Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Cheese, wine and fierce winds give character to Slovenia’s Vipava Valley, as Rudolf Abraham discovers when he makes a midwinter visit. Just over the hill from Trieste, yet often bypassed by visitors, the Vipava Valley packs a few surprises: Egyptian sarcophagi, a Napoleonic legacy and a fine art connection.

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Standing on the edge of the Trnovo Plateau (Trnovski gozd), which runs along the northern edge of the Vipava Valley, I watch a buzzard as it drifts silently overhead, its wing tips motionless and silhouetted against a bright blue, cloud-streaked sky. Sun-bleached grass ripples across the hillside, and the valley floor is dotted with a patchwork of vineyards some eight hundred metres below.

The Vipava Valley (Vipavska dolina) runs in a line across the south-west quadrant of Slovenia, a slash of green between the contrasting landscapes of the limestone karst, the blue of the Adriatic and the crumpled foothills of the Julian Alps. In the valley below is the meandering ribbon of the Vipava River, which flows west into the Soča. From the high plateau, it’s easy to discern the valley curving south beyond the towns of Ajdovščina and Vipava to peter out below the steep slopes of Nanos, and merging in the northwest with the city of Nova Gorica.

The wind, the eye and the devil’s horn

Despite the bucolic setting up here on the Trnovo Plateau, the wind is quite literally screaming. This is the burja — the cold north-easterly wind which neighbouring areas of Croatia and Italy also have to endure and where it is called the bura and bora respectively. This ferocious wind is caused when high pressure builds up well inland, unleashing a gale which gusts down towards the Adriatic. The late Jan Morris, writing of the bora in Trieste, described it as “a blast of war.”

Up here on the wind-scoured plateau, trees grow sideways. In the Vipava Valley, the burja is as much a part of the landscape as the vineyards for which it is famous, and contributes as much to its character as the warm Mediterranean winds which blow in from the south-west. Old houses were built with their doorways facing out of the wind, and had their roof tiles weighted down with rocks. Strips of trees planted across the valley floor protect vineyards and crops. And it was the burja which, according to some historical sources (and most certainly to popular myth), shaped the outcome of the battle between the Roman Emperor Theodosius I and the usurper Eugenius, which took place in 394 ad, probably in the Vipava Valley — appearing on the final day of battle, and blowing sand and dust in the enemy’s faces. According to legend, it even blew their arrows back at them.

Most people here would say that unless the wind gets up beyond 50 kph or so, it’s not even worth mentioning (a local joke goes that when it reaches around 80 kph, people send their children out for a bit of fresh air). It often reaches over 200 kph, with the highest recorded wind speed being an eye-watering 235 kph. Today on the Trnovo Plateau it’s rather more sedate, with gusts of a ‘mere’ 140 kph — enough that I can’t stand still to take a photo without bracing my shoulder against something.

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Rudolf Abraham is an award-winning travel writer and photographer specialising in Central and Eastern Europe – in particular Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Montenegro. He is the author of a dozen books including Peaks of the Balkans, The Mountains of Montenegro, Walking in the Salzkammergut, Walks and Treks in Croatia, Torres del Paine and The Islands of Croatia, all published by Cicerone, National Geographic Traveller Croatia, and The Alpe Adria Trail, published by Bradt. He is co-author of Istria - The Bradt Travel Guide and has contributed to many more books including DK Eyewitness Slovenia and Unforgettable Journeys. His work is published widely in magazines.

Rudolf lives in London, and is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Find out more about his work at Rudolf Abraham Photography, or visit Rudolf Abraham | Travel Writer. You can also find him on Instagram at rudolfphoto.

This article was published in hidden europe 66.