How to make the most of Slovenia’s Vipava Valley, from wine tasting to trekking

Stretching south east along the Italian border, Vipava Valley is a beautiful patchwork of wine-growing hills, hiking trails and hilltop villages.

By Nova Gorica and Vipava Valley Tourist Board
Published 11 Jun 2022, 18:00 BST
Beyond the wine-tasting and vineyard strolls in Vipava Valley are medieval hilltop villages waiting to be ...

Beyond the wine-tasting and vineyard strolls in Vipava Valley are medieval hilltop villages waiting to be explored.

Photograph by Jan Čermelj

Running south east from the town of Nova Gorica, Slovenia’s Vipava Valley is probably best known for its fertile, wine-growing hills and inviting year-round climate. But despite being a short drive from the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, this sun-drenched valley flies under the radar of many travellers. Beyond the wine tasting and vineyard strolls lie medieval hilltop villages, mountain biking trails and some of the best fine dining restaurants in the country. Here are four ways to explore Slovenia’s sunniest secret.

1. Sample the local wines

Anyone familiar with Vipava Valley will know wine production thrives in the valley. The conditions are a blessing to the area’s winemakers, who produce everything from Batič wines using time-honoured techniques to more modern, natural wines like Ribolla Gialla or Malvasia. Most famous for its whites, visitors to the valley can expect crisp Chardonnays and fresh, fruity Sauvignon Blancs. 

Most of the family-run wineries open their farms and vineyards up to visiting oenophiles, offering tastings, tours and traditional home-cooked meals that might include cured meats or walnut štruklji (dumplings), for example. For an overall snapshot of winemaking in the valley, book an organised group tour at any one of a number of small, family-run wineries.

From gentle free-wheels through tumbling vineyards to lung-busting 6,000ft climbs, there are plenty of cycling routes to suit all abilities.

Photograph by Marijan Močivnik

2. Explore on two wheels

Those more pedal than Pinot are in luck, because as well as being a wine paradise, Vipava Valley is also a cyclist’s dream. From gentle free-wheels through tumbling vineyards to lung-busting 6,000ft climbs, there are plenty of routes to suit all abilities. For sightseeing and forgiving terrain, a two-hour circuit runs around the lower Vipava Valley from Nova Gorica to Dornberk and back, passing Miren Castle and Kostanjevica Monastery. For something a little more challenging, set off on the three-hour climb up to the Gora Plateau and Kovk hill for a tough ride rewarded by remarkable views.

From the same spot, those in search of something more extreme can swap lycra for a harness and join the paragliders who take off from Kovk. There can’t be a more exhilarating or beautiful way to see Vipava Valley than from above, swooping over the valley down to one of the many designated landing sites. The Vipava River presents plenty of other opportunities for an active adventure though, from fly fishing and kayaking to standup paddleboarding and relaxed hikes along scenic river routes.

Above the village of Branik, the mighty Rhihebmerk Castle is one of Slovenia's oldest.

Photograph by Marijan Močivnik

3. Step into the past

The verdant, fairytale hills of the valley wouldn’t be complete without a smattering of ancient castles and forts. In this respect too, Vipava delivers in spades, with nearly 2,000 years of history etched into its towns’ defensive walls, cathedrals and narrow alleyways.

Near the Hubelj River in Ajdovščina, one of the region's largest towns, are the remains of the third-century Roman Castra fortress. Visitors can see well-preserved portions of the wall and learn about the region’s Roman legacy through the remnants of spas and archaeological artefacts at the nearby Ajdovščina Museum Collection.

Ten minutes away from Ajdovščina by bus is the picturesque town of Vipavski Križ. This hilltop site began as a humble village settlement in the 13th century. A castle and defensive wall were erected to protect the village from the Ottomans, and within those defence structures, the settlement grew into a bustling trade centre. The walls of the old castle and two ancient bell towers can still be explored today, as can the library of the 17th-century Capuchin monastery, where visitors can peruse manuscripts, books and baroque artworks.

Most of the independent cellar doors in the valley will lay on a wonderfully rustic spread to complement wine tastings.

Photograph by Miha Bratina

4. Taste the cuisine 

As is so often the case with successful wine regions, the Vipava Valley has become known as a top destination for wandering foodies. Most of the independent cellar doors encountered will lay on a wonderfully rustic spread to complement wine tastings. This can be combined with a pleasant cycle for a self-guided ‘bike and taste’ tour through the valley’s vineyards.

For a tasting menu you’ll be talking about for years to come, head north to Gostilna Pri Lojzetu, one of the best restaurants in the country, housed within a 17th-century frescoed manor house. Expect artistic, innovative presentation and dishes as interesting as they are indulgent.

For delicious traditional dishes, served in the sun-dappled gardens of farmhouses, a visit to one of the area's agritourism farms is a must. There are numerous dotted throughout the valley, where travellers can expect speciality dishes such as duck pâté with roasted figs and summer herbs, or homemade ravioli, filled with piglet meat and seasoned with tomato sauce and fried peppermint.

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