Intimations of a second lockdown in Slovenia drove us off our backsides and into the open air while we could still do so - or at least without wearing masks while outdoors. We headed for a local nature reserve in Sečovlje (I think you pronounce it seh-chow-lee-ay), right on the border with Croatia, which co-exists with one of the few remaining salt pan works in the region. Since we moved back, I have been talking of another autumn walk here. I have fond memories of our several visits about a dozen years ago, and some spectacular photos courtesy of a friend with far better photographic skills than I.
First excitement for me was a profusion of Michaelmas daisies. I start to hanker after growing them every September - our school's Founder's Day was on Michaelmas, and we used to wear posies of Michaelmas daisies for the church service. This is all pure nostalgia - when I was a teenager, we thought it stupid and complained about wearing weeds. But anyhow, here they were at last, the first wild ones I had seen in Slovenia. But we were in a nature reserve, so was this a gift of Mother Nature or a test of my moral fibre?
They have now built a boardwalk across the water and parallel to the main path so walkers can avoid cyclists and the odd car (they are working on cutting down motor traffic through the park). Trauma occurred early on when Alcuin got two splinters from climbing the rail. We got one out, and I assured him the other would soak out in the bath, so he proceeded to stop about every six feet to lie down and dip his hand in the water (at least that was his excuse). Actually, he stopped about every six feet for something most of the walk - getting or handing back the map, asking for a snack, asking for a drink, handing back the snack... Ted just kept walking on and back, probably tripling his exercise.
|An abandoned salt worker's home|
So, the nerdy stuff that interests me at least: salt has been harvested here since about the year 800, and some of those centuries were pretty cut throat. When the Venetian Empire took control, coercing the towns in the Eastern Adriatic to sign a compulsory purchase agreement, they deliberately destroyed most of the nearby salt works to create a virtual monopoly. They periodically continued this policy, leaving the Sečovlje pans untouched to become the most important source of salt in the Venetian Empire. In the wake of its collapse, the Austrian Empire took over and formally declared salt a state monopoly in 1814. By the mid-twentieth century (and more political changes of hands), salt mines were seen as more profitable; the pans declined, and were bought up by a succession of small companies. In the 1990s, the process of declaring the wetlands a nature reserve began. The Sečovlje pans are one of the last in the Mediterranean area (nearby Štrunjan has some, but the area is currently closed to walkers).
The simple evaporation process has been largely unchanged for centuries. Sea water is filtered into a huge network of rectangular basins, pans, linked by a series of small canals that have a miniature lock and dam system to let water in and out. The salt is moved down from deeper to shallower pans until it has evaporated to the extent that the salt can be scraped out. A little rail network enables the harvesters to push the wagons of salt to the salt works where it is piled up to dry out. The most gourmet salt is the fleur de sel (flower salt), that forms as a crust on the evaporating sea water.
|The canal/channel system|
|A better bird photo courtesy of my friend, Martin|
|I know the shadow is there, but I rarely get a photo of myself|
Touristy stuff. The salt pans are about a twenty-minute drive from central Koper. They are in the middle of a little village, and there are places to eat close by, but I have not explored the area. Here is the website. I found that the Slovenian language version was more up-to-date than the English version, which still said the reserve was closed until further notice, so you might want to double check the original with a translation tool. At the time of writing, the museum and the road that leads to it (a walk on the other side of the reserve) were definitely closed. You can also explore the salt pans with the Nexto app, that covers several tourist areas in Slovenia. I'm not big into electronic tourist guides (I like to read and then experience the place), but others may love it. Take layers and sun cream - there can be a biting wind in the summer, and apparently, scorching weather in the autumn. And if you go in the summer, of course you can try out the Thalasso Spa, but be prepared to bare all.