Slovenia is full of must-see sights and oh-my-gosh-i-didnt-expect-that scenery. There is, however, one part of Slovenia that is usually left out of short travel itineraries. Southwestern part. And that is a huge mistake.
Southwestern Slovenia is a zone between Mediterranean and alpine Europe. This is a place where craggy ridges and higland meadows of the limestone plateau (known as the Karst), descend to suddenly meet a lush coastal strip rich in olive groves, vineyards and a number of important historic towns.
Views from Mt. Nanos were well worth 2,5h hike - green valley below is called Vipava Valley.
Our first stop was Vipava Valley, a windswept valley that's constantly bathed in the sun. The valley is best know for its amazing wines and constant battles with forces of nature. Here the wind Bora (or Burja in Slovene) gusts down from Mt. Nanos at speeds exceeding 200km/h.
Because we enjoy getting in touch with nature and local culture, we booked a wine tour with Winestronauts. Wine tasting tour was kept small at around six people and it felt very personal and unique, not to mention that the guide was super friendly and funny. We definitely recommend them! We also went on a hike to Mt. Nanos, which is fairly easy and the views are really rewarding.
Next day we had a new wine region to explore, Goriška Brda. To get to 72km2 of rolling hills, tucked between Soča River and Italian border, you'll drive past Nova Gorica and Solkan, famous for a stony bungee bridge. We'll definitely do a bungee jump next time we're here!
Medieval village Šmartno in Goriška Brda.
Goriška brda is often described as a miniature version of Tuscany – every hill seems to be topped with a large church and surrounded by a charming little village, while the hillsides and valleys are blanketed with vineyards, orchards and winding country roads.
Our first stop was Gonjače Lookout Tower, the best place to take in those extraordinary views. Because it was a clear sunny day, this 23 m lookout tower offered unobstructed views in all directions, with the Dolomites and Julian Alps to the north and the Gulf of Trieste to the south. Needless to say this was one of those oh-my-gosh-i-didnt-expect-that moments.
Views from lookout tower were spectacular - don't miss this place!
We could already see our next stop from the tower - charming village Šmartno.
Next stop was Šmartno village. If there is a more picturesque village anywhere in Slovenia (or Croatia for that matter) then we have yet to see it. Surrounded by medieval walls with five preserved towers, the entire hilltop village has been declared a cultural monument. We loved narrow cobble-stoned streets, temporary art exhibitions, local food and off course we loved regional wine.
Inside the walls of village Šmartno.
This region received a lot of Italian influence and is a paradise for food lovers.
The wine ... oh, my ... the wine.
It was hard to leave those wine regions behind, but our Cuckoo campervan now had 5 bottles of exceptional wine in the fridge.
From here, we took the road less traveled to get to the seaside. And you should do the same. We stopped at Castle Branik, a 13th-century castle, which was unfortunately closed that day but still made it to be an extremely scenic sight, well worth our time.
Always take the road less traveled.
Cuckoo camper in the front and castle Branik in the back.
We thought we saw all the fairytale castles and villages Slovenia has to offer, but village Štanjel proved us wrong. This hilltop village is also known as the Jewel of the Karst and it's a charming medieval town restored to its former glory. Entering the town through the stone archway is like stepping back in time, gravel streets wind past traditional Karst houses leading onto cute little squares with ancient stone wells.
Scenic views from top of Štanjel.
There is a nice coffee place here and few art exhibitions were open as well, but what we enjoyed the most was Ferrari Garden beneath the village Štanjel. The highlight of this garden is a small stone pool and its stunning views over the Branica Valley. Well kept pathways, restored stone walls and mancured flora have been declared a national monument and we hope this garden will be here for many more centuries!
If you're lucky like we were, you'll visit Ferrari garden just in season for fresh, sweet persimmons (end of October, start of November). This tree grows in the middle of the garden.
Our final stop before we reached the coast and put our feet into the Adriatic sea was … who would have thought … another castle. Socerb Castle is perched on the edge of a 300 meters high Karst rock and offers a wonderful view of the Koper and Trieste Gulfs.
The castle itself is nothing spectacular, but the views are. We came late in the afternoon, parked our campervan for the night and enjoyed the sunset over the Adriatic sea. When we woke up, the views were still there and the only thing left for us to do(before heading down to the sea and continue our road trip to Croatia) was to enjoy our coffee and breakfast in a setting we'll never forget.
Our bedroom. We still miss it!
Waking up to views like this is hard to describe.