Sasso di Bordighera (Liguria), Italy August 2022

The dogs were suffering in this year’s very hot weather (for weeks, even in the foothills of the Alps, the temperatures have been up in the high thirties) and so we decided to make our way west from Italy to the north of Spain where they are currently in the mid twenties. Sasso di Bordighere was chosen by Vanya because it took us quite a way west (into Liguria and within a few miles of the French border) and because the campsite reads very well. My gosh, what happened to all those wild camps I used to do in the Balkans? We seem to be using campsites nearly all the time now.

I’m not complaining; leastways not about A Bunda which was the name of the campsite Vanya had chosen. It is a small, shaded, tranquil site carved out of an olive grove near the tiny hamlet of Sasso di Bordighera. It offers decent sized pitches and wonderful views across the valley and the guy who runs it with his family, Alessandro, is as friendly and helpful as they come. He’s particularly proud of his gardens (with good reason) and the scent of rosemary is everywhere.

As for Sasso di Bordighera itself, it is an ancient fortified village high up on a rocky ridge, overlooking (part of) the town of Bordighera some 4 kms away on the coast. Sasso is Italian for stone or rock; hence it’s name. The village is little more than a hamlet with just 200 inhabitants, surrounded by olive groves and orchards. There is a tiny shop, a church and, just at the edge of the village, a small restaurant.

The views from the village towards the coast are stunning; those from the restaurant, even more so. I reserved a table for us on the restaurant terrace for that very evening.

We enjoyed it very much.

Garbagne (Piedmont), Italy

I have no idea as to why we decided to stop in Garbagne in rural Piedmont (probably just looking for a half decent campsite either in or close to a town or village where we could get a meal and a glass of wine) but, after a quick explore I really didn’t expect anything of the place. I was in for a surprise.

Garbagne is a small village through which the SP120 road passes. In Garbagna, they call this part of the SP120 the ‘Via Roma’ but that is a tad grand. The SP120 is a thoroughfare; it doesn’t go to Rome or anywhere else of any significance. The village has maybe half a dozen narrow streets, the longest of which, the Via XIV Marzo, runs parallel with the Via Roma and connects the villages two squares. Piazza della Chiesa, at the eastern end of the village, is a dry featureless square holding the larger of the village’s two churches, the ‘San Giovanni Battista Decollato’ (or Church of St John the Baptist) and a rather plain looking town hall. The larger, prettier, well shaded Piazza Doria at the western edge of the village accommodates the much smaller ‘Oratory of San Rocco’, a restaurant (the Bocu), a cafe bar and two tiny shops (a greengrocer and a general store). The shade on the Piazza is provided by four large chestnut trees which shelter the square’s centrepiece, a stone arch which straddles an old well – once the villages’s sole water supply. There are a few fixed steel benches under the chestnuts and a scattering of tables and chairs had been placed outside the Bocu and the cafe bar but all were empty. The village appeared deserted. It was a hot summer afternoon with the temperature in the shade well up into the high thirties. Garbagne was about as sleepy a place as you could imagine on a seriously hot Sunday in rural Piedmont.

That evening Vanya and I were among the first to take one of the ten or so tables outside the Bocu Restaurant. By the way, Bocu is short for Bottegacucina which means ‘small shop’ which, no doubt, is what the restaurant once was. There is no room inside for any dining tables; all are outside on the square. It was just as well that we arrived early because we didn’t have a reservation and within twenty minutes or so all of the tables were occupied. So too were the tables at the nearby cafe bar. It was just after 8.30 pm and the heat from the day’s hot sun was fast fading. Children were filling the square. Groups of friends who had been stuck inside their homes until the heat was gone were now free to run and play. The square had become a cheerful, bustling playground. It was the children’s parents who were settling at the tables around us. Tables were being extended, more chairs were produced and dragged noisily into position. The banter was loud. Everyone seemed to know each other and it appeared the elders were as happy as their children to escape the afternoon’s confinement.

