“Where is Capodistria?” you are probably asking yourselves. I myself had only heard about the town in passing and almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to place it on a map. But as the boy, the dog and I drove back to Italy from Croatia, we spent the morning tracking along the Istrian coast.
I use the name Capodistria, but it would – strictly speaking – be more correct to use its Slovenian name, Koper. Koper is the 5th largest city in Slovenia and its only commercial port.
I prefer the Italian name because of the reference to the town’s historical importance when it was once the “Capo d’Istria” meaning head of Istria. Koper, on the other hand, is derived from the Ancient Greek and then Latin name for “goat town.” Decidedly less romantic!
In the 14th and 15th century, the town of Capodistria was the prosperous capital of Venetian Istria, at a time when the Venetian Republic was one of the more powerful in the world. Successive bouts of plague weakened the importance of this city and it subsequently lost out to neighbouring Trieste in terms of commercial importance.
Just one last piece of geography: Istria is the long, narrow stretch of rocky coastline that runs from Trieste in Italy through Slovenia and down deep into Croatia. The Ancient Greeks referred to the inhabitants of this area as the Histrian tribes. Istria became part of Yugoslavia after the Second World War. Slovenia, a country which was only granted independence after the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, is almost entirely landlocked, with just 1% of the country’s total being the 29 miles of Istrian coastline.
So, why did I fall under its spell? Because I wasn’t expecting anything like the architectural beauty and the accessible but historical small-town vibe that I experienced.
Pula/Pola in Croatia felt like an extended and even more torturous version of rue Steinkerque, the road that leads from Anvers métro station to the foot of the Sacré Coeur in Paris. Shops that, for as far as the eye can see, are selling over-priced magnets, postcards, t-shirts, and tourist souvenirs that you’ll get home and think, ‘why did I buy this crap?’
Capodistria, on the other hand, felt genuine and personable. Being only 3 miles south of the Italian border and blessed with a Mediterranean climate, it has a fantastic relaxed café culture. You can sit by the port and order a cappuccino and brioche while watching kids play in the water or the boats moor up in the harbour.
Head just a hundred metres inland and you’ll discover the stunning mediaeval old town. It’s all pedestrianised so you can stroll around at ease. If you’ve been to Venice, it won’t take you long to spot all the Venetian influences on the buildings and in its architecture. There’s a constant supply of St Mark’s lions, of plaques in remembrance of Venetian dignitaries and the like.
Capodistria is not particularly easy to get to. It’d be worth flying into Trieste or Venice and then spending a couple of days here for a lazy city-break. You won’t be overwhelmed with things to do but you will find ways to fill the days – exploring the narrow streets and climbing the City Tower – and you’ll leave recharged and relaxed.
There’s not a lot of information available online but the I Feel Slovenia official website is a good resource: https://www.slovenia.info/en/places-to-go/cities/koper
If you want to prolong your stay in Slovenia – or you’ve arrived in Capodistria on a day when a cruise ship has just docked – try the town of Piran – which is smaller, similar but even more perfectly preserved.