Home>Travel inspiration>Where to Go Next

For Croatia Without the Crowds, Head to the Slovenian Riviera

By Carl Pettit

03.09.20

share this article
flipboard
The coastal town of Piran is known for its stunning, Venetian-style architecture. 

Photo by Matic Stojs Lomovsek/Shutterstock

The coastal town of Piran is known for its stunning, Venetian-style architecture. 

Leave the crowds behind for peaceful beaches, untouched nature, and quiet towns on Slovenia’s pint-sized coast.

Article continues below advertisement

share this article
flipboard

Slovenia’s Riviera, wedged between Italy to the north and Croatia to the south, is tiny. But don’t let its diminutive size—just 30 miles long—dissuade you from a visit. Much like its Adriatic neighbors, this stretch of coastline packs in lots of picturesque beaches, sublime nature parks, compelling architecture, and delicious food—minus the tourist throngs found on nearby shores.

With its Slavic roots and mix of Italian and German influences, Slovenia is a captivating place to explore. Nowhere is this truer than on its sliver of shoreline, where karst cliffs give way to pebbly shores, green spaces, and historic cities, each with a charming blend of Roman, medieval, and Venetian buildings. Still, the Slovenian Riviera remains blissfully uncrowded compared to places like Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, perhaps because people are put off by what seems on maps like a rocky coastline without Game of Thrones filming sites. But if you want a pristine beach, scenic hike, or extraordinary cathedral all to yourself, read on for our guide to this Adriatic gem.

What to do in the Slovenian Riviera 

Koper’s Praetorian Palace features a fascinating mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Venetian, and baroque styles.

Time-travel in Koper

Koper, Slovenia’s main coastal city, sits just across the border from Trieste, Italy. A former Venetian stronghold, it’s full of architecturally striking streets and squares that are well worth a day of exploring. Start in Tito Square at the Praetorian Palace, which served as the seat of Venetian power in the 15th and 16th centuries. The impressive building—complete with Gothic, Renaissance, Venetian, and even baroque features—is now home to Koper’s city government, a restored apothecary, and a wedding hall. 

Before leaving the palace, purchase a ticket (3.5€/US$4 for adults) to climb the bell tower across Tito Square. It’s 204 steps to the top, but if you make it, you’ll get to see one of the oldest bells in Slovenia, plus sweeping views of Koper and the sparkling Adriatic. South of the tower, you’ll find Da Ponte Fountain, an ornate, octagonal structure with a decidedly baroque silhouette. Built in 1666, it once served as the catch basin for the city’s drinking water. 

Go beyond the big city

East of Koper lies Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve, the largest brackish wetland in Slovenia. Come here to spot more than 250 different bird species, from black-winged stilts and common terns to reed warblers and turtledoves, as well as boškarin cattle and Camargue horses wandering around the reserve. 

Article continues below advertisement

Another site worth visiting away from the city is the Socerb Holy Cave, near the Italian border. It was here that Saint Servul hid from the governor of Trieste in the late 200s C.E. before being executed for converting to Christianity. Considered the only subterranean church in the world, it now hosts a service honoring Saint Servul each May. After exploring the cave, check out nearby Socerb Castle. Built on the ruins of an Illyrian hill fort as early as 1040 C.E., it offers fascinating history—because of its strategic position, it was the center of many battles between Venice and Trieste—and views over the Gulf of Trieste. 

Hit the beach in Izola

Dine in view of the sea in the charming beach town of Izola.

When you’re ready for the beach, make your way west to Izola, a seaside village with appealing cafés and scenic shores. Beaches like the cliff-lined Bele skale, the family-friendly (and easier to reach) Delfinček, and the wheelchair-accessible Bevkova remain wonderfully empty, but dog lovers should head to the pet-friendly waterfront near the old Delamaris canning factory. 

Also make time to wander around town, taking in the vistas out to sea and snapping pictures of Izola framed by the majestic Slovenian Alps. Afterward, visit the Archaeological Park Simonov zaliv, where you can time-travel back to 181 B.C.E. when Romans ruled this part of the Adriatic. The nearly 10-acre area features ruins of ancient coastal villas as well as the submerged remains of the old Roman harbor. Walking tours and scuba diving excursions are available through the park for further exploration of both sites. 

Come evening, make your way to the Church of Saint Maurus, where you can climb the 99 steps up the bell tower to catch a memorable sunset over Izola and the Gulf of Trieste. 

