This is the seventh in an eleven-part series covering my June/July 2019 trip to Slovenia and Venice. You can read my last post, reviewing the Four Points Ljubljana Mons, here.
To the extent people know where Slovenia is at all, many do not realize that Slovenia actually has about 30 miles of coastline on the Adriatic Sea—essentially the northwest corner of the Istrian Peninsula, which is predominantly Croatian, and just south of Trieste and Italy. My last trip to the Istrian Peninsula, to the Croatian city of Rovinj, was a major disappointment, particularly given how difficult it was to get to. Longtime readers may recall I had to take two connecting flights on what was known as Jat Airways, take a 40-minute taxi, and then stayed in what remains one of the top 2 or 3 worst hotels I ever have visited only to be utterly bored and uncharmed. The “Slovene Riviera,” thankfully, was a much more positive experience on all counts.
There are four main cities on the Slovenian coast. From north to south, there’s Koper, the commercial/industrial center; Izola, a smaller fishing town; and then Piran and Portoroz. Piran and Portoroz are right next to each other, though extremely different. Piran is on its own peninsula jutting out into the sea, and is a historic small town, largely car-free, with only a few small hotels, and has a much quieter, old-world vibe. Portoroz, on the other hand, is lined with large resort hotels and is much more hectic. I decided to stay at an Airbnb in Piran, but also explored Portoroz, and had a fairly relaxed, enjoyable time.
The drive from Ljubljana to the coast is very easy, taking less than 90 minutes and almost all on a very wide highway. Predjama Castle, Postojna Caves, Skocjan Caves, and a lot of other sites are on the way. Since I had made the folly of visiting Skocjan the day before, I decided to just go straight to the coast.
I was returning my car in Portoroz at the end of the day, so I figured I’d stop somewhere on the way that I would need a car to get to. On a map, I found the Strunjan Nature Reserve, which suggested it had some good hikes/walks in a pretty environment. Unfortunately, I somehow ended up at the wrong place, Strunjan Beach, not the park. It was still a find place to stretch my legs and walk around. The beach was nothing special, mostly grass, with chair and umbrella rentals on the small plot of sand. I tried to walk up the hill into the nature reserve, but couldn’t find a way, so wandered around the salt pans for a bit, taking in the view of Piran down the coast, and having an adequate pizza lunch at a restaurant on the beach. From Strunjan, it was then a short eight-minute drive into Portoroz, where I dropped off my car at Sixt.
There’s a bus that fairly constantly runs from Piran to Portoroz. It’s only about a 2-mile walk, but due to the topography, would take about an hour. The bus is only seven minutes, though, and is very easy. I was worried about doing it with luggage, but it was no problem; the buses are all very new, and the 1,50 EUR ride is quite pretty, mostly going along the waterfront. It terminates right at the Piran “bus station,” which is just a parking lot on the water at the edge of the historic town. There are actually no cars at all allowed in Piran, so this is pretty much as far as you can go; if you’re driving, there are parking lots outside of town and free shuttle buses to town.
Right away, I could see the beauty of Piran, as I walked past the harbor and through Tartini Square, the main square in town.
It was about a ten-minute walk to my Airbnb, the Amarru Apartments, a few minutes from Tartini Square down some winding cobblestone streets. This was my third Airbnb experience, and it was the most “hotel”-like. The unit was just a bedroom and a kitchenette with a tiny, tiny bathroom. The building has three units that are all rented out through various platforms, and my ground floor unit was the smallest one. Everything was clean and modern, but it had a bit of a sterile feel. There was also nowhere really comfortable to sit and relax, as the only space was the kitchen table. And it was pretty loud, as people would hang outside the window, and use the pathway outside the unit to go up to the Church.
One of the big selling points of the Amarru was the shared roof deck. It was tiny, though, with not so great views. There was an Australian couple spread out up there when I went to check it out, and they wanted to chat and I did not. It was also realllly hot, so I didn’t stay long. Annoyingly, they somehow had been given access to store ice in my mini-fridge so I had to let them into my room to get it.
I headed to the “beach” in Piran, which is mostly on the north side of the peninsula, on the Gulf of Trieste. Most of it is just concrete, where people lay out towels, across from a bunch of restaurants and bars. There is a rocky/grassy less-concrete part if you walk east. A few times during my stay I took a refreshing dip into the Adriatic. I also had gelato a few times at various restaurants on the promenade that runs around both the north and south sides of the peninsula. The whole city is walkable with fifteen minutes.
