Hill Top Villages
This mini section is about those litttle, narrow stone streets, high walls & arches, wonky old houses and terracotta roofs in several stunning medieval villages around here.. all sitting on top of hills with fantastic Mediterranean views..
We will highlight just seven of our favourite hill top villages, not far from the Lodge, either in Green Slovenia or Istria, (the neighbouring bit of Croatia), but there are a lot of hills and a lot of villages around here to explore, so you very well might find your own special hill top village during your adventures here!
These very special villages share common features.. they are all like living museums with antique stone houses, cobbled streets and high defensive walls protecting a medieval settlement on top of a hill. Often there is a castle or crumbling old castle wall with high arched entrances, a beautiful church and a network of steep, winding tiny streets just waiting to be explored.
When you approach these places from a distance and look up.. they all have that feel of a mountain or hill that you want to go climb and explore and all the villages here that we will tell you about have at least a restaurant or cafe and somewhere to get souvenirs to complete your visitor experience.
If you are all fit enough to walk up, then one word of advice is to park well below the village top either at the foot of the hill, the new town below or the car park opposite and then enjoy the walk up. The closer you get to the top of these villages, the less parking you will find and the tiny bumpy roads become incredibly narrow.
As a rule of thumb, if you get to a big archway in the castle wall, then this is as far as your car will go! But it is never a problem to drop off someone who cannot walk so well here at the gates and then drive back down to park the car.
All these villages have their own special character and feeling to them.. You can only really tap into this when you are walking around and looking into the corners, down the narrow alleys, seeing the washing strung out on lines, the bright flowers on window sills or the tiny balconies above the hand made doors and admiring the fantastic views from top of the hill.
These are great places to stop off for lunch on the way to somewhere and have a wander around to explore and stretch your legs.. for example, we had an American family recently who were arriving at Pula airport in south Istria and driving up to the Lodge, so we recommended they take a really quiet route and stop off to visit Buzet hill top village on the way, with the added bonus of a very quiet border crossing and stunning Green scenery on the Slovenian side..
They arrived totally buzzing from this unexpected adventure.. they didn't just get the motorway experience from the airport, they had really made the most of their travel day! Each of these villages really does have their own character and depending on your travel logisitics, may be a better choice to suit your prefences..
So here we go.. park the car and start walking up that curvy hill to the top of our favourite hill top villages.. in no particular order..
Kriz in the Green Vipava Wine Valley.. (Slovenia)
Perched on top of a hill in the middle of the biggest Green Secret in Slovenia.. the Vipava Wine Valley.. surrounded by vineyards and mountains.
This is the perfect place to have a pit stop on your E Bike trip around the valley as there is a wonderful little shop/cafe offering tasting for the unique Vipava valley wines, local prosciutto and also stocked full of local souvenirs. This cafe made your visit to Kriz possible, so please support it!
There is a castle up here that has been half converted to a school, a monk who has a cellar and a jail.. all protected by the big town walls and a huge entrance archway from the car park.
You could also hike up here as part of a longer wander and if you are driving through the valley towards the Soca river one way or Lipizzaner Lodge the other way, then it really is a perfect place to jump off the motorway or main road and go back in time for a while.
Read more about Vipava Kriz here..
Stanjel in the Teran Kras Wine Region.. (Slovenia)
There are uberfantastic views of the Kras Teran wine region AND the neighbouring Vipava valley with Mt Nanos in the distance from the little mini green park at the very top of Stanjel. The castle tower up here is pretty much destroyed and the main church can be best described as an enormous lemon!
There is just one restaurant here inside the main town walls where you can get drinks, but if you want to eat, be sure to book a table in advance.
We particularly recommend a loop ascent here to see all the little corners and nooks & crannies of this town and once you are at the very top the 360 degree vista is just superb.
We love the little gardens and allotments scattered around up here and the thick Karst stone windows and door frames. There is just one shop selling local artwork and souvenirs, so this is a very relaxed, laid back hill top village for you to explore.
Read more about Stanjel here..
Smartno in the Gorica Brda Wine Region.. (Slovenia)
It takes just an hour from the Lodge to whizz up through the Vipava Valley past Nova Goricia, crossing the famous bridge over the Soca River and pop into the Goricia Hills, (Goriska Brda) arriving at St Martin, Smartno..
