A visit to this picturesque karst valley, formed by the sinking and collapsing of a cave ceiling, will not leave you indifferent.
Taking a break in the shades of century-old oak trees, enjoying the view of the splendid Big Natural Bridge (Veliki naravni most), travelling back in time at the ruins of the church of St. Cantianus, breathing in the fresh cave air under the slender arch of the Little Natural Bridge (Mali naravni most), or strolling along the soft and maintained trail by the tall-grown firs is an unforgettable experience over and over again...
On an afternoon walk, one can observe millions of years of geological processes which shaped this little karst valley. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that it was nominated to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Rakov Škocjan valley is a karst valley at the northern base of the Javorniki hills which was created when the ceiling of a karst cave began sinking and collapsing. This is proven by the 42-meter Little Natural Bridge, the 37-meter Big Natural Bridge and two gorges behind them.
At the flat clayey bottom meanders the Rak stream, surrounded by cleared woodlands and flood meadows. The Rak is fed by underground waters discharging from the Cerknica plain and from beneath the Javorniki hills. This small river surfaces from the Zelške jame caves in the eastern part of the valley and disappears in the Tkalca jama cave in the west.
Together with Lake Cerknica and the Križna jama cave, the Rakov Škocjan valley has been designated as a wetland of international importance – Ramsar Site. The valley was also the first Slovenian regional park, established as early as 1949. As it is appropriate for such a natural sight, the valley also features an education trail.
|Length of the valley:||2.5 km|
|Width of the valley:||up to 0.5 km|
|Height of the arch of Little Natural Bridge:||42 m|
|Height of the arch of Big Natural Bridge:||37 m|
Hidden from the eyes, in the eternal darkness of underground fissures and tunnels, true cave specialists roam. The most famous among them is the narrow-necked blind cave beetle, the first described cave beetle in the world.
On the shoals by the Rak's springs, tiny but not sandy beaches are created... They are formed with shells of underground snails. Among them there are two native species which cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
During the day, dragonflies are buzzing by the Rak bank, May-, stone- and caddisflies are completing their larva cycle in the water and rising beneath tree crowns on their gentle wings, and water striders are rushing along the still surface by the shore.
The abundance of water invertebrates is a feast for fish. Chubs are lazily circling in pools, here and there pikes are lurking in the ambush, brown trout is hiding behind rapids, and burbot is waiting for the night to fall.
In the meantime, scarce fritillaries, Jersey tigers and other butterflies are searching for sweet nectar and mates at the edge of the forest, long-horned beetles are jostling on fir stumps in the safety of the forest, and harvestmen, cave crickets and other surface species, common visitors to the underground entries, are lingering by sunken valleys and cave entrances.
Fir and beech forest surrounding the Rakov Škocjan valley ranks among the most diverse forests in Europe. Its most beautiful scenes can be admired in spring, when beeches turn green and colourful flowers enliven the undergrowth, and in autumn, when the forest's warm tints bid farewell to summer.
In spring, the forest ground is decorated with blue-eyed Maries accompanied by small yellow-flowered spring bloomers, drooping, five-leaved, three-leaved and coralroot bittercress, yellow and wood anemone, and primroses. The protected dog-tooth violet may be seen boasting here and there, whereas European wild ginger is hiding its flowers under the fallen leaves...
In summer, the undergrowth is coloured by knotted crane's bill, wall-lettuce, purple rattlesnake root and sticky sage, but the most observant visitor may be delighted to see a rare orchid – Greuter's helleborine.
In the meantime, the enviably old fir trees proudly rise above our heads to the sky. They are naughtily tickled on the hips by field maple, common hornbeam and common ash, whereas mighty common oak trees, eternal guardians, watch over the valley from meadows' edges.
On the banks of the Rak stream, and on flood meadows nearby, thrive the endangered moist-loving plants: tall violet blossoms on cleared woodlands, great yellowcress turns the muddy shore yellow, and flowering rush rises above all the plants.
The native Justin's bellflower has found its place under the sun in the vertical rock walls; in this unkind habitat it is kept company by stonebreaker, thin sledge and a few other persistent species.