“Hear the silence for a little while – the sound of nature and your breath,” our sound bath therapist Mina Kunstelj gently prompts, as she lays down her Koshi wind chimes, Himalayan bowls and lyre harp for a moment.
Normally, a sound bath, a therapy designed to help you connect with nature, be mindful and switch off from the stresses of the world, might feel a bit too ‘New Age’ for me. But I go with it and I do feel something serene, almost spiritual, in this heavenly hotspot.
We are treated to a quiet symphony of unusual percussion accompanied by Mina’s dulcet tones expressing love for the forest, for nature, for inner peace, as the boat quietly pushes through the still waters of Slovenia’s largest natural lake, created by glaciers 14,000 years ago during the Ice Age.
When the drone of her Indian shruti box has faded and the gongs’ vibrations have dimmed, Mina performs an impressive finale blowing a conch horn, like a call of the wild.
It’s not hard to feel at one with nature on this lake, which is around half an hour’s drive from its more touristy sister Lake Bled, and sits in a valley within Triglav National Park where the evergreen woods slope almost to the water and the majestic Julian Alps create a lofty backdrop.
Some of the mountain areas, including Vogel, form ski terrain in the winter, while others have become a playground for hikers, bikers, walkers, rock climbers, paragliders and those just wanting to breathe in the cool, clean air.
Legend has it that when God was giving land to the people, he forgot about one undemanding group who were patiently waiting their turn. Moved by their humility, he gifted them the land he had earmarked for his own retirement – Bohinj (Boh means God in Slovenian).
It’s early summer and there are few swimmers in the chilly water, the odd paddleboarder creating light ripples and one canoe in the distance. Apart from that, it’s pretty much deserted and an ideal time to visit before the school holiday crowds invade. It takes around three hours to walk the 12km circumference.
We are staying at Ribčev Laz, on the eastern end of the lake, with landmarks featuring a picturesque bridge, the authentic narrow-spired Church of St John The Baptist and a bronze statue dedicated to four local men who were the first to climb Mount Triglav in 1778.
There are just a few cafes and a smattering of hotels near the water’s edge, including the eco-friendly Hotel Bohinj, recently refurbished with a Scandi feel, awash with wood and natural materials.
There’s a general sense of wellbeing here, from the floor-to-ceiling windows to the morning therapeutic outdoor yoga sessions, all inviting you to connect with nature.
It may be a small country bordering Croatia and Italy in the south, Austria in the north and Hungary to the northeast, but Slovenia’s outdoor landscape packs a punch, with a lion’s share of mountains, forests, lakes and rivers and even the sea – you can swim in the Adriatic in summer and ski in the Alps in winter.
Boarding a bus to head to the forest – although we are spoilt for choice as 70% of Slovenia is forest, we pass vast swathes of wild flowers in farmers’ fields.
More wild flowers can be seen on Mount Vogel, accessible via a cable car (adults €28 return) from Ukanc, where we reach the summit of 1535m in minutes, and enjoy a spectacular view of the lake at the bottom of the valley.
Andre, a tour guide for Triglav National Park, explains that the park, which covers 4% of the country, is a protected area, not only for its peat bogs – an important asset for biodiversity – but also species including the capercaillie grouse, rock ptarmigan and lynx, all protected by park rangers.
Later, exploring the dense spruce forest at Pokljuka Plateau, we join Darija Cvikl, a lecturer and specialist in forest therapy who takes us through its rejuvenating power, stressing that its benefits have been well measured and researched.
Terpenes – organic compounds produced by various plants, including spruce needles – significantly improve adults’ mental health by decreasing stress, reducing depression and are anti-tumour activators, she tells us.
“Each terpene has its own healing effect, whether it be psychological relaxation, or anti-virus therapy, or for cardiovascular diseases, or psychosomatic problems,” she explains.
Sitting in a circle within the forest brush, at an altitude of 1,000m, we close our eyes and follow her breathing exercises – she recommends the Wim Hof technique – counting the breaths as the terpenes do their work. Can’t say I feel hugely different, but the clean air and forest surroundings certainly feels therapeutic.
Tourism in this field is still in its infancy, but visitors should make sure they book an accredited forest therapy practitioner (healing-forest-certification.org/isft) for such an experience, she advises.
Back at Lake Bohinj at sunset, the water is calmer, little rowing boats are docked at simple wooden jetties and even the fish surfacing in the shallows at the beginning of the day seem less active.
Seems to me that God had the right idea for his place of retirement.