We marched single-file through the narrow, winding streets of old town Piran, sweating as we lugged our hefty suitcases over the cobblestones.
“It’s here!” yelled my husband from around the corner.
I looked up, hoping to see our accommodation, but instead saw a pants-less man standing in his doorway, reeking of cannabis and stroking something dangling beneath his shirt.
His penis. Wrinkled and flaccid. Welcoming us.
I suppressed the urge to throw a rock in his direction, and instead focused on the getting to our home. Casa Luisa — yes, I loved it the moment I heard its name — was housed in an impressively vertical and wondrously skinny 5-storey building, built in medieval times when a building’s width, rather than height, mattered to tax collectors.
Relieved that the luggage-hauling was over, I was about to kick back onto the sofa when the boys began scrambling up the steep, wooden steps. I huffed after them, past all the beautifully furnished rooms I would never get to enjoy because I would be too busy repeating this exercise — running up and down five flights of steps whilst yelling, to be specific — in the next couple of days.
Slovenia occupies a tiny swathe of coastline compared to its neighbor Croatia, and has only a handful of seaside towns. The jewel among these is Piran, a small town that’s big in Venetian flavor, with Neoclassical buildings clustered around a boat-speckled harbour.
Our home was a short walk away from Tartini Square, the town’s most photogenic landmark. Our kids ran to play soccer with the local children, while I marveled at the Venetian House, the oldest building on the square.
A wealthy Venetian merchant built it in 1450 because he lusted after a local girl on a business trip here and eventually became her sugar daddy. When the townsfolk started throwing shade, he responded with a carved relief — that of a Venetian lion and the words lassa pur dir (or “let them talk”) — on the top of the building. #noeffsgiven #myhero
From there, we walked up to the Cathedral of St. George, a miniature version of its more famous counterpart in St. Mark’s Square, Venice. At the top, with the old town unfurled dramatically before us, we heard songs of Verdi, carried on the backs of winds that blew in from the great, blue Adriatic.
The kids were thrilled at the Aquarium Piran, a small, 3-room affair crammed with Adriatic sea life. Along with the more common hermit crabs and bioluminiscent jellyfishes (ok, I am not swimming anymore), we gawped at all manner of creatures that we haven’t seen elsewhere.
Tummies rumbling, we headed to Ladja Podlanica, a small-boat-cum-eatery docked in a secluded spot on the marina.
The place was a two-person show, made up of the chef and the server, a no-nonsense middle-aged lady who speaks limited English and works the floor — or, in this case, deck. She showed us to one of the six tables, where I was able to peer into the kitchen and wonder how our burly cook was able to churn out anything edible from a space so tiny.
The answer? Not much, according to the chalkboard menu to our right. You ate what they caught in the morning and, on that day, it was mussels, clams and sole.
But then, our dishes arrived in big ugly pots and, while amazingly simple, it was the best stuff we’ve ever eaten in Europe and Asia. Nevermind the fact that the we felt a little sick because the boat was bobbing the entire time and we had to eat our food from these cheap-looking metal bowls like we were dogs, but I suppose we were dogs at that moment, and the chef was our master, and all we did was look at him with tongues hangin’ out and pathetic puppy-dog eyes going, Feed me more, feed me more, because heck, even the fucking vongole pasta was sublime. The kids were in foodie heaven, slurping fresh mussels off the shells, while I was mad and upset because I lived halfway across the world, and would have to buy a return ticket just to dine here again.
We ate so much we decided to go for a little stroll on the harbour. But our lives were changed after that one meal, and now we looked disdainfully at the restaurants with white tablecloths that looked out to sea, the ones with a million and one dishes on the trilingual menu. There are no beaches to speak off, but that did not deter the sunbathers and swimmers, who were in their bikinis and speedos drying off.
We left the tourist hordes behind to explore the warren of cat-infested lanes of medieval Piran. Tucked away in some forgotten corner, the May 1 Square was smaller, shabbier but also a lot more authentic. Ringed by a few humble eateries, it was a lovely place to linger and watch locals as they watch you.
