Slovenia’s Austrian Riviera

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 old 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 end station of 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.

11 photos (Flickr).

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.


Leaving Denmark

We’ve just spent 10 days in northern Italy, taking one of the last City Night Line trains out of Copenhagen and travelling via Munich to Venice, Trieste and Udine, with a sidestep to Slovenia.

We boarded in Copenhagen at 18:46, arriving in Venice Mestre at 17:58 the next day. Sadly Deutsche Bahn is winding down the City Night Line service, and despite the best efforts of Save the Copenhagen Night Train and a petition 13 December will mark the end of night trains out of Copenhagen.


boarding the 18:46 from Copenhagen to Basel

On Hogmanay we took the Aurora the whole way to Basel, treating ourselves to a two berth sleeper. This time sleeper berths were not available – either sold out or simply phased out early, like the dining car – but as we were only travelling as far as Mannheim this was OK. We were joined in Odense by a couple, visiting a friend living in Munich. For them the night train barely took longer than travelling to Copenhagen airport, going through the bus in the air hassle and then travelling into Munich from its airport.

On the return journey we took a sleeper from Udine to Munich, leaving at 22:47 and arriving in Munich at 6 the next morning. The train merged with several other night trains at Tarvisio Boscoverde and split again in Salzburg, with the majority of coaches bound for Vienna, arriving at 08:40. In Munich we hopped on a train doing the six hour slog up to Hamburg, and then onto the toy train which goes onto a ferry at Puttgarden, always a delight, resurfacing at Rødby to chug up to Copenhagen, where we arrived at 18:14.

This journey is slightly shorter than the Flensburg route, and will become a tad shorter again when the Fehmarnbelt tunnel opens (due in 2021). Scant recompense though for the increasingly limited non-plane options. (The Esbjerg to Harwich ferry has recently sailed its last voyage.)

Note: slow travel? Maybe it’s not just transport choices which need a rethink. See also Ian Jack on the Caledonian Sleeper, and Empty Pipes’ CPH map with travel times to any point in Europe by train.