One of Europe’s smallest countries, Slovenia is distinguished by vivid and varied landscapes and its intelligent, bookish locals, who have a clear respect and love for their inheritance which is reflected in every aspect of life from recycling and housing to literature and the arts. According to seventeenth century writer Baron Valvasor, the Slovenes already were skiing on the Bloška planota to get around in winter, while saving the copious shellfish in their lakes to take to the towns. The stunning Adriatic white buildings on the coastline betray a Venetian past, best seen on the quayside in Piran. On the other side of the country in Ptuj, a town dominated by its twelfth-century castle, there is a clear Austrian legacy. Simon Clements, an English wine merchant who travelled here in 1715, described the country as ‘wonderfully cultivated’ with ‘vineyards and little churches’ and ‘pretty fair buildings on the tops and sides of the hills’. A visit to the tranquil Lake Bled, one of the loveliest spots in Europe, will confirm his opinions.
Slovenia’s proximity to Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy give it a complex history of different cultures interacting during times of harmony and conflict. The unique Slavonic Slovene language has some archaic characteristics and is spoken by just over two million people, almost all of whom are bi- or tri-lingual in other languages. In 1991 the Slovenes left their Yugoslav past under Marshall Tito and his successors behind them, but reminders from that era can be seen in bakeries, coffee shops and Balkan grilled meats. It is home to some surprising historic gems including the First World War site of memory at Kobarid, elegant onion-domed Catholic churches and the quirky modernist architecture of Jože Plečnik in the capital, Ljubljana. Slovenia is an ideal place to appreciate on foot before tasting the local grape varieties cultivated since mediaeval times and sampling cuisine that takes its notes from the best of Central Europe.
Ljubljana to Ptuj. Fly at c. 1.00pm from London Stansted to Ljubljana (EasyJet). Drive east to Ptuj for the first of two nights.
Jeruzalem, Ptuj. A delightful morning walk on farm tracks, forest paths and country roads through the rolling hills of the Jeruzalem and Ljutomer vineyards with views to Slovenia’s four neighbouring countries: 7 km, c. 2 hours 30 minutes. Ascent: 235m, descent: 153m. Visit en route the pilgrim church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Jeruzalem. Return to Ptuj in the afternoon, one of Slovenia’s oldest cities, with a fine mediaeval centre and pedestrian streets. Visit the majestic castle with its excellent regional museum.
Ljubljana. Absorb the wide-ranging architectural styles of the capital’s historic core, vigorously reconstructed by the architect Jože Plečnik following the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy. See fine Baroque churches, Neo-Renaissance government buildings, and the enchantingly picturesque riverside with its incomparable nexus of Plečnik’s bridges. First of three nights in Ljubljana.
Vintgar Gorge, Lake Bled. Drive north for a walk in the Vintgar Gorge: 6 km, c. 2 hours 30 minutes. Ascent: 451m, descent: 447m. The walk begins by passing through small villages and countryside, with views of Bled, Triglav (Slovenia’s highest peak), and across the Alps to Austria. The narrow wooden walkway through the gorge itself makes for a stunning finish. In the afternoon admire Slovenia’s jewel, Lake Bled, from above at the 17th-century castle and travel by gondola to its picturesque island with a tiny church containing Gothic frescoes.
Kobarid. Travelling north-west to the Italian border, visit the town of Kobarid, home of an excellent museum examining the WW1 Battle of Caporetto in 1917. A lovely walk by the turquoise waters of the Soča river follows the Italian line of defence, and takes in the Italian cemetery commissioned by Mussolini in 1938, army trenches and a waterfall: 5 km, c. 3 hours. Ascent: 352m, descent: 360m.
Vipava Valley to the Istrian Peninsula. Tasting and lunch in Goče, an enchanting wine village in the Vipava Valley with over sixty cellars. Continue to the coast and walk from Strunjan to Piran, 5 km, c. 2 hours. Ascent: 205m, descent: 181m. This is an easy walk that begins by crossing Strunjan salt pans, established in ad 804 and an important source of income to the region in the Middle Ages. Thereafter there are fine views of the Gulf of Trieste, the Slovenian and Italian coastlines, and St George’s campanile indicates our arrival in the beautiful Venetian town of Piran. First of two nights in Piran.
Hrastovlje, Piran. Morning walk from the Romanesque Church of the Holy Trinity in Hrastovlje with exquisite frescoes depicting the danse macabre: 4 km, c. 2 hours. Ascent: 391m. Descent: 399m. This is a circular walk that climbs to the abandoned village of Zanigrad, below the karst plateau, with wonderful views. Return to Piran after lunch. Once a group of mediaeval fishing villages, this coastal town was developed by the Venetians into a centre of civilisation, producing composers such as Giuseppe Tartini and other notable figures.
Piran. Some free time to enjoy Piran before driving to Ljubljana Airport in time for the flight to London Stansted, arriving at 6.00pm.
Professor Cathie Carmichael
Historian specialising in Eastern Europe, with a focus on the former Yugoslavia. She studied International History at the London School of Economics, Ethnology at the University of Ljubljana, and European Studies at the University of Bradford. She is the editor of the Journal of Genocide Research and the author of Genocide before the Holocaust.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,980 or £2,780 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,360 or £3,160 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) with EasyJet (Airbus 319); hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 5 lunches and 6 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Mitra, Ptuj: a centrally located 3-star hotel. Hotel Grand Union, Ljubljana the city’s oldest hotel, rated 4-star. Hotel Piran: a recently refurbished 4-star hotel with sea views. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
This tour should be considered only by those who are used to regular country walking with some uphill content. Strong knees and ankles are essential, as are a pair of well-worn hiking boots with good ankle support. Terrain can be loose underfoot, and slippery in wet weather. Average distance by coach per day: 82 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Suggested travel for combining with The Imperial Riviera, (10–16 September 2018)
10 September: ferry from Piran to Trieste at 11.30-12.00 (or a taxi would take less than an hour). Meet Imperial Riviera group at Trieste hotel. You would need to book the ferry/taxi yourself with Trieste Lines.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.