The Piazza Doria was a hive of activity. Almost half of the village’s 600 or so residents must have been on the square. The change in atmosphere was as super as it was surprising. We were always going to have an enjoyable evening in such an agreeable setting and so it proved. The food and the service and the reception we received from those around us made for a great evening. Of course, having a Nala and a Beanie around always helps break the ice.

So what about the food and wine? I’m not so sure Vanya got it right with her choice of stuffed tomatoes but my veal and the accompanying wine was delicious. The veal came with a mildly spicy tuna sauce (and what I took to be a very large pickled caper) while the wine, chosen by the proprietor was a local Barbera – really smooth. He told me it is produced just 5 kilometres from where we were sitting.

The only downside of that first evening in Garbagne? The bloody church bells wouldn’t stop ringing. No matter.

The friendly reception we received that first evening warranted our staying on another night. I spent the next day further exploring the area around the village and visited the local 9th century castle which the ‘Borghi piu belli d’Italia’ describes as “perfect for a stroll and to enjoy a panoramic view”. Forget it. The castle amounts to little more than a simple gatehouse and a tower which is almost totally reduced to rubble. As for the panoramic view, you can forget that too. Such sites are there to promote tourism…

We didn’t regret staying on. There’s another small bar (very much a local’s bar) on the corner of Via Novi and Via Roma. I had used it a couple of times (popping in for a cooling beer while exploring the area) and Vanya and I stopped by for a few drinks after dinner. Once again, the welcome we received from the bar owners and the locals was fantastic. A word of warning, however, don’t ask for a large wine unless you want half a bottle of wine free poured into your glass. They serve large measures.

We will certainly remember Garbagne, not so much for the place as the people. You could not find a more welcoming village.

Valdobbiadene (Veneto), Italy August 2022

This blog on Valdobbiadene follows on from that of Asolo where I first enjoyed a Prosecco wine. The blog could just as easily have been entitled ‘Prosecco Hills’ or even ‘Prosecco Road’ because much of our day was spent driving through the hills in this area and we paused in Valdobbiadene only to sample different wines but, it was in Valdobbiadene that I really started to appreciate Prosecco. Valdobbiadene it is then.

Our travels across the Prosecco Hills took us from where we were camped at Borso de Grappa to Asolo and then on through Maser, Cornuda, Covolo, Vidor, Valdobbiadene, Miane, Follina, Cison di Valmarino to Revine Lago ( I wonder how long it will take before some or all of these villages become Borghi piu belli d’Italia). We were hoping to give the dogs a swim in the lakes up at Revine Lago but it wasn’t to be and we returned to Valdobbiadene via Conegliano, taking in much of the Prosecco Road as the route between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene is now known.

Except for the Prosecco Road, which term seems to be known by only a handful, there is no obvious tourist structure to this area although it will probably not be long coming. The fact that the Prosecco Hills were recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2019 will no doubt help (especially once Covid becomes a dim distant memory) but whatever happens Vanya and I are agreed, we haven’t seen such fabulously beautiful wine country anywhere in the world. The steep irregularly shaped hills are a patchwork of picturesque vineyards; squeezed into a series of verdant terraces, interspersed with a mixture of thick hedgerows and small woods. This rolling sea of green stretches in all directions and is broken only by a faint string of whitish grey stone farmhouses and, very occasionally, a majestic Venetian style villa. Like I said, neither of us have ever seen such fabulously beautiful wine country and just driving through it was an experience.

And so to Valdobbiadene, where we were properly introduced to Prosecco wine by Enrico from Venice who had previously lived in Cirencester and spoke remarkably good English. I was driving and so it was Vanya who took the lead with the wine tasting. I was allowed only the barest sip of those wines she considered suitable and, even then, I chose to stay away from the driest of them. Indeed, my winner was probably the sweetest of all those we tasted – it was the Dry (as opposed to Very Dry, Brut or Very Brut) Val D’Oca Cartizze which vines, I am told, are on the steep south facing slopes of the Cesen Mountain or, as Enrico said, “where the hills are the steepest and most beautiful”. We bought three bottles and some others which Vanya favoured.

I’ll not go into too much detail (you can always use google to properly research the matter) but, in case you are interested, there follows a little bit about the production of Prosecco.

