Slovenia’s Austrian Riviera

Last updated: 12 April 2021

Following yesterday’s trip to Torviscosa, a short stop in Slovenia follows.

A bit like the Swiss Navy or the Seacoast of Bohemia, Austria once had its own riviera, a Hapsburg crown land stretching along the northeast Adriatic coast and part of the Austrian Littoral, linked by the Vienna-Trieste railway (Südbahn) via Graz from the 1850s until 1923.

The Austrian border is only 65 miles north of Trieste, but the Südbahn no longer operates. There is however one train a day to Ljubljana from the Italian border town of Opicina at the end of the tram line, and several departures a day from the Slovenian border post at Sežana three miles away.

A more handy alternative is the bus, which as well as offering departures to any number of former Austro-Hungarian lands and beyond also runs via Trieste’s answer to Spaghetti Junction to the resorts on the former riviera in Istria, Croatia’s tourist hotspot, with a small sliver also held by Slovenia. It all gets very confusing – the Venetian influence is unmistakable, campaniles and all, but as in Trieste the street names play witness to changing loyalties.

Slovenia’s 42km of coast is made up of fishing villages turned holiday resorts linked by flat coastal paths. Its transport hub is Koper, formerly Capodistria, which allegedly has a pretty medieval heart, but you wouldn’t know it from the out of town railway station and shopping centre – the bus ploughed onwards before we realised we were there, so we stayed on through Portorož, a purpose-built resort with its own airport and casino hotel, to the last stop in Piran.

They say that Piran’s campanile, modelled on St Mark’s, is visible from the Molo Audace in Trieste, and on that a clear day you can see Venice, still its spiritual home, from the top. Completely charming, although I suspect heaving with Austrians in high season. A sort of mini-Trieste, Piran has it all: narrow cobbed streets, a 12th century church, a harbour full of boats, an array of buildings from Byzantine to Austrian in its main square named after local violin-playing virtuoso Giuseppe Tartini, a fortress, a naval museum with photos of the partisans, a thriving artistic community with galleries and a theatre. Plus great ice cream. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the whole town is a protected monument.

On the way back we got a chance to explore Koper’s Communist era transport hub, with buses running to all corners of the former Yugoslavia, but didn’t make Tito Square or the marina.

Sources and links: Wikipedia: the Austrian Riviera, the Austrian Littoral and the Austrian Southern Railway. Tram de Opcina. The Man in Seat 61. KoperPortorož (airport | hotel), Piran.

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