JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH NIKA GRIZILA FROM KOPER, SLOVENIA !
Nika Grizila is a 25 year old Slovenian born and raised in Koper. She is currently finishing her master’s degree in English and Russian (specializing in translation) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She loves writing and has a blog about travel and veganism. She is also working on her first book which is based on her Erasmus exchange in London. Her biggest passions are writing, languages, travel and veganism. In her free time she loves reading, doing sport, cooking and hanging out with her friends, family and boyfriend.
Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, located at the head of the Adriatic and shared by three countries: Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. Slovene Istra comprises the northern part of the Istrian peninsula. There are three major towns in Slovene Istra – Piran, Izola, and Koper.
Koper is a tiny town on the coast in Slovenia, “trapped” between Italy and Croatia. It is also called Capodistria in Italian. Koper has something over 20,000 residents (including the suburbs, the old town itself is very small). It’s located in a bilingual area: we have an Italian minority which is why all the signs are in Italian as well, and children learn Italian in school.
Koper has a popular international port called Luka Koper which plays an important role in the country’s economy.
What is the best time to visit Koper?
The best time is definitely the warmer period of the year (between May and September) as this gives you a chance to enjoy the sea and makes it easier to sightsee the rest of the country too. There are lots of cool lakes and rivers in Slovenia, and warm weather is perfect for visiting them. Also, my town is pretty dead during winter, and summer is the time when there’s more going on: festivals, concerts, fairs etc.
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Koper?
It’s a tiny town, so the only transport you need for sightseeing it are your feet. For visiting the rest of the country (which is doable in a few days as it’s tiny too), I’d recommend renting a car. Buses and trains are quite slow and rare, so they’re not the best option. We do have our version of BlaBlaCar, though; the website is called Prevoz.org. It’s a great and cheap connection between Koper and Ljubljana, the capital, costing you only 5 euros in one direction.
As for the airport, as you might have guessed, we don’t have one. There’s an airport near Ljubljana, but you’ll probably get a cheaper flight if you fly to Trieste Airport (Italy) or to either Marco Polo or Treviso (the airports of Venice, Italy). The one in Trieste is the closest, closer than the one near Ljubljana. There are buses and trains connecting the city of Trieste and the three airports, but then you still need to get to Koper by another bus, and these are rare. I’d recommend booking a ride with a transport company called Goopti, which takes you to different cities in Slovenia from airports in the countries around Slovenia, like Croatia and Austria, but also from Ljubljana’s airport. The prices are reasonable, especially if you book in advance.
What are the top three must visit places in Koper?
Soak in the five centuries of Venetian rule in the main square (Titov trg) of the city where the main church and two old palaces are located: Pretorska palača and Loggia. The Cathedral of Mary’s Assumption dates back to the twelfth century when Koper acquired its own diocese. Pretorska palača is located on Tito Square which is also the central square in Koper. It’s the perfect place to observe beautiful venetian gothic architecture (the part of the country where I come from used to form a part of the Republic of Venice). After the downfall of Venetian Republic the palace lost its significance until 2001 when it was again renovated. Loggia palace is the only preserved Gothic town hall in Slovenia. It stands on the northern side of the historic Tito square. It has an art gallery run by Piran Coastal Galleries on the second floor which features presentations by Slovene artists.
The second is the promenade by the sea; the palm trees and bars make you forget you’re in an old town. It’s perfect for a slow stroll, and it’s the most lively part of the town.
The third is not really in the town; it’s a beach called “Bele skale”, which means white rocks. Slovenia’s coastline is one of the smallest in the world, so even though Koper has its own beach, it’s nothing special. Bele skale is a beautiful beach next to Izola, a fishing town near Koper often overlooked by tourists. The path down to the beach offers beautiful views of the sea. Izola takes around 15 minutes from Koper.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Koper?
One of the best things about Slovenia is that everything’s near, plus you’re across the border to Italy in Croatia in a matter of minutes if you’re by car.
As for Slovenia, you should definitely visit Piran, an adorable old town which is a twenty-minute drive away from Koper. The city of Piran sits on a peninsula, which is surrounded by the gorgeous Adriatic Sea. St. George’s Parish church and the city walls give a spectacular view of the Slovenian coast. Tartini Square is the main square where you can sight old Venetian architecture, narrow streets and multicoloured buildings in plenty.
A visit to the Sečovlje Saltern, the salt evaporation ponds is also something you won’t regret, and they’re just a short drive from Piran. The Sečovlje saltern is one of the few remaining solar salterns for salt production. It is an important protected area of biotic diversity which has an extreme environment with high salinity. If you’re the sporty kind, you could rent a bike to visit these two places and see some more small towns along the way.
