Not to be missed while you’re in Ljubljana is a visit to either the Postojna or Škocjan caves – both spectacular, and both easily manageable either as a day-trip from the capital or en route south to Slovene Istria, to Croatia or to Italy. A trip easily combined with the caves is to Predjama Castle, near Postojna, a sombre fortress craftily embedded into the karst landscape. On the small stretch of Adriatic coastline are a number of charismatic towns, heavily influenced by a legacy of Venetian rule. Of these, Piran is by far the most rewarding, its fishing-village charm and gorgeous architecture contrasting starkly with the brash modernity of neighbouring Portorož.
Top image Predjama Castle © Rolf E. Staerk/Shutterstock
Piran, at the tip of the peninsula, 4km from Portorož, couldn’t be more different. Its web of arched alleys, tightly packed ranks of historic houses and little Italianate squares is delightful. The centre, 200m around the harbour from the bus station, is Tartinijev trg, named after the eighteenth-century Italian violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini, who was born in a cream villa on the square and is commemorated by a weather-beaten bronze statue in the centre. With its striking oval shape, it’s one of the loveliest squares on this coast, fringed by Venetian palaces and an imposing Austrian town hall. From the square’s eastern edge, follow Rozmanova ulica all the way up to the commanding Baroque Church of St George, crowning a spectacular spot on the far side of Piran’s peninsula.
Easily reached by bus from the train terminus in Koper, Portorož (“Port of Roses”) sprawls at the beginning of a long, tapering peninsula that projects like a lizard’s tail north into the Adriatic. Popular since the end of the nineteenth century for its mild climate and the health-inducing properties of its salty mud baths, today the resort’s big draw is high-rise hotels, glitzy casinos and buzzing nightlife. The main “beach” is just a continuation of the concrete promenade and there’s not a great deal of culture here, but the town’s modernity and vibrant bars and clubs are unrivalled on this stretch of the coast.
Hourly trains run the 65km route from Ljubljana to Postojna, but as the walk to the caves is shorter from the bus stop, most people opt for this mode of transport. Once in the town, signs direct you to the caves. Inside, a train whizzes you through spectacular preliminary systems before the guided 1.5km walking tour starts. The vast and fantastic jungles of rock formations are breathtaking and there’s also an opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of the cave-dwelling “human fish”, a blind amphibian that can live for up to 100 years, before the climactic finale of the 40m high “concert hall”. Bring a jacket and appropriate footwear; the air inside the caves is decidedly chilly.
Nine kilometres northwest of Postojna caves, but not served by public transport, is the precariously sited Predjama Castle. Built into and around an elevated cave entrance in the midst of the dramatic karst landscape, this sixteenth-century fortress is a striking sight and affords excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Its damp, sparsely filled interior is less rewarding, though you can see weaponry and artefacts dating back to its heyday as the castle of the legendary knight Erazem Lueger. The easiest way to get here is to rent bikes from the Hotel Sport at Kolodvorska 1 in Postojna.
Much less visited (but arguably more enchanting) than Postojna, the Škocjan Caves are a stunning system of echoing chambers, secret passages and collapsed valleys carved out by the Reka River, which begins its journey some 50km south near the Croatian border. Daily tours take you through several stalactite-infested chambers and halls, before you reach the breathtaking Murmuring Cave, reputedly the world’s largest subterranean canyon. To get here follow the 3km footpath from Divača train station towards the caves (see map at the station).