In the afternoon, I realized I had left my Kindle in the rental car I had dropped in Portoroz, so I took the bus back there and explored Portoroz a bit while I was around. The Kempinski Palace there, right on the waterfront, is absolutely gorgeous and if I wanted to splurge a bit more would definitely have stayed there. The promenade in Portoroz is more of what you’d expect in a beach town, with souvenir shops, resort wear, and restaurants, and mostly all of the architecture is from the 1960s on. The beach is also much more beach-y, with sand and chairs and umbrellas to rent, as well as a variety of water sports equipment rental places. I dove off the pier and swam around a bit before some pleasant gelato and cold brew at Cacao- the same Slovenian chain I had eaten at in Ljubljana.
Back in Piran, I made several unsuccessful attempts at dinner. The first place, Pri Mari, which had been recommended, wouldn’t even let me wait for a table. At the second place, Gostilna Park, I was waiting for a table, when the couple who came in behind me and had been told to wait just swooped in and took a table that should have been for me before it was even cleaned. The host didn’t say anything even though it was very egregious and I got very annoyed and expressed it. Rather than wait interminably, I went to another restaurant, Pirat, where I got a table with no wait and a friendly waiter. (Albeit, a cruddy table they reserve for single diners.) I had a basic piece of bass with potato straws and zucchini noodles. Other folks had elaborate seafood towers and such, but the menu wasn’t really designed for solo eating.
In the morning, I slept in, and stopped at Mercator in town to get some water, caffeine, and bread, before heading to the bus stop for a folly of a journey. I had just missed the bus, so…I got a gelato at the small gelato shop at the bus “station.” My plan was to go to the Secovlje Salina Nature Park, past Portoroz, where you can walk around salt pans, and there is also a spa. It did not appear super-accessible via public transport, alas, requiring at least a 15-minute walk from the bus stop. I took the wrong bus (there are three different Route 1s), and ended up having closer to a 30-minute walk, part of which was along the side of the highway.
The little ticket booth at the entrance to the park is very confusing. I wanted to see if it was possible to go to the spa though bookings were “recommended,” but they couldn’t tell me anything, and it was a fifteen-minute wait for the bus to the spa. So, I just bought a 7 Euro ticket to the park itself, which you can explore by foot. In retrospect, it’s a great place to explore by bike and I could have just rented a bike for the day. There really wasn’t much to see, but I walked around the hot, shadeless area and made a 30-minute loop.
After finishing, I thought about walking to the Forma viva open air sculpture garden in Portoroz, but that would have been an hour of hilly walking and it was hot, so I decided to just take the bus back to Portoroz. I grabbed lunch at Ostarija, a nice seafood place on the beach, and had a fresh green salad and a passable seafood risotto, plus mineral water, for 19 Euros.
The previous day, I had seen a pool complex called Mediterraneo right on the beach, so I figured I’d check that out. At the ticket booth, the woman told me it would be 6 euros to Enter instead of 8 Euros I’d I came back in 10 min at 2, so, I did, and spent 1,5 of those Euros on gelato in the interim. When I went back, there was a different woman, who asked me if I was going to be wanting to use a chair or an umbrella, so that shot the price up to 18 Euros. It was a little confusing because I didn’t see anyone using their own chairs, and no one took my ticket or anything once I was inside the complex. Still, it provided a restful place for a swim, and was secure and relaxing. (Another reason to stay in Portoroz, as the hotels there all tend to have their own pools.)
I headed back to Piran around 5pm, and figured I’d check out some of the sights of Piran itself that I hadn’t done yet. First, I made the short steep walk up from my Airbnb to St. George’s Parish Church, which has great sweeping views to Trieste. For even better views, I paid 2 Euros to climb up the steep narrow steps of the clocktower, where there were particularly stunning views of Piran.
I continued walking along the northern edge of Piran and headed to the city walls, which I was also able to climb for 2 Euros and saw some great views, before heading back to the Airbnb, taking a quick dip in the Adriatic, and napping before dinner.
My dinner experience on the second night was a repeat of the first, being turned away from my first choice, and settling on Ivo, a restaurant right on the waterfront promenade, well situated for the sunset. Like at Pirat, the menu was more suited for sharing and large platters, so I ended up with, again, sea bass. It was fine, and service was friendly. After a final gelato, I headed back to the Airbnb for an early night given the early wake-up and schlep to Venice in the morning
Piran was certainly beautiful, but I’m not sure I’d recommend staying there- certainly not for more than a night. If you are interested in exploring the area more generally, I’d recommend staying in Portoroz, where it is easier to have a car, and the accommodations are more varied. Like most of the Adriatic coast by now, don’t expect a super-authentic local village life, as both towns were almost all tourists – though mostly from Slovenia and Central and Eastern Europe, and nowhere near as bad as the hellscape that I’d find in Venice.
Next up: the very complicated 125-mile journey from Piran to Venice