Picturesque Piran (Pirano in Italian), sitting at the tip of a narrow peninsula, is everyone’s favourite town on the Slovenian coast. Its Old Town – one of the best preserved historical towns anywhere on the Adriatic – is a gem of Venetian Gothic architecture, but it can be a mob scene at the height of summer.
Coastal Slovenia’s largest town, Koper (Capodistria in Italian) at first glance appears to be a workaday port city that scarcely gives tourism a second thought. Yet its central core is delightfully medieval and far less overrun than its ritzy cousin Piran. Koper is the centre of the Italian ethnic community of Slovenia and the street signs are in two languages.
The region of the Soča Valley (Posočje) stretches from Triglav National Park to Nova Gorica. Its most dominant feature is the 136km Soča River, which can widen to 500m and narrow to less than a metre but always stays a deep, almost unreal aquamarine colour. The valley has more than its share of historical sights, but most people come here for rafting, hiking and skiing.
Soča Valley's de facto capital, Bovec offers plenty for adventure-sports enthusiasts. With the Julian Alps above, the Soča River below and Triglav National Park all around, you could spend a week here hiking, kayaking, mountain biking and, in winter, skiing at Kanin, Slovenia’s highest ski station, without ever doing the same thing twice.
Every country with a coast has got to have a honky-tonk beach resort and Portorož (Portorose in Italian) is Slovenia’s. But the ‘Port of Roses’ is making a big effort to scrub itself up. Portorož’s sandy beaches are relatively clean, and there are pleasant spas and wellness centres where you can take the waters or cover yourself in curative mud.
Izola, a somewhat scruffy fishing port 7km southwest of Koper, is the poor relation among the historical towns on the Slovenian coast, especially genteel Piran. As a result, it is often bypassed by foreign visitors. But Izola does have a certain Venetian charm, a few narrow old streets, and some nice waterfront bars and restaurants where you might tarry.
Idrija means three things: žlikrofi (ravioli of cheese, bacon and chives), lace and mercury. The women of Idrija have been taking care of the first two for centuries, while the men went underground to extract the latter that made Idrija one of the richest towns in Europe during the Middle Ages.
The Karst region (www.kras-carso.com) is a limestone plateau stretching from Nova Gorica southeast to the Croatian border, west to the Gulf of Trieste and east to the Vipava Valley. Rivers, ponds and lakes can disappear and then resurface in the Karst’s porous limestone through sinkholes and funnels, often resulting in underground caverns like the caves at Škocjan.
Cerknica is the largest town on a lake that isn’t always a lake – one of Slovenia’s most unusual natural phenomena. It’s an excellent springboard for the gorge at Rakov Škocjan and Notranjska Regional Park as a whole. Cerknica lies about 3km north of Lake Cerknica. Cesta 4 Maja is the main street in the centre of town.