Gorizia, Nova Gorica and Charles X of France

It’s fascinating to be European. With so many tribes and rulers and nations and states interchanging, mixing, succeeding one another, one is sure to not know the whole history of one’s own let alone the one of the others. The history of Gorizia and Nova Gorica, two neighbouring towns, one in Italy and the other in Slovenia, is figuratively and actually an interesting one. Both have been relatively unknown beyond their geographic region but this might be changing soon. Enter France.

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My first time ever to visit both towns purposefully was last June. True, I happened to pass them by many times before especially on our way to Collio and Goriška Brda. I was told that both of the towns are fairly uninteresting so I never really felt like I was missing much by not seeing yet another Austria-Hungarian merchant town and yet another bleak communist settlement.

The region surrounding them (on both sides of the Italian-Slovenian border) on the other hand is well known among wine connoisseurs. The soil and climate conditions and hard-working people give some spectacular wines that can be found in restaurants’ wine lists worldwide. And where there’s good wine there’s good food, right?

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Primo piato in Rosenbar, Gorizia

Plenty good options for either lunch or dinner around here. The countryside is wonderful for a daytrip alone: meandering roads, manicured hilly vineyards, many lovely villages, a castle or two (Spessa, Dobrovo), lots of wineries, different options of bicycle tours or horse riding (La Subida), or just plain good old lunching time in the country.

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The two towns are rather dull but Gorizia’s charms are good food (it’s Italy after all), rose lined corsi (and come spring every other house’s wall is transformed into curtain of jasmine so the wonderful perfume follows you around like a faithful dog) and some grand palazzi. Nova Gorica (meaning New Gorizia) as an alternative is a town of no big secrets lest the last resting place of the penultimate king of France.

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The Franciscan monastery Kostanjevica on the hill above Nova Gorica is a lovely spot. Tranquility and serenity are at home there and the views especially are nice. It’s where locals come for some peace and quiet. The summer’s day at the end of June was hot, the light was harsh, the colours stark. The man showed us in and accompanied us to the crypt where the tombs are. He was very busy so we were offered to do a little tour on our own which was marvellous. The whole place was solely at our own disposal.

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The last (Bourbon) King of France (next one (and truly the last one) cleverly denoted himself as the King of the French) Charles X is buried here along his entourage. Don’t know why this fantastic information was kept from us growing up under Yugoslavian communist rule. It wasn’t because the king had to flee France as a result of the revolution. Communists praised the revolution. Possibly the venue was not to be promoted since religion was a no-no. As I said, I don’t know. I’ve known about the Bourbon tomb in Slovenia only for a few years now which is a disgrace but ever since I found out I’d wanted to go and see.

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The monastery also houses the perfect (and second largest in Europe) collection of Bourbon (surprise!) roses within its walled garden. We’ll return next May when it’s in full bloom. It is another thing I long to see.

As for the French, suddenly they want him back. Apparently, he’s the only king buried outside France. R.I.P.

 

Related:

France calls for remains of King Charles X to be returned from Slovenia

Bourbon Tombs, Monastery Kostanjevica

Bourbon Rose Collection, Monastery Kostanjevica

http://www.touringclub.it/itinerari-e-weekend/weekend-in-friuli-che-cosa-fare-e-bere-nel-collio

 

Plastic Fantastic

Even when I was growing up, in the 80s, there circulated an anecdote about some strange kid asking his or her parents upon spending a day in the countryside and seeing a cherry tree laden with fruit: “Who was the barmy person that hanged the cherries in the tree?”

This at the time when we as children spent a significant amount of time out in the country or at least out in the open and our mothers tended the kitchen gardens after work or at least our grandmothers did. Poor old cherries. Poor old child.

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At the approximately same time at my friend’s brother’s school, who is 10 years our junior, one child’s response to teacher’s inquiry “Where does milk come from?” was a determined and self-confident: “Off the shelf in the supermarket.”

