Cover Photo: View of Koper Waterfront, Photographer: Szilas
Slovenia and I have been sharing a very special bond for years now; it not only is home to my Alma Mater university (University of Ljubljana – Univerza v Ljubljani) but it’s also a place where I spent one of the most beautiful and memorable years of my adult life. Job hunting and other life occurences hadn’t allowed me to re-visit that little gem of a country for many years after my graduation. As it had been in my bucket list for some time, I decided to go back this summer on a short vacation.
Slovenia is known as a country of immense diversity and natural beauty. Its beautiful Alpine north-west, featuring social media darlings Lake Bled and Soča River usually attract the most attention. However, what many people don’t know is that Slovenia features a very time-worthy coast on the northern tip of Istria! The Slovenian riviera might only be abour 45km long but it really can surprise even the most demanding visitor. Coming from Greece, my standards when it comes to seaside landscapes are expectedly extremely high; nevertheless, this area never fails to please.
Visiting the Slovenian coast again as a tourist gave me a very different perspective of the country. Therefore, allow me to share that with you through some pictures and insights below 🙂
The Slovenian coast, much like Slovenia as a whole, happened to be part of many empires, kingdoms and powers. The area became known very early for its productive salt pans, which were seen as a unique source of wealth. The port of Koper was one of the biggest in the area, attracting investments, sailors but also pirates from surrounding areas. Out of the people that took over and ruled the Slovene Istria, the one that left the biggest mark were undoubtedly the Venetians. The 500-year Venetian rule left behind beautiful buildings, rich history, as well as a small but well-respected Italian minority. At the same time, however, it diminished the importance of the port of Koper, thus leading to a sudden drop in the area’s population.
In more recent times, the area of Istria got separated into zones of influence between Yugoslavia and Italy. Finally the issue was settled with Trieste joining the modern Italian state and the contemporary Slovene Littoral Yugoslavia. Consequently in 1991 Slovenia seeked independence from Yugoslavia and managed to break apart after a 10-day war. Ever since, the whole Slovenian coast is officially bilingual, all administration and education offered both in Slovene and Italian.
The area is mainly accessible through Ljubljana or Trieste. There are buses connecting Koper with the two cities almost every hour in high season. Koper and Ljubljana are also connected by train about six times a day. For more information on timetables visit Slovenian Railways or the website of Ljubljana Bus Station. Bookings are not available online, however usually there are no availability issues. If you travel in high season (July-August) it might be better to reserve a ticket a few hours in advance; however, please bear in mind that reservations at Ljubljana’s main bus station bear an extra charge of 1.50€. Bus tickets can almost always be purchased directly from the drivers.
All of the Littoral’s main towns are connected by frequent buses that stop almost in all of the major settlements. Tickets can be bought from the driver and cost a couple of euros one-way. Biking is another popular way to explore this area. Some towns like Piran and Portorož are fully connected by bike lane and there are a few bike stores where you can rent your vehicle for the day.
Lastly, Piran and Koper are both connected to Venice by boat. As the schedules are not daily, ask for more information at a local tourist information center upon arrival to plan the rest of your trip smoothly.
Things to do
Some great examples of Venetian architecture can be found in Koper, the biggest town in the area. The Praetorian and Loggia palaces are two great examples; facing one another and marking the limits of the town’s Tito’s Square, they both had their ups and downs throughout history but still stand in very good condition (largely thanks to a big renovation project that ran throughout the ’90s). Guided tours are offered in the Pretorian Palace in Slovene, Italian or English for a few euros per person. Throughout the tour you’ll see multiple rooms and hear stories of the building, which served as a palace, a restaurant, a pharmacy… you name it! After your tour, don’t forget to visit the tower of the Assumption Cathedral right nearby.
Praetorian Palace on Tito’s Square, Photographer: Joergsam
Piran, on the other hand, feels like an open-air museum as a whole. It’s formed by a densely built, hyper-photogenic little cape that you’ll fall in love with. Little churches, alleys with drying clothes hanging between windows, lighthouses… the list doesn’t end so quickly, regardless of the town’s small size. Make sure to visit the fortress for a breathtaking view of the cape immersing into the Adriatic sea. Entrance is 2€ in the summer and 1€ in the wintertime.
