Born as a mountain torrent in the Julian Alps in Austria, the River Drava is significantly broad and deep by the time it flows through Dravograd into Slovenia, through which it runs for 102 of its total 720 km (450 mi). Since Roman times it has been the region’s sole highway – not just for ordinary trade, but also for the lumber industry in the surrounding heavily forested mountains. Rafting lumber became the most important economic activity, and towns and villages grew up along the Drava’s banks on the profits. The trade centred on the ancient city of Maribor, where the development of an enormous raft harbour (the ‘Lentstatt’) attracted the parallel growth of riverside facilities and entertainments. Today, the Lent district is still Maribor’s most beautiful, authentically old and cobbled, and lively. Only the Drava has been tamed. Hydro-electric dams slowed its legendary boiling currents to a broad, placid stream; and it’s become a watery theatre for Slovenians to re-enact their cultural traditions for visitors.
Which means there are two ways to go rafting on the Drava. If you’re determined and lucky, you can raft from Dravograd all the way to Maribor or even Ptuj, passing through the most beautiful section of the entire river’s course, camping or sleeping in hotels as your own pace dictates. Otherwise, you join a raft at Koblarjevzaliv (an artificially-wide but very pretty section of river near Maribor) with anything from five to forty others. Unfortunately, each raft promises to send ‘2 rafters plus a rafter’s girl’ with you, and their function is not just to steer, but to sing you their selection of hearty Slovenian folk songs, and stuff you full of (quite good) wine.
WHEN TO GO:
May to October/November (depending on the weather). Come for the Lent Festival, when throughout June Maribor’s left bank district celebrates Its oldest traditions.
TIME IT TAKES:
1 hour Is the standard Maribor rafting experience, but you can arrange as long a trip as you want. Rafting from Dravograd to Maribor usually takes 2-3 days, but there are many good wildlife,
landscape and history reasons along the Drava that could tempt you to spend much longer.
The early mists and high summer noon, and water so still you can hear the scurried ‘rustle…plop!’ of a water-vole.
The lack of river traffic (until very recently, all navigation was banned), which may not last, as jetfoils have now been allowed access.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
If the Slovenian equivalent of Caribbean ‘pirate cruises’ Is what it takes to raft the Drava, It’s still worth It. it’s fun, too.