All the same, I usually like to think of our generation as one of the last to have grown up within the actual natural environment and not watching it from indoors (possibly on the TV). Getting dirty and sweaty and ending up with bruised knees was no news to any of us or our parents. Or to the teachers at school. It was certainly a part of a healthy and sturdy growing up.

Consuming the natural environment in the sense of being comfortable within it and being aware of it helps the consumption remains within the limits of healthy and respectable. It never occurs to me to break the branches of the trees or damage the fungi just for the fun of it. I couldn’t leave rubbish behind. I can’t imagine disposing of something in the sea or in the street for that matter. I would never chase the animals or scare them on purpose. Not even the nasty pigeons. That doesn’t apply to mosquitoes though. Guilty as charged.

There’s more to it than this, I know. It’s a deeper issue not to be superficialized. Everyone should already in the early age be introduced to the joys and responsibilities of enjoying the natural environment for the pure beauty of it. The biological diversity alone can be a well of inspiration to the children and their parents. It’s a mysterious place, Mother Nature’s home. I remember all the fun we had as children running around the forests, meadows, jumping over the streams, watching the birds (there was an owl nesting in the chimney of the little cottage in our town’s forests) and foraging the blueberries or mushrooms. Oh, the rewards of the physical freedom.

Anyway, this last summer I read a few articles on ever so popular theme of environment protection. Obviously, they’ve employed my mind. Guess what, it’s a jungle out there.

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Recommended:

If you see not the wilderness but only the trophy animals in it; if the closest you’ll ever get to the forest is riding in a jeep with seven friends who have been brought up to think of the stillness and quietness of the wild as uncomfortable, even threatening; if your culture teaches you to recognise Pokémon but not different kinds of leaves or trees, how will you value any of this?

Excerpt from Nilanjana Roy in FT Weekend 27/28 August 2016 on the problem of preserving the forests

FT Weekend 4 August 2016: The 22-year-old trying to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and same topic in The Guardian 22 June 2016

You thought so-called paper coffee cups get recycled? Think again. The Guardian on Britons’ consumption of paper coffee cups that are not recycled after all Excerpt from this article by Paula Cocozza:

[…]you need to be busy to be important, while telling everyone you had time to wait in line while the beans were ground and the milk was steamed. And now there is one more contradiction to add to the list, because the paper coffee cup, it turns out, is recyclable – yet woefully, overwhelmingly, unrecycled.

Pelješac, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia


When we decided to visit Southern Dalmatia a couple of weekends ago we expected it to mean a prolonged summer break. As it turned out, the weather wasn’t quite as fabulous as we’d hoped for. It was a good thing we didn’t need it to be A+ for what we were after: some good fish-based meals, the lovely plavac (a.k.a. zinfandel’s child) and a leisurely rediscovering of the area. A simple break from the norm.

 

Trsteno, Croatia

(Almost) Everything was just as we remembered from our last stay some five or so years ago. The scenery is mostly unchanged which is great, the sea is very much blue and the beaches almost deserted. Low season indeed.

Peljesac, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia

Despite its misleading shape and form Peljesac is in fact a peninsula, which means it’s accessible by road. This is a helpful bit of information if one plans a short break as it means no waiting in lines for dull, somewhat expensive and long(ish) ferry rides. Its landscape is also beautifully rough, very much karst and Dalmatian and it’s dotted with cosy little villages and towns. No resorts here.

 

Peljesac, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia

A definite must-visit on the peninsula are the lovely little coastal towns of Mali Ston and Ston each located on the opposite shores of the peninsula and connected with ancient fortified walls running up and down along the slopes that divide the two towns. For the fit and ready there’s the annual wall marathon where the walls are actually a running field. The experience (not to mention incredible views) must be unforgettable.

 

Map depicting the city walls of Ston, Peljesac, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia where annual marathon is held

Turn left at the crossing were Peljesac meets the mainland and you’re headed in the direction of Bosnia (its coast is only about 20 kilometres long) and further up to the northern part of Croatian coast. Turn right and you’re less than an hour drive to Dubrovnik, the gem town of ancient age and glorious history. So, there’s plenty of day-trip options in all directions.

