After few days of hiking in Slovenian mountains and exploring Ljubljana, we decided to spend 3 days on the Adriatic coast. I can only say, I wish we could stay few days longer and definitely advise you to do so especially if you come during warm summer months.
To read about our experience in Ljubljana and Slovenian mountains, check out this post.
Slovenia owns only 46,6 kilometers of the Adriatic coast, nevertheless, its varied coastline, hilly green hinterlands and seaside towns interconnected with seacoast promenades offer unforgettable sights and opportunities to experience the Mediterranean.
We have chosen for our base city a stunning town Piran, however all coastal towns are relatively close to each other and you can reach them by car and to the closest you can simply walk on a coastal promenade or an easy hike through olive groves (very picturesque).
During our stay in Istria we were particularly taken by Piran, claimed by many the most beautiful and the most photogenic medieval town on the Slovenian coast. The town is famous from stunning Venetian architecture dating back to 13th century when the area belonged to Venetian Republic.
The main sight of the town is the Tartini Square with its characteristic elliptical shape. The square is dedicated to Piran violin virtuoso Giuseppe Tartini who was born here. In the middle of the square you will find Tartini statue to celebrate famous musician.
One of the most beautiful buildings you will find on the square it Piran Town Hall. Its most distinctive feature is the immured stone statue of a lion holding an open book, a memento of the Venetian Republic.
One of my favourite buildings on Tartini Square is Venetian House, the most beautiful example of Venetian Gothic architecture in Piran. The building stuns with its elaborate architectural elements, rich stone ornaments and Gothic corner balcony. Between the second-floor windows facing the square, there is an immured stone relief with a inscription “Lassa pur dir” which means “let them talk”. Legend has it that a Venetian merchant fell in love with a beautiful young Piranese girl. To show to his beloved the strength of his feelings he decided to build her a palace neer the harbor. The envious citizens were gossiping about this passionate couple so to show his true love for her he put the significant inscription on the façade.
Cool story isn’t it? 😉
St George’s Church
When you arrive to Piran, one of first sights you notice is St George’s Church overlooking Piran from the hill above the town centre and offering a view over three countries (Slovenia, Croatia and Italy), is the largest church building in the town.
It is named after St George, the town’s patron saint who is thought to have saved Piran when it was hot by violent storm. The baroque interior of the church has 7 altars, two statues of St George and of St Nicholas, richly ornamented wooden ceiling and wall paintings influenced by Venetian school.
During our stay we could admire this church only through the doors. I suggest to go around the building to admire stunning views of the coast and Piran old town.
St George’s Church Bell Tower
The bell tower was completed during a period of Venetian influence in Piran (17th century) and is a smaller size copy of the San Marco Campanile in Venice. The bell tower is 46 meters high, houses 4 bells and it is capped with a pyramidal spire, at the top of which sits a weathervane in the form of Archangel Michael. You can climb the tower for great views of the town and surroundings.
IX Corps Street
The picturesque IX Corps Street connects Tartini Square with St George’s Church. You will find here plenty of art studios of local artisans, galleries and souvenir shops. If you search for traditional and authentic Slovenian souvenirs, check out this post.
Get lost in the small alleys
I would say that the most charming way of discovering the rest of Piran is just wandering and getting lost when exploring its small squares and narrow alleys.
I’m sure during your walk you will find 1st of May Square which was originally called Stari trg (the old square) and many of Piran’s main streets lead towards it. In the middle of the square there is a stone reservoir for rain water which was built after a severe drought in the 18th century. The gutters of nearby houses were connected to the reservoir. The water seeped through the stone which cleaned it and was then gathered in a large fountain. It was pumped out with a manual water pump which remains preserved to this day. Two statues adorn the entrance to the square, Justice and Law. I really recommend you checking out this square, also because it hosts Fritolin pri Cantini restaurant which serves really good seafood dishes (we had squid and tuna–delicious!).
