A Town amidst the Garden of the Goriška Region
At the tail end of Vipava Valley, amidst fertile fields on one side and touching Gorizia (in Italy), lies the town of Šempeter pri Gorici. Its specific geography and the influence of two different cultures – Romance and Slavic – make for a turbulent history. Having been considered the rural outskirts of Gorica for centuries, today the settlement is a vibrant and independent town with excellent living conditions.
The finest garden
Šempeter (locals prefer to use the short version of the name) shows signs of prehistoric settlement. The earliest written accounts date back to the year 1200. This and later accounts indicate that it had already been an important manorial estate of the local counts at that point, and the Church of St Peter, which gave the town its name, was already there. The Counts of Gorizia and the Habsburgs in later times knew how to us the town's natural features to their advantage. Šempeter has the perfect climate and very fertile soil which lends itself to agriculture and especially horticulture which evolved to an important branch of industry in the course of centuries. In the 18th century, most of the estates went to the counts of Coronini whose operations included selling Šempeter-grown produce to the court in Vienna. Early vegetables and potatoes, which brought fame to the town, were gradually joined by floriculture somewhere around that time. A particular favourite, the violets of Šempeter, were a striking variety with a double perianth, and were cultivated up until the Second World War. At the height of their popularity, there were entire carriages taking the blooms to the court in Russia.
Rare traces of the former splendour
The idyll of the flourishing garden, which provided Gorica with fresh produce, was cut short by the brutality of the First World War. Šempeter was suddenly right on the front line and was levelled with the ground. After the war, some buildings were rebuilt. Today these are the only material hints of the town's rich history. The main piazza features the magnificent Church of St Peter. Over the foundation of an earlier church that was mentioned in records around 1200, a new church was built after the First World War based on the blueprints of famous local architect Maks Fabiani. Next to the church stands the town's most beautiful building – the residence of counts of Coronini. The mansion, originally built in the 17th century and remodelled in the 19th century, was almost completely destroyed during the First World War. The remodelling project was entrusted to Maks Fabiani who put his own signature style to the construction, whilst staying true to its original aristocratic character. The Coronini Castle was renovated a few years ago and today acts as the seat of the municipal administration. It also houses the permanent exhibition detailing the history of the aristocratic Coronini family, and doubles as a venue for cultural events. The legacy of the Coroninis in Šempeter encompasses a fascinating building called Mafejšče (previously Villa Maffei), the family residence until 1947. Hints of the rich horticulture cultivated by the aristocracy up to the Second World War in their parks can still be seen in the town's present landscape design, conjuring up a glamorous Mediterranean atmosphere.
Opportunities for sport fans
A number of footpaths start in Šempeter and cyclists will easily find a trail matching their skill level. Overlooking the town is St Mark's Hill, a popular hiking destination, affording amazing views of Gorizia in Italy, across the plain around Šempeter and toward Friuli. In the other direction, along the hills of Vrtojba and Bilje a nice loop trail was set up for visitors to hike or cycle. Climbing fans will love Šempeter because of the largest artificial climbing wall in Slovenia with more than 8,000 all types of climbing holds. Vrtojba, a settlement not far off, offers a kart track to petrol heads, where karting races are held.
Dolce far niente – sweet idleness
The Italian way of life with a penchant for the small pleasures of life has spilled over to this side of the border. For centuries, Šempeter was connected to Gorica. Today it is a town in its own right, still maintaining the reputation of the region's finest garden. The abundance of early, high-quality vegetables from Šempeter and Vrtojba keeps inspiring the exquisite local gourmet offering which no visitor should miss out on. The serene vibe of the tiny town is perfect for idling around if you feel so inclined.
Municipality of Šempeter-Vrtojba