I had alread declared vacation season as officially over and I was ready to brace myself for the fall in Vienna. For those times when it can be foggy for weeks on end, and blue skies or sunshine seem like very distant, almost unreal, memories. Seasonal depression was lurking just around the corner, when unexpectedly an old friend from school stopped by and declared that she would very much like to spend a few days at the sea. And, even better, she was looking for some company. I graciously volunteered to provide that company and just a few days later we were sitting in her mother’s car driving south. We had chosen Piran as the destination for our 3 day vacation, the weatherforecast was outstanding and the tiny Slovenian town was only a few hours drive from Vienna. To be precise just a little over 300 miles to the south-west.
It had all worked out perfectly. And after leisurely cruising along the Slovenian interstate, and wondering why it took so very long for the landscape to take on the usual southern appearance, watching out for pine trees and cypresses invainly until we had finally left behind the last mountain-ridge south of Ljubljana and were headed for Koper, when all of a sudden the mountains turned into soft rolling hills, the dark alpine green into smooth sandy brown of dried soutern grasses and finally our eyes met with the brilliantly sparkling Adriatic sea. We kept on following the signs for Portorož and after just about 5 hours to the minute we finally pulled up in front of the chosen hotel, Hotel Piran, rapidly unloaded the car, hurriedly got the keys to our room and after having more or less dumped our belongings there, we opened the windows and beheld the sea-view which was to be ours, exclusively for the next 3 days.
Piran is a tiny town on the western-most Slovenian tip of the Istrian peninsula. It had been chosen for out little excursion because friends had been there before and had recommended it. Finally viewing pictures on the web had turned pondering about where to go into certainty, because Piran looked like a beautiful small gem on the Adriatic coast.
And a gem it truly is, even more so, when you see it for yourself. It had been years since I had last traveled in that area, mostly in Croatia, and I had been stunned by the beauty of towns like Dubrovnik and Korčula, the latter resembling Piran quite closely. All three of them owe their similar character to the influence of the ancient Republic of Venice, the empire which reigned over the Mediterranean Sea from medieval ages up to the Renaissance.
Remnants of Venetian architecture can be seen everywhere in Piran, ranging from small houses with the typically arched windows to the Cathedral of Saint George, which sits high on the northern cliff above the city and seems to gracefully watch over the little flock of houses, that has gathered round it. Yet the attention is less on St. George’s Cathedral, with its typically Italian Campanile and Baptistery, than it seems to be on the Adriatic sea, which almost surrounds Piran.
The cape on which the town is built stretches westward, jutting out into the sea and when looking upon it the scenery gives you the impression as if the entirety of Piran’s buildings seem to have crept up onto the westernmost point in order to catch a glimpse of the azure-colored Adriatic sea. So much so that the castle-like appearance of the tiny little church at the tip of the cape, St. Clement (or Lady of Health), solely seems to be owing to the purpose of pressing against the curious little houses, so that none of them accidentally fall into the water.
When you walk eastward from St. George’s Cathedral and ascend yet another elevation, you come to the remainder of the old city wall, which – just as the Campanile of St. George’s – can be climbed for the small price of one Euro. Which is well worth the investment, because from the top of the Campanile as well as from the city walls you get an outstanding view over the town and the sea.
Piran itself is very small, and you’ll be able to get a good impression of what the town has to offer in about a half a day, but you can easily spend several days walking the tiny lanes and continously discover new ones, which you haven’t seen before. Yet, all those wanderings will sooner or later lead you to the social center of Piran – Tartini-Square – which is actually round, where in the evenings you will probably meet with most of the people, who either visit or live in Piran. As soon as the sun sets, the place is bustling with roller-skaters, taking advantage of the smoothly polished, gleaming-white, stone surface of the elliptical center of the plaza, with groups of citizens scattered across the square, apparently exchanging the gossip of the day, or with sun-bathers and swimmers, who have dragged their tired bodies from the beaches and are now enjoying a lazy drink in one of the many out-door cafés.
Yes – there are beaches in Piran, though you won’t find sandy ones. You may put up with shingle beach, or if you’re more interested in swimming in the sea – which seems very clean, by the way – you will be perfectly happy with the cement beaches, as for example right in front of Hotel Piran. And when you’ve had enough of swimming and sun-bathing and want to grab a bite to eat, head for the promenade which leads to the western tip of the cape and is lined with restaurants, cafés and ice-cream parlors. Most of the restaurants offer similar selections of sea-food, I can personally recommend Restaurant Ivo, where you’ll not only get high quality fish-platters and excellent wine to go with it, but where you can also enjoy your meal with an almost tackily beautiful sunset.
Three days seem to be the perfect time-span to spend in Piran. If you’re looking for sandy beaches head east to Portorož, where you’ll also find more entertainment such as casinos, if that’s what you were looking for. Another beautiful Venetian town is Izola, which too is just a few miles from Piran. If you intend to stay longer, you can make all sorts of excursions, there are for example day-trips to Venice, which can be reached in less than 2 hours with a speed boat. Or you can visit Trieste, which is on Italian territory and offers another beautiful historic city center as well as shopping opportunities.
I however didn’t care much for big excursions or extensive shopping, I was settled on soaking up as much sun as possible, swimming in the still warm Adriatic sea, enjoying a leisurly drink at Tartini-Square or just lying in my bed listening to the gentle bubbling and gurgling of the sea. All of this served one specific purpose. It was active immunization against the already threatening fall mists and winter fogs. Alas, they won’t bother me much this year – I’ll just lean back, close my eyes and picture myself in Piran.
Getting to Piran: Cities in the vicinity of Piran, which can be reached by plane, are Venice, Trieste or Ljubljana. From Venice you can take a ferry which runs in the summer months (2.5 hours; about 53 Euros per Person), from Trieste and Ljubljana trains run to Koper, where you have to change onto a bus to get to Piran. The most comfortable way is probably a rental car from one of the airports. Using Slovenian interstates requires you to pay for toll. A sticker for your windscreen, valid for 7 days, will cost you 14 Euros. Parking in Piran is not free of charge, but you can enter the city to drop off your luggage and your first hour of parking will be free. Just outside the center, there’s long term parking, which costs 11 Euros for every 24 hours.
Accommodation: There are two Hotels in Piran. Hotel Tartini, which is located in the town-center and Hotel Piran. The latter boasts 4 stars, but is actually somewhere in the category of a 2-3 star hotel. Contrary to the indication on the web-page, there isn’t wifi access in all rooms (at least not in the one I had…), and the hotel charges outrageous amounts for the usage of it. Forget the breakfast in the hotel, it is below any standard. Do yourself a favor, cross the plaza opposite of the hotel entrance and have breakfast at the charming cafe Cakola, where they serve excellent coffee. Or march on to the beach promenade and try one of the cafés there. Apart from these minor irritations and a room that has seen its fair share of visitors nothing beats the sea-view of the Hotel Piran. And it is a clean hotel, so after all I can recommend it, with the above mentioned reservations.
Food: The beach promenade is lined with restaurants that offer basically identical choices of sea-food. An excellent place to eat at is Restaurant Ivo. Forget the town Restaurant Verdi – the food we were served there was beyond anything that I would qualify as good quality. If you like to go out and enjoy a drink after your meal, I suggest you head on over to Tartini-Square. There are lots of places that offer outdoor seating, I can recommend the Kantina Žižola, which may stay open later, if the party lasts a little longer.
Susanne, 13 September 2009