Smartno is in the heart of the Goricia Hills wine region, yet another completely different wine Slovenian zone, this time producing unique Rebulla wine.. you can try it and see it growing here all around!
Smartno is a medieval walled village protected by several chubby round towers and high walls with sensational views over the vineyards and cherry orchards.
There is a car park on the edge of the village and the views from here are pretty good.
You then enter the village through a big stone arch and there is plenty of medieval eye candy and warm mediterranean colours to treat your senses as you stroll round and explore.
Over the border in Croatia, this same village woud have souvenir shops, restaurants, artist studios in almost every building, but this is Slovenia, so there is currently just one restaurant and one artist studio as far as we can make out.
Our conclusion for the perfect hill top village is a "mix" of Slovenia and Istrian style, with maybe just a few more shops than one for tourists to choose from to spend their holiday money, but we are sure that will happen over time, without spoiling the amazing Slovenian Green peacefulness.
Buzet with GORGEous River views (Istria)..
This beautiful medieval village is just over the other side of the Slovenian border and looks back towards the high limestone cliffs and border with Green Slovenia, where you might see the odd paraglider floating around.. In the other direction you can see the river Mirna as it disappears into a very impressive gorge.
If you have time you should certainly drive down and explore a bit of this gorge along the stone tracks..Some say this river Mirna is the old border between Slovenian Istria and Croatian Istria and then Buzet would be in Slovenia!!
Buzet is a much quieter, relaxed alternative to Motovun and Groznjan, but it still has it all.. some lovely restaurants close to the main arched entrance, a castle, beautiful church tower high up and some fab little shops.
We were really impressed how each ancient building of significance has a sign outside, also in English, telling you what the building was used for in the past.. bakery, school etc. So you can have a very interesting walk around Buzet.. but the views are really sensational.
Read more about Buzet here..
Motovun.. the best known hill top village (Istria)
This is the one that will have busses cramming the car parks on the way up in high season and tourists all over the place, but for good reason.. it is high up and the views are incredibly beautiful. There is quite a walk up from the lower car park, so this might be the one village that you try to get as close as possible to.
There are cafes, bars and restaurants and plenty of other opportunities for you to be quickly seperated from your money.. so if you want to see the difference between how Croatia does a hill top village and how Slovenia does it, then visit here and Stanjel!
Groznjan.. village of Artists (Istria)
Just along from Motovun is Groznjan, which is quieter, relaxed and stuffed with artist galleries. There are some really nice places to eat and relax here and just like all the other hill top villages, this place was just made to explore, admire and wander around!
We visited here on a rainy December day, but we absolutely loved it, parked easily, had all the tiny streets to ourselves and still found a restaurant open! The parking is quite tight and in the high season don't expect to just roll up to the top and park.
It is just like a big stone maze up here with very tight streets to explore!
Both Groznjan and Motovun have a great position near to the Croatian motorway and main roads leading into Slovenia, so could be the perfect hill top partner for your Istrian adventure!
Labin with a view to the sea (Istria)
We went to Labin, again in the off season, which we totally recommend, on the way back from a round day trip to Pula. Labin is further down the Istrian peninsula and looks out to the sea in one direction and over to the lovely mountains that you can drive up through on your way home!
There is actually a lovely cafe at the foot of the old town on the other side of the main road in a hotel where we also got a yummy cake! You then cross the road and walk up into the hill top town to explore another medieval maze of streets.
This place has a real character about it.. a bit like the old towns of Piran or Izola, where people are living their lives in these pretty little stone houses with thick wooden shutters, underwear flapping around on washing lines and incredibly tight narrow roads!
This place is well worth a stroll around, it is so colourful and all paths lead up to the beautiful church at the top.
We also went down to the coast later to see how Croatia does the seaside down here and were shocked how every cm of land by the coast is used for caravans or hotels.. so let's put it this way.. there is no way we would come anywhere near here in the high summer.. but you can have this place all to yourself if you come off season.. your choice!
We hope we have introduced you to another special hill top feature of this part of the world and sincerely wish you can get to at least one of these villages for the view, the stroll and the food..