Prosecco is a sparkling white wine from Italy (although it can be flat or have very few bubbles – tranquilo or frizzante). It differs totally from Champagne or Cremant, both of which are produced in France. Firstly, the ingredients are different. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes are used to make both Champagne and Cremant while the Glera grape is used in Prosecco. Secondly, different methods are used to get the bubbles into the wine. The traditional approach is adopted for Champagne and Cremant, where yeast goes to work in each individual bottle while, with Prosecco, the bubbles are added to large tanks of developing wine and it is bottled much later. So, both the ingredients and the (production) method in these two ‘recipes’ are totally different – which makes for totally different drinks.

Only other point I would make is that, just as is in France, Italy operates a system for determining how good their different wines are (so as to highlight wines of a particular and/or superior quality) and Prosecco is subject to that same Italian classification system. Italy operates three classes being ITG, DOC and DOCG. ITG is reserved for all wines that may not meet all of the standards of a DOC or DOCG wine but are nevertheless considered to be of good quality. DOC wines have to meet stricter standards to earn their classification. DOCG standards are higher still and therefore the quality is even better. The following chart identifies how the different Proseccos are classified across the Prosecco wine producing region:-

My favourite is a dry Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Just read all the above. Bloody hell, this is a dry old blog! Sorry, trying to catch up because I’m about a week behind. I’ll try and introduce something more personal next time; a bit of levity wouldn’t go awry.

Asolo (Veneto), Italy August 2022

This day was to be all about Prosecco wine. It started early in the morning in the delightful little town of Asolo, one of Italy’s famous Borghi* and; then took us up and around the Prosecco Hills. It continued along much of the Prosecco Road (Conegliano to Valdobbiadene) and; concluded with a wine tasting session in the capital of the Prosecco wine world, Valdobbiadene, and me becoming a convert to Prosecco – well, to the good ones.

Asolo was founded in Roman times but reached it’s zenith while under the control of Venice and not long after the Venetians had ‘persuaded’ Caterina Cornaro (Queen of Cyprus, Jerusalem and Armenia) to cede Cyprus to Venice and take exile in Asolo. It is generally understood that the town prospered as a direct result of Caterina Cornaro moving to Asolo and living in what has since become known as the Castello della Regina Cornaro. That would have been during the period 1489 to 1509. In 1509, the League of Cambrai (at war with Venice) attacked Asolo and forced her to flee and she died in Venice the following year.

We parked the Van in a large (free, except at weekends) car park and walked up into the old town through the arch on the Via Forestuzzo. This followed on to the pretty arcaded Via Browning (named after the English poet Robert Browning) with it’s handful of artisan style shops, directly to the centre of the old town. The Piazza Garibaldi is marked as the old town centre on the local map but in truth there is no central square; the centrepoint is the Fontana Maggiore (fountain) which sits just beyond the Hotel Duse amidst a couple of cafe bars, Asolo’s cathedral (the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta) and the Civic Museum, which is connected to the Castello della Regina Cornaro. It’s a pretty spot.

Asolo is a small compact town which can easily be seen within a day and it is very picturesque but the real delight is it’s calm and tranquility. After a brief look around the town and, in particular, the Castello della Regina Cornaro we were content to relax in the shade outside a little restaurant on the ‘Piazza Garibaldi’ and take brunch – the local cheese, ham and of course a Prosecco.

Some would argue that we should have walked up Mount Ricco, on the edge of the town, to the 12th/13th century Rocca Fortress for it’s views over Asolo and the broader Veneto countryside but; this day was about chilling and sipping chilled Prosecco so, we gave it a miss. Asolo had that effect on me. We were both content to sit peacefully in the shade, nursing our wine and watching the world go by although; in Asolo the world moved very slowly. This was a week day (no weekend tourists from Venice)… Why tire ourselves out exploring?

It was a slow walk back to the Van, notwithstanding that it was all downhill, and we took time to view some of the finer, more impressive villas on the way.

