Project Description

Right in the heart of Europe, Slovenia has retained traces of its glorious passing neighbors. Covered by thick forests, this land offers landscapes of unparalleled diversity: from alpine peaks to lakes and glacial valleys, from its bucolic countryside to the thousands of caves and underground rivers, not to mention the multitude of medieval cities with an undeniable Slavic charm.

Today I leave Ljubljana for a day tour entitled “Karst and the south coast”, where we expect horses from another era, the most extraordinary cave that I have ever seen and a glimpse of the Slovenian coastline bordering the Adriatic Sea. I am using again the services of Roundabout, specialized in tours and excursions in Slovenia and currently #1 on TripAdvisor. Let’s hit the road!

Lipica Stud Farm

Today we are a relatively large group, almost 10 people. This will change a little from somewhat “VIP” tours where I often find myself alone with a guide. As usual, we leave the Slovenian capital city early in the morning towards Lipica, the cradle of the Lipizzaner horse and a shelter to a cultural and natural heritage amid the scenic landscapes of the Karst region.

We arrive after about an hour, away in a vast expanse of green land which is a true representative of centuries-old values. We then follow the only true road around along white wooden barrier, which fenced each square meter of this area. Thanks to the explanation of our guide and driver, we are able to feel the history and atmosphere of the Lipica stud farm, former imperial property, one of the most beautiful cultural and historical monuments of Slovenia and the stable of almost 400 Lipizzaner horses. The latter is a horse breed native from Slovenia and culturally linked to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in Austria. Founded in 1580 with the sole objective of breeding horses, Lipica stud farm is the oldest in the world with over 400 years of tradition, a continued breeding and its own classical riding school known around the world.

We stop at the edge of the barrier to admire some specimens of Lipizzaner which are characterized by their bay or black dress at birth, which gradually lightens to become a very light gray, often wrongly perceived as white. As long as we draw its attention with fresh carrots, the animal is not shy and willingly approaches groups of tourists. We then quickly realize the many qualities of dressage of the herbivorous mammal, which we pet and take some pictures of before heading back on the road.

A journey to the center of the Earth … Well, almost!

Then we head to the Škocjan Caves, among the largest and most magnificent Karst caves in Europe. It is next to the main building that we settle fifteen minutes before we start our tour of the cave. And I must say that it is a well organized system: we are called according to our time of entry into the caves and follow the guides for 10 minutes along a paved road and then a dirt road through the forest, just the time to go down to the entrance of the cave which is a little lower. Then we enter the premises by languages and number of tourists.

Unfortunately, and it’s a shame, photos and videos are strictly prohibited and it is highly framed. This is understandable, even if there is here little stalactites/stalagmites or natural elements that the camera flash could damage or species of animals or insects that might be bother by our presence. The reason is different: marketing initially, and let’s also say that the floor is uneven, slippery so imagine what can happen to 30 people in single file which have all eyes on their lens rather than on the path… Well, as we can’t do anything against that, I choose to admire the scene in order to remember it as clearly as possible! Below is a small introductory film in English which pretty much sums up a wonderful day of sightseeing in the area.

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Tour description

Škocjan Caves are one of whose most remarkable karst phenomena in Slovenia and among the most important caves in the world. Man has always been attracted to the gorge where the Reka River disappears underground and it is precisely here, in this underground world, that we go.

As shown in the image above, we enter the caves at its lowest level via a specially designed entrance. We then follow a long underground canyon of about 3.5 kilometers long, 10-60 meters wide and over 140 meters high, punctuated by short breaks and explanations given by our guide. Here one can see large stalagmites and stalactites of various shapes and colors, as well as concretions like curtains and bowls. However, these are quite less frequent than in Postojna caves, but it is not the highlight of the place.

Indeed, in some places, the canyon widens into large underground halls of which Martel Hall is the largest. The size of it simply leaves me speechless and I do not doubt that it is certainly a hotbed of telluric energy, as the air itself seems to vibrate! Or maybe is it due to the noise of the Reka river just below, not to mention the immense volume of 2.2 million of cubic meters of this underground room, making it the largest in Slovenia and one of the largest in the world.

