lovely Koper old town by the sea
Unless you arrive in Slovenia on a cruise ship, you are unlikely to even consider visiting Koper, Slovenia's largest port and coastal town. You have probably heard about stunning Piran and maybe the pretty little peninsular of Izola, but Koper might just be some bigger letters on the map!
We thought the same and had a few stale visits to Koper, mainly to visit the sprawling new shopping centres and warehouses for stuff like garden furniture, but just this winter we finally took Koper seriously and visited with a friend who guides cruise ship visitors around the old town in the summer and you could have knocked us both down with a seagull's feather at how much we loved it!
Koper is the closest Slovenian seaside town to the Lodge, being just 30 mins down the motorway, but we have always pretty much avoided it as, at first sight, lets face it, there are many pretty ugly new offices, stadiums and shops to see from the motorway. But our eyes were opened on our latest visit to the history, beauty and mystery of the old town and we would like to share that with you.
And it will also be easy for you to navigate around on your own if you remember, that just like Izola, Koper used to be a grand old island town surrounded by sea salt fields. The new buidlings have been built where the sea was filled in, like a concrete circle around the pretty old town! (see an old photo of the island above).
Koper was quickly expanded to be Yugoslavia's main port after WW2 when Italy acquired Trieste from Slovenia and nowadays Koper is the busier port!
By way of short cut, you could drive directly to the port area from the motorway to avoid the new town and park somewhere near the glass lifts, (see above). The contrast in these 2 photos above is incredible.. to the right of the lifts, a sprawling modern busy port and to the left a Mediterranean seaside promenade! In fact the stone beach here is a great place to have a swim as well and very popular with the locals.
This lift is where a lot of the cruise ship guests embark upon Koper and its a great way into the old town, which is filled with narrow streets, churches, souvenir shops and quite a few restaurants & cafes, all lined with the salty Mediterranean, flowing like a lake alongside.
Probably the main feature of Koper and a good place to start your walkabout is at the nearby town square, (like a very mini St Marks) with a beautiful Venetian church tower rising up. You can go up the tower for a great view and then maybe walk around the tight streets to explore.
There is a grand old town hall and typically for a town once ruled by Venice, you can spot several lions on buildings with open books.. (a closed book means the town resisted the Venetians). And if you thought Freddie Mercury invented the thermometer, then you'd be wrong, look at the photo (above right) and you will see the very clever man from Koper who took that honour!
The old town is not so big, so it wont take long to explore, but you could look for this fountain in another pretty square, (above right), with the tree now growing out of it.. Water was very scarce on the old island, so there were gutters on the houses to catch rainfall and direct it all underground to the centre of this square in the fountain where the local people had to come and pay for their water!
There are many interesting and important stone features around the old town, not least this stone spire, (above right), which celebrated the part played by Koper's fleet in finally destroying the Ottoman empires sea threat.
If you also consider it is possible Napoleon was doomed by taking too long to capture and control Koper that he set off for Russia too late and arrived into winter, then Koper really does have an exciting history!
And so you know you have reached the edge of the old town, there is this fountain (below) and a small remaining part of the old city wall with this fascinating bronze map of the old island cemented into the pavement, (also below). You can see here on the map that just on the other side of the wall there was a long bridge that connected Koper to the mainland.. wow!
But there is plenty of sea to walk along with shops, parks, an old market, cafes and restaurants along the way to make an afternoon spent in Koper well worth it. We love it and hope you will too!
Oh yes and don't forget there is also a nearby protected marine grass parkland to the other side of the port for you to explore and if you want to try another great place to swim, ou just go the other way, direction Izola, to Zusterna, (soon to appear on our secret places to visit section) where there are seaside cafes, a waterpark and some really great family swimming!