Quite a few personalities have lived in or at least visited Asolo for extended periods and many have left their mark. There are a series of steel plaques carved into the pavement towards the top of the Via Forestuzzo, recognizing some of those personalities – most especially Freya Stark (writer and explorer), Robert Browning (poet) and Eleonora Duse (Italian actress) but others, Ernest Hemingway (writer and journalist), Wilma Neruda (Violinist) and even Princess Margaret (younger sister to ERII) have also sought peace in Asolo.

We really had to tear ourselves away from the town… but on to Valdobbiadene.

* Borghi – The literal translation of ‘Borgo’ into English is ‘Village’. Borghi is the plural. So far as I can determine “I Borghi piu belli d’Italia” is a list of 313 beautiful villages in Italy as identified by the National Association of Italian Municipalities to help promote small Italian centres. The Association’s criteria for admission would appear to be “a fascinating small Italian town, generally fortified and dating back to the period from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance… Whether Medieval or Renaissance, sea or mountain, rural or lake, all… certified Borgos represent the best of Unknown Italy…”. This initiative is perhaps similar to the French ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’.

Bassano del Grappa (Veneto), Italy August 2022

Vanya was determined to visit the Prosecco Hills (where the good Prosecco is produced) and so we packed up our things and left Padova, driving some 35 miles north to the charming town of Bassano del Grappa which sits on the River Brenta. Bassano del Grappa is not quite in the Prosecco Hills but it is a medium sized picturesque town, which deserves to be visited if only because it is where the Grappa brandy liqueur was invented and; it would serve as the perfect base from which to visit the Prosecco Hills.

Most important, Bassano del Grappa (BDG) has a reasonably sized old town, complete with narrow streets and small piazzas and a covered wooden bridge. I mentioned already that BDG is famous for inventing Grappa; it is made from the leftovers of the winemaking process. The town is also known for it’s white asparagus and certain locally produced ceramics and; it also featured quite a bit in the Napoleonic Wars (Napoleon Bonaparte won and lost battles here) and the First and Second World Wars. However, it is the old wooden pontoon bridge, the Ponte Vecchio (also known as the Ponte degli Alpini) which is perhaps BDG’s most celebrated feature.

Designed by Andrea Palladio in 1569 and built on the site of an earlier wooden bridge over the River Brenta, the Ponte Vecchio has been destroyed many times but it has always been faithfully rebuilt to the original specification. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as the Ponte degli Alpini because it was Italian Mountain Troops (the Alpini) who rebuilt it in 1948 after it was totally destroyed during WW2. It is not the only bridge in the town but it is certainly the most pleasing to look at.

There are a few other sites worth visiting in BDG; principal among them is the 12th century Castello degli Ezzelini which surrounds the town’s cathedral (the Duomo di Santa Maria in Colle) but after the bridge, it is the old town cobbled streets and attractive linked squares (the Piazza Liberta with the San Giovanni Church & City Hall with it’s large clock and the Piazza Gaibaldi with the San Francesco Church & Civic Tower) which most fascinated me. George Sand, the French author(ess) described BDG as “one of the greatest fortunes that could ever befall a traveller”.

I mentioned George Sands. I should perhaps also mention another much later author who stayed in Bassano del Grappa, Ernest Hemingway. He served in the area as an ambulance driver during WW1 and received shrapnel wounds on the Italian Front in 1918. He modelled his novel A Farewell to Arms on his service in the area.

A few more images… and then something about Prosecco

Padova (Veneto), Italy August 2022

We’d booked into the Hotel NH Padova in the city of Padova (Padua in English) for a couple of nights. It’s a nice hotel with plenty of suitable parking and it is within easy walking distance of the old town. You need only walk through the Porta (Ognissanti) o Portello by the River Bacchiglione and you are there.

So many people talk about taking a day trip to Padua while visiting Venice (Venice being just 23 miles to the west) but, trust me, Padova is worth a great deal more than just one day.

