Adriatic Adventure — Italy and Slovenia

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 61 of the November 2012 issue.
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(Third of three parts)

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

(Third of three parts)

The final portion of my spring 2012 “Adriatic Adventure” with ElderTreks featured a brief sojourn in the northeastern corner of Italy and six days of exciting exploration in scenic Slovenia.

After a morning stop in tiny Hum, a Croatian fortified hilltop town billed as “the smallest town in the world,” our group of 15 adventurers crossed into Slovenia, where we toured the Sečovlje salt pans; the saltworks there were established in Roman times.

Later, after stopping at Socerb Castle for a sweeping view of Trieste, Italy, and all of Koper Bay, we crossed into Italy and settled into our hotel in the heart of Trieste’s Old City. It proved to be ideally situated for exploring on foot in our free time.

Venice on the half shell

While we were based in Trieste, our itinerary called for a full-day whirlwind trip to Venice. The long-day-trip format allowed time to focus on little more than the crown jewel centerpiece, St. Mark’s Square — not the ideal way to appreciate the myriad treasures of the venerable canal city.

Venice is Venice. Photos: Keck

Those who had not been there previously were definitely happy to have a brief, though somewhat frenzied, exposure. I had visited before, but I’ll take a day in the city of 117 islands, 150 canals and 409 bridges in any form, anytime.

Trieste

Our guided walking excursion of the historic Italian seafront city of Trieste included most of the important sites, including the largest seaside piazza in Europe, Piazza Unita.

Other stops were the first- and second-century remains of the Roman theater as well as the Basilica of San Giusto, featuring 13th-century frescoes and a mosaic of St. Justus, the town’s patron saint. I particularly enjoyed the relaxing, outdoor-café atmosphere of the city.

Pristine Slovenia

Upon departing Trieste, we crossed back into Slovenia, first touring the fascinating stud farm at Lipica, where newborn Lipizzaner foals were discovering their sea legs. This is one of the important farms where Lipizzaner horses are bred for Vienna’s Spanish Riding School.

Next we discovered a small, fortified church at Hrastovlje, famous for the striking, 15th-century frescoes that adorn its walls.

Late afternoon, we arrived in the small, scenic, rural village of Grahovo, where our group spent two nights in guest houses, one of which was a small working farm.

Caves and castles

Over the next two days, Slovenia revealed some of its finest visitor attractions.

We first undertook a challenging, 3-kilometer, underground walk through amazing Škocjan Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other same-day stops included the remote and seldom-visited 13th-century Snežnik Castle and, next door, a unique, if not strange, Dormouse Hunting Museum, which rather defies description. Suffice it to say that the museum shows methods of hunting dormice and what dormice were used for, plus some dormouse-themed art.

Walking the center span of Ljubljana’s decorative Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) toward hilltop Ljubljana Castle.

The next day we entered spectacular Postojna Caves, accessed by riding a small electric train and then taking a guided walking tour. The two cave systems we experienced in Slovenia are among the best I have encountered in my travels.

After another enjoyable picnic lunch, we visited striking Predjama Castle, built into a rock hillside in a picture-perfect setting, before continuing deep into the enthralling Julian Alps for two nights based near the shoreline of beautiful Lake Bohinj.

Lakes and hikes

Our hike around deep-blue Lake Bohinj was the longest of the tour for those of us who completed the full circuit, approximately 15 kilometers. The day included nearby Savica Falls and a peaceful, somber WWI cemetery. While in the area, we drove to a remote hilltop strategically overlooking an expansive valley to explore a little-known and rarely visited WWI battery site and munitions storage area. It was a bit surreal.

Famous Lake Bled was on tap for our final full day of touring in the Julian Alps and Slovenia. Although the weather gods were no longer in a cooperative mood, we toured historic Bled Castle, which is perched high on a cliff overlooking Lake Bled. The lake is a popular destination for European visitors, and seeing it helped us appreciate even more our time at larger and more serene Lake Bohinj.

In the afternoon, we grudgingly continued on to Ljubljana and an awakening to the truth that our utterly amazing 3-week Adriatic journey was coming to an end.

Ljubljana finale

Upon arriving in the charming Slovenian capital, we discovered a refined city ideally designed for exploring on foot. Our in-depth guided walking excursion included taking a funicular to explore the most popular visitor attraction, the ninth-century Ljubljana Castle, perched on a hill overlooking the city. Most of the current baroque-style castle buildings are from a 16th-century reconstruction following the devastating earthquake of 1511.

Predjama Castle incorporates a cave mouth into its rock construction — Slovenia.

Bisected by the Ljubljanica River, the Old City features a plethora of preserved historic buildings housing many fine museums, galleries, public buildings and restaurants. The many attractive pedestrian bridges, including Triple Bridge, an ensemble of stone balustrades and lamps, provide easy walking access to all Old City attractions.

Some in our group had wisely opted to spend an additional post-tour day in Ljubljana, a choice I heartily recommend.

Tour summation

Space limitations prevent my individually describing the 11 properties used for accommodation on our Adriatic journey, which for me was partially hosted. Through Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and portions of Italy and Slovenia we had 3-star properties, which included resort-style hotels, smaller hotels, intimate inns and a “standard” city hotel.”

All properties were very well located and, generally, user friendly.

Our substantial tour hiking components required a good level of fitness, and all in our group were fit, experienced hikers. Physical condition is definitely a more important factor than age when considering this particular itinerary, as demonstrated by a few of our ageless, fit tour members.

ElderTreks currently offers this 21-day “Adriatic Adventure” in late April and early October, ideal times for hiking while avoiding the summer’s heat and the crowds that flock to the Adriatic coast. The land-only tour price ranges from $6,695 to $6,895 per person, double occupancy, with the single supplement at $1,199.

Some departures may operate with a reverse itinerary. Our group was happy we were able to finish with Ljubljana instead of busy Dubrovnik.

For information on a broad range of small-group adventure tours around the globe, contact ElderTreks (Toronto, Ont.; 800/741-7956).

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

Furrow, sow, tend, harvest
In ageless, timeless communion with Mother Earth 
— Randy acknowledging the seemingly instinctual bond most Slovenians have with the soil of their beautiful homeland