The beauty of this underground world and the unique karst landscape only raise my  admiration at the highest point. The Reka River gives a particular imprint to the real underworld she dug, and calm or rough waters reflect the captivating images of caves now engraved in my mind. The duration of the tour is an hour and a half, a little short, but that should give you some time to continue your tour of the outside just after the exit of the caves and, if you are still motivated to walk, in the surrounding park.

After a 20 minutes walk on a rather steep path, it is time to get a well deserved rest and for that, nothing like a local specialty in a small tavern not far from where we are greeted with a big smile. We enjoy small appetizer like the famous Karst prosciutto, some bread and cheese and a glass of Teran (red wine), all of them procuded in the region. Delicious as well as opening my appetite. Now, off to the Adriatic!

On the South Coast

We are on the road toward south as we pass through the coastal towns of Koper, Izola and Portoroz before reaching the favorite city of all on the Slovenian coast – Piran. Before getting lost in the narrow medieval streets, we are going to see one of the most famous views of the city from the ramparts atop a nearby hill.

After spending a small fee, we climb a few stairs on the old walls of the city and admire the view from the top of one of watchtowers. The panorama is simply stunning, a true postcard of this peninsula known worldwide!

We now have the choice between following our driver to downtown or go there on our own. In any case, we have four hours of free time there, enough to eat, walk and relax! I chose the last option and head down the hill towards the church I saw previously and especially its bell tower! This is the church of Saint George, himself a protector of the city. Once at the foot of the building, I firstly visit the inside before climbing the tower, with again having to pay a modest entrance fee. I climb old wooden stairs and finally reach the top where the view is even more breathtaking than the one from the walls!

From this viewpoint, one can admire the typical architecture of Piran which reveals a strong Venetian influence that is also found in other cities on the Slovenian coast. And after all, it is quite normal: Venice is not that far away! I wish I could have stayed a longer time at the top of the bell tower, but the strong wind and especially the smell of seagull droppings covering the floor makes it impossible…

I now go back down to the harbour via Tartini Square, which can be seen above. The latter is in the center of the city and is named after the famous violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini who introduced the name of his hometown in the world. I am walking a few minutes in the marina, but it does not offer much to see, so I rush into one of the many alleys for a tour of the city. It is almost lost in the heart of this medieval labyrinth that I sit in the shade of a tavern and enjoy some great local specialty: a delicious mix of fish and seafood!

After this meal, I continue my tour while still being surrounded by medieval-looking narrow streets. I do not know why, but I love walking in such alleys where houses are look like they’re “glued” to each other, not to mention the multitude of small squares and churches, all of this being just a few not of the Adriatic Sea. During my walk, I stop briefly in front of some beaches and other points of access to the sea, but does not venture further because it is totally crowded! I just sip some cold drinks on picturesque terraces when I feel like doing so.

The whole city is a UNESCO, which is hardly surprising. Also, this is why its inhabitants live mainly from tourism all year round. Although we feel we are in a kind of resort where everything is done to lure… sorry, to bring the tourist and prices are significantly higher than in  Ljubljana, while remaining absolutely affordable for us, Swiss people.

So as I still have an hour before returning to the capital city, I visit the monastery of the Minor brothers, a Franciscan monastery and church which I found by chance. Built after 1301 as the largest building of the city, the church and monastery stand along a narrow street, next to a high place in front of the main facade. The shrine, located in a unique and richly furnished Venetian room, is hidden by the front of the entrance converted in the 19th century. In the presbytery are many paintings and portraits of various popes who were previously minor monks. The best known part of the monastery is the cloister arches, added in the 18th century and above which is a residential floor.

Well, I’m seriously getting tired after this visit. I must say that the rhythm I put myself in when travelling and the current warmth are certainly for something in this feeling. It is why I allow myself again a few minutes rest on a beautiful terrace overlooking the Adriatic, with a delicious iced coffee! Just the time to drink it and rest a little when I have to reach our meeting point where I expect our driver. After everyone from our group has joigned, we leave totally exhausted, but so happy after such a great day! However, if the heat wave doesn’t go down a bit, I will eventually melt, that’s for sure!