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.
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.
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.
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.
A quiet town in the Cerknica River Valley, Cerkno is an important destination for ethnologists and party-goers alike when the Laufarija, the ancient Shrovetide celebration, takes place. Nearby are the remains of a secret Partisan hospital from WWII. Glavni trg, where the buses stop, is the main square and the centre of Cerkno.
The immense system of karst caves at Škocjan, a Unesco World Heritage site, easily rival those at Postojna, and for many travellers, a visit here will be a highlight of their trip to Slovenia – a page right out of Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The Škocjan Caves (Škocjanske Jame), 5.
This fertile, wine-rich valley stretches southeast from Nova Gorica into the Karst. Some of the red wines produced here are world class, and Vipava merlot is among the best wines of Central Europe. It’s an excellent place to tour by car or bike; ask the TIC in Nova Gorica for the brochure Wine Road of the Lower Vipava Valley.