Also known as the city of St Anthony (more about him later), Padova is an ancient city, believed to have been founded by the mythical Trojan hero Antenor (although in reality the city was around long before him). Having said that, most of the city’s early architecture was destroyed either by the Longobards who razed the city to the ground in 602AD or the Hungarians who did much the same in 899AD. It wasn’t until after 1000AD that the city once again began to flourish and it has since become one of the most vibrant cities in Italy with far more than it’s fair share of art, architecture and culture.

Nowadays, Padova’s old town is a mass of narrow porticoed streets and monumental squares criss-crossed by two rivers (the Bacchiglione and the Brenta) and a significant canal system (the most famous of which is the Brenta Canal which stretches all the way to Venice).

The most impressive of the squares, if an elliptical plaza can be termed a square, is the Prato della Valle (Meadow of the Valley) which at 90,000 square metres is the second largest in Europe (after Moscow’s Red Square). This truly monumental and quite beautiful square is used primarily as a public gathering place and to hold huge street markets (every Saturday) but it has also served as a sports venue (speed skating events are held here) and as a music venue and they hold at least two massive fireworks displays here every year.

The square’s centrepiece is a fountain which sits in a large dark green lawn. The lawn is surrounded by a moat and the resulting island, which can be reached by any one of four ornate bridges, is bordered on both sides by 78 marble statues of illustrious men associated with Padova. It doesn’t end there; the whole island is then circled by a seriously wide road which makes for one of the largest and best looking roundabouts in the world.

Other squares not to be missed during a visit to to the old town are the Piazza dei Frutti, the Piazze delle Erbe and the Piazza dei Signori which are all very close to each other. The Piazza dei Frutti and the Piazze delle Erbe are separated only by the Palazzo della Regioni (the old town hall) with it’s massive hall and impressive verandas (they call them loggias in Italy) and there is a walkway through the middle of the Palazzo which connects the two squares. The Piazza dei Signori is just to the south of the Piazza dei Frutti and is easily recognised by the Palazzo del Capitano with it’s unique centrepieces of a triumphal arch and the 1344 Torre dell’Orologia (astronomical clock).

A good time to visit these particular squares is when the street markets are open (i.e. every morning Monday to Saturday inclusive). All three squares are packed with temporary stalls selling just about everything known to man. Even the ground floor of the old town hall is divided into two rows of more permanent stalls selling local foods (predominantly meat, cheeses and fish but, as I arrived, there was also a wonderfully fragrant spice stall).

Don’t just visit these three squares in the morning. The stalls disappear during the afternoon and in the evening the squares are filled with tables and chairs as the surrounding restaurants and cafes prepare for their evening trade. The squares are once again packed, this time with diners, and the place buzzes. Our first meal in the city was on the Piazza dei Frutti.

Talking of eating, on our second night in the city we ate at the famous Cafe Pedrocchi. It is famous as a meeting place for academics, artists, writers and revolutionaries (indeed, it was a scene of some anti-Austrian sentiment in 1848 which resulted in shots being fired) but also because it never once closed it’s doors (for much of the time it never had doors) between 1831, when it was built, and 1916. It was open 24/7. We enjoyed our food there but the service was wanting.

A surprisingly high proportion of Padova’s population of 214,000 people are students – there are 60,000 at the University of Paova alone! No surprise then that Padova has a lively night life. We stumbled across some of it while on the way back to our hotel that first night in the city. We saw lights and heard music coming from inside a small park (the Giardini dell’Arena) not far from our hotel. It transpired that the park holds a pop up bar complex and it was packed. We managed to find a spare table for two and sat soaking the atmosphere up over a couple of drinks each into the early hours. It was a great ending to our first evening in the city.

I cannot end a blog on Padova without reference to some of the great churches that fill the city. Without a doubt, the most impressive is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova or, as it is called locally, ‘Il Santo’. The construction of this huge church began immediately after the death of the saint in 1231 and his body is enshrined there. Everything about this church is extraordinary, inside and out. It is built in a Romanesque and Gothic style and has 8 huge Byzantine domes. Inside, there are numerous chapels and gold and marble is everywhere but the key features are Donatello’s Madonna and Child on the high altar (he was in Padua 10 years working on both the Madonna and Child and on the large equestrian statue of Gattamelata which is on the square outside the church) and some artwork by Titian.