When walking back from St George’s Church it’s worth to stop in Minorite Monastery of St Francis and the Cloister. The monastery was probably founded before 1301 and there are still Franciscans living there. They take care of the church and offer pastoral care. As far as acoustics is concerned, the cloister has little competition in Slovenia, thus is a popular venue for various musical events and regularly hosts Piran Music Evenings and the Tartini Festival. The monastery keeps great collection of music literature and some of the books date back to the 15th century.
For even better views at Piran and the surrounding area I suggest visiting Piran City Walls. The fortifications were mentioned as early as the 7th century and were built to protect the town from enemy attacks. The walls have several defense towers which you can now climb. Its largest preserved section known as Mogoron holds and incredible historical value.
We heard that the walls are perfect spot to watch the sunset, however they get closed around 8pm. We have visited them during the day and enjoyed breathtaking views, it’s a good idea to continue your walk to the walls after visiting St George’s Cathedral, a short gentle hike uphill will get you to these former fortifications.
Apart from walking through a fascinating maze of streets Piran has, I recommend to have a slow walk along the town’s coast. Around the harbor and in direction of Cape Madona and Piran’s Lighthouse you will find plenty of restaurants serving seafood.
There are also many ladders which allow you to get to the sea for a swim. Piran doesn’t have sandy beaches and you need to dip to the water using ladders installed along the seacoast. The water is crystal clear but make sure how deep it is before you decide to swim, some places may be reserved only for good swimmers since you may not be able to stand. Check well before you decide to dip, especially if you are with children.
Trips around Piran
An easy trip outside of Piran is a walk along the coastal promenade to Portoroz which is a small town which is a well-known health resort for centuries. When visiting the town, you will notice a string of luxurious hotels along the coast, most famous one is the Palace Hotel boasting over a century old history. The building has a magnificent architecture and is one of the most prestigious hotels on the then Austrio-Hungarian Riviera, in which brine and mud therapies were performed at the beginning of the 20th century. A curious sight is Church of St Bernardine. The remains of the former monastery comprise a well-preserved and eminent bell tower, the church presbytery and a retaining wall complete with arches. The monastery and the church date back to the 15th century.
From the rock on which the church is located, you can enjoy splendid views of the area.
When walking along the coast you will also get to Magazen Grando and Monfort Salt Warehouses. The warehouses date back to the first half of the 19th century. After the salt season ended, workers moved their yearly harvest from their houses to into these warehouses. Today the buildings host Maritime Museum and also have a gallery displaying many exhibitions of modern art.
In Portoroz you will find the largest sandy beach in Slovenia so the town is a good choice for families with children. There is also many bars and restaurants around where you can enjoy local food or your favourite cocktail.
We have decided to go to restaurant on the promenade on the way back to Piran.
The promenade is less crowded and you have plenty of restaurants serving freshly caught fish. You can find places with the tables very close to the sea to enjoy surrounding nature.
An easy and short walk is a coastal path from Piran to lake Fiesa. You will find the beginning of this very pleasant pedestrian route when walking from St George’s Cathedral to Piran’s City Walls. At some point you will a path going to the left which continues along the sea. This is your way to Lake Fiesa. The walk takes around 30 minutes and offers very good views at the Italian coast. Fiesa Bay is famous for its two lakes which formed after the clay had been harvested for the brickworks in Fornace.
At this point you can have a glass of wine or coffee in nearby small restaurant and head back to Piran or continue your walk to Strunjan Nature Park which was our choice.
Strunjan Nature Park
We came to Strunjan Nature Park as a continuation of our walk from Piran to lake Fiesa.
The route from Fiesa to Strunjan is a bit more challenging than a previous path. The continuation reminds more of a hike. However, this was my favorite part of our half-day trip since the path leads through small hills and through the local villages where you can observe local houses adorned by cypresses.
Part of the route leads through small forest and olive groves. You will get also beautiful views at the bay and St George’s church in Piran.
