Why it isn’t fair to say that you’ve “done” a country
Spoiler: The answer (or one of many) is Piran, Slovenia
I know that country-counting is a bit of a contentious issue – some people are totally against it, and others find it fun and harmless. It feels to me like a small hill to die on – I don’t feel particularly strongly about it either way. I guess it would be fun to count up how many countries I’ve visited, and reminisce over what I loved about each of them. But after our recent visit to Piran, Slovenia, I won’t ever be proclaiming that I’ve “done” a country.
We visited Bled last year for around a week, with every intention of doing a day trip into Ljubljana, but we enjoyed Bled so much, we didn’t make it to the capital. We did do a full day tour of Triglav National Park (highly, highly recommended, by the way), and saw some more of the natural beauty that the country offers. We totally caught the Slovenia bug, so we weren’t too distraught about not visiting Ljubljana, because we knew we’d be back in Slovenia before long.
And so we did come back. We made a point of building it into our six-month journey around Eastern Europe. We spent a week in Ljubljana, three days at Lake Bohinj, four at Lake Bled, and finally, two in Piran.
We knew what to expect of Bled, of course, and had an idea of what the others might be like. I’m not a heavy planner, but I am a heavy researcher. Looking at pictures, reading blog posts and watching youtube videos gets me really excited about visiting a place, but I like to leave my itinerary very flexible and take things as they come when I get to a destination. We absolutely loved our time in Ljubljana, Bohinj and Bled. And even if our experiences there were better than what we expected, they pretty much matched our expectations in terms of having a very “Slovenian” feel – based on our visit to Bled last year, and any research done prior to our visit. They were charming, chilled out, and naturally very beautiful. Then we visited Piran. And while it was all of those things too – it had a completely different feel to it – it felt like a different country altogether!
Piran is on Slovenia’s very small (46km-ish) coast – on the Adriatic Sea – so of course it felt different. Of course it felt Mediterranean. Of course it felt very Venetian. Because it is all of these! But it’s also Slovenian, and – although I’m not really qualified to say this – it did feel so. But I can’t stress how different it felt to our other Slovenian destinations. If you told me it was part of Italy or part of Croatia, I would have no problem believing you. Unsurprisingly so, because if you walk to the top of the town and look out to sea, you can literally look at Italy on one side of you and Croatia on the other. It’s like a little Italia-Hrvatska Mediterranean sandwich. But it’s Slovenia.
One of the biggest draws of Piran – according to the locals that we chatted to, as well as our own impressions – is the fact that you can just take yourself off for a dip in the sea. Now, this is true of most places with a coastline (we can even swim off the coast at home in Ireland, although it’s mostly freezing cold!), and this very much fits in with Slovenia’s “great places to swim” brief. Granted, nobody is swimming in the Ljubljanica river running through the capital (although there are plenty of boats, kayaks and paddleboards on the water), but both Bled and Bohinj are very swimmer-friendly. I had one of the best swims I’ve ever had in Lake Bohinj – but maybe that was just because it was a stupidly warm day, and a dip in the lake was so refreshing! But swimming in Piran is different.
Firstly, you’re in the sea. And everyone that has ever had a swim in the sea knows that it is its own experience. The salt water, the waves, the threat of a curious crab ending up somewhere unfortunate… It all comes together as a unique experience, and Piran gives you this as well as anywhere else I’ve been. You come away from your swim feeling like a new person. And the real bonus is that you’re never really any further than a three-minute walk away from being in the sea. The rocks that circle almost the whole way around the old town and the little steps that lead into the sea at the end of little mini-piers offer endless opportunities to have a dip. It’s not that either of these is better than the other, but swimming in Piran really is a world away from swimming in Bled or Bohinj.
Of course, there is loads more to Piran too that gives it its character and makes it unique. The church perched on top of a hill that feels much more Croatian than Slovenian. The pizza-and-pasta diet that feels much more Italian than central European. The pastel-coloured buildings and terracotta roofs that feel much more storybook than real life. There was a group of very mean-spirited mosquitoes following us around during our stay to try to ruin all the hard work that Piran was doing, but even that couldn’t ruin it!
All of Piran’s charms – the Mediterranean, the Venetian, the Slovenian – make it a great destination for a few-days break. We only stayed for two nights and that felt just long enough and nowhere near long enough at the same time. We could easily have spent another couple of days swimming in the sea, exploring the tiny old town, cycling around the outskirts of Piran, maybe even visiting neighbouring Portorož (Slovenia’s mini Monte Carlo according to one local we spoke to). But even in two days, Piran managed to make an impression on us that was distinctly unique. And I loved that about it.
What I’m really trying to drive at, is that Piran is such a unique destination, and it deserves to be treated as such. If you’re visiting Slovenia, or crossing it off your list, or anything like that, you aren’t really doing it unless you’re visiting Piran. Okay, you might have done Bled, or Bohinj, or Ljubljana (although I don’t think that I will personally ever be done with any of these particular places), but you haven’t done Slovenia if you’ve only visited one or two of these. My point is that it would be such a shame for Piran to just get lost in the “Slovenia” tag, when what people really mean is Bled, or Ljubljana, or wherever.
I haven’t even mentioned Slovenia’s second-largest city Maribor, or any of the rest of the East of the country – or even the other coastal towns neighbouring Piran. I could have written similar about loads of other destinations, but on this particular journey, Slovenia is the first country where we visited multiple destinations in a row, and Piran really drove the point home for me because it is so dramatically different from the other towns and cities we visited in the country. One local told us that in the colder months, loads of Slovenians flock to Piran and the rest of the coast at the weekend – that it could be as much as 10ºC warmer than the rest of the country. And this is in Slovenia, which is absolutely not one of the bigger countries out there. Granted, it packs a hell of a punch considering its small size, but if I’m able to say all of this about Slovenia, imagine what others are able to say about all the other countries out there.
I could write a whole other article on whether you’ve ever really done a country or place. I mean, we haven’t done Ireland – far from it – and we’ve lived there all of our lives. But I guess that is part of the beauty of travel. I love exploring home, and love exploring other countries and hopefully won’t ever lose that love. I know that I won’t be turning down visits to a country because I’ve “done” it before – and most certainly not stunning Slovenia.