It was a couple of middle-aged Brits, supping alongside us at an outdoor café in Ljubljana who first alerted us to the Bohinj region of Slovenia. They were staying there for a week's hiking holiday and had come in to the capital for the day as many of the favorite trails had been washed out by recent heavy rains.

"It's a perfectly gorgeous region. There are great hikes around the lake or into the mountains, for all experience levels. And you can easily get there by bus."

Their unequivocal enthusiasm was corroborated by the author of our Lonely Planet Guide, " one of my favorite spots in all Slovenia." That did it. We were going.

The plan, loosely formatted as always, was to take a bus to Bohinj (pronounced BOCK-in) look at the lake and the other sights. Have a bit of lunch. Then visit the more popular resort of Bled before returning to Ljubljana.

A full day in the Slovenian countryside. A minimum of exercise. A maximum of alpine sightseeing. A few hours on the bus. And cross our fingers on the weather.

We needn't have worried. Sunday dawned fabulously. Brilliant blue skies. Neither an errant nor lonely cloud anywhere in sight.

In fifteen minutes of brisk striding we were at the bus station (in front of the train station) and boarding bus #7 - properly located between buses #6 and #8 - which took off at 9 a.m. as advertised.

We'd read somewhere (probably in their own propaganda) that Slovenia has one of the best bus services in Europe. We won't argue. The buses we took were modern, clean, comfy, air-conditioned, cheap and always bang on time.

Once out of Ljubljana's rather drab Soviet-style suburbs - high-rise prefab apartment buildings -the country quickly opened up to pretty mountainscapes. Alpine meadows and onion-dome churches reminded us that we were, in fact, heading north towards the Austrian border - a mere 100 or so kilometers away.

The pretty town of Kranj was soon followed by the even prettier Bled - a jewel of a resort set between lake and cliff - and clearly endowed with all the usual tourist regalia: lakeside hotels, restaurants, shops, rowing boats, pedalos, tour buses et al.

We stayed firmly on our bus and, following the Lonely Planet's instructions, disembarked at the little outpost of Ribcev Laz at the extreme eastern tip of Lake Bohinj - home to not much more than a tourist office (for a map), a small shopping complex (for the post cards), a couple of hotels (for a beer and a WC) and the Church of St. John the Baptist, one of Slovenia's most beautifully situated medieval churches.

A service was in progress, so we put off a visit and walked instead along a forested path that led us to the north side of Lake Bohinj. It was everything we imagined it would be. And more. A staggeringly beautiful strip of clear blue water some 4.5 kilometers long, surrounded on all sides by the forest and mountains that comprise the Triglav National Park.

We walked through meadows, past clumps of sunbathers and swimmers taking advantage of the change in the weather and an occasional brown cow with clanging bell.

But after some twenty minutes of rather aimless walking, we had a simultaneous epiphany.

Here we were, on a gorgeous day, in one of the most picturesque spots in the whole of Europe - let alone Slovenia - and all we were going to do was have lunch and leave!

No way. Not Holliday/Fischer. Gemütlichkeit's intrepid reporters! This was time for action. Not idling.

The book said that there was a trail that went right round the lake. Twelve kilometers. Or so. Three to four hours on foot.

So, despite a burning sun and with nothing more than our unprofessional shorts and sneakers and daypack with a couple of plastic water bottles, we set out to circumnavigate mighty Lake Bohinj.

The trail along the north side of the lake was easy enough. A few rocky outcrops and swampy bits but nothing the moderately fit couldn't do. But as we approached the narrowing western end we made a costly error. Some German hikers, going the opposite way around and obviously experienced in their leather kneebreeches, sturdy boots and mountain stocks, told us of some wet patches ahead.

Thus, we were not surprised when shortly afterwards we found ourselves ankle deep in very cold water. We still thought we were on the right track. But when the water began to swirl around our knees and threatened to rise even higher, it occurred to us that this was probably not the way to go and we quickly retraced our steps. Sloshing.

There was indeed a fork in the trail we had missed. And a bridge. So with nothing worse than soaked socks and tennies and a rather foolish look on our faces we finally found ourselves on the south side of Lake Bohinj, sitting at a hiker's café and filling up on delicious omelettes and croque monsieurs before regaining the trail.

This time it went a hundred yards straight up a steep hill and onto the shaded undulating "Hunters Trail" that, once achieved, led us quite gently through thick forests, over narrow wooden bridges and treated us to some spectacular views of the lake's glistening waters far below.

Just as we were beginning to tire - and complain - a gradual descent brought us back to civilization and the outskirts of Ribcev Laz.

We had been on the trail for four hours. Personally seen-and tamed-Lake Bohinj. We sat down proudly under a tree and treated ourselves to a well-earned glass of beer. As we sipped and waited for the bus back to Ljubljana, who should come by but the British couple who had pointed us in this direction in the first place!

We thanked them profusely. And caught the bus. But we never did alight in Bled. It might be beautiful. And dramatic. And popular. But after our experiences another lake would be totally anti-climatic. And anyway...we could hardly keep our eyes open... RH/CF

July 1997