Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/24 posted by hidden europe on

It is that time of year when Slovenes take to the hills. It is perfectly possible to be Scottish and never climb Ben Nevis, just as it is easy to be German without ever having set foot on the Zugspitze - that is the mountain straddling the border between Bavaria and Austria. Its summit is the highest point in Germany.

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Dear fellow travellers

It is that time of year when Slovenes take to the hills. It is perfectly possible to be Scottish and never climb Ben Nevis, just as it is easy to be German without ever having set foot on the Zugspitze - that is the mountain straddling the border between Bavaria and Austria. Its summit is the highest point in Germany. But few self-respecting Slovenes have not, at one time or another, made a pilgrimage to the summit of Triglav, which at over 2800 metres is the loftiest summit in the country.

Triglav is a mountain of delicate beauty. The karst massif in the Julian Alps towers over deep valleys and wild gorges. There are high Alpine pastures and hay meadows, lush forests and gaunt crags. Ibex and chamois roam free. Many walkers venturing into the hills spend a night or more at one of the many mountain huts, simple but welcoming places that offer rich stews served with local bread. August is the busiest month at the summit of Triglav. If there is a decent run of good weather, several hundred people a day reach the mountain top, many just staying a few minutes there before embarking on the cautious descent back to civilisation. There is something of the Slovene soul in and around this grand mountain, and Slovene stalwarts insist that the only real way to experience the spirit of Triglav is to spend a night at the summit of the iconic mountain.

The Danish Everest

Slovenes have it easy. Everyone in Slovenia knows that Triglav is the country's highest point and the mountain's status is undisputed. Switch to Denmark and you will not find a lot of Danes who could even hazard a guess at the highest point in the country. And hereby lies a curious tale. It is only the gentlest of undulations that gives an almost imperceptible crest in the Ejerbjerge a claim to be the highest point in Denmark. That elevation is called Møllehøj and its mighty summit lies at just over 170 metres above sea level. Danish surveyors suggested in early 2005 that Møllehøj might justifiably take the crown.

But there are other candidates. Yding Skovhøj in eastern Jutland was long acclaimed as the Danish Everest, and it has the distinct merit of at least looking like a hill. Its maximum elevation is about a metre higher than Møllehøj. But purists argue that the rugged heights of Yding Skovhøj are artificial, the result of an ancient burial mound from the Bronze Age that was constructed on the summit. Discount the mound and Yding Skovhøj loses its status as the mightiest mountain in Denmark. At least, so say the Møllehøj camp.

Other national high points

There is an echo of the Danish debate in a dispute about the highest point in Belarus. An artificial ski centre near Minsk (362 metres) sometimes claims the crown that is rightly due to an unimpressive hill called Dzyarzhynskaya Hara (345 metres). And just for the record, the European country with the lowest natural high point is Vatican City. It is an unmarked spot that just tops the seventy metre contour.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.