Paradise on Karst
Travelling along the ancient thoroughfares which unite two populations
The word Karst derives from the preindoeuropean "Karra", meaning stone. A particularly suitable name then for this arid territory of chalky stone and rock.
The journey into Karst
So as to gain an idea of Italy's Karst country, we start our journey in Piazza Oberdan, in Trieste, where we board the funicular railway inaugurated in 1902.
A succession of breathtaking views greets us on our often heart-stopping voyage upwards towards the first Karst peaks and Villa Opicina, where we descend and continue our panoramic journey on foot along the 5km Napoleonico pathway.
Wine and weddings
So as to commence the next stage of the journey, we need to return to Villa Opicina from where we take the Vino Terrano road, wine road which, after just 7kms, leads us to Monrupino with its impressive fortress.
In the 16th century, the inhabitants of the area built the sanctuary in honor of the Beata Vergine Assunta here, where, every two years, the Karst Weddings are celebrated: a re-enactment of the ancient Slovenian marriage ceremony
Giant caves and geo-climatic gardens
Nearby, lies the town of Rupingrande with its ethnological museum containing a typical Slovenian dwelling dating back to the 1800's.
Some 5kms from Rupingrande we come to the Grotta Gigante, an immense Karst cavity, famous throughout the world for its impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites.
At Sgonico we take time to admire the splendid Botanical Garden, comprised of 60 hectares of land divided in to eight distinct geo-climatic environments.
A poet, a castle and a desperate dame
Between 1911 and 1912, Rainer Maria Rilke took up residence in the splendid Castle of Duino. The Prague-born poet composed his Duino Elegies during his sojourn here and today, a pathway has been named in his memory.
The pathway commences at Sistiana and leads all the way to the Castle, cutting through the "Falesie di Duino" Nature Reserve. Once at the fortress, visitors are granted access to a wing of the castle where to admire a magnificent stairway designed by Palladio.
Duino Castle is a place wrapped in mystery and legend has it that the ghost of Dama Bianca, a love struck noble lady who threw herself from the tower in to the sea below, still lingers in its rooms
Museums and memories in Monfalcone
So as to reach Monfalcone we pass through the Bocche del Timavo, close to the village of San Giovanni. The Timavo river starts in Slovenia and continues for some 47 kilometers underground before surfacing again for just 2 kilometers, right next to the 15th century Church of San Giovanni in Tuba.
Monfalcone is a lively industrial harbor town. Whilst here we visit the Paleontological Museum and the town's Modern Art Gallery. Close by lies the Redipuglia War Memorial, built in memory of those who fell in the Karst Battles of the First World War and inaugurated by Mussolini in 1938.
Birds, lions and contemporary art
We make our next stop at the Nature Reserve of Lakes Doberdò and Pietrarossa, a site much loved by birdwatchers.
Our journey draws to a close in Gradisca d'Isonzio, town which bears all the traces of its past dominion by the Republic of Venice, including the column topped by a statue of St Mark's lion in Piazza Unità d'Italia.
Also well worth visiting are the Church of the Addolorata and the Cathedral, the façade of this latter realized by Paolo Zuliani. Not to be missed: the Luigi Spazzapan Regional Gallery of Contemporary Art.