Just as I had gotten over that little episode with Mr. Weenie Waver, I had the privilege of running into him again as we walking home.
“Oh damn it!” I did not hold back my disgust this time. “Stewart, did you see that?”
But no one saw it. Not the husband and, thankfully, not my children.
The next day, we drove the Karst region, named for the extensive cave networks in the area. Our first stop was the Postojna Caves, the most accessible one in the region. We were poorly dressed for the adventure, not realizing it would be close to freezing inside.
Visitors are whizzed deeper into the mountain aboard an open-air train, past beautiful rock formations and a chamber lit with chandeliers (#soextra). It would’ve been enjoyable if my teeth weren’t chattering and my palms weren’t shaking like a crack addict going through withdrawal. Eventually, we got out and followed a guide on a well-lit path, marveling at stalactites as they flowed like translucent curtains from the ceilings and the grand Concert Hall, which could comfortably hold 10,000 people and has enthralled the likes of Mussolini and Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.
The highlight for our kids, however, was meeting an olm at the end of the walk. Nicknamed ‘human fish’ for its pale, human-like flesh, this elusive creature is the cave’s most famous resident — it has a lifespan of over a hundred years but can survive up to 14 years without food.
More encounters with this aquatic salamander could be had at the Vivarium Proteus, a little adjoining zoo that contained 16 other different species of cave-dwellers. Armed with our flashlights, we squinted to make out the creatures in the tanks and saw everything from the world’s rarest spiders and snails — not that we could really tell in the dark, of course.
Food offerings were sparse on the ground, but we managed to find decent gourmet burgers at Magdalena Food & Fun. I was a little confused with the name though — I mean, I get the food part, but I had no idea what constituted ‘fun’ in the bosses’ minds, because waiting 15 minutes for service when the place is virtually empty is certainly not.
We drove to Predjama Castle, an ancient citadel perched dramatically inside a niche in the mountains.
In the 15th century, a nobleman named Erasmus was imprisoned after killing the emperor’s cousin in a duel. After he was released, Erasmus avenged himself in a series of Robin Hood-style raids on nobility and merchants by using this castle as his HQ. For over a year, soldiers were sent from Trieste to put an end to his raids without much success, but they finally managed to defeat our wily hero while he was on a routine visit to the latrine on the outer-edge of the castle — by blowing him off his throne with a cannonball.
Reading all these stories of brave, irreverent characters inspired me to take a stand against my gnarly, pot-smoking neighbor so I had my phone camera on standby as I slowly ambled past his home, ready for a showdown, on our final day. But the man and his spunktrumpet was nowhere in sight.
I whistled to his mutt, hoping to lure its owner from the deep recesses of his old man-den like Gollum. But alas, it didn’t happen.
I walked away disconsolately, feeling massively disappointed by his absence. But Piran gave me many reasons to return, and this dude was just one of them.
Casa Luisa This 2-bedroom self-catering apartment gives you a chance to live like a local in the heart of the old town. Its vertical layout can be inconvenient at times for older people and young children (one has to do up and down the stairs to access the bathrooms), but rooms are spacious and beautifully furnished. There is also a lovely balcony at the roof so you can have an aperitif and watch the sunset. $$
- Driving and parking in Piran is a nightmare. Just park your car at the main parking garage and take the free shuttle, which connects the garage and Tartini Square 4 times hourly. If you have bags / kids, it’s best to call your accommodation in advance so arrangements can be made to drop these off first.
- Piran deserves at least one night, but it also makes a good base for longer stays and excursions to the karst region. It is also well-connected to Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana by a 2 and a half hour bus ride.
- You need to make advanced reservations if you’re planning to dine at Ladja Podlanica.
- Waters are warm here, making swimming a pleasant affair. However, it’s more for adults and advanced swimmers — you can find ladders descending into the ocean in front of Hotel Piran and most sunbathers tend to congregate in this area.
- If you’re doing an excursion to the nearby caves and castle, there is a combo ticket you could purchase, and a free summer-only shuttle between them. Don’t miss the vivarium if you have kids. And be sure to dress warmly for a visit, even in the height of summer!