Road trip 2: The coast and the Karst region, 7 days
We visited Slovenia quite a few times and we enjoyed the country every time. The first time was in 2005 and even though Slovenia changed a lot in those last few years, it’s still a great holiday destination. Slovenia is an ideal country to discover by car for a stress-free holiday because:
- It’s a small country, only 20,273 km2 (about half of the Netherlands), and it has a large diversity of landscapes. Interesting sites are scattered over the different regions.
- The infrastructure in Slovenia is perfect and the roadmaps are detailed and up-to-date.
- The country is centrally located in Europe and within easy reach for most Europeans (Utrecht to Ljubljana, the capital, is 1200 km).
The republic of Slovenia, Republika Slovenija, is a country in Central Europe. It borders Austria to the north. This border is mainly formed by the Karawanks mountain range with peaks of more than 2000 m. Furthermore Slovenia borders Italy to the west (and a tiny piece of Adriatic sea), Croatia to the south and Hungary to the northeast. More than half of Slovenia is covered by forest and a big part of the country is mountainous.
Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia. It became independent after the Ten-Day war In 1991. Slovenia entered the European Union (and the NATO) in 2004. It was the first of the former Yugoslav republics to enter. It also entered the eurozone in 2007.
Three road trips to experience Slovenia
I have written out three different road trips through Slovenia, each with different highlights: the coast, the mountains, the vineyards and spas (links below). If you have the possibility: do all three! Do bear in mind that these are my own personal preferences so not especially the most touristic or complete routes but I think these three routes will give you a fairly good image of the beauty and diversity of Slovenia.
Slovenia is also is a perfect destination for camping holidays. It is a very green country with loads of unspoiled nature.
Head south towards the Slovenian coast from Trieste in northeastern Italy. This itinerary will bring you from the Adriatic sea to the karstic caves, to the beautiful capital via some idyllic castles and vineyards. A beautiful and diverse route!
Slovenia does not have much seaside, only 46,6 km of rocky coast along the Adriatic sea. The southwest of Slovenia, between Ljubljana and the gulf of Trieste is known for its many karstic caves, hence the name Karst region. Some of these caves are part of the most exceptional ones in the world like the Postojna Jama. Slovenia has more then 7000 caves, only about 20 open for public though.
Day 1 + 2 Piran:
The towns and sights on the coast are so close one to the other that it’s best to choose one town as a base for sightseeing. We chose Piran but you could also choose Portoroz 3 km further for example, it kind of depends on what you are looking for as the two towns are very different.
Piran is a picturesque walled medieval town with pretty Venetian architecture. I enjoyed having a stroll in the narrow winding streets of Piran. There are many sights to visit there like the Church of St Mary of the Snows, the Sergej Masera Maritime Museum, the Tartini memorial room, the Herman Pecaric Gallery and many more. Piran is a lovely and lively town with a promenade along the sea and lots of cosy restaurants. The Tartini square named after the violin player Giuseppe Tartini is also very charming.
The pebbly beaches are not very special but you can swim and the sea is crystal clear and beautiful so I’m not complaining. Do climb up the St George cathedral with the pretty bell tower for some of the most spectacular views of Piran and the sea.
Portoroz is a real hassle-free holiday resort town. Everything looks so new and renovated that it gives kind of an unreal Disneyland feel to the town. Portoroz is not the place you come to for culture and tradition but for fun and relaxation. The artificial sand beaches are mostly private with sun chairs etc for rent. In Portoroz you will find nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, a well equipped marina and a casino.
Don’t miss out on a visit to the salt flats in Secovlje Salina Nature Park located just 6 km from Portoroz. There is a saltpans museum and great possibilities for a nice walk or biking. The salt production runs the whole year round in a small part of the park. The saltpans are located in a protected nature park of 650 hectare. There are lots of special bird species in the marsh wetlands so it’s an interesting place from an ornithological point of view as well.
You should also visit Koper while staying in Piran or Portoroz. Koper is a commercial port and busy town and it has a gorgeous old town.
Day 3 Lipica:
We now leave the coast and drive about 45 km north, just two km from the Italian border. Visit the Lipica stud farm, famous for its white horses: the Lipizzaners. The stud farm was founded in1580 by the Archduke of Inner Austria.
One can visit the stables, ride around in a carriage, ride Lipizzaners and watch demonstrations of the skills of the Lippizaners in the stud farm. The farm is home to about 400 Lipizzaner horses. Lipica is known worldwide as an important venue for equestrian events including World Cup dressage competitions.
Lipica is also an important tourist resort now with a hotel on the grounds (Hotel Maestoso), a golf course and tennis courts, etc…Still, it is special to visit the farm and see those impressive horses there.
Day 4 Skocjan caves:
The famous caves of Skocjan, at about 20 km from Lipica, lie on the main Karst plateau. The Skocjan caves regional park is enormous, about 413 hectares. It comprises a network of eleven caves, with amongst others waterfalls, natural bridges and Europe’s largest underground gorge.
It’s a real fairytale scenery with stalactites and stalagmites and the whole thing! The Skocjan caves have been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 1986. The temperature in the caves is a constant 12°C so don’t forget your sweater.
Day 5 Postojna caves:
Drive another 30 km from the Skocjan caves to arrive at yet another unique natural phenomenon: the Postojna caves. The karst cave network is approximately 20 km long, the longest of Slovenia and were created by the Pivka river. The beginning of the visit is on board of a super cool train! There are also adventure tours of the caves available for the thrill seekers by the way (chicken-me did not do this one so I can’t speak out of personal experience). The Spaghetti Hall, also known as the tube hall, is fun with its spaghetti shaped stalactites on the ceilings in fuzzy colors thanks to the iron and manganese oxides but seriously all the halls are great, the one more impressive then the other.
The constant temperature in the caves ranges from 8 to 10° C. There are a lot of animal species living in the cave around hundred permanently and another fifty more occasionally. This includes spiders, bats, water snails and the tiny-neck beetle. The most famous being the olm or human fish. It looks funny and strange and super cute!
If you’re lucky enough to be in town at the same time as a concert is on in the impressive concert hall in the caves, be sure to go, it’s an incredible experience. The nearby Pivka and crna jama caves are also worth a visit. Also, be sure to stop at Predjama Castle, it’s only 9 km from the caves. The castle looks like if it’s growing from a cave itself.
Day 6 + 7 Ljubljana:
It’s 55 km to the pleasant capital Ljubljana, take the national road for some scenic drive. Ljubljana is a great town, very green, and there is much to write about so I will write about it in another blog. We stayed in town for a few days, slept at the Grand Hotel Union, a comfortable hotel in the heart of town. After Ljubljana it will be another 95 km to get back to your starting point: Trieste.