Recently, we shared the story of our visit to the astonishing Postojna Cave (Postojnska jama), in our quest to find the most impressive cave system of Europe. Even though we haven’t visited many caves before, we consider it nearly impossible for any other cave to be as fantastic as those we visited in Slovenia. The Postojna Cave made quite a lasting impression on us, to say the least. However, the day after our visit, we went to the Škocjan Caves and that turned out to be an exceptional experience as well. Half a year later, reflecting on our holiday in Slovenia, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two, using a number of different criteria. Eventually, I would like to come up with what we consider to be the most impressive/most beautiful of the two. Based on these criteria, of course. But, obviously, we’ve always had that one personal favourite…
1. Beauty of its cave formations.
What I’m referring to here is the abundance of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, curtains etc. (also called speleothems. Thank you Wikipedia for that!) inside the caves. There aren’t many of these formations in the Škocjan Caves. Only the first part of the so-called Silent Cave (this part is aptly named “Paradise”) and the Great Hall are ornamented with such concretions. In addition, when you enter the Bowls Hall at the end of the tour, you’ll also come across a very rare type of speleothem: a column of bowl-like potholes that look like rice terraces. These are called rimstones or gours (thanks again Wikipedia), and those at the Škocjan Caves are superb examples.
Nevertheless, they simply can’t compete with the multitude of stalagmites, stalactites and the like in the Postojna Cave. There are just so many of them there, and in so many sizes, colours and shapes. Postojna wins this one.
Postojna 1 – Škocjan 0
2. Fun factor.
Both caves are at the opposite end of the fun factor. While the Postojna Cave is all about making the most of the experience, the Škocjan Caves rely entirely on their natural attractiveness. For example, in order to reach the former cave, you’ll have to go on an exciting ride with an electric train, whereas you have to walk for 500m from the visitor centre up to the entrance of the Škocjan Caves. The same is true for the visitor centre: it’s much better equiped with restaurants and shops in Postojna.
What disappointed me the most at the Škocjan Caves was that taking photos is not allowed here. I think it has something to do with protection of the caves and the fact that they are UNESCO world heritage, but seriously, I still don’t get it. If you take photographs without using flash, I can’t see how this could, in any way, damage the caves. I had done my research though, so I knew this was a problem. For this blog, however, I still wanted to take a few pictures. So I mailed to the people at Škocjan Caves in order to obtain a photography permit, and they redirected me to the Slovenian Environment Agency. Between Februari and July of 2015 I sent numerous emails to the Environment Agency, the Slovenian Government Communication Office, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, and again to the Škocjan Caves. I even asked a Slovenian friend to help me, but in the end, no-one could provide me with a permit. It still frustrates me that I wasn’t able to record this wonderful place on photo…
Postojna 2 – Škocjan 0
3. WOW effect.
During our walk through the Postojna Caves, we were really impressed with what we saw. Some parts looked like they came right out of a fairytale. I’m thinking about the White Chamber, the Brilliant Stalagmite, the Spaghetti Hall… And yes, I frequently thought: “Wow, this is beautiful! Wow, this is unique! Wow, this is extraordinary!”.
However, nothing compares to the feeling you get when you enter the Murmuring Cave in the Škocjan Caves. It is so immense (3.5km long, 10-60m wide and over 100m high) that it leaves you silent. Maybe you’ll be too impressed to say “Wow!”, but the feeling will definitely be there…
Postojna 2 – Škocjan 1
4. Full Karst experience.
This is where the Škocjan Caves really excel. Before (or after) you take the tour to the caves, do take the short walk to the lookout over the Velika Dolina (literally: Big Valley). This big hole in the ground is a sinkhole, or doline (yes, the scientific name was derived from this very sinkhole at Škocjan!). The view is superb! Look down to see the gorge, the river Reka and its waterfall. But that’s not all there is to see: look out for the village of Škocjan above the sinkhole, look around you for beautiful flowers and try to find the rock dove (Columba livia) which nests on the rock ledges.
At the end of the tour, you’ll emerge from the cave by the Schmidl Hall, entering the Velika Dolina. From here, you can choose to take an elevator up, or take a hike through the doline. We definitely recommend the latter, although you’ll need decent walking shoes and a good physical condition. You’ll pass the Tominc Cave and a waterfall until you arrive at the bottom of the doline, gazing up to the point where you were standing a few hours before (the lookout). From below, it’s even more clear how deep this sinkhole actually is.
Postojna 2 – Škocjan 2
Hmmm, it seems we have a draw here. Both places are must-sees in Slovenia and in both cases the experience is breathtaking. So, maybe this contest can’t have a conclusive outcome based on these criteria. And still, we have our own favourite. Only one of these caves has made such an impression on us that we will never forget it: undoubtedly the highlight of our holiday, the Škocjan Caves. These caves have something that other caves lack: a sense of vastness and greatness. You feel so small when you’re walking inside this enormous space beneath the surface. Entering the Murmuring Cave in the dim light, with the sound of the Reka river below, was overwhelming… Not surprisingly, UNESCO has added the Škocjan Caves and its surrounding nature reserve as a world heritage site in 1986. This comes with a number of restrictions regarding the number of people allowed and the use of cameras (see above). On the other hand, it makes the experience much more unique.
Škocjan Caves (no. 390)
The Škocjan Caves in the Kras Plateau of Slovenia is an exceptional limestone cave system that has one of the world’s largest known underground river canyons, made by the river Reka. This protected area contains 6km of underground passages, collapsed dolines, waterfalls and one of the largest known underground chambers (the Martel Chamber). Therefore, it is a world-famous area for the study of karstic phenomena. The regional park is also home to a number of endemic and endangered species and species assemblages, which thrive in the underground environment and in the collapsed dolines. Furthermore, archaeological studies have revealed details of a very long history of human occupation since prehistoric times.