Other churches worth seeing in Padova include the Capella degli Scrovegni (or Scrovegni Chapel) which holds a Giotto Masterpiece (being his series of frescos depicting stories from the bible) but, you need to pre-book to access this church and numbers are very much restricted) and; the nearby 13th/14th century Eremitani Church with it’s wonderful wooden ceiling and; a very small church I stumbled upon and really liked, the Sant Tomas Becket.

All great cities will have equally great street art and Padova is no exception to that rule. Theirs matches anything I have seen elsewhere although it is perhaps not so abundant. There is a fair amount of ‘Banksie’ style street art but my two favourites are those reproduced below (although I’m not sure if the excellent 3D painting qualifies as street art?)

One place I missed during our brief stay in Padova and that I really wished I had visited is the Botanical Garden. On our last day, I stopped for a glass of barbera wine in a small family run cafe bar near the Porta o Portello. The place was closing for the weekend but I was joined by the whole family and invited to take a second (very large) glass of wine by the grandfather. With the eldest grandson translating the family then took turns asking me what I liked about Padova and what I had seen. They were impressed by the amount of ground I had covered and the grandmother was particularly pleased that I had visited all the principal churches (and she loved my photos of the Tomas Becket) but they were all aghast that I had not seen the Botanical Garden. Next time.

Oh, one other faily worthless piece of information. Did you know that Padova (or Padua) is the setting for William Shakespeare’s comedy ‘The Taming of the Shrew’?

Duino (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Italy August 2022

Duino was recommended to us as a nice place to visit by our friend Clare and it is. It is a tiny Italian fishing village on the Adriatic Coast with a focus towards cozze (mussels) but it’s two castles which sit on the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Trieste have long been the star attractions of the area. For a while, during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Duino became a fashionable seaside resort of the Austrian Riviera with the then owners of the newer of the two castles hosting Austrian Royalty (Franz Joseph I and Archduke Maximilian I) and such notable guests as Johann Strauss, Franz Liszt, Mark Twain and Victor Hugo. Those days ended at the conclusion of WW1 with the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Duino being ceded to the Kingdom of Italy.

The hamlet has a small fishing harbour which on hot sunny days doubles as a sunbathing and swimming area. It was 34 degrees centigrade and getting hotter as we arrived and there were plenty of locals stretched out on the harbour walls or swimming in the water. It was almost noon and so we decided to stop for lunch at the prettiest of the two restaurants by the water. We had the best prawn salad.

As the afternoon went by it became increasingly hot; too much so for the dogs and Vanya took them back to the Van for some respite from the heat while I continued on to view the towns two castles.

Of the two castles, the older 11th century castle (the Rocca di Duino) was left deserted in the 15th century and is now little more than a spectacular ruin on a large rock beneath the newer 14th century castle. The new castle is still inhabited and was opened as a museum in 2003. It’s exterior and it’s gardens do not match Miramar Castle further down the coast towards Trieste but it’s inside and it’s views are every bit as majestic.

The new castle from the cliff walk

One unusual feature of the new castle is it’s bunker, added by the German occupiers during WWII. The entrance to the bunker is in the garden at the rear of the castle. The cool air in the bunker was well worth the hike up and down the stairs. However, I can’t help but think they could do more with the bunker. There was one glassed off room containing a few pieces of old WWII military equipment but the glass was covered in too much condensation to properly make all the items out.

I didn’t get to it but cut into the rocks just above Duino is a small 1st century BC temple to Mithras. This religion was a Persian religion which was championed by Roman soldiers.

The Temple to Mithras

That’s a rather abrupt ending to this post but I’m running behind time. Vanya is ready for wine….

Crnice (Vipava Valley), Slovenia August 2022

The drive to Crnice took us no time and we passed two favourite places of mine on the way – Lake Bled and Postojna.

We had booked into the Camp David site in Crnice for two nights because in July and August it is very difficult to find accommodation almost anywhere in Slovenia (or Croatia or Italy for that matter – it is the holiday season) and the prices are ludicrously high. This inland site was to serve as a base until the weekend when we would move into a hotel in Padua in Italy for a couple of days.

