Beauty on the edge in Slovenia

Who: Artist and Cultural Medallion recipient Milenko Prvacki, 63, is a senior fellow at the Lasalle College of the Arts, where he has been teaching since 1994. A native of the former Yugoslavia, he became a Singapore citizen in 2002.

Favourite destination: Piran, Slovenia

Why: My wife, Delia, and I have been going there for almost 40 years. For us, it is not just a destination, it is also a second home, a place we know very well and where we have many friends.

Piran is a small mediaeval town with narrow streets and architecture dating to the time of the Venetian Republic, all well-preserved and carefully kept. It has a beautiful position on the tip of the Istrian peninsula in the Adriatic sea where the water is transparent and has the unique colour and smell of the Mediterranean.

Delia and I used to have a house not far from Piran where we would stay for a month or two every year, but we sold it in 1993 when we moved to Singapore. We still go to Piran every other year when we attend the Venice Biennale - Venice is just a two-hour drive away.

Best place to stay

The Grand Hotel Bernardin (www.bernardingroup.si/en/bernardin-resort/hotels/grand-hotel-bernardin) is located along the coast, about 1km from Piran. Its architecture is incorporated into the landscape and it is the only hotel at the seaside. You have an unbelievable view. Rooms start from €110 (S$179) a night.

Best restaurant

Tri Vdove, which translates to Three Widows (Presernovo nabrezje 4, 6330 Piran; open daily from 7am to 10pm), has all kinds of food, such as pastas and risotto, but its seafood is the best because it is so fresh and is served simply in the Mediterranean style with olive oil, lemon and garlic. Its calamari is especially good and you should try its lobster, which you have to order a day in advance.

The restaurant has a garden and is right by the sea. The atmosphere is wonderful with a beautiful view.

If you want to try traditional Istrian food, there is a restaurant called Stari Podrum (www.staripodrum.info; Most 52, 52462, Merisce, Croatia), a family-run tavern that serves some of the best Istrian dishes including home-made pastas, truffles, wild asparagus, the Istrian boskarin ox and Istria Supa, a soup of boiled wine with cubes of bread that is a good way to fill up your tummy and get drunk easily. The tavern is in Croatia, but it's only a 30-minute drive from Piran.

Favourite tourist site

Tartini Square, the main square in Piran, is named after violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini, who was born in Piran in 1692. There is a statue of him in the centre of the square, which opens partly onto the sea and is surrounded by beautiful Venetian architecture.

There is also the Roman Catholic St George's Parish Church, atop the highest hill of Piran, and the view from there is fantastic.

Best art gallery

Obalne Galerije Piran, which translates into Piran Coastal Galleries (www.obalne-galerije.si), was founded in 1976 and is one of the most influential art galleries in Slovenia.

They have a gallery in Tartine Square (Tartinijev trg 3; tel: +386-(0)567-12080) in an old building that has been very well adapted into a contemporary gallery.

They present Slovenian as well as international contemporary artists and have a wonderful programme of exhibitions and festivals, including the Ex-tempore International Art Festival where global painters and ceramicists visit Istria for a week every year to present their work.

Another festival is Forma Viva, an annual marble sculpture symposium where five or six international artists go to Piran and create works in marble to showcase in sculpture gardens around Istria.

Best day trip

You will find beautiful landscapes and towns anywhere along the Istrian peninsula. They used to be part of Yugoslavia, but are now split between Slovenia and Croatia. One very interesting site is the Secovlje Salina Nature Park (www.slovenia.si/visit/trails/the- salt-works-in-secovlje), a seaside field and active salt works where you can see how salt is still harvested by hand. It has a museum of salt and is the northernmost saltworks in the Mediterranean.

Best beaches

Because Piran is on a peninsula it is surrounded by beaches, though most are made of small stones.

I am not a fan of beaches, so I do not have one to recommend, but in Piran, I do not think you need a beach. There is water everywhere - just get in and swim, or rent a boat and take it out to sea.

Best souvenir

The Istrian peninsula is surrounded by old olive trees from which the people produce their own olives and olive oil, which are fresh and tasty items to buy.

The wine in Istria is also very good. The area is known for Malvasia Istriana, a white wine, and Refosk or Teran, rich, berry-toned reds.

Best time to visit

There are many tourists in Piran during the summer months of July and August. If you want to avoid the crowds, it is better to visit in June or September. But Piran does not have heavy winters, so any time of the year is beautiful.

Best advice

I love walking around Piran and Istria. Because the roads in Piran are so old and narrow, the only way to get around is to walk. The best thing is to walk around, get lost and suddenly find yourself at the end of the street staring at the sea. It is something special.

If you need help getting around, communication is very easy. The people are very nice and most speak English, Italian and even a little German.

Getting there

There is a small airport 15km away in the city of Portoroz and you can fly there from Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital. I like to fly into Venice and take the two-hour drive or train ride along the Adriatic coast to Koper, a 20-minute drive from Piran. From there, you can get a bus to town.

vlydia@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 19, 2014.
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