Typical Karst village and vineyard in Slovenia.
I’ve spent the past 12 years exploring many of the former Yugoslav countries. And while many people are still trying to figure out where all these “new” countries are, I am already looking past the borders and delving into the diversity and unique qualities of specific regions. So welcome to the Karst, one of my long time favorites. It’s a captivating place filled with limestone caves, hidden castles & hill top villages, wind ripened prosciutto and the bold flavor of Teran wine (AKA Refošk). The Karst is located in the south western part of Slovenia, close by the Adriatic coast and just an hour south of the majestic Julian Alps
A one hour drive from the capital city of Ljubljana and travelers will find the backroads all to themselves. It’s wonderful to find a place that has such a strong tourist infrastructure yet remains decidedly un-touristy. The regional tourism board has a helpful list of agrotourisms (offering both lodging and mouthwatering dinners) along with wineries, honey producers and prosciutto cellars that will keep stomachs full in this blissful place. The landscape is dotted with “gostilnas”, local eateries that serve up generous portions of regional dishes. Wine lovers will find no shortage of cellars to visit. Start with the ubiquitous iron-rich Teran wine produced by nearly everyone wine maker (large or small) before heading down to village of Goce and then onto the adjacent Vipava valley.
But there’s more to just food and wine around here. The hill town of Stanjel is a good starting point with its easy walking paths, local art gallery and a good value restaurant in its rebuilt castle. It’s also a great place to get a glimpse into the art of stone carving with many artisans still practicing and displaying their works. One can even sign for a week-long class held in Stanjel. Deep underground in the karst landscape lies the Skocjan caves, the closest thing to Lord of Rings most people will come across in Europe, boasting a massive underground canyon. Tucked away amongst a vineyard is the 12th century stone church in the tiny village of Hrastovlje. The interior is adorned with wall-to-wall frescoes including a stunning version of Dance of the Macabre. Nearby is Gostilna Svab which serves an excellent bean & corn soup with fresh-baked bread that melts in the mouth. And even those who’ve seen one too many European castles can still appreciate Predjama, a castle that appears to have been carved out from the limestone cliffs. And did I mention a carriage ride and show put on by the famous Lipizzaner horses? The Karst has that to offer as well.
Andrew Villone is the owner of Roads Less Traveled Tours, specializing in Central and Eastern Europe. He’s been running boutique small group and custom tours for the past seven years.