Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I left my heart in Goriška Brda - 23 May 2007

SmartnoWe left the foothills of the alps and headed towards Dobrovo. We crested the hill and suddenly, we were in a different world: the Goriška Brda, known as the Slovenian Tuscany. It took us about three seconds to fall in love with it, and were struck by a compelling urge to buy a vineyard and stay. Lacking obvious Real Estate offices we, reluctantly, moved on.

The cherries were ripe and deliciousThe next stop, geographically, is not far away, but a world away in terms of ambiance. When Italy was given Gorica after WWII, the Slovenians built Nova Gorica to replace it. Italy meets SloveniaWe found the square between the two cities, where, when Slovenia joined the EU, they tore down the boundary fence and created a square that you can enter from either side (but not leave by the opposite side) as a symbolic gesture of friendship between Italy and Slovenia. Standing in the middle one has a foot in both camps. In a curiously similar way, our road to Nova Gorica went across a corner of Italy without leaving Slovenia

Stanjel gatewayStanjel is a walled city complete with church, castle, a grand manor and a formal garden: all rather rundown, faded and tatty, but somehow charming. It made us feel as if we had made a discovery other tourists had missed.

After relaxing there, we took the motorway to arrive in time at our main feature of the day, the Škocjan Caves. These are in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We welcomed the change to get out of the heat, and take the underground tour.

Škocjan Caves parkThe cave tour starts with impressive, but not mind-boggling caverns filled with stalactites etc – all things we had seen many times before. But as you leave the dry, quiet section and enter the area where the underground river leaves the system, it all changes. The Reka River travels 40 km underground, and it has carved out the largest underground gorge in Europe. We felt as if we had entered the set of Lord of the Rings: the small lights way below us seemed likely to be dwarves hard at work; all we needed were a few orks peering round a corner.

Goriška BrdaOne of the tour group slipped and broke a bone so we had an extra 40 minutes at the entrance to the large cavern, so we did get a good look at the cave.

We took a night’s accommodation in a gostilna in the next village, Divača. These are the equivalent of a country inn, and are good value, often with excellent food.

Fifth impression of Slovenia is that the wines take a little getting used to: they tend to be a bit sharper than we are used to but pleasantly quaffable all the same.

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