Koper is a city of about 25,000, located in the Slovenian province of Istria, at the northern end of Slovenia's brief 29-mile stretch of coastline. Originally an island just off the coast, Koper is Slovenia's oldest town, dating back to the Middle Bronze Age. In Greek times, it was known as Aegida; the Romans called it Capris, and it was later named Insula Capraria (Goat Island) in the sixth century. The Byzantine era followed, along with a new name -- Justinopolis. Then came the Venetians, who ruled it the longest (1279 to 1797), calling it Capodistria, which eventually morphed into the Slovenian "Koper." The town changed hands briefly several more times and was part of Yugoslavia before Slovenia became an independent country.
With its Venetian history and proximity to Italy, you'll notice that Koper has a bit of an Italian feel to it -- and, in fact, Italian is the second language here. What was once the fortified island is now Old Town, and part of the surrounding water has been filled in to connect it to the mainland. A ring road surrounds Old Town, marking a sharp distinction between its historic architecture and the less-attractive modern buildings outside of Old Town.
Guidebooks don't sing Koper's praises, but the town has its charms, with enough to keep you occupied during a relaxed day on shore. One of the nicest aspects is Koper's lack of tacky shops and mobs of tourists. You can stroll from the port to Old Town's ancient main square, take in the sights, do a bit of shopping, relax with a coffee under a 15th-century loggia, check out the farmers market, sample Istrian wines or soak up the seaside Adriatic sun at an outdoor cafe.
As Slovenia's only cruise port, Koper is growing in popularity. In 2016, 70 ships called here, as opposed to just 49 in 2015. Visit soon, while the town still retains its mellow, untouristy atmosphere.
You're docked right next to Koper's Old Town, within walking distance of shopping and all the town's sights. There are no facilities at the port, aside from security clearance, a large map and a few souvenir sellers who set up when a ship is in town.
If you're in port on a Saturday, be aware that many businesses -- including most shops -- close at 1 p.m. Museums and restaurants are an exception. Most shops are also closed on Sunday.
If you're making a large purchase, we found that bargaining was possible at some, but not all, shops. Give it a try, but don't bargain on smaller items.
Slovenia's currency is the euro. For current currency conversion figures visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. You'll find ATMs around town. The most convenient one is located on Kidriceva Ulica, the street that will be on your right as you enter Tito Square in Old Town on the way from the port. There's also an ATM at the Mercator grocery store on the square.
Koper is only 3 miles from the Italian border and is officially bilingual, in Italian and Slovene. You will also find English spoken in many shops, attractions and restaurants -- perhaps not fluently, but enough to communicate. Shopkeepers may show you an item's price using a calculator if their English is limited.
Pick up Slovenian crystal at a fraction of what you'd pay for it back home. You'll find an excellent selection of glasses, goblets, decanters, art glass and other objects at the Steklarna Rogaska shop, which sells directly from the Steklarna Rogaska glass factory. The staff thoroughly packs purchases to withstand travel. (15 Cevljarska Ulica; 386 5627 8423; open Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
For something less fragile, visit the stylish Piranske Soline shop, which sells sea salt from nearby saltpans, as well as soaps and body-care products containing local salt and olive oil. Don't miss their wickedly good dark chocolate bars with sea salt! (39 Zupanciceva Ulica at the intersection with Cevljarska Ulica; 386 5721 2214; open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Skip the cocktails and opt for Istrian wine. Sample it by the glass at wine bar Okusi Istre. (37 Kidriceva Ulica; 386 4032 9539; open Monday to Saturday, from 2 p.m. onward.)