Pristine coastline, pastel buildings adorning the sea line and exuding charm and warmth, and a tall round tower at the farthest end of the road – at the first glance as I stepped out of the bus, I’d already decided that I was going to love Piran! One look at it and it’s easy to see why the compact, understated town is considered to be one of the prettiest on the Adriatic coast.
In a little over a-month-and-a-half of travel in some of the Central European countries in the mid- and late-Spring of 2019, I’d been to the mountains and had seen numerous stunning lakes, I’d been to museums, I’d seen castles, I’d learned (or at least tried to learn) about history and art and architecture… what I really needed was my dose of Vitamin Sea. I wanted to see the Slovenian side of the Adriatic coast. And so, I decided to make a day trip from Ljubljana to Piran, the pretty little medieval seaside town to the southwest of Slovenia and part of the Slovenian side of the Istria region, a region that’s shared by Croatia and Italy.
A Slovene roommate at the hostel in Ljubljana had told me stories about how they’d visit Piran in their childhood and swim in the Adriatic Sea. “But,” she’d added, “we always wanted to go to beaches in Croatia. Slovenia’s coastline is small, not many beaches here. Croatia has a lot of beautiful beaches.” Indeed! With a length of just about 47 km, Slovene Riviera or the coastline of Slovenia is way smaller than Croatia’s Adriatic coast (about 4058 km long including the islands). But by no means is it any less pretty, as I discovered.
I bought a one-way ticket for €11.60 on a morning bus (around 7:40 a.m.) from the Ljubljana bus station to Piran. The foggy weather in Ljubljana gradually changed as the bus moved in the direction of Piran. In about an hour and a half of drive, it started raining… no… let me correct that… it started pouring! The lush greenery on the hills around, the heavy showers, and the fog reminded me of the Khandala ghats in my home state in India. It gets just as beautiful there during the monsoons. After about 2. 5 hours (or perhaps a little more!), I was finally in Piran.
I had no fixed plans about how I wanted to spend the day in the town. I’d only seen the images of the main square in Piran and knew not much about the town. All I wanted to do was spend some time by the sea and then walk around a bit. Much of my “sight-seeing” in Piran, happened by chance. I went to the places that caught my eye as I was wandering around. The town is small and even if you don’t really know much about it, you’d still end up coming across some of the main places of interest anyway!
Here’s what I saw in the few hours that I spent in Piran.
Our Lady of Health Church (St. Clement Church) at the Tip of the Peninsula
The first thing that caught my fancy as soon as I stepped into the town was the tall tower at the farthest end of the road. It looked like a lighthouse and it looked immensely inviting. So, I headed in the direction of the tower – towards promontory Punta Madonna, the farthest tip of the peninsula on which Piran is located.
Possibly because it was a Sunday or because heavy rains kept lashing the town intermittently or because Piran is not as touristy a place in comparison to some other places in Slovenia (though I hear that it can be quite crowded at the height of summer and I was there in late Spring) – I don’t know which of these was the case, but there was hardly any crowd around. As I strolled along the promenade breathing in the fresh sea air, all I could hear was the sound of gentle waves lapping the rocks on the shore.
It was only when I reached the end of the promontory that I discovered the tall round tower, which I mistook to be the Piran lighthouse, to actually be the tower of Our Lady of Health Church (Cerkev Marije Snezne). The church was initially dedicated to St. Clement, the patron saint of sailors. During the plague epidemic in the 17th century, the church was renamed to Our Lady of Health Church. The Piran lighthouse was also attached to the northwest side of the church in the same century. The church, the lighthouse, and the tower served to protect the town during pirate raids and also served the religious needs of the citizens.
To my utter disappointment, both the church and the tower were closed for visitors perhaps due to renovation work. So, I decided to go to the place that I knew about and had seen in pictures of Piran – its main square.
Tartini Square and Benecanka (Venetian House)
I walked back to the Tartini Square (Tartinijev Trg in Slovenian) located at the heart of the town. Since it was almost lunchtime, the eateries and cafes at the square were buzzing with activity. The square was the one place in town where I saw the most people!
