Portoroz and Piran, Slovenia
How do you fancy being covered all over in slimy, cold, smelly mud? OK, perhaps that doesn’t sound too appealing but maybe the prospect of firmer skin, soothed muscles and some respite from those aching joints does?

Well, I’m certainly hoping so. I’ve come to Portoroz in Slovenia to explore its small coastline, which is just a stone’s throw from Trieste in Italy to the north and Croatia to the south. While it may be small – just 29 miles in total – it’s big on attractions.

First stop is the spas that pull in visitors from all over Europe looking for some indulgent relaxation. The Lepa Vida Thalasso Spa in the Secovlje Salina Nature Park is one its newest, opening just last year. I’m not really your typical visitor to a health spa. In fact, my most recent “treatment” was a back massage 10 years ago, so when I’m offered a mud wrap, I don’t really know what to expect.

The Lepa Vida Thalasso Spa

The mud comes directly from beneath the park’s centuries-old saltpans, which have a high concentration of minerals, and the spa assures me it has “natural healing properties”.

“Change into this, please,” says a beautician, as I’m handed a skimpy thong. A few minutes later, I sheepishly return and take my place on a bed smothered in mud. I have visions of ending up looking like a giant cowpat as she eagerly delves into a plastic bucket, bringing up large fistfuls of the cool, slimy extract.

Oozing from between her fingers in large dollops, she smears it liberally over my neck, shoulders, arms and chest, and downwards, until my whole body is covered in its sticky embrace.

I’m left to cook – sorry, relax – under the hot, midday sun as the once cooling goo begins to dry and harden. Thirty minutes later, I step from the shower a new man. OK, not quite, but I’m refreshed and recharged, and that will do for me. After a gentle soak in the spa’s salt pools, and a quick tour of the historic salt pans – which are still in use today – I arrive back at my hotel with a spring in my step and a healthy appetite for dinner.

There’s a glint in Irena’s eye as she recalls being a child running up and down these magical streets and into Tartini Square

I’m staying at the Hotel Marita – just a short stroll from the centre of Portoroz. Set in lush, green gardens, it is an oasis of tranquillity and calm. Inside, the accommodation is stylish with light, airy rooms and mine even has a balcony with sea views. After dinner, I take a stroll into Portoroz. A relatively modern, purpose-built resort, it has been thoughtfully developed. Green hills, covered in pine trees, surround a pretty bay blessed with calm, warm waters.

Portoroz

Hotel Marita – just a short stroll from the centre of Portoroz

I pass by the opulent Grand Hotel – widely regarded as one of the best in Slovenia – before settling down for a spot of people watching at the cool, laid-back Cacao. Of the many stylish, swish bars and cafes, this is one of the best and quickly becomes a favourite of mine.

Its busy ice-cream counter serves a dizzying selection of flavours – I count nearly 30 – and draws a crowd day and night. Its big, comfy sofas are a great place to stretch out and sip a few cocktails. The following day, I set off to discover what all the wealth from the saltpans has created.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Venetian cities of Izola, Kopper and our destination for the morning, nearby Piran. After a short bus ride, we meet our guide Irena, who grew up in this medieval city. Just 60 miles across the Adriatic by ferry is Venice and there are similarities all around. Its distinctive bell tower is the same design as the one in St Mark’s Square. But don’t expect the canals of Venice – the water here laps around Piran – or thankfully the overwhelming crowds.

Here it is a pleasure to walk and explore in relaxed surroundings. As we drop down into the town, we pass through the winding narrow alleys that snake their way between rows of tightly packed houses, dating back hundreds of years. There’s a glint in Irena’s eye as she recalls being a child running up and down these magical streets and into Tartini Square.

Unlike other resorts in Slovenia and Croatia that sit on the Adriatic, visitors don’t have to put up with pebbles or a spot on the rocks, as Portoroz has its own man-made sandy beach

An elegant, grand space, it is surrounded by classic Venetian architecture. Named after the composer Giuseppe Tartini – Piran’s most famous son – the square may no longer be the bustling marketplace it once was, where fishermen would come and sell their catch straight off the boat. But it’s still the focal point of the community.

Portoroz

Tartini square in the picturesque old town of Piran

Children are encouraged to run and play and the stalls selling fresh breads, meats, cheeses and olives are a big draw for visitors and locals alike.

After all that walking around, a few hours by the beach is the perfect way to slip back into lazy, holiday mode. Unlike other resorts in Slovenia and Croatia that sit on the Adriatic, visitors don’t have to put up with pebbles or a spot on the rocks, as Portoroz has its own man-made sandy beach. All ages are entertained, from a giant inflatable with all manner of slides for the kids, to pedal boats, kayaks and jet skis for adventurous adults.

For those wishing to head out a little farther to sea, regular boat trips leave for Izola, or Venice can be reached in just under three under hours from Piran. No visit to this part of Slovenia is complete without a trip to the hinterland. Just a few miles away from Portoroz lies rolling green countryside, which in recent years has undergone a resurgence.

Loved by the locals, the tables are busy day and night. In fact, don’t be surprised if you have to queue up but it’s well worth it.

Locally produced food and wine are now helping to put Slovenia on the culinary map. One of these producers is vineyard Korenika & Moškon in the village of Korte. Our guide Matej now runs the vineyard, which has been passed down from father to son for generations.

As we wander through the cavernous cellars, lined with huge oak barrels, he gives us an insight into how he is helping to progress wine development in Slovenia by producing organic tipples.

Portoroz

The beautiful landscape surrounding Portoroz

With the tour completed, we are invited to tuck into a vast array of meats and cheeses – all sourced locally – washed down, of course, with some of the vineyard’s best wines. They include Malvazija and Refošk, two of the most popular varieties with bars and restaurants up and down the coast.

One of these is the restaurant Fritolin in Portoroz. Situated next to a busy road, with its modest-looking façade it would be overlooked if it wasn’t for its thriving trade. Loved by the locals, the tables are busy day and night. In fact, don’t be surprised if you have to queue up but it’s well worth it.

Waiters scurry about serving only the freshest, tastiest seafood. What better way to round off my trip? After some fantastic mussels, exquisitely cooked mackerel and a glass or two of some chilled Malvazija wine, I think it’s fair to say I have got a taste for Portoroz and everything this region has to offer.

THE FACTS
  • Thomson Lakes (www.ThomsonLakes.co.uk; 020 8939 0740) offers a week’s half board at the four-star Hotel Marita in Portoroz, Slovenia, including flights from Gatwick and transfers. Direct flights are available from all major UK airports.
  • Prices start at 18 euros for a 20-minute mud warp at The Lepa Vida Thalasso Spa in the Secovlie Saline National Park.
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