Wandering the outskirts of Istria - Hoteli Bernardin

Wandering the outskirts of Istria

Active break | 20. 08. 2017

We're well familiar with the Slovene Riviera, but a little less with its outskirts. During a spring or autumn vacation at the Riviera, why not take the time and explore the inland of Slovene Istria. The exploration of hidden corners of Istria will lead you from village to village on the discovery of Istrian historic, architectural, culinary, oenological and other ethnological landmarks.

Istria has forever been a uniform region, never divided between the Slovenian and Croatian part, and its people have always been considered Istrians regardless of their mother tongues or future ethnic affiliations. Regardless of national borders or Croatian political regions, alluring places and customs, history and legends are what makes Istria interesting. 

Along the outskirts of the Slovene Istria

While vacationing in Izola, Strunjan or Portorož, explore the remarkable outskirts of Slovene Istria. Travel from Debeli rtič to the edge of the Karst. The trail leads through the villages of Dekani and Rižana and past the spring of the Rižana River to Bržanija Hills nearby the edge of the Karst, the dividing line between the Karst and Istria. The world between the edge of the Karst and Šavrini Hills is littered with natural and cultural sights.

From Koper, head for the mysterious Šavrini Hills. The Austrian Republic and the Republic of Venice waged war for centuries. In the bordering area from Črni Kal through Podpeč and Zanigrad, numerous fortresses were built by the Republic of Venice to protect their territory. The fortresses were reinforced from the town of Kubed (Covedo), located at a unique and inaccessible location. However, not only the government would build fortresses. They were also built by the plebs. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the Turks were ravaging the land, so the farmers erected a series of anti-Turk camps, known as tabori, each of them a sight to behold. The camp in Osp was built in a karst cave under a giant rockfall; in Hrastovlje, the villagers enclosed the ancient Romanesque church of the Holy Trinity with a mighty wall, and above Sočerga, the two Guards (Stražarja), majestic stone towers, would warn people of the looming danger.

In villages atop the hills, visitors will feel like they can almost touch the sea. The sea is only five kilometres away, but the feeling is nothing compared to the sensation at the seaside – the sea seems like a distant memory. What's missing is the hustle. And that is what attracts tourists. Peace. Intactness. And of course breath-taking views and warm weather even during the months of winter.

The hills guarding the town of Izola invite visitors to undertake the pleasant circular path through the towns of Korte, Padna, Šmarje and others, and a visit to the living museum, the Vrešje House (Hiša Vrešje) in Krkavče is a must. There, don't forget to stop by the Krkavče rock.

It is said that that in the past, salt was even more expensive than gold and that many a Venetian merchant became rich thanks to the white gold from the salts pans in Koper, Izola, Strunjan, Lucija and Sečovlje. This salt has always had a reputation of high-quality. However, in the period when mining became prevalent in Sečovlje, it was almost forgotten. The winding salt road, with stops at landmarks and locations of interest, vies through the most beautiful protected part of the Slovene coastal region from Strunjan to Sečovlje, more precisely from Strunjan Nature Park to the Sečovlje Saline Nature Park. From Strunjan past Piran and to Portorož. After arriving to the settlement of Seča by St. Jernej's Canal, you will find yourselves at one of the most beautiful corners of Slovenia, the Sečovlje Salt Pans.

Life in the outskirts

The Istrian Hills have always been reliant on coastal towns, particularly Trieste, which was the largest harbour of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy at the time. The image of the “Šavrinka” originated from that period: a woman, who hauls home-grown produce in a basket on her head to the market every day to provide for a better life in her hometown. She was more than a saleswoman: for lack of choice, apart from moving to distant lands or facing poverty, the people from these parts would engage in various jobs in cities. A thorough turnaround occurred only after the Second World War. 

After two and a half decades under Italian authority, the region was occupied by the Yugoslavian armada, forming the so called Zone A. The new authority did everything in its power to maintain sovereignty over the towns. To provide for living conditions, the authorities would erect factories in the coastal towns, suddenly giving the people from the Šavrini Hills an opportunity for a decent life without travelling the seas to remote continents. In merely decades, the number of inhabitants decreased substantially as most moved to towns along the coastline.
Only a few villages in the hills, once teeming with activity, remain inhabited. The villages are usually located at ridges overlooking steep valleys. Houses are usually built in clusters, guarded by the church bell tower. The then hustle is no more. Those who wander into these parts will be surprised by the beauty of the villages. They are all built in stone and covered with “korci” (clay roofing tiles), vines climbing the walls and with small windows with wood shutters. The church is usually enclosed behind a wall and surrounded by cemetery, full of tombstones with only a handful of different last names. Life was beautiful here, even in poverty: everybody was acquainted and the extended family would face difficult times together. This makes the Šavrini Hills a miniature Tuscany – and frankly, they couldn't be more beautiful. People have been returning to these parts in recent years for good or to overhaul old homes into holiday houses.