The CARSO is the Italian name for the strip of limestone uplands that rise from the Venetian plain south of Monfalcone and eventually merge into the Istrian plateau. The particular shape and look of the karst landscape is due to the weathering of the limestone bedrock by water and wind. Although within a thirty-minute bus ride of Trieste, it feels like an entirely different country, and is geologically, botanically and demographically distinct from anywhere else in Italy. Most of the Carso now lies within Slovenia (its Slovene name is Kras), and even the narrow strip inside Italy, though supporting a population of just 20,000, remains distinctively Slovene in culture, boasting places with names like Zagradec and Koludrovica. The thick-walled houses seem built to withstand the blasts of the bora, the fierce northeasterly wind which can reach gusts of 90mph. When it’s at its worst ropes are strung along the steeper streets in Trieste and old folk stay indoors.
Like all limestone landscapes the environment is harsh: arid in summer and sometimes snowbound in winter. The surface of the plateau is studded with sink-holes left by streams which have formed vast caverns, underground lakes and rivers.
The distinctive landscape and unspoiled natural environment make for fine walking. If the scenery isn’t as grand as the Dolomites, the pace is gentler, and you can stop for refreshments at an osmiza.