Long ago, in the place of the Tartini Square, there used to be a dock for fishing boats and other smaller vessels. When the place began to stink, the officials decided to clear the debris and fill up the smelly part of the dock to construct a square. The square was named after the noted violinist Giuseppe Tartini, who was born in Piran. The square has Tartini’s statue at its center and is surrounded by numerous colorful buildings and lively cafes. For those who want to know a bit about the history of Piran, there’s the Sergej MaseraMaritime Museum.
Piran’s most famous building is located right near the square – the Benecanka or the Venetian House – the oldest preserved house that’s said to date back to the 15th century. When I did locate it, I realized it looks nothing like the images that Google shows up when you search for the Venetian House. Unlike the bright red building in those images, the building is ivory or peachy (or whatever)! I found it to be quite unremarkable in terms of its external appearance! What’s remarkable though, is the story about the building, and here’s how the legend goes.
Long ago, when Piran bustled with maritime trade, a wealthy Venetian merchant would make frequent visits to the town. He fell in love with a simple young girl from Piran and he built the town’s most beautiful house for his lover. The two lovers soon became the topic of gossip among the people in the town. As a symbol of his defiance, the Venetian merchant got the words “LASA PVR DIR” inscribed on the top of the building façade. “Let them talk!” Says enough in a few words! The story of this building made it appear to be more beautiful to me than it really is.
The Benecanka is built in the Venetian-Gothic style. In fact, most buildings in town are built in Venetian style. The fact that the town was under the rule of Venetian Republic from the 13th to 18th century explains the Venetian influence on the architecture. Not so surprising then that Piran is considered to be Venice of Slovenia, minus the canals and tourist crowds of course!
Piran’s Main Church – St. George’s Parish Church (Zupnijska Cerkev sv. Jurija)
While at Tartini Square, it’s difficult to miss the sight of the bell tower perched high above the square. I decided to follow one of the numerous alleyways to walk up to the tower. The winding, narrow alleyways seemed like a maze! So easy to get lost, especially for someone as challenged in terms of finding directions as yours truly! Navigating through those lanes while struggling with the umbrella in one hand and the phone (for the directions!) in the other made things slightly worse.
After a bit of a struggle to find the way, I ended up at the entrance of Piran’s main and the largest church, St. George’s Parish Church (or Zupnijska Cerkev sv. Jurija), on the top of the hill. The church, originally built in 12th century, was reconstructed in 16th century as a Venetian-Renaissance building. The church is dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of Piran. The bell tower was added at the beginning of the 17th century and is said to be a smaller copy of San Marco Campanile in Venice.
The yards surrounding the church and the bell tower of the church provide breathtaking views of the orange-roofed houses scattered all over the town and the vast expanse of the sea. I enjoyed the views of the sea and the town in solitude and peace – pure bliss!
I Missed Walking the Town Walls!
The construction of the walls of Piran began in 7th century. With the expansion of the town, new walls were built fortify the new parts of the town. The walls were constructed to protect the town against Ottoman (empire created by Turkish tribes) attacks. The walls are just about 10-minute walk from the Tartini Square. The walls apparently provide the best views of the town and the Adriatic Sea.
I didn’t know about Piran Town Walls (sounds really silly I guess)! But even if I had, I wonder if I’d have had the patience to walk there in the rains. Besides, from what I hear, on rainy days the walls are supposedly closed. I probably saved myself from some disappointment.
By late noon, I was back at the waterfront. I had lunch at a seaside restaurant (Slovenian red wine, a huge bowl of salad, and pasta at a place called Riviera Adriatic, right by the sea… the price – €12.9… the views of the Adriatic – priceless!) before hopping on a bus back to Ljubljana.
I returned to Ljubljana that evening, feeling absolutely content with what I saw and how I felt in the gorgeous little town of Piran. While there isn’t much to do in the town itself (some other Slovenian coastal cities/towns like Koper, Portoroz, and Izola that aren’t too far in case one wants to explore), there’s just so much to savor! While I’ve mostly seen pictures of the town clicked on bright and sunny days, I got to see it in its different look altogether and I loved that just as much. And oh, I absolutely loved to have parts of the town and the seaside all to myself on that rainy day.