The region where my grandmother's family is from is right on the border of Italy and Slovenia, which makes for easy cross-cultural day tripping. Several of my childhood friends are Slovene and now work in the wine industry and/or as tour guides. My mom and I spent an afternoon in the able hands of Aleks and Marjana and enjoyed some spectacular nature, history, and local wines.
We started by climbing a spiral staircase belvedere tower in the tiny village of Gonjace. Not for those with fear of heights, but the reward is 360-degree views of the Collio hills, vineyards, terra-cotta roofs, and depending on which way you are looking either the Alps or the Adriatic.
At the top of the belvedere is this compass that shows the direction of the nearby towns and cities. I have a thing for compasses, if you didn't know. :)
Our next stop was Smartno, a historic fortified village that has been beautifully restored.
My friend Alex told us many stories about the culture of the place - like the wreath of dried wildflowers on the door that would have signified there is a single woman at the house who is eligible for marriage...or the importance of having greenery and a grapevine in front of the house.
I first met Aleks and his sister Marjana we were little kids. It's so cool to see where we all are now, and how many of our interests and occupations are aligned. Aleks is a history enthusiast, personal trainer, and regional tour guide who speaks multiple languages.
Aleks took us to a hidden gem in the Brda region of the Slovenian countryside. We drove along a dirt road through grape fields and into the winter forest, and eventually came upon this clear pool with a waterfall. The water spills over a wall that apparently was built by the French during Napoleon's occupation in the late 1700's or early 1800's.
Walking down a small path from the main waterfall, you reach the truly impressive sight: another small waterfall and a natural stone bridge with dark emerald water running underneath. The water color in this part of the world is unreal - either intense deep green or milky turquoise blue - thanks to the karst limestone that makes up most of the river beds. What a gem!
After our nature walk, we headed to the wine cellar (cantina) where Marjana works. It is a large facility but still feels very personal and authentic, especially when you have an inside connection. :)
We got to tour the special reserve cellar that houses something crazy like 80,000 bottles of vintage wine, some dating back to the 1960's. Imagine being able to pick one bottle at random and taste what is inside!
Here I am with Marjana amid oak barrels. She and I are brainstorming some wine tourism ideas: stay tuned, especially if you are interested in visiting this region of the world.