Gora, a town and a municipality on the Sava Dolinka river in the Upper Carniola region of northwest Slovenia, best known as a winter sports town, and annually hosting an event in the Alpine skiing World Cup series, also known as the Vitranc Cup. 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”).
The road connects, in the north, the Sava DolinkaValley in Gorenjska to the the Soča Valley in Primorska, in the south. 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. The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both). The road is an exhilarating and spectacular drive, climbing and descending 49 hairpin bends, each one numbered and with height recorded, taking you across the spine of the Julian Alps. It is not a difficult route, though not recommended if you are towing a caravan.