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“Experiencing Slovenia as only walking allows” – Dot Whittington explores on foot Back to News
Wednesday 21st August | Posted by On Foot Staff
Snow-capped mountains rise from a sea of green to stand guard of honour as the plane touches down in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where a walk through the woodland awaits.
While the experience-hungry hordes have been flocking to Croatia, its little northern neighbour is still largely untouched by tourists, although the call of its countryside is growing ever louder. In 1991, Slovenia was the first republic to split from the former Yugoslavia. It joined NATO and the European Union 13 years later and hasn’t looked back.
Bordered by Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is at the crossroads of Europe, or as one local guide puts it, “Europe’s Highway A1”. The Romans, the Crusaders and Napoleon’s troops all passed through en route to the Holy Land or the trade routes of the East, leaving behind traces of their knowledge and culture.
Almost 70% of the country is forest and the climate ranges from sub-Mediterranean to Alpine – and thanks to the underground rivers of the Karst where we are to walk, it has the most water per capita in Europe.
Officially the walk is from Ljubljana to Trieste in Italy, although local driver Gregor drops us off at our starting point in Landol, about 60km down the highway from the capital. First stop is the magnificent Predjama Castle, the largest cave castle in the world that looks like it has dropped straight out of a Harry Potter film. As it turns out, it was used in one film.
From there it’s on through woods and meadows ablaze with wildflowers, a stop for lunch under an ancient elm in Strane, to Hudivec and a delightful tourist farm with a dramatic mountain backdrop. Hosts Emilijan and Katya introduce us to the local soup, jota, a delicious mix of sauerkraut, garlic, beans, garlic and ham, followed by the biggest slab of meat I’ve ever seen served with vegetables, and then cream cake.
Next morning, we depart for the 16km trek across the lower slopes of Mt Nanos to Vipava. Even though we decided against taking the high route, it proves to be a strenuous walk through woodland and forest, across scree, and down rocky trails, all the while delivering spectacular views across the valley under the shadow of Nanos. The last few kilometres, all downhill, are the hardest so it is sheer bliss to cross a pretty little bridge and enter the clean and postcard-perfect town of Vipava.
We soon arrive at the arched entry to a courtyard where host Nevenka makes us welcome with a drop of her pear firewater and then, as we sit in a shady courtyard under a big old tree dripping with figs, her son delivers a bottle of Riesling from his boutique Wipach winery. A marvellous end to the day.
Before setting out on another 16km walk, mostly uphill to Stanjel, we wander around Vipava, which has 25 bridges, flowers blooming from every balcony and path, and streets so clean they appear to have been mopped that morning. Today’s route is meadows and woodland dotted with little villages.
Stanjel, once called St Angel, is a walled hilltop village with quaint narrow streets. Here, our host Marija directs us to the nearby Ferrari Garden, a peaceful place of terraced lawns, a pond, and panoramic views of forest-coated hillsides, mountains and vineyards. Dinner today is in Goce, a small village on the next hill, where the Mesesnel family delivers a full degustation experience with wines from their own cellar.
Fortunately, the next day’s walk is an easier 11km to Tomaj and we head out across the wooded Karst to the home of the Teran wines, and local prosciutto and pancetta. By now, the walking is easy, past vineyards, cherry trees loaded with fruit for the picking, and through meadows of wildflowers. It’s a cruise into Tomaj, where we will spend two nights with time out to see the famous Lipizzaner horses at Lipica, the town that gave them their name.
It’s a 15km hike to Sezana for lunch in a picturesque botanic garden and then we head on to Lipica in time to see the horses on show. We are glad that the On Foot Holidays team have organised a taxi home.
And now it’s down to the final leg. As always there are shortening options for walkers, so with the heat bearing down as we pass across the border into Opicina in Italy, we decide to take the recommended bus and cut the walk from 21km to 15km.
We celebrate with a spritz on the Trieste canal front and congratulate ourselves. Despite having not trained or made any preparation, we had succeeded. It was a mighty six-day challenge into the very heart of the Slovenian culture. We heard all manner of birds including cuckoos, fed on roadside berries, drank sweet spring water and experienced the country as only walking allows.
Dot is Editor of Your Time magazine, an Australian publication with some great travel ideas for the 55+ generation. A longer version of this article appeared in the August 2019 edition.