Architectural wonders in this part of Slovenia are not all old and museum-like. A visit to Portorož, the coast’s boasted resort, proves that even modern buildings can be worth a snapshot. While strolling by the coast, make sure to walk around the frontyard of Kempinski Palace hotel. Its beautiful garden and architecture will make you feel better, even if you could never be able to afford staying in it!
Swimming & Sunbathing
Naturally when one thinks of coast, they tend to imagine beautiful, long sandy beaches. Unfortunately the small size and dense construction around the Slovenian riviera doesn’t allow for that, however don’t you despair! Throughout the long promenades you’ll walk, you’ll see little areas organised especially for swimming and recreation.
Some are small pebbly beaches with piers to add extra space for sunbathing. Koper, Izola and Piran all offer such, although be prepared for big crowds, especially families with kids. In Portorož the main municipal beach is a man-made sandy beach leading to a little bay with side piers. It is also one of the few organized ones, offering parasols and sunbeds for rent (17€ for the set, including unlimited usage of the toilets). The crowds there are younger and there are many cafes, bars & restaurants adjascent to the area. Also note that lifeguards are present around most of the beaches and there are bathrooms and showers available.
For such a small area, the Slovenian coast boasts a quite large number of museums. Apart from the ones earlier mentioned, in Koper the most significant is the Regional Museum, which also manages other smaller buildings like the Carpaccio House (a Venetian 15th century painter that created most of his work in Koper). Piran’s rich fishing history is displayed in the Sea Museum, as well as the Seashell Museum. Many other smaller museums can be found around the area, for all interests and ages.
There are plenty of opportunities for water and other extreme sports, although in this area of interest the Soča area in the alpine part of Slovenia might offer more. I also saw a lot of offers for panoramic helicopter flights of the area, which seems to be a quite popular (yet pricier) activity for tourists in the area. For wine lovers guided tours and wine tastings can be arranged with Vinakoper, the area’s largest producer. As a student I used to love their sweet muskat wine, so I totally recommend that one! Lastly, if you do not mind splurging, there are many spa options offered in big hotels in Portorož, so feel free to walk into the reception and request more information.
Food & Drink
I’ve tried a few restaurants and cafes in the area but I will recommend the ones that left the best impression on me. I had great and affordable seafood in Piran at Fritolin pri Cantini, a self-service place that focuses on fried calamari and fish. Prices are quite good for the offer and the staff speaks English. For Italian dishes like pizza or pasta, I recommend Pizzeria Rustika towards the end of Portorož and before the beginning of Lucija. It is a little hidden behind buildings so might be better off asking locals for directions. Disclaimer: portions are huge! Lastly, as I am a real fan of Balkan dishes, I enjoyed my visit at Sarajevo ’84, a chain of Bosnian restaurants. They are present in both Piran and Koper, however a little warning – most of their dishes are meat-based, so a vegetarian wouldn’t have much to order from there.
Hands down the best cafe chain in the whole Slovenia is Cacao, a student and tourist-favourite, with cakes to die for and some very interesting icecream flavors. Thankfully they have a strong presence in Portorož, as the cafe there is located right by the municipal beach. In Piran the Loggia Cafe on Tito’s square is quite iconic and offers interesting quiche options if you want to grab a bite.
For a drink I recommend any of the bars in the Piran waterfront, offering beautiful sunsets and photo-moments. Although a bit crowded by the many passer-bys, I believe it’s the perfect way to finish a summer day.
Kempinski Palace Portorož Hotel Exterior
Accommodation ranges from hostels to five star luxurious hotels with indoor spa facilities. I recommend if you don’t have a car that you split your accommodation in two, so you can spend a night in more than one town and enjoy the local atmosphere with less stress about transport. Personally on my last trip I spent three full days on the coast, one in Koper and two in Piran and I really think this is the way to go. Alternatively, instead of Piran you can book something in Portorož, as the two are a 25-minute walk from one another.
Although I haven’t visited any, I heard there are camping sites in Ankaran and Lucija.
Last visited: June 2017
Local name: Primorska / Slovenska Obala
Calling Code: +386
Timezone: CET (+1)
Emergency Numbers: 113 – Police, 112 – Fire and Rescue Service / Medical Emergency