With its glorious array of stalactites and stalagmites, tunnels and spectacular rock formations it is easy to see why the Postonja Cave (Postonjska Jama) have been capturing the imagination of visitors for some 200 years now.
Situated about 66km south of the Slovene capital Ljubljana, the cave has been open to tourists ever since Austrian crown prince Ferdinand visited in August 1819. A lot has changed since then – in 1818 visitors could only explore 300m of the caverns but now guests are now guided around 5km of the 21km network.
If that sounds a little daunting, you’ll be relieved to hear that it’s not all by foot. Visitors enter by train pulled by electric engine and through low-cut tunnels, the chandelier-lit Congress Hall and past the wafer-thin and translucent Curtain rock formation. As you are whisked down 2,260m of track spare a thought for the guides of 1872, who used to push the wagons of tourists down the very same track.
The train alights at the aptly-named Great Mountain – the 45m-high mound within a cave which was formed after a rock collapse and looks like it has been covered in candle wax. Guests are then split into groups according to language and the tour proper begins, over the mountain and into the gaping caverns beyond.
Beyond the Russian Bridge – built by prisoners of war in 1916 – is the entrance to the Beautiful Caves. Here you’ll find the Spaghetti Hall, so named after the needle-like stalactites hanging from the ceiling and the Red Room, referring to the colour of the iron leaked into the limestone.
The path then passes back under the Russian Bridge and passes through several other chambers. This part of the cave houses the 5m-tall stalagmite Brilliant, shining brightly thanks to a covering of calcite sinter, and formations including the Romeo and Juliet.
No visit to the caves would be complete without a glimpse of its most famous resident – the human fish, or olm. This strange little creature looks like a white salamander and due to its cave-dwelling lifestyle, is completely blind. They are viewable in a special aquarium en route.
The tour ends in the grand Concert Hall, which is the largest open space in Postonja Caves and can allegedly hold up to 10,000 people. However they don’t tend to hold many concerts here as the damp atmosphere is not great for instruments.
As if to hint at the quality of the acoustics, the tour guide blows a whistle and the sound echoes back down the chambers. After an hour and a half underground, the party trick feels like an appropriate cue to leave.
Emerging back into the daylight, you can’t help feeling that the world just feels a little bit too normal out here.
For more information on the cave, visit the Postonjska Jama website: http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/
TIP: Be sure to wrap up warm before you go. The temperature of the caves is about 10C and it can get chilly.