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Slovenia — Coast to Karst

Thursday, May 22, 2008
The Republic of Slovenia in southern-central Europe borders Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and the Adriatic Sea. Its capital is Ljubljana.

A country with an amazing past, Slovenia has been part of the Roman Empire; the Byzantine Empire; the Republic of Venice; the Holy Roman Empire; the Habsburg Monarchy; the Austrian Empire; the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs; the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes between the two World Wars; and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Its northernmost part was part of the Duchy of Carantania.

Slovenia is the only former communist state to be a member of the European Union, Eurozone, Schengen area, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and NATO all at the same time.

Its 40km of coastline is sprinkled with medieval fishing villages. Many people take advantage of its 2000 hours a year of sunshine. Portoroz is the main resort town with a central location making it a good base for easy day trips to Italy or Croatia or the thousands of islands dotting the Adriatic.

One of those islands is Piran, 5km from Portoroz. The charming medieval town of Venetian architecture is protected as a cultural and historical monument. It has narrow streets with compact houses and beautiful squares, all being looked over by a palace. A stroll along the seaside promenade will take you to the town's restored cathedral, a nautical museum, the lighthouse, small port and wonderful views of the Alps.

Two-hundred metres of the city walls have been well preserved, and steps rise from the coastal lowland into the hills.

As you are in the sea and surrounded by three countries, it's difficult to fathom where the borders are. There is an agreement between Slovenia and Croatia that during the summer season you can pass the border between sunrise and sunset without documentation. After sunset, however, you must be back on your own side of the border.

The Karst is the land between Trieste Bay and the Vipavska Valley, as well as being the name for the amazing shapes created by waters in the area's fusible stone. The beautiful karst is found in almost half of Slovenia and is the cradle of the world's study of the phenomena.

Janez Vajkard Valvasor explored and described many Slovene karst caves, and in 1687 submitted a treatise on the natural mechanism filling and emptying the intermittent Cerknica Lake through a system of underground streams and reservoirs to the Royal Academy in London.

In 1889, Anthron, the first Slovene speleologists' association, was founded in Postojna. In 1910 a special provincial association for the study of underground caves was established in Ljubljana and today there are around 1500 members.

In 1929, a speleological institute was established in Postojna for the comprehensive research of the karst, and since 1947 it has been a branch of the Slovene Academy of Science and Arts.

Slovene sport cavers and professional speleologists have discovered more than 6000 karst in the last century. They are made up of caves and potholes, springs, disappearing lakes, sinkholes and various other natural creations above and below the surface. The limestone and water fault has formed one of the planet's most beautiful underground worlds.

Twenty limestone caves made by disappearing karst waters are open for tourists. The most famous and frequently visited is Postonja Cave, first mentioned in 1213. It has around 5km of regulated passages in its 21km.

Visitors are treated to shining stalagmites and stalactites of varying colours and shapes, and little lakes of clear water. Electric trains make the journey, and one of the major attractions is the "human" fish — proteus anguinus. They are around 30cm long with no eyes and no protective pigment, resulting in skin the colour of white humans.

The wine region in western Slovenia is extremely beautiful. Gorica Hills gently sweep into the Italian lowland. The locals say of you sneeze in Goriska Brda, an Italian catches a cold! The two countries are blended together by vineyards, some owned in common across the border, such as Movia in Ceglo village.

The minute you arrive at the elegant, pink-washed manor house, you know you are somewhere special. They produce wines at the highest level of Slovene viticulture, and they have certainly had time to practise their craft. Movia has been in continuous family operation since 1820, maintaining independence, even during the Tito years.

It has vineyards, pressing, fermentation, storage and bottling equipment and a substantial cellar with vintages dating to 1943. Appropriate cobwebs add authenticity around the tasting room, and there is an elegant dining room with sweeping views.

Brda is one of the country's smallest wine growing regions with around 60 registered wineries and maybe 80 other producers. Most are run by siblings, cousins and offspring in the tight-knit community.

Excellent conditions and the hard work of the local people produce tons of juicy cherries, peaches, apricots, olives, figs, chestnuts and grapes, which ripen into excellent sweet wine on St Martin's Day.

In springtime the visitors are rewarded with hectares of blossoms and blooms, and in autumn fiery colours cover the hillsides. In winter when nature rests, winegrowers focus their attention to nurture their precious liquids.

Location

Slovenia's Adriatic Coastline, three hours from Venice.

Cost

Intrepid Travel has eight-day Croatia and Slovenia tours. They go between Split to Bled, visiting the Diocletian's Palace, Dubrovnik's city walls, Rovinj and the top of Mt Vogel. All accommodation, most meals, all transport experienced guide are included. They start at $2045 per person twin share. They depart on selected Saturdays between July and September.

Emirates has flights to Venice.

  • Perth $2253
  • Melbourne $2275
  • Brisbane $2285
  • Sydney $2293
  • Adelaide $2859
  • Darwin $3545

Valid for travel until March 31, 2009. Conditions apply.

Prices correct at May 22, 2008.

For further information

Intrepid Travel
22 Spring Street
Fitzroy 3065
Ph: 1300 364 512
Fax: (03) 9419 4426
www.intrepidtravel.com.au

Slovenia and Croatia

Travellers should be 'in date' for standard Australian and New Zealand immunisation schedules. Depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au.

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