Slovenia – Slovenija – as the local call it – is a small county bordered by Austria in the north, Hungary in the east and Italy and Croatia in the south. It is by and large land-locked except for a small section of the Adriatic coast adjacent Italy.
With a population of 2 million and a low growth rate, the environment in Slovenia has not been placed under the same pressures as those in so many other European nations. Its surfeit of mountains, lakes, rivers, woods and forests and historical monuments has made it one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Europe. And the number of tourists, from what I could see, is set to rise to the point where sooner or later, Slovenia will join Austria and Switzerland in terms of demand – and expense. As it was, we found the accommodation in general, surprisingly expensive – although the food and drinks were very cheap by Western European standards.
Anya and I travelled around Slovenia for about a month. Whilst our main interest was trekking in the mountains of the north-western region, we also travelled south and spent time on the coast, which is dotted with Italian medieval towns; our favourite was Puran, just south of Koper. Slovenija is a country with a surprising diversity of landscapes, both geographic and cultural.
We started our journey in Slovenija’s capital city, Ljubljana. There is nothing remarkable about Ljubljana; it is modern and sterile. There is however a well-preserved historic centre which is worth visiting. The buildings are fine examples of European baroque style and the main thoroughfare is traffic free.
We had a room in a small family hotel in the outskirts of Ljubljana, and walked into the old centre and in this way got a good view of how most everyday people lived. In most of the other former communist regimes, there is still plentiful evidence of the past to be seen especially in the architecture of the buildings. This is far less so in Slovenia, which is one of the most prosperous of the former communist regimes and has a high level of education.
Everywhere we walked there was construction going on, old buildings and houses being renovated and new walkways and roads being constructed. The air was rent by the sound of angle grinders, drills and electric saws. At one point, to escape the noise, we walked into a fine old church, only to discover that the renovation mania had even invaded this holy sanctum.
Most Slovenians are Catholics and like the other people of the former communist nations, they are devout Christians.
Finally, we reached the old city, where the renovation mania was nowhere to be seen.
The following day we caught a train to a small town called Pivka in the south-west of the country. We’d booked a few nights at a family hotel in an outlying village called Trnje.
To get there, we had to walk. It was about 3 kilometres. One way was to walk into Pivka and out to Trnje following the roads. Another way was to cut across the rural area, following dirt roads over low grassy hills. We chose the second option – and got lost. It was sunny and warm. Finally, we got there, worse for wear. The man who ran the hotel, along with his wife, was out working in his garden, when he saw two people with big rucksacks making their way towards him through a field of high grass. It was definitely a one-off he said. Normally people arrived in a car. We stayed there for a few days. The walking was excellent. The terrain is hilly rather than mountainous in this area although there are some high ridges in between. On one of them, visible from the hotel, was a church – we walked up there one day and got caught in a storm – with lots of thunder and lightning. We had to huddle next to the church (it was closed) until the lightning subsided.
Scenes from Trnje…
Departing Trnje and walking back to the Pivka railway station, we got lost again.
From Pivka, we head south to the Adriatic coast. This was a completely different area of Slovenia – originally it was a part of Italy, just as much of the neighbouring area of Italy (around Triest) was originally a part of Slovenia. Borders were drawn at the end of the Second World War and Italians were left on the Slovenian side of the border and over a million Slovenians in Italy.
On the Slovenian Adriatic coast, there are three historic towns dating from the medieval Italian era: Koper, Puran and Azola. We stayed in a windowless dungeon in a backstreet of Koper, but the best example of a well preserved Italian medieval town was not to be found here – but in nearby Puran. Walking around Puran in early May (at this point there weren’t too many tourists) it seemed incredible that this also was a part of Slovenia. The difference with the architecture and the culture we had witnessed a few days before in the Slavic Slovenia was dramatic. Incredible to think that such differences exist in such a small country.
Scenes from Piran…..
See also ‘Trekking in the Soca Valley, Part 1’: