OUT­STAND­ING AL­TER­NA­TIVE

A town that juts into the Gulf of Tri­este is a breath of fresh air, writes Josh Price

Herald on Sunday - - SLOVENIA -

If you’re af­ter a hol­i­day in the mid­dle of your Euro­pean hol­i­day — go to Pi­ran. It’s not as well known as Dubrovnik or Venice but has much of the same charm. It’s a coastal Slove­nian town per­fect for a few days of re­lax­ation to recharge from the of­ten-hec­tic na­ture of big-city travel across the Con­ti­nent.

Af­ter two weeks bat­tling around some of the busiest tourist towns in Europe, hav­ing barely stayed in the same bed for two nights in a row, not to men­tion the peak-sea­son queues and crowds in ev­ery post­card lo­ca­tion, Pi­ran is the per­fect spot to take a much­needed break.

Hav­ing set­tled into our small, but lovely Airbnb just off the main square, Tar­tini Plaza, we walk around the wa­ter’s edge of this me­dieval town.

It is al­most com­pletely cut off to cars and our only ob­sta­cles are walk­ing into fel­low pedes­tri­ans, or step­ping on a swim­mer sun­bathing on the foot­path next to one of the many lad­ders lead­ing into the crys­tal-clear, re­fresh­ingly cool, Adri­atic. Invit­ing restau­rants line the wa­ter­front, serv­ing mainly seafood, or, un­sur­pris­ingly given Italy is a mere 30m away, pizza or pasta. A leisurely 30-minute walk at sun­set to the penin­sula’s point and back through the al­ley­ways of the town, sets the scene for a ro­man­tic few days of slow paced ex­plo­ration. On our first full day we hire some bikes, at about €15 ($27) each. We set off along the clearly marked wa­ter­side cy­cle lanes, rid­ing south to the casino/re­sort town of Por­toroz.

We carry on past a ma­rina and along the Jerneja Canal to a salt farm known for its choco­late. It’s good, but no Whit­taker’s. The path around the farm is a high­way of cy­clists mak­ing their way along the coast. De­spite this two-wheeled traf­fic, trundling along proves very peace­ful and pro­vides the breath of fresh air we need af­ter the fumes of the big, con­densed cities of Italy. By the time we head back to base, the heat starts to over­whelm us — 32C while rid­ing a bike will do that to you. With much of the cy­cle path back to Pi­ran fol­low­ing the wa­ter, and lad­ders ev­ery 50m for easy ac­cess, we be­gin our long af­ter­noon of cy­cle, swim, drink, sun­bathe, eat then re­peat.

Day two, and we de­cide to walk north along the coast and over a few hills to Strun­jan Beach, a sandy spot with in­flat­able wa­ter parks for kids. And if you keep walk­ing be­yond the beach to the stony area at the bot­tom of the cliffs, you’ll find your­self at a spot for adults

— a nud­ist beach. Not our cup of tea so we opt to con­tinue walk­ing up the hills be­hind the beach to the top of the cliffs.

The well-marked path gives beau­ti­ful views back to­wards Pi­ran and north to­wards the Ital­ian city of Tri­este.

The path slowly winds back through vine­yards to Strun­jan and on to an old rail­way tun­nel that is now a cy­cle/ walk­way right through the hill to Por­toroz. It’s a lovely walk, and to get into the tun­nel out of the heat is nice af­ter the

8km we’ve al­ready walked.

Fol­low­ing a de­li­cious and well-earned pizza, we start our walk from Por­toroz back to Pi­ran, where again we spend the af­ter­noon walk­ing, swim­ming, drink­ing, sun­bathing, eat­ing . . . you know the drill.

On our fi­nal day we de­cide to skip the morn­ing ex­er­cise and head straight to the beach. We find a spot just off the foot­path, lay down our tow­els, get out our books and re­lax.

Af­ter lunch we climb up the town’s bell tower, a tough walk but worth it for the views from the top — Tar­tini Plaza be­low, down the coast to Croa­tia, and across the Adri­atic to Italy. We get the fright of our lives at quar­ter to the hour. BANG! The bells chime, and they’re rather loud when you're at the top. With min­i­mal room to move, the bells were clang­ing right next to us. At 45m above the town, it was a scary ex­pe­ri­ence.

Things are calmer on the me­dieval wall that once closed off the penin­sula from the rest of the coun­try. From there we can see the whole town with its ter­ra­cotta rooftops, and with a per­fect sun­set strik­ing the wa­ter as a back­drop, we are mes­merised.

It’s one of the more beau­ti­ful views I ex­pe­ri­ence through­out the whole of my Euro­pean ex­cur­sion, nicely topped off with a bot­tle of lo­cal red wine.

We hoped Pi­ran would pro­vide us with a hol­i­day from our (fast-paced) hol­i­day; a chance to put our feet up and soak up the sun. It per­fectly de­liv­ered.

GET­TING THEREEmi­rates flies from Auck­land to Venice, via Dubai, with re­turn Econ­omy Class fares from $2282. emi­rates.comA di­rect ferry con­nec­tion from Venice to Pi­ran op­er­ates from April to Oc­to­ber. Trafal­gar’s 11-day Best of Croa­tia and Slove­nia guided hol­i­day, starts in Za­greb and vis­its Lake Bled, Ljubl­jana, Opatija, Rov­inj, Pl­itvice Lakes, Tro­gir and Split, be­fore end­ing in Dubrovnik. Prices from $3850 per per­son. Sav­ings of up to 10 per cent avail­able on 2019 trips booked and paid by Jan­uary 31, 2019. trafal­gar.com Pho­tos / Getty Im­ages

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