Piran is a small and relatively unknown medieval town on the Adriatic Sea. It stands proudly on a peninsula where many concrete steps lead bathers into the mild waters. Most of the old city walls have crumbled, but homes and narrow cobblestone passageways remain. Details like Venetian windows and one outer section of city wall tell the tale of a sought-after city that changed hands many times over.
Sunbathing seniors and hanging laundry paint a modern picture. Piran is now a peaceful seaside destination where Slovenians go for warmer weather. The boardwalk serves as a pathway and narrow division between bustling restaurant patios and wide platforms that give sunbathers respite from rocky beaches. Every 50 feet or so, small steps with metal handrails descend into the sea and come summer, they are well-traversed.
The entire town, which spans no more than 0.7 square km, has a central main square that looks out onto the marina. It is an ideal place for strolling, swimming, fresh seafood, and local wine.
The name Piran comes from the word pyros, meaning fire. It refers to the ancient lighthouses that formerly stood at the marina. Though no lighthouse remains, this seaside gem is Slovenia’s pride and joy on the small slice of coast remains unclaimed by Italy and Croatia.
It is an ethnically and architecturally colourful town capped with charming red-tile roofs, and home to a unique blend of history and culture.
Before the Roman era, the hills of Piran were home to the Illyrian Histri. They were farmers, hunters, fishermen, and from time to time, pirates who interrupted Roman trade skirting the region. The Piran peninsula fell under Roman rule in 178 BC.
Avar and Slav incursions forced Roman populations to withdraw into easily defensible locations such as the Piran peninsula. The area was fortified by the 7th century under Byzantine rule. In 952, Piran was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire.
The peninsula was ruled by the Republic of Venice from 1283 to 1797. After this period of decadence, the town was annexed to the Austrian Empire, then ceded to the Napoleonic Empire. By the turn of the 20th century, the town had returned to Austro-Hungarian hands and had over 12,000 inhabitants. It was a flourishing market and spa town with the first trolleybus in the Balkans in 1909. Between WWI and WWII, the town was ceded to Italy. The town became part of Yugoslavia in 1954 and the population decreased with an exodus of inhabitants fleeing communist rule. Piran has been part of independent Slovenia since 1991. In 2010, Piran became home to the first black mayor elected in a country formerly belonging to communist Europe.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Part of Piran’s charm is that neither cars nor buses are permitted to enter the old town. Nor could they, should they wish to try. As the road winds down towards the coast and arrives at the Marina, it ends at Tartini Square. It is the modern focal point of the town, as the terrain seems to engulfs the square like an amphitheatre. In addition to restaurants and patios and frequent farmer’s markets, the square offers views of several churches and the grand town hall building.
For such a small town, it boasts many churches. St. George’s stands most prominently, with a large clock tower looming over the city. Chiesa di San Pietro (Church of St. Peter), Verkev Sc. Frančiška, the tiny Sv. Marija Snezna, and Cerkev Marije Tolažnice are scattered nearby. These modest and half-hidden churches have stood on the peninsula for centuries.
Piran Town Walls
Piran’s walls protected the city from invasions and incursions. They new walls were built as the city expanded outward, so if you look carefully you will actually find a section of wall nestled squarely between rows of homes.
At the top of the hill overlooking the city, you can climb a section of the 7th-century wall fortifications for about €2 (the entrance is coin-machine operated in low season to be sure to carry change). It offers sweeping views of the city and sea.
Pro tip: pack a picnic.
In Piran, a stroll through the Marina and along the boardwalk is a must. You’ll see local fisherman going about their work, locals going for their routine swim, and visitors from all over. It’s also a great way to scope out a patio table for some wining and dining.
The waters are generally warm and calm, with many access points to service swimmers. There’s a secluded beach on the shore beneath St. George’s, accessible only on foot. Prepare ahead for the rocky beach because the water is definitely worth it!
WHEN IN PIRAn
Have a glass of local white wine and calamari at Ribic Baja. As we came wading out of the sea in search of a refreshment, we opted for this no-white-tablecloth alternative to the touristy-looking spots on the boardwalk. We thoroughly enjoyed an ocean-front seat, crispy calamari, and €2 house wine — which was excellent, especially for the price point.
STROLL TO PORTOROZ
Just down the coast is the resort town of Portoroz. It is much larger and more modern, creating a much different vibe with its long stretch of beach, fancy chain hotels, and busy casinos. The seaside stroll from Piran to Portoroz is a lovely one, but there’s also a quick and affordable bus connection between the two towns.
If you’re in need of a place to camp or interested in the Festival of Slovenian Film held each Sepetember, be sure to check out Portoroz!