Occupying a horn-shaped promontory, Piran is a rambling rabbit warren of narrow cobblestone streets, back alleys, and squares. Small as it is, Piran is packed with detail, and there's lots to explore even if you do nothing more than wander around looking for emblematic references to Venice, like the famous winged lion of St. Mark you'll find on buildings all over the city; it's rather a privilege to get lost amongst the ancient brickwork. For a full-on view of the town, start at its inland perimeter wall up on Mogoron Hill. These defensive walls are believed to date from as far back as the 7th century, attaining their present form in the 16th century; today you can climb up the Gothic towers and look back at the town and Piran Bay. Down below, the town's center is marked by Tartini Square (Tartinijev trg), which celebrates the Piran-born violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), whose bronze effigy rises in the center of this marbled public space. At the southern edge of the square is Hotel Tartini, while the lovely 19th-century City Hall, the most impressive building here, is to the north. Southwest of the square is Piran Port, where a hundred or so boats and yachts are docked in the small harbor formed by a curve in the Piran promontory.
All around the square alleyways lead into a jumbled web of fascinating back streets; facing the square from the northeast is the red facade of the lovely old Venetian House, which marks one of the many narrow streets leading up to Piran's quaint tangle of churches, including the lovely Minorite Convent and its early-14th-century Church of St. Francis of Assisi; in summer, concerts are held in the convent courtyard. Along the northern wall is St. George's Church, rising above the sea-facing cliff walls. At St. George's, take a peek at the baroque interior and then climb the early-17th-century campanile (daily 10am-1pm and 4-9pm) for splendid panoramas. Then, continuing along Admaiceva ulica, you'll head back down to Piran's concrete bathing area, full of tourists in summer. Continuing west, you'll reach the tip of the Piran promontory, marked by the Punta Lighthouse and by St. Clement's Church. From the lighthouse, the promenade formed by Presernovo nabrezje leads back toward the Tartini Theater at Piran Port, passing a slew of seafood restaurants in quaint Italianate houses on the one side, and the Adriatic's Gulf of Piran on the other; all along this concrete coast, bathers find a spot to sunbathe or dive into the warmish waters.
While there are plenty of places to stop for a drink, the most fun (and least expensive) has got to be the semidingy Kantina Zizola (www.piranjein.com; daily 9am until very late), in a corner of Tartini Square. There are tables outside, while the bar feels ever so slightly like a pirate's tavern (except for the upbeat music and handsome, bouncy staff) where you can search for a photo of Robert De Niro, who apparently stopped by here in 2004.
An Outing to the Secovlje Salt Pans -- One worthy excursion if you have the time and you want to escape the crowds that pack Piran in the summer is a trip to the nearby Secovlje Salina Nature Park (tel. 05/672-1330; www.kpss.soline.si), right on the Croatian border. Here, natural salt is harvested from the sea using the same techniques practiced as far back as the 14th century. The protected wetland area, consisting of salt fields and mudflats, is also home to unique salt-loving plants (halophytes), specially adapted fish, and over 270 bird species. Call ahead to arrange for a ranger/guide to meet you; you'll get an introduction to the labor-intensive salt-farming methodology and a close-up look at some of the flora and fauna. You'll be stunned to learn just how much salt a single man can harvest in 1 day. Not only that, but the all-natural salt from these pans is perhaps the healthiest and best tasting you can find. The rare, unrefined "salt flower" harvested here is arguably the finest salt in the world; the on-site shop carries this as well as a range of salty healing products.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.