Slowing Down in Slovenia: Piran & Skocjan Caves

by Elizabeth

After an exhausting stay in Barcelona, we were ready to take it easy in Slovenia.  The cheapest way to get there turned out to be a flight from Barcelona to Trieste, Italy, followed by a short bus connection.  Our early morning taxi to the airport and flight were uneventful.  We were able to hop on a bus from the airport to the Trieste bus station fairly quickly.  Bus station looks the same as it did five years ago when we sat around waiting for our bus to Croatia (coming from Venice) — still run down and sort of sad, but functional.  We had a few hours before the direct bus to Piran on the Slovenian coast, so we wandered around Trieste for a bit and ate some focaccia.

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The “Grand Canal” in Trieste, Italy

The bus ride to Piran was scenic, with glimpses of the coast and a few cute coastal towns along the way.  In under two hours were were in Piran.  It is adorable. 

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View while entering Piran.  I think that the lack of sandy beach contributed to the relaxed feel — no crowded resorts!

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Piran’s main square.

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Home is where the backpacks are.

A mix of old Venetian and relaxed coastal retreat — not surprising since it’s a quick ferry ride to Venice.  The town was definitely filled with tourists, but it didn’t seem overly kitschy or crowded.  Everyone was just claiming their few feet of space along the rocky sea wall to swim or sunbathe, or relaxing with a spritz (sparking wine and Aperol liqueur) at one of the many restaurants.  Since the town is on a small peninsula, there was plenty of coastline for everyone.  We spent our first afternoon lounging around in the apartment we booked and walking along the seafront — before succumbing to the urge to go for a dip in the gorgeous waters.

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Piran’s small port.

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They’ve even built paths into the water so that Piran’s rocky shoreline doesn’t get in the way of easy swimming.

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Gorgeous sunset!

Before heading to Slovenia, we reached out to a Slovenian woman that we met on the Camino.  She recommended visiting Piran and mentioned that there was a walk that we could do between a few of the coastal towns.  I guess she figured that we might like walking 😉  The Piran tourist office was super helpful and gave us a map of the local walking and biking routes.  The walk was great and ended up being about 7 miles (fairly well marked as route K12/K13/P14 loop).  We started by walking along a concrete walking path along the coast to Portoroz — a more conventional seaside resort town, complete with casinos and a sandy beach. 

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Along the path to Portoroz.

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The coast between Piran and Portoroz.

Then we walked up the hill and through a pedestrian/biking only tunnel.  It was about a kilometer long and provided a cool respite from the already hot, sunny day. 

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Entering the tunnel.

We then walked past some salt flats (seeing the town of Strunjan in the distance, but opting to return to Piran without walking through it) before turning back to walk along the other side of the peninsula back to Piran.  We quickly learned that the “walking only” path on the map meant that there was no actual trail — we would be rock hopping along the narrow, rocky coastline.  We were definitely ready for our own swim in the cool ocean waters when we got back to Piran!

 

 

 

The only sad thing about our visit to Piran is that we only stayed two nights!  Even though neither of us are beach people and normally get bored really easily at beaches, we both really enjoyed visiting Piran and thought that it would be a great spot to spend more time.  I can see why so many families were plopped down there for the week.  Unfortunately, our apartment was already booked for the next night by someone else.  We also need to limit our overall time in Slovenia because it in the Schengen zone and we’ve already spent about 60 out of our 90 days of Schengen eligibility!

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Walking back along the coastline to Piran.

Our last morning in Slovenia we hopped on a bus headed toward Ljubljana (Slovenia’s capital) and got off in the small town of Divaca in order to visit the Skocjan caves.  We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to make this stopover work coming from Piran (there was a bunch of info for people coming from Ljubljana), and by a bit of luck it all worked out.  We arrived in Divaca at around 11:20, and looked for luggage lockers to leave our stuff.  The lockers at the train station looked really sketchy and there was a sign posted suggesting that they might not work. 

 

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Train station lockers.  Posted sign reads “closet broken.”  No really reassuring.

We had heard that there might be luggage storage at the caves, so we decided to try for that instead.  We then looked around for the free shuttle that is supposed to run from the train station/bus stop to the caves (since they are 5km away at it was really hot).  All we saw was the posted timetable, which indicated that we had just missed the shuttle and that the next one wouldn’t run until 2pm.  Bummer.  

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Timetable for the free shuttle — we figured we would post it since we spent forever trying to find it online.

We looked around for a taxi, but there were none to be found (the area seemed deserted).  Then the free shuttle pulled up.  The driver confirmed what the sign said — the next shuttle was scheduled for 2pm.  Then he took pity on us and drove us to the caves!  We’d heard that this might be a possibility, but we were excited nonetheless that it worked out so easily.  Our good luck continued at the ticket office for the caves.  They did indeed have free lockers (locked cages).  Our two backpacks fit easily in one compartment.

The Skocjan caves were declared a UNESCO natural and cultural world heritage site in 1986.  We’ve both visited a lot of caves before, and the Skocjan caves were unique and well worth the visit.  The main caves are accessible only by guided tour, which leads you on a 2km path down through the cave system, along the Reva River flowing inside, and then exiting out of the primary cave entrance.  Each section of the cave was more impressive than the next.  The first few “rooms” had the typical stalactites and stalagmites.  Then we entered a huge cavern that was over 100 meters tall and featured a huge stalagmite near our path. 

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Stalactites and stalagmites galore!  Image from wikipedia — no photography was permitted in the caves.

As we continued walking, we could start to hear the sound of water getting louder and louder.  We soon found ourselves in a gigantic, underground canyon with the Reka River rushing beneath us.  It felt like walking into Moria from the Lord of the Rings (the Dwarven underground city where Gandalf fell to his death and came back as Gandalf the White).  We walked along a narrow path built into the cliff, crossed a bridge high above the river, before continuing along the canyon. 

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Photo of the bridge over the Reka River (photo from a sign near the visitor’s center).  If you look carefully, you can see an old pathway along the canyon wall, just up from the river on the righthand side.

As we walked, we could see the precarious pathways originally cut into the cliffs by the original explorers of the caves.  After exiting the cave (the only place where we were permitted to take pictures), we hiked up out of the canyon back to the visitor’s center, passing a couple cool waterfalls along the way.  We opted not to sign up for the second, self-guided part of the cave visit due to transportation time constraints and didn’t feel like we missed much.

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Exiting the caves.

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Waterfall outside the cave exit.

 

Catching the free shuttle back to the train station/bus stop went much more smoothly than on the way there.  We had hoped to take the train onward to Ljubljana, but the ticket office was closed (as it had been when we arrived) and it appeared that the time listed for the Ljubljana “train” was actually for a bus connection.  So we hopped on the bus and were soon on our way to Ljubljana. 

[We’re making an attempt to finally get caught up on getting our blog posts up.  This post describes our visit to Piran and the Skocjan Caves on July 6-8, 2016.]

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5 thoughts on “Slowing Down in Slovenia: Piran & Skocjan Caves

  1. Pingback: Guide to Visit Škocjan Caves Park, Slovenia

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