Last May, Andy and I did 5-6 days walking in Slovenia, a little strip of a country sitting like a finger pointing from the Alps to the Adriatic coast. Tiny, with less than 2.5 million inhabitants. It was an easy trip to get there from us, flight to Bergamo, cheap and good train to Trieste, bus to Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, and then another local bus to get us started. A very enjoyable and easy couple of days.
Walking takes you to a different time and place. Much of Slovenia is farmed small-scale, with small holdings, farms and homes with self-sufficient gardens and a few animals. Meadows there look like I remember them, when sometimes as a small child, we picked armfuls of cowslips in sleepy Somerset fields. Masses of wild clover, wild sage, dianthus and grasses cover the limestone plateau of the Karst, a sunny, dry and also harsh environment for people and animals, where stone and rocks are the most constant features.
Gardens are a crucial part of rural Slovenian life. They need to be productive, and most gardens we walked by had people working the big vegetable patches. But also, gardens contain wilder, flowering spaces, often made very beautiful by home-made arches, trellises, gateways or sculptures. They were clearly very loved spaces.
And in Stanjel, at the Villa Ferrari, the surprise is one of the first 20th century European gardens to use concrete as a construction material. Designed by the landscape architect, Fabbiani, the gardens that you see now are a bit of a shadow of their former selves, but there are still things to enjoy. The intricacy of the water engineering that, in such harsh land conditions, ensures lush planting, is still there.
A magnificent loggia, very reminiscent of Lutyens, with fat columns and a wide pathway, is still there, albeit neglected in the public part of the garden.
And a curious little island and bridge, sat in a very small pond, is somehow sweet to see, in a Lilliputian way. And the views are just stunning. Just as they were in the 1920s and 30s when the garden was being built.