Gastronomy, nature and cycling are elevated in equal measure in Slovenia’s verdant ‘Paradise Valley’
Idyllically located between the Adriatic’s twinkling waters and the towering Julian Alps, the epicentre of Slovenia’s breathtaking wine country is attracting lycra-clad UK gastronomes in increasing numbers, aided by direct services from operators such as British Airways and easyJet to the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, around 80km away by road.
Bike travel tallies nicely with the valley’s focus on sustainability, and foodies will certainly appreciate the new Bike Slovenia Green Gourmet Route that passes by en route. With so many great trails in the valley itself, however, they’d be forgiven for not looking beyond the lush green confines of this pedalling paradise.
E-bikes take the slog out of the slopes on wine tours, the wineries that offer wine tastings being connected by a ‘wine trail’, while the valley’s inclusion on previous editions of the Tour of Slovenia, and Italy’s Giro d’Italia, highlights the serious potential for road bike warriors. Plus, there’s no shortage of options for those looking to hit the rougher stuff on gravel or mountain bikes.
The stronger legged will relish powering up through the forest and vineyard-covered valley slopes towards the panoramic high plateaus, no visit being complete without a hike to Otlica Natural Window. The Instagrammable opening in the rockface is the star of the Otlica Natural Window Trail and the stuff of legend, apparently owing its origins to the devil tripping and piercing a hole in the rock with his horn – one of many myths alive and well in this lyrical landscape.
Alternatively, trace the Vipava River as it carves up the valley, the plains affording easier terrain. Tick off pretty old villages, towns and bridges as you go, from ancient Vipava and mediaeval Vipavski Križ to Ajdovščina, with its impressive Roman-era fortress.
Ajdovščina is the start and end point of the 35km easy rolling, family-friendly Upper Vipava Valley Trail. Other easy rolling, leisurely loops include the Branica Valley ride out of Vipava town, featuring a few gentle climbs along its 47km, and the 45km Lower Vipava Valley Trail out of Nova Gorica, whose highlights include the Franciscan monastery at Kostanjevica, final resting place of French monarchs such as Charles X. Plus, a new 40km hiking and biking nature trail from Vipava to Miren will launch for summer 2022.
As befits Vipava’s ‘Paradise Valley’ moniker, the landscape, replete with fresh air and healthy produce, is the perfect spot to rest both your mind and your head. Local accommodation options include farm stays, backed by heartwarming comfort food, while sustainably-minded glamping businesses make the most of their natural surroundings and others celebrate the local viticulture.
Grape varieties such as Zelen, Klarnica and Pinela thrive among the sheltered valley’s microclimate, as visitors will discover on visits to local treasures such as Goče, the beguiling village’s quaint stone buildings as impressive beneath ground as above thanks to the abundance of historic wine cellars. Valley visitors can even become a winemaker for the day!
The rich culinary offering equally excels, not least at the high end. At Dam, in Nova Gorica, for example, the nine boutique guest rooms are backed by a fine dining restaurant helmed by Michelin-starred chef Uroš Fakuč. And riders on the Branica Valley Trail will struggle to make it past Gostilna pri Lojzetu, set in the exquisite Zemono Manor House, where Michelin-starred Tomaž Kavčič serves up gastronomic love letters to his beloved Vipava Valley.
Thankfully, any newly acquired calories can be readily burned off year–round, aided by the shielded valley’s special climate, with kayaking and hiking among the other popular activities. Spring and autumn may be the cycling sweetspots but winter is equally enticing, especially away from the higher plateaus. Besides, if you were to wake to find the Bora, or Burja, wind blowing along the valley, well surely that’s just the excuse you need to hole up and explore some more of the fabled local hospitality.