Ljubljana, the capital, is only an hour away, while Bled, the famous lake with an island, is about an hour and a half from Koper. Speaking of water, river Soča is a must. It’s of an emerald green colour, located in the west and flows by several places, for example the iconic Kobarid, which is about two hours by car away from Koper. Postojna cave, a world-famous cave, is a half hour drive from Koper and is well worth visiting too.
If you have time, you should pop to Croatia and enjoy its beautiful beaches, or visit Rovinj, one of the cutest towns on the Istrian Peninsula. The road distance between Rovinj and Koper is only 84.7kms. Situated on the north Adriatic Sea, Rovinj (or Rovigno) is made up of 14 islands and 6 cliffs. From the stone and rock beaches to the centennial park and from the old town to the archaeological sites, every inch of Rovinj makes it one of the most picturesque town of Croatia. The main industry of Rovinj is tourism and it’s one of the most visited destinations in Croatia.
To the north of Koper, lies the Bohinj Lake which is much less touristic than Bled Lake but really has a lot of amazing stuff to do in the nature like hiking, biking, paragliding and waterfall trekking with a backdrop of snow capped mountains. On the way from Koper to Bohinj lies Idrija, which is a UNESCO world heritage site for its second largest mercury mine in the world.
You can also visit Italy, of course. Trieste is the first proper city you’ll encounter, about a twenty minute drive from Koper. In Trieste you will find both Italian and Slovenian influence because this Italian city occupies a thin strip of land between the Adriatic coast and Slovenia’s border. Trieste is also known to serve the finest coffee in the country. Near Trieste, in the Gulf of Trieste lies a beautiful 19th-century castle castle called Miramare. Built for an Austrian archduke and his wife, with the hope of having a family sanctuary ended by the tragic death and madness. There is a popular legend linked to the castle according to which whoever spends the night there is destined to die prematurely in foreign land.
Venice is only two hours away, and I’d recommend going there too, of course.
Which is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Koper?
Well, if I don’t count the Carnival, New Year’s Eve, Easter and other holidays which are celebrated in the country in general, we have a festival called Sladka Istra. It’s basically a festival of desserts and it takes place in September.
We usually also have a party called the Yellow Night in July; there’s a temporary amusement park, stalls and concerts.
In August there’s Oživela ulica, taking place on the old Kidričeva street. It means the “street that came to life”, and it’s full of stalls selling various art work, foods and drinks. You can get many things for free, including music, as there are always a couple of stages.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Koper? Is Koper a vegetarian friendly town?
Truffles are found in the grounds of Istria, a small part of which is in Slovenia and majority in Croatia. Hence, Pasta with truffles is pretty famous here, as well as different kinds of fish. As for sweets, there’s a fried kind of pastry called “kroštole”.
In most restaurants it’s not difficult to get vegetarian friendly meals, but it’s almost impossible to get anything vegan except a veggie pizza without cheese. There are a couple of restaurants with vegan options and a couple that are strictly vegan, but they only work during the week at lunch time.
Are there any popular markets in Koper which tourists must visit? Which is the local craft or souvenir of Koper?
We have an area with big shopping centres where you can find chain stores like H&M. There are a couple of small stores offering souvenirs and local food, wine and beer in the old centre. As for markets, there’s a fruit and vegetable market that’s fully open every Saturday until midday or so.
I can’t really think of a craft. Popular souvenirs are wine, salt, olive oil and truffles, all local, as well as small paintings and art work that represents the town.
Which are the best streets of Koper worthy of taking a stroll on?
Čevljarska ulica, literally the “Shoemakers’ Street”; there are many shoe shops, even though there are probably even more jewellery shops there these days. Another one is Kidričeva ulica, a slightly abandoned historical street that is brought to life each year by the already mentioned Oživela ulica.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
The top of the bell tower on the main square for sure. You have to pay a small entry fee and walk about two hundred steps for a panoramic view of the town and beyond, it’s totally worth it!
Would you suggest any shows in Koper to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in Koper?
There’s a music festival called JEFF every summer, as well as some music events in villages nearby. JEFF (Jazz Ethno Funky Festival) is the most popular music festival in the Slovenian Istra. The festival lasts for six separate days and showcases dance and music workshops, culinary workshops, photography exhibitions and much more.
Koper is not very big on street art, you can find art in galleries and art or souvenir shops. We do have a theatre if you’d like to see shows, but it closes in July and reopens in September.
How hard is it to travel in Koper without knowing the local language?
Not hard at all: if you speak English or Italian, most people will understand you. Older people might have trouble with English, but in most cases they’ll be fluent in Italian instead. With younger people it’s usually the other way around, but the majority should understand both languages.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Koper?
Nope, we’re way too small for apps, sorry, haha. For any information visit the tourism website for Koper or go to the tourist info point on the main square: Titov trg.