At SwimFest (Openwater swim races run by the lovely brother and sister duo of Dan and Keeley Bullock at SwimForTri) in 2012 I (Manda) won a trip to Slovenia with Strel Swimming at the raffle that they held for all competitors.
In July 2013 after a quick plane ride to Ljubljana and then a pleasant transfer (where Pivo realising he was with 5 girls spoke to our lovely ex-pat Driver Graeme about football for the entire drive) we arrived at the lake side hotel Strel provides in Lake Bohinj. With a few hours to spare before we met our group, we headed off to the “beach” next to our hotel and did what swimmers do best.. had a paddle/dip/splash. My first thought was it was freezing (it really wasn’t!) but secondly how clean and tranquil it was. This was the lake swimming of dreams. No algae, no boat traffic..just us and a few friendly kayakers.
We met our guides (Borut, Alex and G) and group (I think there was about 14 of us on trip) later in the evening for our briefing. We discovered there were some good swimmers based on the achievements and forth coming plans and there was even a fellow Zurich swimmer, Jonas, who was attempting the swim solo. These were all good signs for a great trip.
The next day we met early on the lake shore to do a test swim. This allows the guides to band swimmers according to speed. Upon returning to shore it was apparent that we were all of a similar standard so no splitting into sub groups was required. So off we went to Lake Bled for our first official swim of the trip. The plans were tentative as there was due to be an air acrobatic show in the afternoon and additionally, they would be practicing in the morning so we prepared to be flexible.
We ended up swimming to the castle in the morning and were accompanied on the swim by Borut’s father, Martin Strel, of marathon swim fame and additionally, by practising planes. Once at the castle we had drinks and snacks and then had a look around, including ringing the church bell and then swum back to the shore. After a lovely traditional lunch, a group of us headed on a walk to a view point to discover amazing views of the lake and beyond.
The afternoon consisted of swimming the length of the lake along the rowing course. So a nice straight line, passing the castle, of approx. 2km and then swum to the local lido to get changed and chill out for a bit.
The following day we headed off to Italy for a swim Lago di Predil. The water here was colder but as we were preparing for Zurich, non-wetsuit it was.
After our visit to Italy, we headed to for a walk to a waterfall. Once we got to the waterfall we all had a “refreshing” dip and Alex entertained us through various mischievous activities then we headed further down the river Soca to go for a dip there. It was a bizarre swim as it started off very cold, some swimmers who hadn’t previously worn wetsuits were now wearing them and I was initially regretting my bravado/being peer pressured into no wetsuit, but suddenly it became warm, almost too warm. We swum past various traditional lake boats and the tourists as always were fascinated to see us.
After the swim we went to the train station and boarded a car train. This was so RANDOM! Never seen anything like it and was a funny experience and one I will remember for the military operation required for shutting the van door before we went through a tunnel as well as the general party bus atmosphere.
The final day consisted of a walk to the other end of Lake Bohinj and then swimming back. This was a 4km swim and was a real test for some of the swimmers, who hadn’t previously swum that far and an ideal opportunity to put into practice the technique advice that had been provided by the Strel team. It was a great way to end the trip and probably my favourite swim.
That afternoon we headed back to Ljubljana, as we were spending one night in the city before heading back to London. Ljubljana is a small city and makes it easily explorable. We walked around taking in the sights, whilst having a few Pivos (Slovenian for beer and also Paul’s nickname) and aperol spritzes. The following day we did a (comical) boat trip along the city’s canals and then headed back.
Thanks Slovenia and Strel for having us.
Things I liked specifically about Strel :
Local knowledge (Including speaking the language(s)) – you can’t undervalue this and I think this is where Borut excels, not just in Slovenia but in other countries, and by choosing the right team to support him.
Food – often lunch can be included in these trips. On this specific trip we were responsible for buying our own lunch. On other trips, Non-Strel trips, we have had bad experiences with there not being not enough food for everyone, no carbs, salad for lunch etc – giving people control of their meal is the best option for me. Snacks provided were also good and varied.
Length – yes you want to make the most of it but I think 4 days works well. Whether that be from a fatigue perspective or from a being in a group of people you don’t know perspective.
Flexibility – no group is going to be the same, so you have to be prepared to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs. This was done well in our group. Where most of us were a similar speed there was one lady who wasn’t up to the (unusual) standard of our group. G looked after this lady and pretty much provided and 1 on 1 service, which if wouldn’t have been done could have quickly easier ruined the lady’s experience and impacted the others as well.