January 12, 2020

Slovenia: Walking the way to go

Predjama Castle, the largest cave castle in the world

“And where exactly is Slovenia?” my 60-something friend asked when I suggested she join me on a hike through this small central European nation.

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.

 Europe’s Highway A1

And the walk?

“What better way to see a country,” I say to my friend, before whispering, “It’s about 100km.”

Fully organised by the UK tour company On Foot Holidays, all we have to do is pull on sturdy walking boots, shrug on a backpack, grip a pair of walking poles and we’re off.

Officially the walk is from the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, to Trieste in Italy, although local driver Gregor drops us off at our starting point in Landol, about 60km down the highway.

Armed with lots of innocent enthusiasm, comprehensive maps and blow-by-blow instructions as well as On Foot’s valuable “Blue Book” guide to everything, we set out into the wilds of Slovenia.

The first day is described as a 3½ hour easy to medium walk, although we somehow manage to turn 15km into five hours.

First stop is the magnificent Predjama Castle, the largest cave castle in the world that looks like to has dropped straight from a Harry Potter films. As it turns out, it was used in one film, the 1986 movie, Armour of God, by starring Jackie Chan
From there, it’s on through woods and meadows ablaze with wildflowers, a stop for lunch under an ancient elm in Strane, and on to the first night’s stop at a mountain-backed tourist farm in Hudivec.

And what a joy it is to see it come into view. I’d survived day one.

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 our hosts hand us a picnic lunch before we depart for a 16km trek across the lower slopes of Mt Nanos to Vipava.

Even though we decided against taking the high route, it proved 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.

Meadows of wildflowers for the walker

Following the instructions provided, we soon arrive at the arched entry to a courtyard and the day’s reward.

Host Nevenka makes us welcome with a drop of her pear firewater and then, as we sit in her shady courtyard under a big old tree dripping with figs, her son delivers a bottle of riesling from his boutique Wipach winery. The region’s grapes and sweet water make it an excellent drop.

Next morning, breakfast is huge and the table open to pack lunch.

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.

The route is meadows and woodland dotted with villages.

Stanjel, once called St Angel, is a walled hilltop village with quaint narrow streets. 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 is in Goce, a tiny village on the next hill where the Mesesnel family delivers a full degustation experience with wines from their own cellar.  Despite being off the beaten track, it’s a winner. So far, visitors from 140 countries have been wined and dined in style.

Fortunately, the next day’s walk is an easier 11km to Tomaj and with picnic lunch on board, we head out across the wooded Karst to the home of the Teran wines, and local prosciutto and pancetta.

Signpost on the trail under Mt Nanos
By now, the walking is easy – past vineyards, cherry trees loaded with fruit for snacking, and through meadows of wildflowers.  It’s a cruise into Nassa Desella, the Tomaj accommodation where, as always, the luggage is waiting.

We will spend two nights here to take time out to see the famous Lipizzaner horses at Lipica, the town which gave them their name.

And then it’s the final leg. As always there are shortening options for walkers, so with the heat bearing down as we trudge 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.  For two non-walkers without any training or preparation we had succeeded.

Did I say a stroll? No, it was much tougher than that but if someone who had only walked a block to the shops in the months preceding can do it, anyone can.

The Karst Culture and Landscape walk is one of 32 inn-to-inn self-guided walks offered by On Foot Holidays. This one was easy to medium but there are all ability levels available and a choice of 12 European countries.


Words and images: Dot Whittington

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