Vipava Valley: Slovenia’s Magnificent Hidden Treasure

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(CNN) – It’s less than an hour’s drive from the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, but the Vipava Valley hasn’t really been recorded on tourist radar.

This delightfully fertile region stretching west to the Italian border has a magical combination of exceptionally fine wine and food, spectacular karst landscapes and medieval castles towering over pretty villages.

It even has its own microclimate – a little taste of the Mediterranean wedged between limestone mountains. It is a place made for outdoor adventures – on foot, on two wheels or with a paraglider floating above the valley.

Here are some of the must-see places in the Vipava Valley that you should visit in complete safety.

Follow the Vipava Valley wine route

Wines from Slovenia are seriously underestimated.

Courtesy of Marijan Močivnik / Vipavsja Dolina

With the forest plateau of Trnovo to the north and the karst plateau to the south, it is no wonder that the Vipava valley is one of the most fertile regions in Europe.

Here, the fierce burja wind – which Italians call bora and Croatians as bura – flow through the valley, purifying the air and providing optimal growing conditions for the first class wines of Slovenia.

Dozens of wineries – along with countless other small family vineyards – produce seriously underrated wines, many of which use grapes native to Slovenia, including the white zelen and pinela varieties.

For an introduction to the wines of the region, start with the Vipava 1894 wine cooperative in the town of Vipava. Open since 1894, the cooperative brings together the wines of 350 winegrowers, and you can taste the best during a cellar visit and tasting.
For another visit, you are not far from the Burja Estate winery just south of Vipava, or the Batič and Lepa Vida wineries further west in Šempas.

From farm to table

Vipava-Valley-food- © -Miha-Bratina

Vipava’s Mediterranean microclimate helps create delicious dishes.

Courtesy of Miha Bratina / Vipavsja Dolina

That same burja wind that blows through the vineyards is one of the main reasons why Vipava Valley air-dried prosciutto is a major rival to its Italian counterpart.

And this mild Mediterranean microclimate means the valley is filled with groaning orchards of apricots, peaches and persimmons.

For foodies, there is everything from rustic to refined – from home-made and homemade food on agritourism farms to Michelin-starred restaurants.

In fact, two of Slovenia’s six Michelin-starred restaurants can be found in the Vipava Valley: Dam in Nova Gorica and Gostilna Pri Lojzetu, located in a magnificent 17th-century Palladian-style building, Dvorec Zemono, near Vipava.

Once or twice a year, many local farms and wineries open their doors to the Slovenian tradition of osmica. During 10 days, you will be able to taste their wines and house products in a makeshift tavern during a convivial evening.

Visit Vipava

Kayaing-in-Vipava-River

Vipava is an ideal base for exploring the area.

Courtesy of Vipavsja Dolina

Vipava encloses many wonders within its compact space, making it an enchanting base for exploring the region, especially if you are into wine tourism.

Here, the delta-shaped source of the Vipava River and the tumultuous springs bring even more beauty to this town of pastel baroque buildings, pretty bridges and the medieval Baumkirchner tower that hovers above the river.

For stunning views of the city, there is a hike to the ruins of the 11th-century Vipava Castle. A milder option is a visit to the Wine Museum and the Vipava Wine Shop for a taste of the wines of the region.

Discover nearly 2000 years of history

Rihemberk Castle overlooks the village of Branik.

Rihemberk Castle overlooks the village of Branik.

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In Ajdovščina, one of the largest towns in the region, are the remains of the Roman fortress of Castra near the Hubelj river. Built around the 3rd century, it is the largest Roman wall in Slovenia, and visitors can learn more about the Roman heritage in the collection of the Ajdovščina Museum nearby.

There is a leap forward several centuries a few kilometers west in the charming medieval hilltop village of Vipavski Križ.

Its narrow lanes are ideal for strolling, and highlights include its Baroque church and a visit to the Capuchin Monastery, with its impressive library of rare manuscripts and collection of Baroque art.

For pure romance – and breathtaking views of the mountainous landscapes of Vipava – there is Rihemberk Castle, which overlooks the village of Branik. Dating from the 13th century and enlarged over the centuries, this sprawling castle has the tallest tower in Slovenia.

It’s an atmospheric setting for concerts and weddings, and if you look up at dusk you’ll see its large numbers of resident bats flit around.

Take a peek through Otlica’s natural window

Otlica-Natural-Window, -Vipava-Valley- © -Marijan-Močivnik

The natural Otlica window frames a perfect view.

Courtesy of Marijan Močivnik / Vipavsja Dolina

In this limestone landscape teeming with beauty, there is one that stands out. At the edge of the forest plateau of Trnovo is the natural window of Otlica (Otliško okno), a gaping hole in the limestone that reveals a magnificent view of the Vipava valley.

It takes around three hours to do the circuit if you follow the well marked trail starting in the Pale Sport Park in Ajdovščina for eight kilometers, some of which over steep and rocky ground, so you will need a decent level of fitness. But the views will be worth it.

Be active

Bike-in-the-Vipava-Valley- © Marijan-Močivnik

Activities include biking and hiking through the vineyards.

Courtesy of Marijan Močivnik / Vipavsja Dolina

The hike to Otlica whets the appetite for more active adventures. There are several hundred kilometers of hiking trails throughout the region, and although many are of medium difficulty, you can find easy routes such as the three-kilometer educational trail along the Hubelj River.

The nine-mile trail along the edge of the Gora Plateau offers stunning views, while the five-mile Vitovlje Circuit passes Lake Vitovlje, the only natural lake in the Vipava Valley. On a clear day you can see down to the Adriatic Sea.

Cyclists also have a number of routes to choose from, some involving relaxing, bucolic jaunts through vineyards, while others test your endurance on peaks up to 6,000 feet.

Kostanjevica-Monastery-in-Nova-Gorica- © -Matjaž-Prešeren

The Kostanjevica Monastery can be seen while hiking in the Lower Vipava Valley.

Courtesy of Matjaž Prešeren / Vipavsja Dolina

A smooth start is offered by the two-hour tour around the Lower Vipava Valley from Nova Gorica to Dornberk and back, passing Miren Castle and Kostanjevica Monastery.

Those looking for a challenge can tackle the three hour climb to Gora Plateau and Kovk Hill where paragliders take off. It is tempting to join them, as flying through the sky on a paraglider is one of the most exhilarating ways to explore the Vipava Valley.

Along the Vipava River, kayakers and paddleboarders can be spotted making their way through this lush landscape.

Taste two cultures in Nova Gorica

Place-de-l'Europe-in-Nova-Gorica- © -Tina-Mihelj

Nova Gorica is located on the border with Italy.

Courtesy of Vipavsja Dolina / Tina Mihelj

Slovenia literally meets Italy in the towns of Nova Gorica and Gorizia, where the now transparent border between the two countries crosses Europe Square.

When the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty placed Gorizia in Italy, the new town of Nova Gorica was developed and has since become a bustling university town. They have joined forces to become the Common European Capital of Culture for 2025, the first cross-border cities to do so.


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