A local I met at Camp David told me about an old iron age fort up on the hills behind Crnice and I thought to take a look. It took about 40 minutes for me to find the place. There is nothing left of the fort which used to stand on this hill, now known as St Paul’s Hill after the small chapel which was erected there in 1946, but it is a pretty spot with some fine views down into the Vipava Valley. Also, on the way up to the old settlement there are the remains of an old Roman (5th century) water tower. I carried on from St Paul’s Hill up to the top of Zasod Hill but it really wasn’t worth the extra effort. I’ve not been able to discover much about the old settlement although it seems that people were living here 2,000 years ago and in the 5th century the population of Ajdovscina (then the second largest town in the valley) withdrew to the hill for safety after the Huns attacked their town.

It was a day “of some small energy expenditure” and I was ready for the wine tasting we had committed to at Camp David that evening. Over a period of 1.5 hours we sampled and reviewed 6 local wines, including two which are peculiar to the Vipava Valley (the Zelen and the Pinela) but, while all were surprisingly good, the best of the day for me was a Barbera Merlot cuvee which was outstanding. It seems the Vipava Valley has a number of unique premium wines but, with the vineyards all being so small they can produce only a limited yield and so are relatively expensive.

The weather during our second day in Crnice was even hotter than the first, getting as high as 37 degrees centigrade. It would have been cruel to take the dogs out in that sun. Leaving Vanya with the dogs in the Van with the air conditioning on (so pleased we bought that before leaving the UK) I went off in the direction of the Vipava River to see if I could find a swimming spot for the dogs later in the day. I found a good spot on the river but it was simply too far away for the dogs to walk even late at night. At nine o’clock in the evening it is still up in the high twenties.

Lipce (Jesenice), Slovenia August 2022

Crossed into Slovenia via the Wurzenpass (1,073 metres) which links Austria’s Radendorf (near Villach) with Slovenia’s Kranjska Gora. This route is quite steep (18%) with plenty of bends but it rarely presented us with any exposure (no matter what Vanya says). It certainly beats the Karawanks Motorway Tunnel and there’s no toll. There is a reasonable viewing point just after the summit which provides great views into Slovenia.

We changed our mind about going into Croatia. It’s packed with tourists during July and August and campsite and hotel prices have already quadrupled. We’ll leave Croatia until next Spring when prices return to something approaching normal. Italy was our fall back position but on a whim we decided to stay in Slovenia for a few days and checked into a campsite on the Sava Dolinka Lake near Lipce. This particular site (Campsite Perun Lipce) has it’s own beach on the lake and professes to be dog friendly. We’ll see…

We were never going to stay long at Lipce because, there’s not a lot going on in the area unless you are into outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling or water sports (and Vanya has absolutely no interest in any of those) and; we’d already booked accommodation on another site over in the Vipava Valley, which valley is becoming very well known for it’s wines (and as everyone knows both Vanya and I are into wine).

And so to Crnice (near Ajdovscina) in the Vipava Valley. Time for some wine tasting…

Oberaich (Styria), Austria August 2022

We were late getting away from Enzesfeld (we had to tear ourselves away) and we hadn’t really settled on our next destination. Zadar in Croatia appealed but at this time of the year (July and August), prices in Croatia are trebled and that kind of extortion never appeals.

We headed south and made it as far as Oberaich in Styria. We had found a small campsite in the back garden of a Gasthof – Gasthof Pickler – and decided to stay the one night. They were charging a reasonable price for the local beer and a very good Gruner Veltliner and the menu looked good.

It was late afternoon. That gave me time for a brief walk and a couple of beers before dinner. There is very little to Oberaich (other than a furniture store and a rather dilapidated Roman bridge) but, further along the road, up in the hills is another slightly larger hamlet known as Utschtal which provided nice views into the valley and, better still, has to be a serious contender for the village with the best kept gardens in Austria. Some of the gardens are stunning.

And then it was back to Oberaich and the Gasthof Pickler for some beer and food. What a great find the GP was!