Practical Travel Tips: Koper, Slovenia

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We haven’t explore much of Slovenia. The last time, we did a quick trip from Venice. So if you are visiting Venice, you can make a quick trip into Slovenia.

Jim “The Travel Organizer,” who last wrote about Mendocino County, California, Auckland, Oslo, the small German town of Speyer and Deidesheim, Oahu, Napa Valley, Venice, Singapore, Bangkok, Sonoma County and Myrtle Beach,  here are his tips should you visit.

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Bet you didn’t know: Slovenia is the world’s first country to be declared a “green destination” based on compliance with 96 out of 100 criteria for sustainable tourism by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Some of the criteria for this designation include areas of concern to all travelers: visitor satisfaction, safety and security, cultural heritage protection, protection of sensitive environments, etc. In addition, Koper, on the Adriatic coast, was named the 2017 “Destination of Excellence” in Slovenia for its commitment to offering “authentic tourism experiences.” Many visitors arrive by cruise ship, so this destination report will focus on how to spend 6-8 hours experiencing those aspects of Koper and Slovenian Istria which are earning these accolades.

Skocjan Caves

Exiting Skocjan Cave complex – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Skocjan Caves, often called “the underground Grand Canyon,” is one of the largest cave systems in the world. Two features were important in its being named to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites on November 28, 1986: the endangered subterranean species including the blind cave salamander supported by the caves and the sheer magnitude of the canyon – at one point one crosses the vertigo-inducing Cerkvenik Bridge which spans the canyon more than 15 stories above the Reka River below. The only way to visit this impressive cave system is on a guided tour costing 16 to 20 Euros (adults), 12 to 16 Euros (students and seniors) and 7,50 to 10 Euros (children), depending on the time of year one visits.  The guided tour begins at the Visitors’ Center and proceeds downhill to the man-made passageway through which one enters a chamber filled with limestone drip formations called the “Silent Cave” because the Reka River, which runs underground at this point, cannot be heard. Next is the Great Hall with is massive stalactite and stalagmite formations aptly named “The Giant” and “The Organ” (guides used to be able to actually tap the formations to produce various musical notes). Then it’s on to “Murmuring Cave,” the vast underground canyon carved by the Reka River. Especially interesting in this section are the remains of the old tourist trail with stairs carved into the sheer canyon sides and anchors for ropes which caused members of our tour group to ask our guide, “How many people died on that trail?” His answer? “None!” The last stop is “Bowls Hall” (reminiscent of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park), with its terraced basins formed by water pooling and dripping over the edges of those pools over millennia. Finally, one passes through Tominc Cave (pictured here) and returns to the surface. Tip: Photography isn’t allowed inside the cave system; this is why the only picture I could provide is of the exit. Still, this picture gives the reader a sense of the massive scale of Skocjan Caves.

Waterfall below bridge on uphill climb after exit – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Warning: Exiting the cave, one has two choices: turn left toward an unrelenting climb past a waterfall (also pictured here) and up some 500 steps (more than half the height of the Washington Monument) or turn right for a shorter walk to a funicular (which may or may not be working) back to the Visitors’ Center.

Countryside and Villages

We considered ourselves incredibly fortunate to engage Peter Zaloznik of Slovenia Daytrip Tours & Shore Excursions to serve as our driver and guide. Peter is the kind of person I spare no effort to find when I need guide services in a new destination. He speaks excellent English and is working very hard to solidify a reputation of excellence for his guide service. His efforts seem to be paying off; so far he has a perfect 5-star rating on TripAdvisor. In keeping with the awards Koper and Slovenia are receiving, Peter’s forte is delivering unique cultural experiences for small groups (no more than 8) who all fit into his vehicle. He made arrangements for us to enjoy a picnic lunch in the picturesque but almost deserted village of Skocjan (pictured here). Our lunch, which Peter prepared himself (he is also a chef!) consisted of Prekmurski bograc (a typical Slovenian stew very similar to Hungarian goulash) and ciabatta bread all washed down with locally produced wines. We enjoyed our lunch in the village square in front of the Church of St. Cantianius (Kancijan in Slovene) which was consecrated in 1606 but is almost certainly of older origin, perhaps as early as the 13th century. A freestanding bell tower reflecting Italian influence (Trieste, Italy is less than 14 miles away) was added in 1858.

Church of St. Cantianius in Skocjan village – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Wine tasting

Slovenian winegrowing and winemaking date back almost 4,000 years. Two local varietals, Refosk (Slovene)/Refosco (Italian) and Malvasia, are widely grown here but can be difficult to find stateside. Casanova, one of the most famous lovers in history, in his memoir and autobiography, said Refosco “…made me forget all my troubles” – and he had plenty of troubles to forget! Malvasia has been called “the absolute queen of Istrian wine cellars.” Our search for the ideal place to taste both varietals led us to Santomas Winery in the peaceful village of Smarje in the heart of Slovenian Istria. Santomas’ wines have earned 6 ratings of 90 points or more from the world renowned wine critic Robert Parker.  Santomas’ Grand Cuvee 2006 vintage earned 94 points and won the 57th international wine festival in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. Our merry band thoroughly enjoyed a private tasting complemented by artisan cheeses, fresh bread and estate-grown olive oils.

Private wine tasting for our group at Santomas Winery – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Other attractions

Slovenia, about the size of New Jersey, has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Admittedly tongue-in-cheek, World Nomads suggests, “The biggest danger you’re likely to face is falling into a pretty lake because you were too distracted by the peaceful backdrop of the snowy Alps.” Other daytrips worth considering include:

  • Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle: Much less strenuous (you ride on an electric train for part of the tour!) and more commercial than Skocjan Caves. Predjama Castle, dating back to at least the 16th century is wedged into a Cliffside.
  • Lake Bled and its medieval castle on an island in the middle of the lake at the foot of the Julian Alps.
  • The Lipizzaner Stallion Stud Farm (a 20 minute detour in each direction on your way to Skocjan Caves) and the Museum of the Lipizzaner.

About the Author:

I organize things; it’s what I do! I enjoy the natural adrenaline high of travel as much as the next person but I also try to limit the likelihood that the surprises I experience along the way will be unpleasant ones. To this end, I spend more hours than most preparing for each trip. Fortunately for me, I enjoy the anticipation of travel as much as the experience of it. The focus of my trip reports will be to help those who read them to enjoy high value experiences — maximizing enjoyment while minimizing cost. I’ve been a minister, nonprofit agency executive, professor and consultant; my “job” in retirement is planning our next trip. If you would like additional information and/or recommendations, please feel free to contact “The Travel Organizer” via email.

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