The Alpe-Adria trail – Days 28 to 30

After a good night’s sleep, we set off on our 28th day on the trail for one of our shorter hikes, just 17 kilometres to cover. We could have done a lot more but, with a couple of long days coming up, we opted for a short-cut that shaved 12 kilometres off the route to Cormons.

From the hotel and its rather incongruous palm trees, we crossed the road into the vineyards and headed straight uphill through the vineyards opposite.

The Venko hotel palm trees

This day, like the previous one and the next, unfolded amid magnificent vineyards. It was almost like being back in the Langhe region near Alba. The vines were heavy with very full grapes of various hues. We knew that we’d probably find some very good wine waiting for us at the end of the day’s stage.

Grapes in the vineyards
View of the vineyards near Fojana

The first village we came to was Fojana and, shortly after, we saw a truly incredible church, incredible because we couldn’t figure out how it could still be standing. The tower leaned one way, the main body of the church another, and there wasn’t a single straight vertical line anywhere. Apparently, it had been built on very unstable terrain and had been threatening to collapse for years. I wonder if it will still be there if we go back one day.

The crooked church outside Fojana

Shortly after Fojana, we took our short-cut, following the road through the vineyards for a kilometre or two to the village of Medana where we picked up the Alpe-Adria again. There were very few people or cars about and it was a beautifully peaceful morning, not too hot and muggy.

From Medana, the trail passed through various small settlements, all clearly devoted to wine production, before leaving Slovenia for Italy once again. The border was announced by a pretty comical sign, informing us that we were just 20 metres from it!

Crossing from Slovenia to Italy, again

After the border, there was a steepish climb to a ridge through some beautiful woods of a country park, then a slight descent before another steep climb to the Madonna del Soccorso church high above Cormons.

Approaching the Madonna del Soccorso church

It was now 1:30 pm, so we decided to head down into the town for a late lunch before going to our accommodation where we weren’t expected until 4:30.

Cormons from the Madonna del Soccorso

It was a steep walk down into the town, mostly on steps from the church. After getting our phones zapped at the Alpe-Adria checkpoint, which had turned into the silhouette of a hiker in Italy after the three-pronged stands of Austria and message boards of Slovenia, we wondered into the heart of the small town to find a place to eat.

Alpe-Adria checkpoint in Cormons

And we weren’t disappointed. On the town hall square, we found the Enoteca di Cormons, an excellent wine bar with a shady terrace where we whiled away a couple of hours over a board of local charcuterie and cheese, along with a few glasses of an excellent local white wine (and a bottle of mineral, of course).

Our Enoteca lunch

After this leisurely lunch, we set off for our B&B which turned out to be almost 2 kilometres out of the centre. We stopped off along the way to book a table for dinner at the Osteria Caramella in the town centre. In Italy, food had suddenly become a priority, with no end of local specialities to sample.

Our accommodation, called a B&B on the booking site, turned out to be the ground floor of the owner’s house. It was a spacious and comfortable apartment with a small terrace and, at 45 euros a night, a real bargain.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon resting before heading back out at 7 pm for a spritz before dinner in a relaxing bar in the city centre. Dinner at the Osteria Caramella was as excellent as expected with excellent ham from a local producer, good mozzarella and tasty pasta. We washed it down with yet another excellent Friulian red wine. And we were grateful for the 2-km walk back to the B&B (much easier without packs) to digest it all.

The following day was another easy one with 20 kilometres to cover to Gradisca d’Isonzo where we would return to the river we knew as the Soča in Slovenia. The terrain would be mostly flat with only a couple of tiny hillocks as we made our way through glorious vineyards before the stony and dusty tracks of the river valley.

Breakfast at our accommodation was the usual weird selection of plastic-wrapped industrial pastries and yoghurts that are served in Italian B&Bs. Not ideal for a day of hiking but it didn’t really matter as it wasn’t going to be a tough one and we would be done by lunch.

We made a fairly early start before 8 am and by 8:30 we were heading out of Cormons and back into the Collio vineyards. It was another perfect day, not too hot, with clear blue skies. Like a couple of days earlier, we found other trails latching onto the Alpe-Adria, notably one that led hikers through the different vineyards.

The Alpe-Adria joins the Vigne Alte trail

Because of the early start, we avoided the heat of the day and there was plenty of shade along the way from the trees lining the vineyards. We lost our way briefly at one point but quickly realized it and returned to the trail. There was one fairly large village along the way, San Lorenzo Isontino, where we took a short break as the bells were ringing for Sunday mass.

The morning’s vineyards outside San Lorenzo Isontino

From the village, we crossed more vineyards until reaching a pedestrian tunnel under a major road that led us to the banks of the Soča/Isonzo that we would follow for a while. We then veered off into farmland after a couple of small lakes for the final stretch to Gradisca d’Isonzo.

Birch tree plantation along the Isonzo

The trail at this point was mostly made up of dusty farm tracks, but there was plenty of shade and the walking was in fact quite pleasant. Before we knew it, we emerged onto a road near a huge watermill transformed into a restaurant, passed through the town gates and found ourselves on the quiet streets of the old centre of Gradisca, laid out in a grid within the town walls. It was a pretty place, with wide, traffic-free streets and an easy-going air on this sunny Sunday. After our rather frugal breakfast, we were in search of some good pasta and found it at the Leone d’Oro where we had a delicious helping of cheesy ravioli with a hazelnut sauce. The food was so good and the owners so friendly, we instantly booked a table to try one of their pizzas that evening.