It takes around one hour (from Fiesa, not Piran) to get to Strunjan Nature Park. The park is a wide expanse of nature which has been protected and ranges over two reserves–Strunjan Nature Reserve and Stjuza Nature Reserve.
We have walked along the Strunjan Salt Pans which used to be the second most important salt pans in Piran. The shallowness of Strunjan Bay has been used to shape it into salt pans by building bunds, canals and shallow ponds which create an important ecosystem of salty wetlands.
After some short stroll around parts of Strunjan Nature Park we had two options, continue our walk to the nearby village Izola or get back to Portoroz which is much closer. To keep our day relaxed we opted to go back to Portoroz. On the way back we had a really nice surprise.
The walk from Strunjan Nature Park to Portoroz is very relaxed due to the option to cross the separating hill through Lucan Tunel which is a part of Parenzana– the path of friendship and good health which follows the old, 123km long, narrow gauge train track which connects Trst and Porec and the inland cities of Istrian peninsula. The railway line was built in the period 1900-1902 when this region was a part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire. The path takes you through cities and villages, sometimes following the coastline right by the sea, other times leading you through vineyards and olive trees plantations, short and well-maintained tunnels and into valleys and hills. During our hike we crossed Lucan Tunel which is 544m long and it is the longest tunnel on the Parenzana railway line. It runs in a slight curve.
Places which we didn’t see but wish to visit next trip:
- The town was once an island and is famous for its fishing, fish processing, winemaking and oil making traditions. Izola is a medieval town with typical narrow streets and church on a hill. On Izola’s 5 kilometres of coastline, you will find 8 different beaches. The beach by the Lighthouse and Simon’s Bay Beach are well-suited for families.
- Koper. The medieval core of the city is boasts features from the Serenissima period which is the 500-year rule of the Venetian Republic. Praetorian Palace, the Loggia, the church tower, and the cathedral with the altar piece by Vittore Carpaccio draw visitors to the central square surrounded by streets lined with Venetian-style houses.
- There is more than 100 villages and hamlets in Slovenian Istria. Many impress with their image of close-knit community settled by an old church. One of such places is Padna which is a heritage protected village surrounded by olive trees. Another village nearby I wouldn’t mind to visit is Smarje.
- Not exactly sightseeing type of activity but during next stay I’d definitely dedicate few days to just swim and stay most of the day on the beach. We visited Istria beginning of May and water was too cold for such activities, but I expect very good conditions between from July to September.
Sun, warm climate and proximity of sun makes Slovenian coastal cuisine exquisite. In the coastal towns you will find plenty of restaurants serving freshly caught fish, we found local sea bass and sea bream really delicious. We were surprised that in the Adriatic sea you can find naturally even tuna and the tuna steak we tried in Piran was just amazing.
I also recommend to try local mussels and squids.
If you’re interested in Slovenian cuisine, check this post for our Subjective Foodie Guide.
- The flavors of Mediterranean and Istrian cuisine are brought to the fore by hand harvested Piran salt which also possesses a protected designation of origin. You can bring your own package of salt as an authentic Slovenian souvenir.
- Truffles, the aromatic underground tubers of Istria, you can buy many products containing truffels, I particularly liked a delicious paste called tartufata based on white or black truffles.
- Local olive oil. The extra virgin olive oil has a protected designation of origin. Olives varieties and specific climate conditions affect the characteristic taste of oil.
- Wine of Istrian vineyards. The Istrian wine-growing region is home to a variety of wines, the most famous being Refosco and Malvasia. The wines of the Primorska wine-growing region are popular throughout Slovenia and in many parts of the world.
Even if tempted to buy Istrian food products in the local store somewhere on the coast, I suggest to buy them in small specialized food stores in Ljubljana. The variety is bigger and the prices are lower. All products are properly certified and labelled so there is no risk to buy not an authentic product.
If you are searching authentic and traditional souvenirs (including food), check out this post.