Where the Alps and the Sea Meet
There is a common thread that runs through all cities in the world that have "new" in their name - at one time or another they offered a new opportunity, challenge or view on the world. Such was the case with Nova Gorica (New Gorica). It is a model town that was built by delovna akcija (a voluntary workforce) in 1948 out of the need for a new regional administrative centre. This became necessary after it was decided during the 1947 Paris Peace Conference that Gorica, which had been the region's administrative centre for centuries, would remain within Italy's newly defined boundaries. People who had once lived side by side were suddenly separated by an international border. This artificial separation of the populace ended with Slovenia's accession to the European Union. Even though the "iron curtain" that cloaked Slovenia was not as impenetrable as that which isolated the Warsaw Pact countries from the world (Slovenians were regular and welcomed customers in Austrian and Italian shopping centres located near the border), this occasion was nevertheless significant enough to make it one of the most notable celebrations of 1st May 2004, when Slovenia entered the EU. Natural Beauty The town is positioned at the juncture of the Mediterranean, the Alps and continental Europe and features a fascinating blend of the characteristics of each of these regions woven around the emerald green beauty of the Soca River. Up the river to the north, lie mountains that not only offer superb hikes but also have a seemingly mesmeric attraction for extreme sport enthusiasts. While the landscape to the east is dominated by mountains - Sabotin (609 m) and the High Karst and Dinaridi mountain ranges, which encompass the Banjscica plateau and Trnovski forest, the south opens up to the Karst region, whose unique natural phenomena, superb cuisine and fine wines have bought it international acclaim. Although extreme weather conditions can be encountered at times - torrential rainfalls, hail storms, black ice and the Kras bora (a gale force wind), the area has a predominantly warm Mediterranean climate, which is influenced by the Adriatic and makes Nova Gorica an ideal tourist destination. Caves full of stalactites and stalagmites, streams that disappear into the earth and other karstic phenomena are characteristic of the surrounding area. Ledena jama (Ice Cave) combines many of these features and is particularly interesting as it was once used as a source of ice, which was exported to such far off destinations as Egypt. The exquisite beauty of the region can also be experienced in Rafut park, Lijak, the Panovec forest and numerous other destinations dotted along the Soca River. Rich Background Whereas Nova Gorica is a modern bustling town with a population of approximately 35,000 residents, its surroundings have rich cultural heritage steeped in history. Just a stone's throw from the town's centre lies Kostanjevica, an old religious centre built around a small church and a Franciscan monastery. Kostanjevica is not only important to the numerous pilgrims that come here in search of spiritual enlightenment, it also has important historical value. The last members of the French house of Bourbon, including Charles X, lay at rest here, which often leads to Kostanjevica being referred to as "little St Dennis". Apart from the crypt, the Kostanjevica monastery also has a marvellous library. The library of Stanislav Skrabec has over 10,000 books and includes 30 incunabula and an extensive collection of books printed between the 16th and 19th centuries. They are especially proud of the first Slovene Grammar book - Adam Bohoric's Articae horuale. In 1985, Kostanjevica was proclaimed a national heritage site. Sveta Gora (Sacred Mountain), another old religious centre, lies to the west. The earliest recorded religious objects on Sveta Gora date back to 1376, however, it was the reported sightings of the Holy Mary that turned the area into a popular destination for pilgrims. Sveta Gora was also the scene of some the bloodiest fighting of the First World War and the small museum there has a number of displays attesting to this fact. Another interesting site is the old Jewish cemetery, located in the outskirts of Nova Gorica. Records indicate that there was an established Jewish community in the Gorica region in 1316, well before Gorica was granted town rights. The cemetery is one of the rare reminders of the Jewish presence in Slovenia. It is distinguished by its exceptionally well preserved headstones. City of Fun and Roses Nova Gorica now boasts one of the largest and most complete collections of Bourbon roses in the world. The collection contains 49 of the 80 known varieties of this old and cherished rose, which was named after Bourbon Island (now known as Reunion Island) in the Indian Ocean, from where it originates. The Bourbon rose is a crossbreed of the Chinese Old Blush and the European Quatre saissons and is highly prized due to its diversity and because it blooms from early spring until late autumn. But what really makes Nova Gorica an attraction for tourists is the gaming industry. There are a number of large casinos in Nova Gorica. The biggest, HIT Hotel Casino Park, features 443 slot machines and thirty-seven gaming tables and is open throughout the year. Casino Perla and Casino Princess are also noteworthy. The casinos not only attract guests from Slovenia and neighbouring Italy, but the hypnotic sounds of the slot machines also draw in guests from as far away as Austria, Germany and Croatia. However, the real beauty of the area lies in the people and their customs, particularly in the surrounding villages. One such custom is osmice, which originates from the 14th century when Karel the Great (1519 - 1555) allowed villagers to sell their surplus stocks of home-made wine and food on certain days of the year. The custom remains till this day and pulling into one the many farms and sampling local specialities such prsut (thinly sliced air-dried ham) and teran (a full-bodied red wine) is a treat not to be missed.