Pasta at the Leone d’Oro

It was just a short walk from the restaurant to our very comfortable and modern hotel with great staff opposite a large, green park just outside the walls. It was a wonderful place, one of our better hotels along the trail, with a very comfortable room with a balcony where we whiled away the rest of the afternoon before heading out for an aperitif and the excellent pizza at the Leone d’Oro, just what we needed for the next day, scheduled to be one of the longest on the trail with, according to the guide book, a 32-kilometre hike to Duino and the sea.

Breakfast the following morning was exceptional with great coffee, fresh eggs and ham, and some delicious homemade cakes. When we set off, we discovered that the sky was overcast for once. It was also pretty muggy and, as we crossed the Isonzo/Soča for the last time, we could see dark clouds gathering on the horizon.

Crossing the Isonzo (Soča) for the last time

As we walked past fields of sunflowers along the banks of the Isonzo, the clouds became blacker and the air muggier. After crossing the railway tracks, the trail began to head steeply uphill to Monte San Michele. And this was where we inadvertently took a wrong turn, due to the trail markings that had become fairly haphazard since arriving in Italy. This meant that we cut about 3 kilometres off the trail as described in our guidebook. And this wasn’t a bad thing because, shortly after, just when we arrived in San Martino del Carso, the heavens opened with a terrific downpour that sent us haring to the bus stop on the main square for shelter. The rain was bouncing off the tarmac and the timetable showed that there wouldn’t be a bus along for hours. So we got out the rain gear, waited around 20 minutes for the rain to ease a little, then set off again with heavy rain still falling.

The storm in San Martino del Carso

Fortunately, a lot of the hiking that morning was in the woods, so the trees sheltered us a little from the rain. Once again, there were trenches from World War One to be seen from time to time and, on arriving at the Casa Cadorna ruins above the Doberdo lake, we found ourselves in a series of tunnels that formed one of the Italian lines of defence.

Tunnels at Casa Cadorna

The rain had stopped, but the terrain turned nasty with a very steep descent from the Casa Cadorna ridge that was horribly stony and very hard to pick out on the wet, slippery terrain.

The descent from Casa Cadorna

This unpleasant section was livened up by the presence of a couple of friendly donkeys who decided to follow us down (which actually complicated the task).

The donkeys on the descent

We were glad to reach the bottom of this tricky section, which would turn out to be the last problematic bit of trail on the Alpe-Adria. The trail markings once again caused us to take a short-cut and, rather than follow a track on the south side of the lake, we ended up on one on the north side, shaving a few more kilometres off the day’s planned total. Instead of 32 kilometres, we would end up doing “just” 24 to reach Duino.

Looking back up to the Casa Cadorna ridge

After the village of Jamiano, there were a couple of easy ascents and descents of just 100 metres or so each time. From the top of one of these ascents, we had our first glimpse of the Mediterranean through the trees. Almost one month after leaving the Grossglockner glacier, we had finally reached the sea!

Our first glimpse of the Mediterranean

The views weren’t great from this point on as the trail followed a path overlooking the industrial port of Monfalcone and it really wasn’t a pretty sight. But the rest of the Alpe-Adria had been so spectacular that we weren’t going to complain about a few kilometres with ugly views, especially as the industrial complex kept vanishing behind the trees.

It was around here that we came across a phenomenon typical of this area of the Adriatic, the Bora, a wind that can wreak havoc on shipping and reach hurricane strength. On a sea-kayaking trip in Croatia in 2018, we had been warned to head for cover if ever it started blowing and our guide checked the weather reports twice a day to see if it was forming. Along the Alpe-Adria, I had been reading Nick Hunt’s wonderful book, Where the Wild Winds Are, in which he goes in search of a number of mythical winds, including the Bora. Apparently, in the past, there were fixed cables on Trieste streets for people to cling to on the worst days.

The wind blows hardest when a high-pressure area sits over the mountains of the interior plateau behind the coastal mountain range and a calm low-pressure area lies further south over the warmer Adriatic. The storm earlier in the day had probably created these conditions. When the Bora blows, according to Hunt, it does so for three, six or nine days. And, indeed, it would be our constant companion over the next three days before vanishing completely. In the course of the following night, it would cause a drop in temperature of close on 15 degrees and we would already sense its effects at dinner by the sea that evening.

I first became aware of its presence when the baseball cap that had been more or less glued to my head since leaving Grossglockner was suddenly whipped off and ended up in a nearby tree!

As we approached the sea at the small harbour/marina in the Villagio del Pescatore just outside Duino, we could hear the lines knocking against the yachts’ masts in the wind and had to navigate around huge puddles from the morning’s rain that had flooded the trail. The sky was now blue again, meaning that we would be getting a “light” Bora without the full rage of the wind (usually reserved for winter).

After a brief climb from the sea to the village of Duino, we found our B&B, which turned out to be another unusual place. It was run by a sister and a brother, the feisty Federica and the very camp Giorgio. The place was decorated a little theatrically (with an ostrich plume standard lamp in the living room, for example), but there was a wonderful garden where they served us a welcome beer. The big surprises came in our room where one wall was taken up by a huge mirror and, even more surprisingly, the shower in our bathroom had a glass floor that gave straight onto the main staircase. Fortunately, there was an electric blind to preserve our modesty because otherwise anyone heading up the stairs would have been in for quite a sight, especially as the shower’s floor was pretty slippery and could have resulted in some rather surreal views if ever we slipped and fell! Giorgio was very proud of the whole set up but we felt a little uncomfortable with it to say the least.

For dinner, we followed Giorgio’s recommendation and headed down to the small harbour in Duino where, after a stroll along the quayside, in sweaters for once because of the Bora, we had a delicious dinner of seafood antipasti and pasta before heading back up the hill for another good night’s sleep, making sure that the shower blind was in place for the following morning!

The sunset at Duino

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