 

Trsteno, Croatia

The views from the road on the way to Dubrovnik reminded me a bit of Amalfi coast. This also is a land where lemons grow (and pomegranates and quinces and the lot). Along the way one can stop by the road and enjoy the views over the sea to the near-by islands like Mljet or Lopud. The traveller should by all means make a stop at Trsteno, a village perched on both sides of the main road. There are several reasons for that. The locals are proud of their 16th century plane trees that are possibly the largest in Europe. What’s not to miss is the arboretum. It’s the only Mediterranean garden of its kind along the Croatian coast, which is quite surprising considering its length.

 

Trsteno, Croatia

Its villa (regretfully in a poor shape) and the pavilion have the most fantastic location: amidst the lush greenery and with unbeatable views over the Adriatic. There are many pleasant alcoves in the garden where you can rest and enjoy the peace and quiet or the songbird or the sounds of the wind caught high up in slender palm trees. Or you can meander around its cultivated terraces. There’s also a gorgeous baroque Neptune fountain with its own private aqueduct built to supply it with water.

 

Trsteno, Croatia

When we were there there was a stall, well, it was more a folding table, outside the entrance where a grey-haired man was selling homemade delicacies: jams, liqueurs, dried fruit and herbs. During our brief encounter we learned about his strict wife forbidding him to offer the customers tastings but he nevertheless insisted we try the refreshing arancini (so good!), the tenderest dried figs I’ve ever eaten and the various kinds of liqueurs. We left with a bag full of good stuff, the most medicinal being the sage liqueur. Quite exquisite.

 

Lunch near Dubrovnik, Croatia

Which reminds me: it’s the fig season! Or rather, it is still the fig season. The fantastic smell winding magically around the fig trees and from behind stonewalls in the coastal regions of Mediterranean has compressed into sensual fruit. Grab it while you still can.

 

Peljesac, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia

I think fondly of those happy moments, lacing our summer trips, when we notice we pass a fig tree only after its head-swirling perfume fills our noses. For me, it represents hot syrupy days under scorching sun, quasi fresh early mornings of bright yellow, smells of macchia and distant sea, stains of red soil on the white rocks, and all the nuances of a clear, never-ending sky.

When you have a bunch of figs, small or not so small, violet or green, that are sadly not as sweet and tasty as you’d want them to be, despair not. Make the best of them by roasting them.

 

Preparing fragrant figs

It’s a simple and delicious dessert (or a sweetspoon if you happen to eat it directly out of the roasting dish). This is how I make it:

– Preheat the oven to 200°C

– Cut the figs in half from top to bottom

– Place on a roasting dish cut side up

– Add 1-2 dcl of red wine depending on the size of the dish

– Add some freshly grated ginger

– Add lemon zest strips

– Add ground coriander or cardamom

– Add a little bit of brown sugar or (even better) a drizzle of honey (make sure all of the spices reach the wine as well not only the fruit)

– Squeeze half a lemon over everything

– Roast for 30 minutes.

I like to eat them when they’re still warm but they are very good when cool as well. Summer in the bowl.

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Did we make it to Dubrovnik? Certainly, for the umpteenth time. How was it? If you haven’t been go. If you’d seen it before, keep the happy memories and go some place else. I believe there are other beautiful places to discover. This one’s gotten too polished and superficial. It’s cat friendly though.

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Tired

Related:

Dalmatia

Kinookus – very interesting film festival in Ston on food production accompanied by Cinelokus, an organic food open-air market

Trsteno Arboretum

Unesco heritage: Dubrovnik

Miličić winery, Potomje, Pelješac

Grgić winery, Trstenik, Pelješac The Napa Valley wine-maker’s estate in Croatia

Restaurant Orsan, Dubrovnik A proper Dalmatian restaurant, real food, good service, away from the crowds

Restaurant Kapetanova kuća, Mali Ston, Pelješac

Fantastic fig recipes via The Guardian