Salt-making is a centuries-old business along the Slovenian coast. The best place to get a briny taste is at the old salt pans of the Sečovlje Salina Nature Park, on the Croatian border. The 721-hectare area, criss-crossed with dikes, channels, pools and canals, was once a hive of activity and was one of the biggest money-spinners on the coast in the Middle Ages. Nowadays its wealth is in birdlife – some 270 species have been recorded here.
In the centre of the reserve is the wonderful Saltworks Museum. The exhibits relate to all aspects of salt making and the lives of salt workers and their families. Some 2000 tonnes of salt are still made here every year in the traditional way.
The seawater canals lead into shallow ponds, and were then dammed with small wooden paddles. Wind-powered pumps removed some of the water, and the rest evaporated in the sun and the wind as the salt crystallised from the remaining brine. The salt was collected, drained, washed and, if necessary, ground and iodised.
Salt harvesting was dry weather, seasonal work, lasting from 24 April (St George’s Day) to 24 August (St Bartholomew’s Day). During that time most of the workers lived in houses lining the canals, often paying their rent in salt. In September the workers returned to their villages to tend their crops and vines. Because they lived both on the land and ‘at sea’, Slovenian salt workers were said to ‘sit on two chairs’.
The main entrance to the park is at Lera just south of Seča and off the main road from Portorož. The other entrance, which is at Fontanigge and leads to the museum, is not connected by land with the Lera section. It is right on the border with Croatia; to reach it you must pass through Slovenian immigration and customs first, so don’t forget your passport. Just before you cross the Croatian checkpoint, take a sharp turn to the east and continue along a sealed road for just under 3km. The two museum buildings stand out along one of the canals.