We were standing in a massive underground canyon, our words lost amid the near-deafening roar of crashing water.
Despite lighting on the walls, the roof was too high to see and in the darkness below us, the River Reka – swollen by recent rain – thundered under our tiny bridge.
It was an awe-inspiring scene in Europe’s biggest known underground canyon – part of the Skocjan Caves in north-eastern Slovenia.
Statistics can’t adequately prepare you
We’d been told the statistics: the cavern is 308 metres long, 89 metres wide on average and 106 metres high, with the tallest point of the ceiling some 146 metres above the Reka River.
But, this didn’t really prepare for the almost frightening spectacle that confronted us deep beneath the gorges of Slovenia.
The enormous size of the underground canyon is what places Škocjan Caves among the most famous underground features in the world.
Although they have been mentioned since the 2nd Century BC, some of the caves have yet to be fully explored.
The Reka River flows through a scenic four-kilometre gorge before it disappears underground to surge through the limestone caves.
During a visit to Slovenia, we caught a bus from the capital Ljubljana to visit the Skocjan Caves Regional Park. And we were certainly impressed.
Our party wound its way through the massive chambers of the Skocjan network using stairs and concrete paths that cling to the walls. The bridge over the Reka River was certainly a highlight.
Later, we negotiated a winding stairway out of the caves area and caught a furnicular railway to the top of the gorge, before lunching in the nearby village of Matavun.
The Skocjan network is of such importance globally that it has been on the UNESCO list of natural and cultural world heritage sites since 1986.
Although steep, the area is popular with hikers and numerous footpaths, mountain trails and even cycling paths criss-cross the area.
Skocjan Caves are in north-eastern Slovenia, about 47 kilometres from Ljubljana.
Senior-friendly mark: 5/10. It’s difficult to make ancient limestone caves wheelchair accessible. However, we are reasonably fit – and were able to negotiate the caves without problem.
Note: The writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines.
Credit: Main photograph with thanks to the Skocjan Caves Regional Park authority.