Find untouched beauty in Strunjan Landscape Park

The hike down may be tough, but Moon Bay rewards visitors with a beautiful beach.

South of Izola, Strunjan Landscape Park is a biologically diverse stretch of coastline that’s home to the highest cliffs in the Adriatic. Walk the shore to discover a wide variety of plant and animal life; visit Stjuža, Slovenia’s only lagoon, to watch for rare birds; or explore the Strunjan salt pans, which have been in operation for more than 700 years. Within the park, you’ll also find Moon Bay, renowned for its beach. You’ll have to hike down a steep path to get there, but the pebbly shores and clear, turquoise water are worth the trek. 

Discover cathedrals, spas, and truffles in Piran and Portorož

When in Piran, explore the massive Saint George’s Church.

Piran, a peninsular town west of Strunjan Landscape Park, is known for its Venetian-style architecture. One of the first buildings you’ll notice is the towering Saint George’s Church, which is perched on a hill overlooking the city. Follow the cobblestone street up the hill, then peer through the cathedral doors at the ornate interior. For a fuller look, visit the Parish Museum of Saint George, which houses the cathedral’s treasury and catacombs and also provides access to the church itself. When exploring the cathedral, keep your eyes peeled for The Crucified from Piran, a wooden sculpture of Christ on the cross that dates to the early 14th century. 

Article continues below advertisement

Adjacent to Piran is Portorož, a resort village beloved for its pretty beaches, luxury hotels, and open-air spas like Lepa Vida Thalasso, which is set against the beautiful backdrop of Sečovlje Salina Nature Park. When not relaxing, go truffle hunting in the nearby forests, visit the Fonda Fish Farm to educate yourself about the local Piran sea bass, or swing by Gramona Farm to taste Istrian olive oil in view of the Sečovlje salt pans.

Where to eat in the Slovenian Riviera

Oenophiles should head straight for Vinska Fontana Marezige near Koper. Built from Istrian stone, the self-service wine fountain—the first of its kind in Slovenia—features four taps pouring local varietals like malvazia and refošk. In the adjacent shop, you’ll find regional products like cold cuts, truffles, olives, and chocolates to pair with your wine. Put together a spread, then savor it all on the outdoor pavilion, which offers an unparalleled view of the Slovenian coast.

Farther south, in Portorose along the Strunjan coast, Pinija Restaurant & Beach Bar offers ocean vistas and Mediterranean-accented fare made with local ingredients like cold-pressed olive oil, truffles, and salt. Don’t miss the Neapolitan-style margherita pizza or the house-made rigatoni with burrata. 

Head to La Bottega Dei Sapori in Piran for sophisticated Italian fare.

In central Piran, the laid-back Fritolin Pri Cantini serves grilled calamari, octopus, and other delicious seafood dishes next to the lively First of May Square. For something slightly fancier, try La Bottega Dei Sapori in Tartini Square, where you can indulge in Italian-inspired fare like risotto with shrimp and black truffles. 

RiziBizi in Portorož is a fine-dining spot that specializes in sea bass and truffle dishes. Also worth a visit is Restaurant Sophia, located in the opulent Hotel Kempinski Palace Portorož. Named for actress Sophia Loren, the spot features some of Slovenia’s best wines alongside a seasonal menu of Italian-French fare like white truffle gnocchi and crispy sole in orange-honey sauce.

Where to stay in the Slovenian Riviera 

The Slovenian Riviera is compact, so no matter where you choose to stay, you’ll still be close to all the major sites and attractions. In Koper, Turistièna kmetija MLIN is a lovely farmhouse-turned-hotel with cozy rooms, a delicious restaurant, and a playground for children, all surrounded by scenic vineyards. 

The boutique-style Memento offers stylish rooms in the center of Piran.

In Piran, Memento combines chic decor and modern amenities for a boutique hotel vibe in the city center. Just outside town, between Fiesa Bay and Fiesa Lake, there’s also Barbara Beach Hotel & Spa, a relaxing stay with a spacious beach, two Finnish saunas, and an ice cave. 

If you’re in the mood for something more remote but still luxurious, try L.Stile Glamping in Portorož, where you can sleep in a stylishly appointed yurt in the middle of a tranquil forest. Yurts come with a queen bed, sleeper sofa, and private bathroom, plus an outdoor firepit, barbecue, and well-equipped kitchen. The surrounding property also features shared facilities, such as a swimming pool and an organic farm where you can pick your own fruit and vegetables. 

Article continues below advertisement